Relevant Magazine's The Best Musical Surprise of 2011

Gungor opens up about theology, Christian music and their breathtaking new album. When you first listen to Gungor, the full sound belies the fact that the collective is primarily led by husband-and-wife duo Michael and Lisa Gungor. With stirring cellos, driving drums and delicate harmonies, their first album innovated both the sound and the language of worship music as Christians know it today. (If you don't believe us,watch their performance of "Beautiful Things" at RELEVANT Studios last year.) They recently released Ghosts Upon the Earth, which represented a stylistic departure for the band. Gone were the soaring arena choruses, and in their place Gungor put in careful, driving chamber pop. The result is an album steeped in mystery, beauty and, well, spirituality. The band recently sat down with us to discuss the new album, theology and why, just as with God, you can’t put worship in a box.

RELEVANT: Your music is very spiritual—much more spiritual than general-market listeners are probably used to, yet you don’t want to be labeled as “Christian music.” Why is that?

Michael Gungor: Music, to me, was always very spiritual. I pretty much learned how to “do” music in church, playing in the worship band. Music always touched me in a deep place in my soul. Spirituality and faith and all the stuff we write about and worship itself—those are coming from the deepest places in my soul. What I love about music is that it has this ability to get beneath the surface of things and speak from and to the soul. Part of what I don’t like about the labels of Christian music is that, first of all, we don’t classify other music like that. We don’t say “atheistic music” or “humanistic music”—we don’t lump that all together as if that is the foundation. If it’s art, we’re all saying something. To me it’s just an odd way of separating it; it’s a word game, really.

How has your theology informed the kind of music you make?

MG: It’s interesting—it actually has informed it in its entirety, not just the lyric content. The entire idea of what it means to be a Jesus follower in this world has shifted from what it used to mean. It left realms like art, even caring for the poor. You hear Jesus talking about it, but even in the theology I grew up with, it never really made sense to me why Jesus would stress something like that so much. That didn’t fit my big story of what it was all about. These kind of philosophical things seem abstract on some level, but for me it really gave me an impetus to create as a sacred act, to bring order into creation. To order creation in a way that is meaningful and sacred. Growing up, I felt like if I wanted to really be selfless and serve God with my gift, then it had to fit into a certain category. You know: “You’d better have enough Jesuses per minute if you really want to write a song and have it please God. If you really want to do a lot with your life, you’re supposed to join full-time ministry and work for a church.” That was just kind of the mindset I grew up with....