Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Townhouse Interviews: Justin Amundrud of Waken

The second interview here at the Townhouse!  Waken is a synthpop worship band based in Florida. Their debut EP, Endless Light, is a very big breath of fresh air for worship music. Let me repeat, very refreshing. Hopefully other artists will take note. Justin Amundrud (keyboard and vocals) is an old pal, and was kind enough to stop by and answer some questions. Enjoy!

Evan Jones Let's cut to the chase, good Christian music is pretty scarce. Most of it sounds like all the other mainstream crap that's out there, except I think Christian music is automatically at a bigger disadvantage because there's an inherent limitation there.  It's usually pretty boring.  Do you guys sense the need for Christian music that doesn't compromise the joy of good music just because your message is different than secular bands?

Justin Amundrud Definitely!  Growing up in the church I always felt like "Christian music" was this one thing, this one sound.  And while I have absolutely nothing against the music by churches like Hillsong, Elevation, or Bethel (some of the most powerful songs I've ever heard have came out of these churches), I get the feeling that smaller churches or other Christian musicians feel this pressure on them to sound one way as if it's the only way to glorify God, which simply isn't true.  As a worldwide church, we are a pretty diverse group of people! And I think that worship music, or songs glorifying to God should express that. It excites me to see worship bands/arists like John Mark McMillan, Young Oceans, Kings Kaleidoscope, and Citizens & Saints produce fresh music for the church, and it's part of what inspired this project!

EJ There's a big Christian hardcore scene these days (The Chariot, Underoath, The Devil Wears Prada, etc.).  There doesn't seem to be a big electronic Christian scene, at least in the way you guys do it. Your music is innovative by any standard, so can you tell me a little bit about influences? Inspirations?  Things to say about other words that start with I?

JA I see it as a developing genre in Christian music.  There are great bands like Kye Kye making quality music and developing a following, however nothing directly in the genre of praise & worship, and that's what we want to do.  When we were producing Endless Light we were trying to channel the sounds of groups like Tycho, M83 and Washed Out into our own blend of indie-synthpop-worship music.  But I'd say that since then we've definitely broadened our scope sonically.  For the new songs I think we've drawn influence more from groups like Mount Kimbie, Gold Panda, and James Blake.  So a little more groove/beat oriented, which we're really excited about.

EJ I can totally see those influences in there.  Very cool.  As I previously mentioned, I think Christian music automatically suffers lyrically because there's definitely some limitations it has.  Strict worship music does, anyway. The recent Townhouse series about Orwell made the point that orthodoxy limits creativity. Political or religious.  Waken's sound, though, is extremely fresh, and certainly doesn't suffer.  But is there ever a struggle to write lyrics that are up to par with your sound?

JA Yeah I think that is a constant struggle we come up against.  However our first priority isn't necessarily to find what hasn't been said yet, but rather to simply write what God has put on our hearts for our local church and in our own personal walks.  And if that is by some awesome fresh lyrical imagery, awesome!

EJ I think that's a good mission.  Can't go wrong.  Now let's move from the philosophy, and get technical. What's the songwriting process for you guys?

JA Our songwriting process changes all the time.  With the tracks we're working on now, I'll usually come to David Gurr (Guitarist/Songwriter) with a beat or short musical loop in Ableton, and from there we just see what happens.  I think the coolest part about this approach is that its given us is a chance to break free of the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge format of most worship music that you hear these days, while also giving us a chance to really meditate on the lyrics we are writing and take a song piece by piece.

EJ It's nice to see a focus on making innovations on the music front of worship music.  God likes good music too!  Since you play electronic music, what's the difference with playing live as opposed to being in the studio?  When you play live, do you favor the organic nature of a live sound, or do you try to stay true to the polished nature of electronic music?

JA It's definitely a challenge to replicate the music live.  It would be easy to just play along to everything in backing tracks/loops, but the music loses a certain energy when you do that.  So what we've found that works is modifying the arrangements and parts to fill up more space, and/or taking parts or sounds that could be tracked and play them on a Launchpad or Sampler.  Brings back some of the live energy and gives us more to do.  Also, having plenty of synths onstage helps!  With the new material we're being a lot more mindful of live performance and trying to incorporate things that we've experimented with into the actual tracks, which I think is great for the songs as a whole.

EJ There's definitely a great sense of life on a record when there's experimentation allowed, instead of such a straight-forward mechanized approach.  The human element is always important.  What are you hopes and dreams as a band?

JA To reach the young people of this generation with fresh and connectable worship music. And to inspire others to use their God-given talents in a new and creative way.

EJ Is there a favorite band activity?

JA Sending ugly selfies to each other and then creating memes, our drummer Stephen is a meme artist.

EJ Nice.  So here's a personal question.  When you guys make it to the big big time, do you worry you're going to have to change your last name for the sake of simplicity?  Amundrud is slightly complicated.  On the other hand, it could work to your advantage.

JA Haha no, I don't think that will be a problem!

EJ So what's in the works for you guys?  

JA We're currently finishing up songs to begin pre-production in the next couple of months.  We're hoping to have a single or two drop either late this year of early 2015 before we release anything else.  And we should have more details about live dates soon.

EJ Can't wait.  I'm sure there are great things to come.  Thanks for stopping by, Mars is a long way from Florida.

JA Haha!  It certainly is.  Great chatting with you.

Waken's debut EP, Endless Light, is available on iTunes and Soundcloud.  Be sure to check it out, it won't disappoint. And pay attention to these guys, they're doing great things for the Lord.  

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Evan Jones is a painter, drummer, and avid music lover.