Hailing from Los Angeles, CA, veteran musicians Michael & Lisa Gungor have been eluding genre since 2007. Through several life struggles and social media fiascos over the last few years, Gungor as a musical collective have risen from the ashes with One Wild Life: Soul, their first album in a “One Wild Life” album trilogy.
(Michael) Gungor has been around for several years. Can you give us a quick history lesson on Gungor?
Michael: Yeah. It actually started as Michael Gungor, in church music. While I was going through college studying Jazz, I had a job at a church that was helping to pay my way through college. At the time, they had me record an album for them (& the congregation). From there, people started to ask me to play live shows after hearing my album.
It slowly evolved into the Michael Gungor Band, which was the next evolution of what that church music started off as. Ended up doing a lot of youth conferences and camps, stuff like that. Through all that, I was nearing the end of school, and Lisa & I had started writing music together. I started to discover more of my artistic voice, rather that just being a function or job. I started to think of who I wanted to become as an artist, and what kind of music I wanted to make personally.
That’s where we started Gungor, basically. I was an evolution of the Michael Gungor Band. Some people already knew us, and we didn’t want to lose their recognition. So, we chopped off “Michael” & “Band”, and shifted towards more what art we wanted to make rather than being a gig playing band.
We call it a collective, because its evolved over the years from who taking the centre stage for creativity. I’ve been there for every album, and Lisa has become more to the forefront with each album. Now, it’s pretty much just her & I that do the writing together. On this latest album, I think all the song (with exception of Land Of The Living) are just Lisa & I. We’ve had other musicians throughout the different albums playing a more predominant role, in writing as well as touring.
You’ve recently released “One Wild Life: Soul”. What kind of early feedback have you received from you fans & your peers?
Lisa: It’s been great! We were pretty nervous about releasing it. As a lot of our fans know, we’ve had many personal things go down over the last few years. We had our 2nd child, and she needed two heart surgeries. It was a difficult time to go through, so we wrote a lot about those things that we faced. I think we were nervous on a few different levels, with the songs being so personal to us. When your writing something from a very vulnerable place, I think it is much harder to release. If someone doesn’t like it, it hits much more deep. For us, it’s been therapy to write these songs. And then, we had a crazy social media blow-up last year as well, which was very difficult for us. We weren’t sure how everyone was going to receive this album, because we had some who were very excited about what we said, and some who were mad about what we said. We were really uncertain on how it would be received, but it seems to have been received very well, from our fans & peers alike! We’ve received several messages from people telling us how much they’ve loved it, and how it connected to them. It feels that what we’ve went through the last few years is allowing us to connect to our fans and peers on a much deeper level. The surfacey stuff has been scraped away. We can talk about the things that really matter, and connect with others on deeper life issues.
So, adding or having a more personal touch to the music?
Lisa: Yeah. It’s felt like we’ve always been really intentional with our music. I think a lot of artist would say they are trying to make honest music. But, that’s always been very important to us, to write from an honest place. I think when you go through these painful experiences, you connect a real human level. Pain just has this way of making you vulnerable, and having people join you in solidarity and locking arms is a very beautiful thing.
Your Twitter description reads “Eluding genre since 2007”. What does genre mean to you, in the context of your collective?
Michael: I think genre is marketing. It’s a way of containing and selling music. It has a functional value in someone trying to make a living in music, in knowing the pre-existing streams they can direct themselves to find fan more easily. Artistically, I think that genre is very limiting. Its just a construct, there is no real thing as genre. It’s marketing alleys. And when you try to put art into that, you have to start chopping off the edges of what makes an individual unique. It’s not like every single country artist likes the exact same rhythms. There is an –ish to country music, you’ll get similar rhythms or lyrical themes. Its story driven. I draw influences from many different places, where music is done well. I don’t care what genre was used to sell the music. Music in essence is sound. Anyone who is creating sounds that moves me, that makes me think differently or engage with life differently, I love it! So, genre artistically is what I would try to eluded to. But when it comes time to type Genre into iTunes search box, you need to type something.
As a lyricist, do you believe in a blatant (straightforward) or eloquent (metaphorical) approach in your music?
Michael: I guess for me, being straightforward about reality can be interesting. But, there are part of reality that you can’t tapped into without metaphors. You can talk about your first kiss in a way that is very literal, which could be very interesting if you start thinking on a physics or quantum level with the energy bouncing off one and another. You can’t fully convey your first kiss to someone without using poetry, metaphors or subjective language. We try to write music that express what is true to our reality, which uses lots of literal languages, but also has some metaphors. It tends to be more metaphorical, because that’s how poetry lives. It’s interesting for me when I can find ways of speaking literally about the state of existence, but that comes off as poetry because our existence is so insane!
When it comes down to the songwriting process, what usually comes first: the music/notes or the lyrical content?
Lisa: It’s totally different for each song. Sometimes, I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll have these words I want to say, I have to find a melody for it. Usually (70% of the time), I’ll be sitting at the piano, and its something musical that’ll come first. I find it harder if I have the lyrics first, it makes it harder to find a melody that I feel those lyrics can go to. What about you, babe (Michael)?
