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Michael Pritzl of the Violet Burning
Interviewed by Keith Giles

Today there are three new Violet Burning Records on the shelf OF your local Christian book store.  What makes this fact remarkable is that the last time Michael Pritzl and company had a CD released to a Christian bookstore was their sophomore release, Strength in 1992.

Not that the Violet Burning haven't recorded anything new since that time, far from it.  In the past ten years, they've released six projects. But it's only recently that they've found a distributor for their music. So, potentially, there are numerous alternative music fans out there who may be surprised that the band is still around, or who may have never heard of the band at all.

Over the years, one album to another, the band's lineup has undergone drastic changes. Only founder and vocalist Michael Pritzl has remained as a constant. The band may exist to provide a platform for Michael's music and words, but the Violet Burning's latest incarnation is the best ever.  "I'm in a great rock and roll band," beams Pritzl.  "It's like a supergroup with Andy Prickett and Chuck Cummings and Herb Grimaud. I look around onstage sometimes and it just blows me away."

Michael Pritzl's band has largely been misunderstood band from the very beginning, another reason Violet Burning kept its distance from the Christian scene. "People have always struggled with the fact that our band was born in playing in nightclubs and college campuses," says Pritzl.  "We were never a Vineyard Worship band. We didn't form as a worship band and there's no truth to that lore in Violet Burning history.  But a lot of the gatekeepers in the Christian music industry had trouble with that fact and thought that this wasn't Christian.  I just thought, well, where would you find Jesus?  If Jesus lived today, where will you find Him? I know where I'd find him," nods Pritzl.

Early on he learned that being in the Christian Music Industry sometimes meant wearing masks to make people happy. "I've had the head of a very prominent Christian record company tell me, 'You know Michael, if you would just sing "Jesus" more, then you and I would both make a ton of money,' and I realized that was really what they wanted.  It didn't matter if I really loved God or not, or if I was being honest in my music, all that mattered was that I wasn't Christian enough. So, I really struggled with that for a long time," admits Pritzl.

Out of this time of despair and struggle, Michael took his band's music to the streets and, in 1997, found a secular record company, Domo Records, interested in recording his music.  The Violet Burning released an evocative self-titled record that many fans hail as their best ever.  Sadly, it was never made available to most of their fans and is now out of print.  "The guy's at Domo were not interested in marketing the record to the Christian market, which is sad really," says Pritzl.

The band went on to record and self-produce their fourth record, Demonstrates Plastic And Elastic in 1999, but it wasn't until April of this year that Pamplin released the project into the Christian marketplace. Not surprisingly, the record deals with wearing masks.

"We all have our images and appearances that we make for our jobs or for going to school or for going to shows.  We all dress differently if we're gonna go on a date, whatever the situation is.  That's like our outer shell, that which is plastic. Underneath that, who we are on the inside is more the elastic.  That's the thing that God takes and stretches and molds and shapes and sometimes it feels like it's going to be pulled apart but somehow it comes together again.  So there's that theme kind of hidden throughout the whole record, even the packaging," explains Pritzl.

Unfortunately, the version of the CD released into Christian bookstores won't have the full impact that the band originally intended. "They took out all the photographs for some reason," says Pritzl.  "There's not even band photos.  The concept was the whole package would reflect this sense of plastic and elastic.  We did this whole booklet and photograph thing, which is not really what we're totally like in real life, but we kind of wanted the artwork to reflect that."

Still, Michael understands now that sometimes this is the price you have to pay to be a Christian band in today's marketplace. "I've come to understand that an artist can only do so much as an artist and then the record labels take it and package and market it," says Pritzl.  "Especially in the Christian marketplace, the tendency is for people to be afraid of the truth, I don't know why. But, you get to a point and you realize that no matter how you present yourself, the record companies are always going to present you in a way that they know they can sell records."

While they were waiting for Plastic and Elastic to find a distributor, the band went on to record their fifth CD, I am a Stranger in this Place under their own Ruby Records imprint.  "We've been doing these Christmas shows in Los Angeles every year," says Pritzl.  "It became so popular that we decided to record it.  Usually after you do four records you're supposed to do a greatest hits record. Rather than doing that, we thought we'd do our favorite songs in a vibey way like we do at the Christmas show.  We did it for the fans, really," says Pritzl.

Soon after this recording, Michael Pritzl was once again contacted by a Christian record company, but it wasn't the same sort of offer he'd had before. "Sovereign approached me about doing (a worship album) and they told me to do whatever I wanted, they trusted me," says Pritzl.  The result was this year's stellar Faith and Devotions of a Satellite Heart.

Michael wanted to take a different path in the recording process because this was to be a worship album.  "I didn't want to do too many tricks with electronics and stuff because I wanted the guy who doesn't have access to that stuff, the guy leading worship at his church with an acoustic guitar, to be able to use the songs in his church," says Pritzl. "For this record I thought it was more important to keep it simple with guitars and bass and drums, to give something back to the church," says Pritzl.

