Begin Again

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Whereas one may initially imagine that songs by Christian artists would be somehow in the “church music” vein, a brief perusal of Christian Music Today’s catalog will quickly prove otherwise.  Christian music is currently enjoying huge popularity, with Christian artists producing music in every genre.  This weekend’s Spirit West Coast festival at Laguna Seca is one of the country’s premier showcases of the diversity of talent on the Christian music scene.

One band that is currently getting back to its worship music roots, however, is Kutless, who will be playing at Spirit West Coast on Saturday.  Earlier this year, the band released “Strong Tower,” an album of worship songs, a move that surprised both fans and critics following as it did two albums of original material.  The band’s vocalist Jon Micah Sumrall sees the move as a natural progression for Kutless.  “We started in college as a worship band,” he said.  “That’s what originally brought us together.  It wasn’t until later that we decided to do original music and play shows.”

The members of Kutless met in 2000 at Warner Pacific College, a Christian college in Portland, Ore.  The all attended the same church and soon discovered a common love of listening to and playing rock music.  Soon they formed a band named Call Box and played the music for the Thursday night services at the church.  Shortly afterwards, the band changed its name to Kutless and the members began writing their own, Christian-themed rock songs.

A turning point came for the band in 2001.  Guitarist James Mead had a job at a skate shop in Portland, and one day had a chance conversation with a customer.  “One day this guy walked in, and we started talking,” said Mead.  “He noticed my WWJD bracelet and asked if I was a Christian, and I said, "Yeah," and he said, "Me too." So we were talking about our churches, and I was talking about Kutless. He seemed interested and said, "My name is Seth Ebel; my brother is Brandon Ebel, the owner of Tooth & Nail Records."

Mead gave Ebel a business card and the two kept in touch.  Eventually, Ebel arranged to hear the band play.  The day was September 11, the day of the terrorist attacks, and the band members were so shaken by the events that they almost called off the audition.  “We were grieving, but Seth came over and said he knew it was going to be a rough day, but we should still play,” recalled Mead.  “So we started off with a few worship songs, then we played a few of our own. After about four songs, Seth called Brandon and said, ‘You gotta hear these guys.’”  Brandon Ebel invited the band to record a demo at Tooth & Nail’s studio.  This recording session eventually lead to the release of the band’s self-titled debut CD in 2002.

Kutless’s debut CD won an award for Best Selling New Artist of 2002, a feat made more impressive by the fact that the album was a mid-year release.  The CD was followed by “Sea of Faces” in 2004 and now “Strong Tower.”  Sumrall urges Kutless fans that may be put off by the idea of a worship album to give the CD a chance.  “Anyone who picks up the record will hear the Kutless sound,” he said.  “They’ll hear songs that they’re familiar with, some original Kutless songs and songs from our home church.  Listeners will get the worship experience that Kutless has had over the years.”

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, July 28, 2005

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