Believer | February 28, 2012

A funny thing happened on the way to the release of “Believer”, the latest album by Kutless. Somehow, without the band even realizing it, through more than a decade of making music, they
became… established.

Just like that, Kutless has transformed from that new rock band from Oregon to the one new bands look up to, the band whose music is all over the radio in multiple formats, the band that’s
sold millions of records.

“We’re not the new band anymore,” says front man Jon Micah Sumrall in a moment of reflection before a show. “Now, people look to us as the veteran. It’s kinda weird. We meet kids
who say, ‘I grew up listening to your music’, but they’re like 25 years old!”

“Believer” finds Kutless using that decade of growth to deliver an expertly crafted set of songs with as much diversity in the music as there is consistency in the message. Pounding drums and screaming guitars lead the way out of the gate as “If It Ends Today” makes the album’s first statement on what it really means to have a relationship with Christ. And a gentle piano points us heavenward as “Carry Me to the Cross” closes in reverent worship. In between, Kutless explores the brutality of the crucifixion, our resulting identity in Christ, and the daily struggle to surrender to His leading.

It only takes one listen to realize that Kutless has really come of age musically. They’ve determined their style instead of chasing the latest trend, and it shows. As Sumrall put it, “Instead of trying to sound like the music we liked and listened to, I feel like we’ve started to make music that we’re good at, naturally. The new record begins to showcase our lineup, our
creative process.”

A critical part of that sound is Sumrall’s vocals, and they certainly stand out on “Believer.” Producer Dave Lubben was a vocal performance major in college, and he focused on pushing
Sumrall vocally during the making of this record. The result is massive range, not only in octaves but in delivery, from grit where it’s needed to soaring anthemic choruses that convey a wealth of emotion. Simply put, this is the best Sumrall has ever sung.

Steadily building momentum has brought the band legions of new fans in the last few years, and many of them might not know the fascinating story of the origin of Kutless. It’s a strange mix of basement jam sessions, mall skate shops, and a monumental WWJD bracelet.

Sumrall had no plans to lead a rock band. Music was a hobby, a distant second to his first love: sports. He went to college in Oregon on a full-ride soccer scholarship, and it was in his dorm room that Kutless was born. “I came early for training for soccer,” he recalls. “A few weeks later, when everybody else was moving into the dorms, I was just playing my guitar in my room.

A couple of guys came in and started hanging out, and the next thing I knew, I had like 10 guys crammed in. It was an impromptu worship service in a dorm room. The RA stopped in, and he said he’d wanted to do a Thursday night worship time, and asked if I’d be cool with leading it. I did, and that group of guys was, for the most part, the original members of the band that would become Kutless.”

Later, as the band got a little more serious, they wound up moving into a house on campus with a basement where they could practice. Guitarist James Mead joined up, and God orchestrated a remarkable “discovery story”. James had a summer job at Zumiez, the skate shop at the mall.
One day, a guy noticed his WWJD bracelet. The pair started chatting about church, James mentioned his band, and the guy mentioned his identity: Seth Ebel, A&R man for his brother Brandon’s record labels, Tooth & Nail and BEC recordings. Seth liked the description of the band’s sound and agreed to hear them play. The date was set: September 11, 2001.
Given the tragic events of that day, this was no typical introduction. “Ultimately,” Sumrall says, “Seth came anyway. We said, ‘Can we just do a few worship songs. Get this load off our chest.’ We just worshiped together. That was the start of our audition for our label.” A mere 13 days later, a contract was on the table, and Kutless was on the way to a stellar career.

“Believer” is poised to become a highlight of this remarkable body of work. The name itself is particularly important. On this album, believers will find a deeply relevant message: what does it really mean to surrender to Christ? How does this relationship change you, every day? How does it define you? It is only now, after all these years, that Kutless is able to explore these vital issues. Sumrall declares, “We’ve made a huge leap in the quality of the songwriting. It’s diverse – there are things I love on the upbeat side (heavier rocking moments), and things I love about the intimate worshipful moments. I really feel like this newest record shows a real maturity from over the years of what we’ve learned, what we’ve brought together.”

If this took a decade, it was well worth the wait.

Nick Hall is the founder and chief communicator of PULSE, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit organization at the center of the largest student-led prayer and outreach efforts in America today. He is married to his best friend Tiffany. When they are not on the road, they make their home in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul.

