Rundman explores "Sound Theology" on new pair of discs

Chicago-based singer/songwriter Jonathan Rundman has been touring regularly throughout the upper Midwest since he released his debut disc, "Wherever," in 1995. His rootsy rock and roll carries on a tradition of "heartland" rock that draws on themes of love, loss and family.

His newest project, "Sound Theology," finds the 29-year-old Rundman exploring his heritage as a Finnish-American and his Lutheran faith. "Sound Theology" is remarkable for more than the fact that it comprises two CDs and 52 tracks. It is also one of the most passionate records to emerge from a Midwest indie in a long time, free of the constraints of marketing concerns and, to some extent, ill-advised, as Rundman risks losing some fans who will be turned off by his deviation into what could be called "Christian rock."

But, while many of the songs on the two discs have outwardly Christian themes, many others do not and to peg "Sound Theology" as "Christian rock" would be to ignore its more wide-ranging appeal and the solid songwriting and performances that distinguish it.

We recently talked to Rundman about "Sound Theology," during a break in his annual autumn tour of the Upper Midwest, including Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula.

OMC: "Sound Theology" is an ambitious project. How did you plan it out or did it just sort of happen as you amassed more and more songs?

JR: It was totally planned out before I recorded a note. I thought if I was gonna do a "church" album, I should take it to such an extreme that it would be interesting. I really value the flow of the Liturgical Year, and so it seemed like a good idea to have a song for each week. I blocked out both albums season by season, without even having all the songs written. I had to write and record songs to fill in the blanks.

OMC: So you went into it with a strong concept in mind.

JR: It was important to me to have each part of the album "sound" like each season. That was easy with Disc One, which covers the Winter/Spring seasons of Advent through Easter. Disc Two, which takes up the entire season of Pentecost (May through November) was more difficult, so I tried to make those songs correspond to the changes between Spring, Summer and Fall. Creating this recording was like "making an album in reverse." For most albums, the band writes a bunch of songs and then puts them into a logical order onto an album. For "Sound Theology" I began with the logical order, and then had to write songs that fit into the skeleton. I suppose it was more similar to writing music for a movie score or musical theater, where there are set parameters to stay within.

OMC: You've built a good reputation in the upper midwest with your rootsy Americana rock and roll. Do you have any fear that some folks will run the other way when they see you doing "Christian rock"?

JR: Yes, I'm terrified of that happening. I've never liked Christian Rock. It's always so cheesy and derivative and cliquey and slick and socially conservative. I'm interested in asking the question "Can I record a rock & roll album about my faith experience without being considered a Christian Rock singer?" A lot of my musical heroes -- T-Bone Burnett, Bruce Cockburn, Sam Phillips, Buddy & Julie Miller, King's X, Peter Case -- are able to express their faith in their songs without being pigeonholed, so I'm shooting for that as well.

Besides, I think anybody who really listens to my album will know it's nothing like a Christian Rock album. No Christian band would record songs like "Loneliness of Happiness," "We're Creating Monsters," "Xian Bookstore," "Failing Rockstar Attempt," "Easier" or "You Don't Speak for Me." I like to think of it this way: If a famous photographer wanted to publish a book of photos of church buildings, no one would say "He's a Christian Photographer." That's what I'm trying to do....I'm trying to take musical snapshots of the church. I think it's a legitimate subject for rock & roll songs.

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