I know I promised the final post about “Defining Christian Music” today, but it’s just gonna have to wait. I wanted to get this post up while it was still relevant.
A few days ago (here), I posted about the band Synthar that I’ve recently fallen in love with. They’ve got a smooth and catchy synth-heavy folk pop sort of sound that’s real pleasing to the ears and fun to listen to.
Lead singer Johnny Bertram indulged my obsessive interviewing disorder and was kind enough to do an interview over e-mail for me.
So sit back, sip some coffee, and enjoy.
The Blah blah: OK, Johnny Bertram, who are you, in as many words as you want to use?
Johnny Bertram: I am a dude that grew up in the Northwest and moved to the south a few years back. I make music with my band SYNTHAR.
TBB: I gotta admit, I love everything about the band but the name. What’s the story behind the name “Synthar?” It sounds like a monster Godzilla would fight.
JB: I actually had nothing to do with the name of the band. Joel, Andrew, and Matt asked me to be a part of Synthar. I think the name was Joel’s idea… I wouldn’t mind seeing a Godzilla vs. SYNTHAR fight, though.
TBB: How would you describe Synthar’s sound?
JB: I always say its rock n roll with synths. I guess after working on the album for a couple of years a sound kind of developed but because I was involved in writing and tweaking it, it became hard for me to know exactly what style of music it was. Its definitely a pop album but the styles kind of change from song to song.
TBB: What is the song “Breathing for the First Time” about?
JB: That song was written while I was working with a non-profit and trying to figure out a lot of things in my life. Even to me the song itself is somewhat vague. I think it represents some feelings I had at the time about putting the needs of others over my own and getting beyond myself which is really hard most of the time but incredibly life giving as well.
TBB: How ’bout “Small Coastal Towns?”
JB: I actually met my wife in a small town on the Oregon coast so it’s kind of a “love” song. We were both on bikes when we met.
TBB: What do you do when you’re not making music?
JB: I cook food at one of the only vegetarian cafes here in Mississippi. I’ve also been busy learning the art of screen printing lately. My brother and I screened all of the Synthar album covers and CD’s ourselves. Its been a long process. I’m also pretty involved in the Arts community here in Jackson. Most recently I helped shoot an episode of a new show called The Code which spotlights the local music and culture in the south. [Check it out here!]
TBB: How did you get started making music?
JB: I got a guitar in high school after being around friends at summer camp that played. I learned a few chords from them and played everyday for years and years. After a while I started to write my own songs and haven’t stopped.
TBB: How did Synthar start as a band?
JB: Matt and I grew up in Idaho together and met at summer camp. He met Andrew and Joel in college at Seattle Pacific and they were in a band called The Dandelion Method together. I was living in Portland at the time and would visit them in Seattle once and a while. The band split up as members began to leave Seattle. Andrew, Joel, and Matt put out another album under the name Biltus but soon that also disbanded as Joel and Matt prepared to leave Seattle for Grad school
Matt sent me an email and asked if I wanted to be a part of “an internet band”. He had recently moved from Seattle to NYC to attend Columbia. Joel moved to Humboldt County to do the same while Andrew stayed in Seattle. I was honored and excited to be a part of the new internet band and began writing SYNTHAR songs.
TBB: I assume that you consider yourself to be a Christian, based on what Joel told me. Could you share a little about when you really started to follow God, when you became born again?
JB: I can’t pinpoint an exact time when I was “born again”. To be honest, over the past few years I’ve become pretty disillusioned with modern Christianity. I take the teachings of Jesus to be very profound and they will always be a part of my life but I’ve enjoyed lately being away from any form of organized religion. [Editor’s Note: I’m pretty disillusioned with modern Christianity too, at least in America. We’re all fat, lazy, whiny, worldly, and wishy-washy. Sorry for the obsessive use of ‘W’s. I think we need a return to the radical dedication of the Biblical Christianity that turned the world upside-down… but that’s just me.]
TBB: What were you like in High School?
JB: I was really into sports when I started high school but after having ankle surgery my sophomore year I became more interested in music.
TBB: Could you describe your process of writing songs?
JB: I write in a lot of different ways. Usually, though, I will get an idea for a song and just focus on it for a while. Im not very anal about what comes out so usually the songs I write are just an outflowing of random things I’ve been thinking about or experiencing. I love melodies and usually base my songs on melodies that develop in my head
TBB: What’s your goal with your music?
JB: I guess the goal would be to share something with others. Whether it be a feeling or a thought. I don’t like the music to be too specific. I like to give room for the listener to have their own experience as they listen.
TBB: What artists are you currently listening to?
JB: Im really digging the new Rogue Wave album. Josh Ritter’s latest album is fantastic.
David Bazan’s new stuff has been in heavy rotation. Found a copy of Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison lately and have been enjoying that as well. We have some great local bands here in Jackson that I enjoy very much. Wooden Finger, Colour Revolt, and Questions In Dialect are a few that come to mind.
TBB: What books are you reading?
JB: I haven’t been reading a lot lately, though I’m halfway through a Dave Eggers book called What is the What.
TBB: What’s your favorite movie?
JB: Hmmm, so many that I like. I love all of Wes Anderson’s movies.
TBB: Who’s your all-time favorite musician?
JB: I don’t know if I have an all time favorite but if I were to choose the one that I’ve listened to the most over the years it would probably be David Bazan from Pedro the Lion. I started listening to his music about 7 or 8 years ago and haven’t stopped since.
TBB: What do you think of the MP3 downloading revolution? Bad for artists or good?
JB: I think without people buying artists’ music it is going to be harder for them to continue investing the time into making music. Personally I enjoy supporting other musicians by purchasing their music. I think downloading could work in our favor with a band like SYNTHAR. I think there are people out there who would enjoy our music but without a record label or a steady touring schedule they may never have the chance to hear it.
TBB: I’ve been trying to figure out what to make of this whole “Christian Music” thing lately (see here). What does the term “Christian Music” mean to you? Like it or hate it?
JB: I really can’t stand it. I think if you are a Christian your art will represent that. No need to title it “Christian” and sell it in Christian bookstores.
TBB: Now for a really deep question: If you could ask God one question, and be guaranteed an answer, what would you ask Him?
JB: Why Bush?
TBB: If you could have one of your songs played throughout the nation, which one would you choose?
JB: I guess it would be Hurricanes. I wrote that song in the days after Katrina blew though and left us without power for almost a week. I like the story and immediacy of the song.
TBB: I nominated Synthar for Christian Music Superbowl I . What are you gonna do if you win? Besides travel the world, fight robots, and come up with more sweet band names.
JB: I guess I’ll buy a digital round of drinks to all who voted for us… then I will declare war on Iran.
TBB: Why should people listen to your music?
JB: My fellow band mates are very talented dudes and deserve a listen.
Thank you, Johnny Bertram, for doing this interview, and I hope you all enjoyed reading it. Be sure to check out the band’s website, and grab a copy of their album Evenings & Weekends. If you want a sample before buying (because you will buy their album, ala Obi Wan Kenobi) check out my post here.