Moriah Peters

Everyone is faced with choices that impact their lives –sometimes subtly, other times profoundly. For nineteen-year-old, singer/songwriter Moriah Peters the way she chooses to live her life is a unique and bold declaration that provides the title, and first single, of her debut album I Choose Jesus, releasing April 17 (Reunion Records).

“I’m so excited about this project — and that song in particular,” she says with an infectious smile. “It’s the song that every other song was held up against. It’s the song that represents who I’m called to be, not only as an artist, but as a daughter of Christ. I’m called to be bold. I’m called to be strong and I’m called to speak the truth in love about who God is and what He’s done in my life.”

The stories behind this young artist’s songs are what make them so genuine, honest and easy to connect with. “One day when we go to heaven God is going to say “well done, my good and faithful servant,” she says about the song ‘Well Done.’ “This song is about staying heavenly minded. It can be a hard thing to comprehend. When I’m going through a crazy time, when I’m frustrated, when I’m down, I have to remember I’m living for something above all this, something that will last for eternity. In the song, I say “I’m going to run this race to hear you say well done.” The road is hard sometimes, but whatever I go through, at the end of the day, it will all be worth it to hear “well done.”

Moriah’s passion for serving God infuses each track on her Reunion Records debut; whether she’s encouraging others to make a difference by sharing her mother’s selfless story in the opening track “Know Us By Our Love” or celebrating redemption in “No Shame.”

”The overall theme of the record is about making a choice,” she says. “All of these songs are songs about being in different circumstances and choosing Jesus in each situation. I know that God has a blueprint for every single one of our lives. He has a plan and a purpose, and He wants to make His Son known through us.

Though Moriah initially planned to become an entertainment lawyer, she also always had a love of music that began as a child. “Music has always been a passion” she says. “I still have a notebook of songs I started writing in the fourth grade.” Having a father who is a musician, she grew up soaking up a variety of sounds from Stevie Wonder to Crystal Lewis. “I started singing when I was about six-years-old,” she recalls. “I remember going to my dad’s band practices. He played bass at my church. I’d be sitting in the pews singing harmony and would sing really loud so they would hear me. I’ve always loved singing. Even to this day people ask, ‘Why are you singing all the time? It’s just a natural thing. It just comes out.”

Moriah’s parents always encouraged her to use her gift. “My dad always told me that ‘if God has given you a gift, you are only holding it temporarily. Take care of it so that you can give it back to Him,’” she says.

As Moriah focused on high school graduation, her mother encouraged her to audition for American Idol. After five months of preliminary cuts, she came to a crossroads. The judges loved her voice but wanted her to be something she wasn’t. Though she was hurt and disappointed at first, Moriah soon had a new opportunity that would allow her to be herself and stand up for what she believed in, while still getting to follow her musical dreams.

After the auditions, a man approached Moriah, commenting on both her talent and her heart for serving God. He connected her with a friend in Nashville which ultimately led her to a record deal with Provident Music Group. She soon began working on her debut album with acclaimed producer Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Dave Barnes, Kari Jobe).

Preparing to record her first album, Moriah wrote or co-wrote more than 50 songs drawing inspiration from a variety of sources including her family, her own relationship with Christ and experiences she’s walked through with other young girls while leading her high school Bible study. “’Know Us By Our Love” is a song about my mother,” she explains. “She moved to California when she was 21. She barely got by and worked so hard she didn’t have time for herself, but she seemed to always make time to serve others.”

A marketing major at Grand Canyon University, Moriah is originally from Chino, California where she attended a large public high school. During this time in her life she frequently had to explain and defend her faith not only to classmates, but also to teachers.

“I Choose Jesus” is rooted in an experience my senior year of high school,” she says. “I was one of very few Christians. I was ridiculed, interrogated by my classmates. They got to me. I wasn’t prepared to answer a lot of those questions. I grew up with Christianity, but I had never had to defend it before. I sought out answers to their questions. That strengthened my faith. I’m grateful for those times. It gave me the opportunity to make my faith my own.” As a result of this and other experiences, her convictions grew stronger and her songwriting became saturated with a wealth of personal experience and insight that has given her wisdom beyond her years.

The album’s closer, “Bloom” is a final boost of encouragement to the listener. ”I wanted ‘Bloom’ to be the last song on the album; a final reminder to be patient and keep believing as God works through our lives and seemingly hopeless situations,” Moriah says. ”Sometimes we just see the surface of our circumstances not realizing that God has a wonderful plan for us.”

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