I’ve been playing “Here on Earth,” the new album by Brian and Katie Torwalt frequently. It’s unusual for me to repeat a worship album so much. But when you hear these new songs, you’ll understand why.
Recently I caught up with the musical couple via email to ask them some questions about their approach to worship, their influences, and how they came to express their faith through song.
Andrew Kooman: For people who have yet to hear your music or this new album, describe your sound and what they can expect.
Bryan Torwalt: I feel like the sound we were going for is similar to a Coldplay but for corporate worship, with a hint of folk. Haha… you can decide if that’s what it came out as, but most of the songs have very anthemic declarative choruses, with big musical vamp sections.
AK: Bryan, you’ve been writing and performing music for years. How do these songs at this time define you as a musician?
BT: For this record we really focused a lot lyrically on what we were saying. We wanted these songs to mean something and to come from experience in worship.
Katie has amazing idea’s for melodies and chorus hooks in songs. So it’s really been an album of learning to work and write together.
AK: After all the time preparing for this release, rehearsing, recording and planning what is it like to perform your music before an audience?
BT: Well we are currently worship pastors at a church in Fresno, CA. So these songs have really had a year of practicing in front of an audience before we ever recorded. We’d do a song on a Sunday, then take it home and change it, see what worked well with a band and what didn’t. You can really tell when an audience catches on easy, and if they didn’t, we usually changed something.
However since the record is done, we just had an opportunity to play in front 15,000 people in Chicago, and it was Incredible!!!! We’ve never experienced anything quite like that before.
AK: Katie, that voice! Hearing it I’m reminds me of that story in the Old Testament when facing the army the Isrealites are told to simply stand and worship, and they win the war. And you read that, and you scratch your head and wonder, How could worship stop an army? But hearing your voice you really do get a picture of how that’s possible, how an enemy could simply be stopped in its tracks by someone who truly worships. You just pulverize! (But enough piling). When did you start to see yourself as a vocalist – were there any particular triggers into that creative journey?
Katie Torwalt: I remember as a little girl realizing that I could connect with God through singing and worshipping Him. I didn’t have the theology for it then but I would feel God’s presence when I sang like no other time. I guess I would have just said if you would have asked the 6 year old me, that Jesus “just liked it when I sang”. Praise has taken me through the darkest times in my life and has transformed my mind and given me peace in storms so that is why I place so much value on it. In my own life I have seen it change atmospheres and heal.
AK: I’m interested to hear from both of you: How do you cultivate your craft as artists?
BT: Again being worship pastors, we’re playing all the time. And it is amazing but it can become a chore sometimes. For me I do need to lock my self in a room every once in awhile and just write, or just play. Also for me going for a walk/prayer walk, and just being quite helps me re-focus if i’m feeling like i’m in a rut. And also listening to other musicians and artists always inspires me.
KT: I Love to constantly listen to the creative perspective others are discovering. I am always looking for inspiration. I love the idea of staying novice in my approach to learning and of course practice!
AK: Worship in many ways has been commercialized as a commodity in the music world as ‘just another product’. Yet listening to your album you get a sense of the authenticity of your music. What, to you, is true worship, and how do you cultivate it?
BT: True worship to me comes from relationship and thankfulness. If I don’t feel like I’ve connected with God personally, I have a real hard time being authentic in my worship of Him. Even to consciously recognize and remember what He’s done for me, his faithfulness in my life, the miracles, the peace that He brings. It allows me to go to a place of focusing on Him instead of on me. And allows me to place my affection on Him, and truly worship Him from deep within. For me it’s all about that connection with God.
AK: I think there are a lot of Christians out there who struggle to find a way to express their faith. There are also a lot of artists and musicians who are struggling to ‘make it.’ In a unique way you are doing both, killing those birds with the same stone. What advice do you have for the Christian wondering how to effectively share their faith or to the musician working to find an audience to share their art?
BT: I think for the Christian expressing their faith, it really comes back to the last question. Connection with God, living a lifestyle of worship. When that becomes real to you, it won’t look fake to the people that are around you watching you love your God. They all just want to see something real.
For the musician, we’d be lying if we say we made this happen. LOL…. We really do feel like God has set a lot of this up for us. But at the same time, we have worked hard to improve our craft of songwriting and singing/playing. As far as finding an audience, it seems like everyone says be true to what’s inside, which I agree with. But I believe you also have to pay attention to what people are listening to and what they want to hear in a certain season. There are a lot of amazing musicians out there who will never be heard by the masses because they’re “too original” in my opinion.
AK: What is Jesus Culture and how did you end up under their banner?
BT: Jesus Culture is a Christian Youth Movement based out of Bethel Church in Redding CA, that started out small with some conferences. And now has turned into an international Youth movement/Band/Record Label. Kim Walker-Smith is a major part of Jesus Culture and the Jesus Culture Band. And Katie’s friendship with her is how we first got connected with Jesus Culture, and we signed under their record label in the fall just before we began working on “Here On Earth”.
AK: Who are some of your musical inspirations and influences?
BT: My biggest inspirations in music are probably Coldplay, U2, Dave Matthews, Jesus Culture Band, David Gray, Matt Redman, Beyonce, Delirious, Mumford and Sons, John Mark McMillan… and I’m sure many many more that I can’t think of at the moment.
KT: Lauryn Hill, Kim Walker Smith ( Of course!), Fleet Foxes, Crystal Lewis and Jennifer Knapp influenced me a lot growing up, Brian and Jenn Johnson, Beyonce, Nickle Creek, John Mark McMillan and lots more.
AK: What is next in your musical journey?
BT: Hopefully travel some with this record, we love to worship with people all over the place. And we do plan on another worship record, so we gotta start writing more songs!
Learn more about Brian + Katie at their album website.
For more interviews by AK with artists, activists, and bold thinkers, go here.