PSALMISTRY have released their strongest album so far through ICC. Tony Cummings quizzed the band's Edi Johnston.
It's been a slow but steady climb up the Christian music ladder for the West County's breakbeat rock rappers Psalmistry. The first time Cross Rhythms spoke to the band in 1997 they'd just released their first independent album 'Double Edged', the second time we chatted in 1999 the critically acclaimed 'Armchair Rebellion' album through Word had been issued. Now their new CD, 'All This Noise', seems poised to expand their grassroots support base even further. I threw some questions at the band's wild man rapper Edi Johnston.
Some Psalmistry fans will be surprised by 'All
This Noise'. It seems to be going in a fresh musical direction. What
are you trying to achieve musically with the album?
"The album was never about us 'setting out to achieve' a sound, it was more one of those things that just happened. Although Tony (Silcock) still had his usual input, mine became a little greater which is reflected in the song-based structure of many of the tunes. I don't know why we started to write songs and structures, other than out of a want for the songs to make sense to some people and to get various messages across which sometimes can be hard within a rap/techno context. Tony's production and his concept of music has gradually matured, as has his range of styles and techniques - many of which are down to working with a producer such as Barrie."
How are the new girls fitting into the band?
"Just fine! Helen Maynard-Watts and Debbie Williams were both kind of unknown quantities when they joined the band, but have developed into quite a duo! Helen now relishes having someone to work with on the dance side of things (as Debbie is particularly adept in choreography) and Helen helps Debs out with her undoubted singing technique. And another thing - if you're around at our next shows look out for them crowdsurfing: 1 think they both want a go!"
Chris Cole told me recently that something pretty amazing
happened to you out in Spain recently. What was it?
"Spain was fantastic. We went over there with all these glamorous pictures in our heads and ended up staying in dormitories in a monastery! It was a festival called Contra Corriente which has grown from 100 to 1000 in the space of four years, and we were with T-girl, Doug and Andy from NGM (hi ya guys!). We arrived to freezing food, no security, no welcome, and all we wanted to do was come home! This was soon fixed and we ended up going to some of the meetings (if you ever get the chance to hear Ed Gungor talk, don't miss it), taking part in spontaneous dance music worship, and having great fun listening to worship songs in Spanish! We normally pray before our shows, but we felt we needed to do so even more before going on stage on Saturday... and God blessed us with a picture of a butterfly flying towards the sun, but instead of wilting and dying, it became stronger as it got closer to the light... That butterfly was us needing to get closer in touch with God in order to get stronger. After that we headed out to the main meeting - where the preacher was talking about a butterfly emerging from its cocoon! The show was great - 800 people going mental to words they didn't understand! We made a lot of friends - Carlotta, if you're reading this: give us the call and we'll be back next year!"
How did the move to make a video of Come Take My Hand" come
"The song was one of the first completed on the album and sums us up musically as a band so it became obvious as the idea of the video took shape that it would be good for us as well as having a solid message behind it A friend of Tony's from church started chatting to him about the band, having been to a couple of our shows, and asked about us doing a video. Tony obviously said we'd love to but haven't got the money, to which 'No problem' was the reply. To our delight this wasn't a wind up! We got in Brendon Connelly, a secular director from Oxford and a mate of mine, to do the directing with the help of a lot of his mates as crew. Using one of the Weapons Of Sound, Spencer Jones as the lead male, as well as Helen's brother's editing; company, everything became a little incestuous! However, the proof is in the pudding and so by the time you read this, the video will be out and about on TV screens and the internet."
I understand the band are getting some exposure in the movie
worid. Tell me about that
"Psalmistry are appearing on the OST for 'Mercy Streets' which is the follow up to The Omega Code', alongside Delirious?, Sixpence, Jennifer Knapp, Moby, et al. That was hooked up by N-Soul, the band's current link in the States, and is due to be 'Something About Your Love' from the first album 'Armchair Rebellion'... Of course a major movie role for the band themselves naturally beckons! (Honest, we'd be dead good 'n' that!)"
As we have said at Cross Rhythms many times before, there's
absolutely no money in the British Christian music scene. Aren't you
going to be forced to go and spend a lot of time in the USA if you are
ever to give up your day jobs?
"I think that we'd all love to be in a situation to get the cash that would let us give up our jobs to do Psalmistry full time - but the third married member of the band has just bought a house with a mortgage and unfortunately Christian music (as you said) is not in a position to support us! The USA is always a lovely prospect but to be honest, I really have no idea how we'd be received over there playing live - we'd need a major label with major interest over there to even consider it. Let's put it this way, I saw our first vocalist Lucy Britten the other day who is now doing really well with V*Enna, and she's spending loads of time and effort jetting between here and the USA -but she's still broke! It would mean a huge leap of faith for us all to up sticks and move... I think we'll stick to the UK despite the grotty weather! Besides -we're starting to think about pushing further into the secular market (we have a show at the Red Eye in Islington on 7th October for those of you in the area)so keep an eye out in your local listings for Psalmistry down your local!"
Have you ever played the States?
"Nope. We'd love to, but no one (at the minute) seems to want to take the chance and fork out for us to fly over.plus we'd need to specify the school holidays (two of us are teachers!) But...I guarantee if someone wanted to take the risk...well, USA look out, that's all 1 can say!"
What would you say is your spiritual focus at the moment? What
are you trying to achieve spiritually through your music?
"Our spiritual focus is becoming more direct through more indirect means. I know that sounds convoluted but I'll explain what I mean. As Christians we often use words which are inappropriate to speak to non-Christians, and ways that they think are weird. I'm trying to think of ways of putting the gospel across that are less...strange. I spoke to Cameron Dante a lot about this during the summer, and through this I'm starting to concentrate on drawing people to Christ through slightly smaller steps, rather than the huge leap that we often expect. Trying to reach people where they are rather than expecting them to move. As well as this, I think I'm trying to still develop people's ideas that Christianity is not all happy go lucky, and it's okay to feel depressed, alone, envious, etc just as others do, and you're not a bad Christian if you do feel those things necessarily... (for example, 'Sometimes 1 Hate You' from 'All This Noise' talks about the jealous feeling of wanting the love of God that another person appears to have, despite the fact that the object of the envy probably feels ungodly and depressed as well sometimes)."
Are you sick yet of being called a Christian version of The
"If anyone listens to 'All This Noise' I think that they'll realise that the Prodigy are one of many, many influences that bounce around our heads, and although we do have a lot more adrenaline and anger when we play live, I'm nowhere near Keith Flint (despite my original designs four years ago!). The more annoying fact is that people make up their minds what we are like without hearing or seeing us play! Someone from the Greenbelt committee whilst talking to one of our mates said, '....Oh yeah, I don't really like them 'cos they sound too much like the Tribe,' which indicates the fact that people probably decide whether to buy our albums and such like on the grounds of rumours!"
Do you have plans or dreams for the future and if so, what are
"I'd like to see Psalmistry go over to the States to see what the reaction would be like, but in the same token, I'd like to headline the Anson Rooms in Bristol on our own merit. I don't know if they really class as plans but... Oh yeah, just remembered. Sparky (WWMT engineer) and I were chatting at Soul Survivor C and he gave me some great encouragement. I was bemoaning the fate of being a Christian band in the UK, and he asked what the original idea behind Psalmistry was. 1, quite honestly, said, 'Playing at Glastonbury,' to which he replied, Well, why don't you?'. It'd never been put that simply, and that encouraged me a lot to just forget any preconceptions, forget any notions of the secular being a target'. The realisation that Psalmistry are a whole lot better than a great deal of bands out there gradually sunk in. Glastonbury look out, that's all I can say!"