Interview with Jon Micah: Kutless Unplugged

|PIC1|Christian rock is becoming increasingly popular in today's world, and no doubt that Kutless - one of America's most-played Christian bands - takes on a big part in driving this movement forward.

In this interview with Christian Today, Kutless frontman Jon Micah Sumrall speaks while on the 'Go' Tour with the Newsboys. He shares his thoughts on their music going mainstream, who their musical influences are, his relationship with his father, and exciting plans for an upcoming European tour. Here's Kutless... unplugged.

CT: How is the Newsboys 'Go' Tour going?

Jon Micah: It's going really well. You never know how the vibe of a tour is going to be. But so far, all the bands have been doing really well, and it's been a really great touring environment.

I noticed from watching your recently released Live From Portland DVD that your audience mainly consists of passionate young Christians. Is there a particular message you want convey to youngsters through your music?

We really hope to convey the message of love, the message of hope. We want people to know that there's a God that cares about them and loves them individually. We see so many young people in our shows...but there are so many young people out there that feel hopeless and alone. When they realise that God, their Creator, cares for them personally, knows their name, and wants to be a part of their lives on a daily basis... that can really change a young person's life.

How did you get the idea and concept for the song "Sea of Faces"?

It's kind of funny. We were actually in New York City- we had a few days off and we ended up being in New York. I just kind of walked around thinking about things, and I noticed that pretty much everyone there was oblivious to my existence as I was walking around the city. They were just really involved with what they were doing... and I thought 'You know, if I just disappeared right now, no one will even notice. No one would care.'

I thought about that for a minute, and then I thought: 'You know. There is someone who'd care. It wouldn't be these people here, but God would care.' I was like 'How ironic is that. The most important being that could care, does care. God, who really should be the busiest, is the one who cares.

So I ended up thinking of that concept for a bit, and then I began to think of the vastness of the universe. The more I thought about it, the more amazed I was that God cared about me.

I read that your father is a pastor, and you grew up in the spotlight at your church. Did your father and church environment influence you in your music?

Yes. My father was an assisting pastor at a church in southern Oregon, which grew to have more than 7,000 congregants. That's where I grew up and I got involved in leadership there and I felt myself in the spotlight at church a lot.

It's an interesting way of growing up. Sometimes I think it prepared me in a lot of ways for what I am doing now. The cool thing is, the church I grew up in is very focused on teaching the bible and it was great growing up in an environment where I was really learning about the bible and understanding why I believe what I believe. [My church] Versus the church my dad grew up in- he was always telling how he was growing up: everything was do's and don'ts. You can do this but you can't do that. He said it really created an environment where he didn't want anything to do with Christianity or his church, because it was all these rules and regulations. It wasn't his own- it was just what his parents and church said. So he was always careful to teach me the 'why' of things.

It was really cool for me to have a concept of that. And it was funny because when I first started the band, I didn't know how my parents would feel because I was at college at that time- and I knew they were worried I will drop out of school and just pursue being in a band. They didn't want me to do anything foolish. It was cool - I remember having a talk with them, and I really felt that this was something God was calling me to do. They've been so supportive since then.

They were OK with the rock n' roll stuff?

They were fine with it! The church I grew up in was a non-denominational church. I grew up listening to rock n' roll music. It wasn't a really big deal. When I was growing up, Christian music was just taking shape. There was the grunge movement from Seattle- Pearl Jam and Nirvana- but there was also a whole 'underground', post-grunge Christian thing that was happening at that time. I grew up living in Oregon, listening to CDs that no one has probably ever heard of.

There were bands like Rose Blossom Punch, Poor Old Lu, and Driver Eight...(laughs) It's funny because even people in the United States, hardly anyone has ever heard of them. And when finally someone has heard of them, they'd be like, 'No way! I totally remember them! That's awesome!" It is funny, but it was some really good music. At that time, there wasn't a lot of distribution and things like there are now.

How do you feel about your music going mainstream?

I really feel that the more people we could reach with our music, the better. I'm really open to that. If mainstream radio stations and TV stations want to play our stuff, then I think it's a great thing. It's great for that to go out there and hopefully reach more people.

We've had several of our music videos play on MTV, and we had our song "All the Words" featured on a TV show here called Scrubs. It's a great opportunity for your music to reach people who would maybe not step foot into church. I'm excited, but at the same time, I don't think it's right for us to single-handidly pursue that and alter the way we write or perform.

If someone- who is not Christian- were to listen to your music without knowing the meaning behind it, would you step out and clarify it for them?

I think that's something that really depends on the environment and the situation. We hope that it's clear- who we are and what we're about. And I think for anyone that has been around our band for any length of time- it's very obvious.

I hope that is the case no matter where we go. Whether that requires explanation- or whether it's obvious to who we are. I think sometimes, we don't need to explain who we are. If that truly is who we are, it's going to be obvious.

Who thought of the name Kutless? Quote, Jon Micah: "[Jesus Christ] took our cuts for us... leaving us 'Kutless'."

We were coming up with a name one day- the whole band was brainstorming. Our drummer at that time asked, "What do you think of this?", and suggested Kutless. It made sense- and one of the things we liked about it is that any time our band is asked about the name, it's almost an opportunity to share [who we are] right away with our name.

Do you have any current musical influences?

It's funny because I listen to a broad range of things- the more I do this, the more picky I get. I go back to a lot of classical music just to listen for enjoyment- things like Yo-Yo Ma- the phenomenal cellist, and pianist Christopher Peacock. As far as rock n' roll goes... bands like the Foo Fighters, we definitely had some influence musically.

Do you have a favourite Christian band/artist?

The person I listen to the most...ironically, it'll probably be Aaron Sprinkle, who is our producer. I love his music. And he was in some of those bands I was talking about earlier- like Poor Old Lu and Rose Blossom Punch.

Following the successful Katrina benefit concert a few years ago, I read that you anticipate on teaming up with other charities and organisations. Did you have a chance to be involved with any since then?

We actually spent our last two headline tours networking with Compassion International. It's been a great relationship. My wife and I have been sponsoring a child for a long time, and it just made sense on our last couple of tours, that we should be working together. Even on this tour now with the Newsboys, we are supporting the organisation.

We plan to continue to work with Compassion, and we're hoping to go on an actual trip to one of the areas of Compassion International one of these days. We tried to get one hooked up a few months ago and it kind of faltered last minute. We're hoping to get something nailed down.

What will happen after the 'Go' Tour?

We head home for a few days, and we're doing a Christian cruise thing where a bunch of different bands are playing on the boat (The Music Boat, 2007). Third Day will be there... so we're doing that. Once we get back from that, we head to Europe actually.

Currently the plan is- we have a date booked in the Faroe Islands. From there, we go to Switzerland- a little bit outside of Zurich- we have two shows in Germany, and then we head to Croatia.