Michael: I’d say it’s mostly music first, and lyrics come afterwards.
Do you find touring and/playing shows has become harder now that you have children?
Lisa: Yeah, it’s definitely harder. With our first daughter, she was great. She was a road warrior, had her own bunk and loved being on the bus or signing at shows. But with our second daughter, there is other issues surrounding her life (physical therapy, occupational therapy) that help her weekly life, and we’ve prefer her not to be away from those things. So far, she’s just a bit harder of a baby to travel with. She hates being in her car seat. Having a baby crying in their car seat doesn’t really help the other bandmates much. Who knows, she might get better with time. I think it gets easier as they grow older. She’s an easy baby in general, so we’ll see how it goes next tour.
You’ve been part of the music industry for over a decade. If you could go back and tell your younger self something, what would that be?
Michael: Umm, stay out of Christian music. Haha! But, I probably wouldn’t listen to myself. I’d try to talk myself out of it.
Lisa: Even in that, it’s would be a hard thing because you’d still be writing the songs you’re writing. I think we’d try to find a way to write the music we are writing, without boxing it in. It’s interesting how if you’re outside of the Christian music, people like it when you talk about Jesus. But if you’re on the inside, and you talk about Jesus but not in the certain way that they want, then they’re mad.
Michael: The way I grew up, was a very dualistic existence. It’s the way the human brain works. You’re either Democrat or Republican, male or female. That’s how we simplify and minimize the world. As you grow older, you discover those binary actions are not always true. There is lots of grey areas, they’re just constructs. I was raised in a very sturdy Christian home, where if you wanted to make music that was good for the world it was Christian music. There was Christian music and secular music, that was my construct. If I spoke to my younger self, I’d try to dismantle that dualism. Like I was mentioning about genre, people tend to think of Christian music as propaganda, a sub-par art that is trying to get across a message, instead of creating good music. When you start there, it’s harder to write a record where you’re not just talking about God. Or like us, you go through a deconstruction of all of that. Our last album (Higher Mountain), we never claimed any Christian ties to it. It was categorized singer-songwriter, we didn’t play any churches on the tour. It was a club tour, and people got mad that we didn’t sing about Jesus. Just a bizarre reality. If we’d come from the other way, people might have applauded it. I know people who have had album that were simply mainstream rock & roll, and when they allude to something spiritual it excited people. It’s hard to go the other way sometimes.
Kind of like Mumford & Sons mentioning something spiritual in a song?
Michael: Exactly. The said “Fuck” in the same song, but people still claim it as their own. Basically, it’s easier to go from saying something profane to talking spiritual, than vice versa. You’ll get stoned!
What artist have inspired you for this most recent album?
Lisa: We listen to a wide variety of music, Michael more than me. I’ve always loved Sigur Ros, I like the stuff that. I feel they create a magical experience in their live shows. Then there is Bjork, The Beatles, Sleeping at Last, Nicole Nordeman. Both Sleeping at Last & Nicole have a unique way of expressing themselves in their music. We’ve also been a huge fan of John Mark McMillan, he is very good with words as well.
What is your favorite album of the year so far?
Lisa: SonLux’s new album is awesome.
Michael: Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens is a great album.
What do you consider to be one significant positive aspect of the music industry, as well as one significant negative aspect of the music industry?
Michael: There is one thing happening in the music industry that I think is good and bad. Technology is making it an equal playing field for how people can make, record and distribute their music. Its cool to enable anyone to make music. With a basic understanding of computers, you can open up Garage Band and create music with the pre-existing loops, that other smart people created for the app. Its an interesting world were anyone can be an artist. Now with so much music, how do you find the great stuff within? How do the great musicians continue to make a living in the over-saturated market? With streaming services, unless you’ve got tens of millions of plays, you cannot make a living of streaming your music. It becomes more of a marketing tool for your touring and merch.
We don’t just go into the studio for a week and record an album. We’ve taken a year to write “Soul”, and we’ve still got two more albums to go in this trilogy of albums of One Wild Life.
I think technology will wipe out the middle class of musicians. You’ll have everyone trying to make music just to make music, then the grey goo of everything else, then Beyoncé on top. That’s where I see it going, but I hope for some reform to happen with streaming models.
Do you find a lot more artists are going the independent/DYI route, rather than joining a record label these days?
Michael: Yeah, for me it makes little sense to go the label route. I mean, I guess if you’re just starting and can’t pay for a record, then it might make sense. Most label deals tend to be horrendous for artists, especially with how little music is selling these days compared to how it used to be. It would have to be such an amazing label deal for me to ever even consider it. We did start with a label, but after seeing all the inner working of it, the industry doesn’t really have room for middle men anymore. If the label goes away, there is tons of jobs that you now need to do as an artist that were not your responsibility before. Lean & mean is the way to survive this music industry right now.