Kutless' newest album ALPHA/OMEGA features a sound that is a culmination of their career, a fifteen year venture in which they've seen success making both rock and roll and church music. On this new album, they're out to demonstrate that those two seemingly disparate genres can actually be the same thing. A blend of new original cuts and reverent worship covers are all bound together on ALPHA/OMEGA by one common theme: exaltation.
Longtime Kutless guitarist James Mead took the time to take us behind their ministry and their musical approach.
What has you excited about ALPHA/OMEGA in particular? What makes it stand out to you in the Kutless discography?
I think there is a lot of symbolism to consider with this album. In the Bible, numbers have a lot of significance, besides their numerical value or in relation to numbering (as in a census). This album is our tenth album, and we called it ALPHA / OMEGA because of the number ten.
The number ten is the basis of the decimal system, which theologians believe originates from counting with fingers, and in the Bible it is used as an idiom to imply "a lot of something," or, "the most of something." Thus it has been symbolic of the Alpha and Omega title of God (Revelation 1:8), since Alpha and Omega are respectively the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. This title for God (which he declares of Himself) constitutes how He is everything.
Musically, I approached this album a little differently too. I was really focused on creating layers with all the guitar parts, and I wanted a tonal continuity throughout, so I recorded a seven-string guitar on every song, tuned to drop A flat, which is typically used in like heavy metal. I just played all the rhythm parts on it so there would be a really full sounding wall of guitars in all the songs.
You've reinvented worship hits like "King of My Heart" and "Your Love Awakens Me" on Alpha / Omega. What do you look for in a worship song when you're choosing what to record?
Basically, we like to look for songs that are more focused on exaltation based praise, and we like to record songs that really connect with us personally.
You've been vocal about the fact that you don't see the two sides of your musical identity-- worship and rock-- as being at all opposed to each other. Could you talk about your approach to fusing the two?
The paradigm shift comes when we all stop viewing worship music as a musical style. Worship should be contingent upon content only. Our musical style is rock. What we do with that is tell testimonial stories through songs or lift up exaltation praise to God for who He is.
Furthermore, in the Bible, worship is exhibited throughout a broad range of activities and attitudes. King David alone is responsible for both introspective worship songs as well as exaltation worship songs. Worship of God often includes certain actions or processes. It is much more than the very narrow musical niche Christianity has shoved it into in modern times.
Our approach to fusing the two is primarily content related. On our rock albums we tend to push the boundaries of the musical niche I referred to a little more than on albums like Strong Tower, It Is Well, Glory and now ALPHA/OMEGA. This is because testimonial content, biblically speaking, is expressed in a wider variety of narrative styles. The fusion comes along naturally with the way that we play.
What kind of environment do you try to create with your live shows?
We try to take the crowd on a journey, musically speaking, so that we can create an immersive experience. When you get to that point in a concert where you have connected with the crowd and they are uninhibited, they are more capable of listening with their hearts. Every moment of our concert leads up to and accentuates the sharing of the Gospel message, which we present in several smaller segments, and then a slightly longer period of talking.
But there is atmospheric musical accompaniment a la Sígur Ros or post-punk bands like the Cure or Joy Division. We feel that it helps keep that immersive environment going. Over the years, we noticed that if there were ever any lulls, the crowd would mentally check out (which became especially more prevalent after the invention of the iPhone).
After 15 years as Kutless, what do you view as the band's mission now?
Our mission now is the same as it always has been. We feel like our imperative is best summed up in the Great Commission. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).
How can we and readers be praying for Kutless in this season of your ministry?
This is a good segue actually; in 2012, we started a non-profit ministry called End of the Age Ministries (which we call EOTA). We took the promise of Jesus from the end of the Great Commission text, "and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age," as our mission statement.
Basically, EOTA Ministries facilitates Kutless doing large-scale evangelical outreach concerts and tours, in neutral venues and entirely free to the public. "Free to the public" is still very expensive for us, so EOTA exists, in part, as a fundraising entity, so that we can use all of the money raised to go towards reaching the people. Prior to the events, and after the events, we work with churches in each community to build up their leadership, give them discipleship resources that they can use as a church, and create ongoing sustainable discipleship in that community. Our focus has primarily been in Eastern Europe, in the former Soviet countries, especially in Ukraine. This was something we never could have dreamed of or expected, but God really created a way for us to go there, in 2015 and 2016, and we have now been able to preach the Gospel to well over 100,000 -- 150,000 people over there.
We have seen over 40,000 people make decisions to follow Christ at our EOTA concerts, and we hope very much to go back and do more missions work. Please pray for EOTA to have its needs met.
You can get involved with EOTA here. ALPHA/OMEGA is available now; get it here.
Associate Editor Mary Nikkel’s love for writing, photography, videography and rock and roll have all been bound together by her love for Jesus, leading to her role with NRT. Her favorite things include theology and Greek language studies, obscure Nashville coffee shops, all things related to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and pushing the boundaries enacted by societal norms. She blogs at Threads of Stars.
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