Jan Willem Vink spoke to the dazzlingly talented, husband and wife duo, OUT OF THE GREY.
Their first album 'Out Of The Grey' was outstanding. Cross Rhythms enthused about "thinking man's rock", "poetic imagery" and "a fine debut". Out Of The Grey's subsequent appearance on producer Charlie Peacock's superlative worship concept Coram Deo' helped the album pick up an 'Indispensable' rating in Cross Reviews. And now Out Of The Grey's hot-off-the-press album 'The Shape Of Grace' is already being acknowledged by US critics as one of the finest albums to emerge out of Christendom. So who are Scott and Christine Dente, this husband and wife duo now based in Nashville?
The couple had met while Scott Dente was attending Boston's Berkeley School of Music (he majored in guitar and composition). Christine, a supremely gifted singer and a Christian, was enrolled at Berkeley as well, primarily studying voice. Thus began a close friendship with Scott that included many discussions of philosophy where coffee and Christianity played central roles. They also began to write music together and play in cover version bands in the Boston area. Christine even worked summers at Nashville's Opryland USA.
Christine's prayers were answered - Scott embraced Christianity, the two married and eventually moved to Nashville. Music City USA didn't immediately open its arms to the Out Of The Grey however. Scott and Christine were soon waiting on tables to live while writing songs and sending off demos.
One of their demos eventually landed on the desk of Sparrow Records' Peter York. The group were checked out, signed to America's number two Christian company and Charlie Peacock given the job of producing them.
A blend of modern pop and alternative rock stylings one American critic described 'Out Of The Grey' as "Amy Grant fronting Innocence Mission" while another suggested "the Byrds' jangle meets The Edge's effect". What everybody was agreed on was that Christine had one of the most goose-pimple inducing voices heard for years while in Scott Dente there was a lyricist/composer of startling maturity. Of their unusual moniker Christine commented, "It's a phrase Scott wrote in a lyric, but we think of it now as conning out of a relativistic mindset that says 'What the masses feel at any given moment is what I base my philosophy on', and moving to a discovery that there is a black/white, right/wrong reality, and specifically a God that has revealed himself and his character in Jesus Christ."
How, I asked Christine, did the duo manage to be so overtly /Christian in their lyrics without resorting to simplistic sloganeering? "I think that's the fine line - we try to walk with our music because we don't want to re-say what everyone else is saying, we try to say things in a new way and still not try to hide the truth, but make it clear." Scott followed up the point. "We try to avoid 'simple sloganeering', what we call Christianese in the States. We avoid cliches in things we say lyrically. We spend a whole lot of time working out these things in the way that we want to say them. Just to try to avoid saying the same old thing over and over again." Christine interjected: "Especially if Christian audiences, if they have a Christian radio station, are going to hear a lot of Scripture from other artists. I don't feel we need to say Jesus in every song, especially since in the context of Christian radio they're going to get the whole picture, most J likely."
Was it, I asked, hard to do such a quick follow-up of their first album? "It was hard because we had been on the road with Charlie Peacock right before we went into the studio to record the new album and we had also just had baby Julian. So, we had Julian in February, went on the road with Charlie in late March and then went into the studio in June. The timeframe was very short and demanding. We had to write a lot of songs very quickly; we wrote a lot of material once again with Charlie Peacock. It was very hard for us to go in again and make this album so quickly, but we are very happy with the result."
I asked if they were influenced by artists like Innocence Mission and Shawn Colvin. "Especially on our first record we were definitely influenced by both the Innocence Mission and Shawn Colvin," Christine replied. "Mostly because their records had been out the year before and they were the kind of records that never came out of our tape players, we listened to those records a lot. We are very influenced by everything we hear. When we fall in love with a certain artist, or certain music, it can't help but come back out in some we're writing and recording, when I'm coming up with guitar ideas, we tend to go to those places. We also love the music of Sting and Pat Methany, jazz-guitarist, a lot of the stuff that you hear coming from us does come somewhat from our influences, from our education. At college I was introduced to so many styles of music, that it just became obvious to me, when we were writing music for our records, rather than it be just a straight ahead pop record or straight ahead any kind of music, it would be nice to blend some different styles." Christine displayed a little of her music college training: "In jazz, there's introduction of notes, they call that attention notes, or notes that are close to each other, and Scott and I are really drawn to that kind of sound. That has influenced me definitely to write melodies that fall into different veins a little more than along the lines that your ears expect to hear in pop music."
In the band's biography Out Of The Grey state they want to reach people who are not attracted by Christian music. How, I wondered, does this work out on a Christian label like Sparrow? "In the same way we answered the first question about walking the fine line of artistic creativity and having a clear message," responded Christine. "I think the way we write our music and our lyrics is something that doesn't have a common sound, something that isn't too obvious. If someone happened to be flicking through the stations on a radio, and hear us, they're not going to say, 'that sounds like gospel music', or 'that is definitely Christian music'. Their Christianity is obvious with some other artists. In that sense we try to attract people who normally would not listen to Christian lyrics. We try to stay away from common Christian lyrics."
'The Shape Of Grace' is full of superlative, carefully crafted songs. The two spoke about three of them. "I wrote "Dear Marianne" to a friend of mine," said Christine. "My friend lives in New York and she and I went to school together in Boston. She was questioning Christianity and knew I was a Christian. We had a lot of long conversations, somewhat arguments, but she did eventually become a believer. But in the years since then I've wondered if she really truly understood because her life didn't change as radically as I expected. The way she lived didn't seem to coincide with the way Jesus wanted her to live. So I questioned that and we've grown out of touch a little bit since we went to school. So I wrote that song to her just to say 'no matter what, I love you and I pray you're in his hands'."
Christine continued: "The song "The Door Of Heaven" is from the perspective of Christians who have been believers for such a long time that they've forgotten what it's like to be on the other side, looking at Christianity from a non-believer's view. And it's trying to remind each other that it's tenderness, openness and honesty and true love with no strings attached that draws people to the Truth. The track "To Keep Love Alive" is about personal experience in a sense of friends of ours that are getting a divorce. Watching their struggle and pain and to be able to look at each other and say 'let's not be naive, it could happen to us, let's make sure it doesn't'."
With their album 'The Shape Of Grace' the duo feel they have established their own distinctive sound. Said Scott, "With the second record we kind of cemented what we have done with my guitar playing, with Christine's vocal sound and lyric writing and Charlie's production. We used Jerry McPherson (electric guitar) again, on this second album. Jerry's a wonderful player, wonderful guy and a good friend. I think we've reached the sound - if anything, we're trying to expand on the same sound. If something works, you stick with it. Don't think it's a sound that's going to be outdated very easily. Everything comes down to the song. If the song is good, you can make it sound good. If there's nothing there, how can you make it sound good?"
I asked Scott how working together as husband and wife affected their marriage. "Our marriage and our career are going on simultaneously," Scott answered. "We've been working together since before we were married and so to say we know anything different wouldn't be true. We love to work together; we're together pretty much all day, every day. If anything, it's only positive for us. Some couples say 'how do you guys work together? We would drive each other crazy.' We drive each other crazy occasionally but we know when it's time to take a little vacation from each other, not a real vacation, just maybe an hour or so. I might go and run some errands. It does affect our marriage in a big way, because it is our marriage. We work together and we live together and we just are together." Christine joined in: "Julian goes on the bus with us. He's eleven months old and he's been on two tours and we're heading up for the third tour in March!"
That US tour will be with Steven Curtis Chapman, going back out on his Great Adventure tour. Let's hope the duo get to Europe before too much longer.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.