Tony Cummings spoke to the California-based modern worship duo BRYAN & KATIE TORWALT
When Jesus Culture released their album 'Awakening: Live From Chicago' - recorded over three days at JC's Awakening 2011 conference - it was enthusiastically received by the world wide Church. As well as featuring the singers with Jesus Culture's regular worship team Kim Walker-Smith and Chris Quilala and contributions from rock worship man Jake Hamilton, it was the ministry by a Californian husband and wife team Bryan & Katie Torwalt which really caught the ear. Now Jesus Culture Music have followed through with their debut album 'Here On Earth' and this too has attracted positive reviews. The morethanmusic website wrote about the album being performed "with passion and style" while Cross Rhythms' reviewer spoke about "a powerful and enveloping set of tender-hearted worship songs."
I spoke to Bryan and Katie, who are currently serving as worship pastors at The River Church in Fresno, California. Bryan began by filling me in on some background details. "I was born and raised in Canada. Katie is originally from Fresno. We met in Redding in 2006 at a worship school (organised by Jesus Culture's Bethel Church) and we developed a relationship from there, getting married in 2009 and have been worship pastors ever since."
I asked Katie how the couple came to be called into worship ministry. "I think our stories are a little bit different. Growing up I remember loving music, loving to sing, and I felt like I connected with God through music. We both separately led worship before we met each other. Bryan was writing songs already, both worshipping at our local church. It felt like God had told me this was going to be a change in my life - a big, life-altering moment for me. And it was. We asked Jesus about being worship leaders together, and writing songs together. It's been a really cool season for us in the last couple of years."
The River Church where the Torwalts minister has only been in existence for a short period. Said Katie, "The church was planted here about three years ago. It started as a house church, and it's part of Global Legacy, which is a network of ministries branching out from Bethel Church in Redding."
Musically, Bryan and Katie's brand of worship has less of the stadium rock sound than other ministries emerging from Jesus Culture. Said Bryan, "I feel like the sound we were going for is similar to a Coldplay but for corporate worship, with a hint of folk. You can decide if that's what it comes out as, but most of the songs have very anthemic declarative choruses, with big musical vamp sections."
The songs on 'Here On Earth' were tried and tested before recording. Explained Bryan, "The songs have really had a year of practising in front of a congregation 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. If they didn't, we usually changed something."
So does being something of a "professional worshipper" bring its own pressures? Bryan spoke candidly, "It can become a chore sometimes. For me, I do need to lock myself in a room every once in a while and just write, or just play. Also, going for a walk/prayer walk and just being quiet helps me re-focus if I'm feeling I'm in a rut. And also listening to other musicians and artists always inspires me."
Katie added her thoughts, "I think it's really important that those songs are born out of encounters with God, personal encounters that we had. So we do try to take the time to craft those into songs, if they're not finished already. 'I'm A Lover Of Your Presence' was pretty much completely written in that moment - but some of the other songs, the chords or a bridge, were born out of those prophetic moments and then we crafted the rest of the song around what we'd received."
When the couple began planning their debut they had no idea that it was going to end up getting released by the high profile Jesus Culture Music. Said Katie, "When we started writing for this album we really felt like God was telling us some of the songs we were writing for our local church were supposed to be released for others to sing and declare in their cities and in their churches. So we started going about writing songs for a whole album, keeping in mind the theology behind the songs. I had known Kim Walker-Smith, who was a big part of Jesus Culture, living in Redding when I was there. I had asked her for some advice about the recording process. Then Jesus Culture Music decided to sign us to their label! All the songs had been written at that point. It was an amazing opportunity, a miracle for us."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.