Comparisons to this new worship record and 1992's Strength have already been thrown around since many fans consider Strength to be their favorite worship album.  Pritzl is quick to disagree.  "Strength is just such a poorly written record, from a songwriter's perspective," he says.  "Maybe if it had been produced better, if we had been encouraged to cut out some of the fat.  The songs (on Strength) meander from an intro and then a verse and then another verse and then another intro and then a chorus."

For this new worship recording, Michael adopted a new philosophy.  "I wanted to write songs that got to the point and I think this is what the best music does.  It's like the New York Dolls used to have a saying, 'don't bore us, get to the chorus,' and I think that's what we've tried to do with our songwriting lately, to focus and not meander so much," says Pritzl.

Surprisingly, Pritzl had written most of the songs found on Faith and Devotions many years earlier but never played or recorded them for others. "I've been wanting to make worship records the way that I would do them with my own heart," says Pritzl.  "In the past, the worship things I was a part of were produced by guys who loved Barry Manilow.  I don't own any Barry Manilow records! I came in as a lead singer and that was all.  Obviously people were worshiping, but I was never a worship leader at the Vineyard.  They would credit me as a worship leader, but the truth was that they wouldn't let me lead worship at that time because I had tattoos and stuff.  Now, seven or eight years later, I guess it's cool to have young people leading worship."

Now that Violet Burning has three new releases in the Christian market, what will they do next?

"God's really opened doors for us in Europe," says Pritzl.  "We're going back over again in a couple of weeks; this will be our fourth time in the past year since we've been there and now that we've released some albums we've got more U.S. tour dates too."

Other than touring, Michael will also reenter the studio as soon as possible.  "I just signed a deal with Northern Records to do a couple of Michael Pritzl solo projects and another Violets record next year.  So, in October I'll start recording a solo EP for release early next year.  In December we go back to Europe and in January we'll probably record a new Violets record for March or April release," says Pritzl.

When pressed for details on the solo material and how that will differ from the Violets projects Michael is very guarded.  "That's top secret," he says.  "I will probably include some of the players from Violets.  Eric Campuzano will probably be involved on some level.  The solo record will probably be something that I wouldn't necessarily do with the Violets, more in the reflective vein of things.  I've got the songs all written.  We've made six records in ten years, so I've got about four years of songs to share."

Judging from the pace Pritzl keeps, it's not likely he'll be running out of ideas very soon.  "I write songs almost everyday.  I've got piles of tapes and I just try to find songs that are strong and that fit together musically.  I'm supposed to do another worship record for Sovereign so I'll have to dig down and hopefully find songs that fit together for that."

Songwriting is more than a discipline to Michael, it's part of his daily devotion to Christ. "I feel most comfortable praying with an instrument. That's where my relationship with God takes place behind my guitar or my piano and I sit and pray and see what comes out. I just try to close my eyes and worship.  I've always done that," says Pritzl.  "I have cassette tapes front and back full of singing and sneezing and weeping.  When you listen back to it, some of it's pretty funny.  I don't know if they're good enough recordings to release, but a few years from now when I pass away, just remind my parents (to) look for the ones where he's crying, those are the holy ones!"

Michael Pritzl's love for music and for writing music began almost simultaneously at his conversion.  "When I got converted I was a Catholic, and suddenly church was so alive for me.  I would go to church and I'd sing the hymns and I was just into it and into God," he says.  "But, my Dad, who plays three instruments, would just elbow me to hush me because he thought I was like the worst singer ever.  But I didn't care because I'd met God and I wanted God to know that I loved Him and so I would sing out," he exclaims.

His calling to be a worship leader and a songwriter flowed naturally out of this desire to express his love for God through music. But, it was still a long time before he ever thought of himself as anything close to a worthy vessel.  "One day," he says, "I told my parents I wanted to go a Bible study but I wasn't allowed to go because I was only allowed to go Catholic Bible studies.  So I would kind of sneak out and go to this one Bible study," admits Pritzl.

"(At this Bible study), this woman decided she was going to give me a word of knowledge. I was probably eighteen years old.  This woman comes up to me and she says, 'Oh yeah, the Lord has showed you to me, I had a dream about you.'  ' I'm thinking, What's this?  You freak, get away from me. I only did music at that time in my bedroom.  But, she said, 'You're going to be a great worship leader who will lead thousands of people to Jesus and you're gonna travel all over the world.'

"I kind of put my finger out and shook it at her and I go, 'No, you don't understand, I'm not a good singer and I'll never be a worship leader.'

"And she goes, 'No, you don't understand, God's going to do this in your life.'  I don't know who she is, I never saw her again, but what she said has come to pass in my life.  I've had the honor of leading worship, leading people into God's presence and I've had the honor of leading thousands of people to Jesus.  Not because I'm special or because I said Jesus in a lot of songs, but because God will take sinful people like me who offer themselves to Him and He'll use them," says Pritzl.


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