As multi-instrumentalists and songwriters, the Grammy-nominated Gungor has been categorized as everything from alt-folk to a musical collective to genre-jumpers. The duo consists of husband and wife Michael and Lisa Gungor, and it’s true—they are hard to fit into a box. That’s what makes them formidable.
Both grew up in small towns of less than 20,000 people and were raised in church. The couple, who met in college, share heartfelt references to seeing Teen Mania Ministries and The Power Team come through their hometown churches on tour when they were young. Michael was also involved in Promise Keepers and credits the ministry for giving him a chance for one of his first gigs. When the couple talks, it’s easy to tell faith-based events have meant a lot to them as a band.
“Seeing people around you listening to music is very unifying,” says Lisa. She admits it’s strange at first with a crowd of people not really saying anything to each other all of a sudden start singing the same words. “We’re all looking at each other and raising hands together, and all these strangers are one people now. It’s cool.” From her perspective onstage, she says there’s a big difference between coming together for a musical experience and listening to a song alone in the car. “People lend an energy. That’s what I love about playing live. That energy from them in turn moves you. When you’re in the room with others, there’s something unexplainable that happens.”
“Lisa is a lyrics person, and I’m a music person,” adds Michael. “If we listen to the same song for the first time, I’ll know the chord progression and she’ll know the lyrics.” Michael firmly believes melody sticks with you in ways other elements of song can’t. “Melody was kind of the start of my prayers and early communication with God. That’s how I expressed myself. That was my language.”
Melody and music are still a huge part of the couple’s day-to-day life, but touring is harder now that they have a toddler with special needs. They find themselves spending more time in their Los Angeles studio these days. However, the pair managed to hit the spiritual Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, this summer to promote Gungor’s new album, “One Wild Life: Soul,” the first in a trilogy. “It was so fun, but a little chaotic. It’s not as well planned as some conferences we’ve been to,” says Michael, “but sometimes a little chaos can be fun. There are [conferences and events] that do everything well but kind of have that lifeless feeling. You don’t want that either.”
Currently Gungor is in a period of examination. The pair is trying to answer questions like, “What are we? What kind of music is it?” says Michael. “It’s hard to describe. We never wanted [our music] to be Christian only, but wanted to sing about what we like. We think it’s all part of this one wild, crazy existence. Why wouldn’t you describe all of it?”
With two more albums in the trilogy pipeline, they have the chance to describe this existence in its entirety. “Now that’s a grand endeavor,” notes Michael.
3 QUICK Qs WITH GUNGOR:
How does the impact of music differ from that of a speaker?
“I like the poetry of a song, and it can speak even beyond what you intended. Prose is meant to clarify. Art leaves some ambiguity,” says Michael. “You can say what you intend, but you can escape to a broader audience sometimes because people hear it as they will.”
“Some people love a planned-to-the-minute conference, and others [like] one that’s more free flow. I loved the wide variety of speakers they brought in at Catalyst Conference not just within the Christian circle. I think that’s awesome,” says Lisa. “We played Wild Goose Festival; they appeal to more of a hippie type. Some people like liturgy and dancing around the drum, and others like kneeling in the quiet.”
Why leave room for improvisation?
“Our crew gets a little annoyed [when we go off plan], but I think a part of them likes it,” admits Lisa. “We both grew up charismatic in church and following the spirit. It helps to be present.”
“There’s a line from a Matthew Perryman Jones song, ‘Land of the Living,’ that says, ‘You cannot love in moderation.’ I love that line so much,” says Michael. “There’s lots of self-preservation out there. [The song says] to let go and love without any hindrance. It will always be better.”