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It began about a decade ago with bands like Delirious and Sonicflood-a movement to express praise and worship through a modern sound. In the years since modern worship has inundated the music industry-much to the chagrin of some critics. Which leads to the release of Strong Tower by Kutless, where the question might come up, why has a young, successful rock band joined those who've recorded modern worship.
"Our record label brought the idea of doing a worship record to us. They believed that fans would like it. We were unsure of the timing since we've only done two records, but after prayer and thought, we decided to go ahead and do it," says Kutless frontman Jon Micah Sumrall.
"After we made the decision, our goal became to make a new, fresh, revolutionary sounding record. There's a certain sound that you hear on worship CDs nowadays and we wanted to break outside that sound. I began to think about Sonicflood's very first record and how I had never heard worship like that before. We wanted to bring that feeling back."
Strong Tower is about more than bringing the flavor of Kutless rock to worship music though. It's a chance for the band to share its own worship experience through songs that have inspired band members in various worship settings-whether in Kutless shows or in home church fellowship. It's an expression of who the band is, and has been, since its beginning.
"We started in college as worship band. That's what originally brought us together," remembers Sumrall. "On Thursday night we would lead an upbeat alternative style of worship. That's where we first started playing together. It wasn't until later that we decided to do original music and play shows. Our roots are in worship but even so, we see all the music we write and perform as act of worship; anything that glorifies God is worship."
Before Kutless and producer Aaron Sprinkle could give the music a fresh sound, the band had to choose the songs to rework and reinvent Kutless-style. Sumrall says the band deliberately chose songs that would be widely familiar. "We've discovered in our travels that you can go to different parts of the country and find that different worship songs are popular. We wanted to pick a handful that would be familiar nationwide, songs like 'Draw Me Close,' 'Take Me In' and 'Better Is One Day.'
"You can only rock out certain songs. 'As the Deer' really wouldn't work, so we had to find songs that made sense and fit a heavier style. The heavier Kutless style can make songs more emotional, in almost a power ballad sort of way, so there here had to be a balance in choosing songs that made sense in that edgier, heavier style.
"Anyone who picks up the record will hear the Kutless sound. 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."
On Strong Tower, Kutless introduces new songs like the title track by Marc Byrd ("God of Wonders") and Third Day's Mark Lee, "Jesus Lord" and "In You We're Living" (songs from the band's home church) as well as its own "Ready for You."
"I wanted to write a song that churches would be able to incorporate into their worship time," says Sumrall. "The idea behind 'Ready for You' is about coming to that place to be ready for God, to meet God in worship. I've found we have to get to a place where our hearts are open in worship, where we have to let go of thoughts and distractions to hear from him. It's allowing him to take control and do what he wants in your life."
The band's arrangement of "Better Is One Day" from Tooth & Nail's Empty Me, Vol. 1 is also included as is the song "All of the Words" from Sea of Faces. "We decided to use 'All of the Words.' It was written intentionally as a worship song for Sea of Faces. It talks about how all the words could never describe our love for God. I could sit here and try to explain my love for the Lord, but it would take me forever to explain. So I'm just going to throw up my hands in worship. It's about the expression of love that I have. It just made sense to pull this song over."
Kutless discovered that rearranging worship music for a rock band was more difficult than it had originally anticipated. "We had the idea going into this project that it would be easy," says Sumrall. "Most worship songs use only four chords. But when we sat down to come up with new guitar parts for any song, we couldn't believe how hard it was."
The band found it especially trying to arrange a song after hearing it played a certain way for so long. "Every church plays it differently so we all had different versions around the table, or we discovered that we knew different lyrics to the same song. We never realized how a song could change over time. Everyone expected it to be fairly simple but it turned out harder than expected."
In the end Kutless feels that it accomplished its goal-creating a fresh sounding record of its favorite worship songs, carefully crafted in Kutless style. The band and its trademark sound and passion are recognizable, and fans will be able to rock out while enjoying the purpose behind the record. "We're ready for people to hear it," says Sumrall. "I think people will be able to pop it in their CD players, turn it up loud and sing along. We hope that it will be a refuge wherever they go."