It was difficult to get a
word in edgewise when I caught up with Kutless drummer Jeffrey Gilbert
before the band's concert in Warren, Ohio. He was so pumped up about the
band's music, message and mission that he seldom paused to catch his breath.
He is a journalist's delight because when you pose a question to the affable
musician and listen to him it becomes a lot like watching Jeff Gordon speed
around a NASCAR track.
Gilbert and Dave Luetkenhoelter
(bassist) joined Kutless in 2005 after Kyle Mitchell and Kyle Zeigler left
the band to pursue other interests in the recording industry. Gilbert grew
up with Kutless founding member and primary songwriter Jon Micah Sumrall
in southern Oregon. During the first part of the decade while Kutless was
quickly establishing itself as a formidable rock band Gilbert and Luetkenhoelter
were playing riffs and keeping beat for Seven Places, a band signed by
Tooth and Nail Records. Seven Places released two CDs Hear Us Say Jesus
(2004) and Lonely For The Last Time (2003).
Although Kutless has created
many great tunes three songs perhaps best define the band, "Run," "Strong
Tower," and "Shut Me Out." "Run" (2002-self titled CD) was the band's
breakthrough song and went to number one. It is a song about a God who
pursues us out of love and asks us to meet Him anywhere at anytime. "Strong
Tower" (album of the same name) is a rock ballad that has become a concert
favorite. The lyrics recall God's protective care. Despite being recorded
in 2005 "Strong Tower" was perched in the number ten spot on R&R's
charts for the third week of May. The 20 Top Countdown had the song ranked
The newest Kutless chart
stopper is "Shut Me Out" (From Heart of the Innocent-2006). "Shut Me Out"
is a renaissance metal tune. The song boasts thundering guitar riffs
by Ryan Shrout and James Mead. Heavy beats, lots of bass and protest lyrics
also contribute to the trademarks of heavier metal. Gilbert said, "Some
of the best metal out there is Christian metal." The band comes by their
love for metal naturally with some of the group's members claiming fan
status for older bands such as Guardian and Quicksand as well as newer
groups like Demon Hunter.
Gilbert described the song
"Shut Me Out" and in fact the entire Hearts of the Innocent album as possessing
a common thread. That thread delivers the message that Christians cannot
be content to wait for people to wander into their churches before they
reach out to them in love. He says more and more youth outside the church
view the Christian community as cultish or a subculture that will not approach
Kutless cannot be defined,
however, as a one dimensional rock band and that is a testament to the
songwriting skill of Sumrall as well as their eclectic taste in music.
Gilbert told me, "It is funny the different backgrounds that we have and
the different music that we like to listen to. I love listening to old
Jazz music. Dave (Luetkenhoelter) likes listening to different (styles
Gilbert noted, "It's interesting
the writing process that we have. We love heavy guitar riffs and big drum
beats but at the same time we like to bring it down. Honestly it (softer
songs) diversifies our music. If you listen to an album that has heavy
rock riffs for the whole record from track one to twelve it can get mundane.
There isn't a whole lot of color to the record." He provided some
insight, "When you are making a record you want to make sure that it is
interesting all the way." He said instead of creating CDs that people track
surf Kutless would, "much rather have a person hit play and let it ride.
There is a time and place for rock and roll, there is a time and place
for a power ballad and a time and place for an acoustic track. We want
to make sure our records have a cool flow."
Gilbert continued, "I think
some of the softer songs that Kutless has are some of our best songs. It
really shows at our concerts too. Kids like to go to the mosh when we play
"Let You In" "Tonight" or "Hearts of the Innocent." They (also) like to
worship to "Run," "Strong Tower" and "Sea of Faces.""
The success of Kutless can
be directly attributed to their attitude about music and how it is intertwined
with their faith. Gilbert said, "We want kids to walk into a Wal-Mart or
a Best Buy, pick up our record and say, 'This record is awesome!' We want
those kids that don't know the Lord to pick up our record and say, 'This
is a hot track.' We don't want to be limited to the Christian community
in the sense that we are only going to play to Christians." To accomplish
that end Gilbert and the rest of the Kutless band members believe their
music has to be as good as or better than anyone else's. Gilbert believes
that often the Christian music industry in their attempts to broaden the
fan base have done a disservice to artists who happen to be Christians.
He says by continually drawing comparisons to general market audiences
with the inference that if you like a certain band you will probably enjoy
this artist's music suggests that the Christian group of artists is somehow
Gilbert said there are kids
out there who pose the question, "Why is Christian music always second
best to secular music?" He went on to say, "We don't want to be second
best and there is no reason to be second best. I don't think as craftsmen
for the Lord that we should be second best in any way."
The goal of Kutless is to
hook kids on quality music and have them dig deeper into the words and
message of the song delivered. Gilbert summed it up this way, "We feel
our ministry is to be in the church, to be uplifted by the church and to
invite those that don't know the Lord just to be in love with the Lord
because he first loved us."
With their no-holds-barred
approach to music Kutless' audiences and venues are diversified. They play
stadiums, concert halls, clubs and churches. The combination of venues
and music results in concert goers who would not normally turn out to listen
to a band playing music accompanied by Christian lyrics. Gilbert observed,
"It is so cool to see these kids in the front row with Slipknot shirts
or Marilyn Manson shirts. At the beginning of the show they are scowling
and have their arms crossed. (They are probably) thinking, 'Why am I here
at a Christian concert?' By the end of the night they are jumping and moshing
harder than anybody else."
The drummer paraphrased
one fan mail Kutless received, "All rock and roll used to be to me was
a way to get angst out or to mess with my anger. Now I have this true feeling
of love knowing I don't have to be angry."
Gilbert also told me about
the email the band received from a girl who had attended one of their concerts
with a friend. The girl got as far as putting a gun in her mouth. "She
started thinking about the words to the music she heard at the concert.
She broke down in tears and went straight to her friend. The friend led
her to the Lord. Now she is living for the Lord."
Gilbert miraculously paused.
Before I can pose another question he continued, "This is what keeps us
rolling on the road. This is what keeps us doing what we are doing. It's
not about selling out shows or having a number one record. It's hearing
about kids who drop everything to truly live for the Lord. We are
so excited seeing what the Lord is doing. We are getting just as many non
Christian kids as Christians coming to our shows. Our prayer every night
is that the Lord would be invited into the place and that He would truly
move within it. It's insane seeing what the Lord is doing right now. I
would never have expected him to be moving in such intense ways. It is
what keeps the energy alive and keeps us going. We are going into the third
month of our tour and it is getting tiring but knowing that kids are being
touched is what keeps us on the road," he said.
Things you probably didn't
know about Kutless:
Lead singer John Micah Sumrall
went to college on a soccer scholarship.
Recently the music of Kutless
was featured on prime time television. "All In The Words" was played
for two minutes during an episode of Scrubs.
While John Micah Sumrall
and Jeffrey Gilbert attended the same high school and were friends Dave
Luetkenhoelter attended an arch rival high school.
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.