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QRD #49 - Christian Artists Interview Series
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about this issue
Christian Artist Interviews:
Jamie Barnes
Alan Sparhawk
Jeremy Johnson
Joseph Kendrick
Scotty Irving
Joe Badon
Brian John Mitchell
Kirk Adam
Doug Tesnow
Bryce Eiman
Tara Vanflower
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Interview with Christian Musician Doug Tesnow of Cross Record
March 2011
Name: Doug Tesnow
Band: Cross Record, a good lot of Bluesanct bands, Fosdyk Well 
Websites: crossrecord.bandcamp.com, bluesanct.com, fosdykwell.bandcamp.com
Listen to Cross Record “dark before light”
Listen to Fosdyk Well “archover”

QRD – Do you try to keep your faith life & musical life separate?

Doug – No.  It may not come across in ways that are obvious to onlookers though.  Prior to this interview, I haven’t ever publicly billed myself as a “Christian musician.”  Many of the bands & people I’ve played with have expressed (either in conversation or in song) (& either outright or somewhat obliquely) a devout love of God & religious yearning as impetus for art, but almost never do these bands go through the motions that a band must go through to be identified as a Christian group.  Since I can’t speak for each of them in this moment, I can say that my personal reasons for not going this path might include: 
--I’m not very comfortable with the distinction between what makes a Christian versus a “non-Christian” 
--I’ve personally been more moved on all levels by artists who express these things more poetically (sometimes very directly but still in a way that demands more of me) than most of the outright praise-based music I have heard.  I’ve probably preferred to identify with such musicians as they are more what I know.  Certain parts of my beliefs seem best expressed to only a few & yet the end results of where it’s taken me would certainly be found in my music. 
--Whoa, beliefs/leanings/thoughts are complicated!  & ever changing/evolving & deepening.  The pressure to succinctly express these things & do them justice without alienating people from the concept is really daunting!  Even just doing this interview is going to require a lot of tea.  It’s humbling because it’s a timestamp on a process that’s prone to such shifts.  There’s a lot of insecurity that comes up with that.  I might Google this interview next year & feel very differently about things, or feel that these are very rudimentary ramblings on something that became a more comfortable fit later.  I guess that’s part of what draws me to this too though, because to see the beauty & in a sense the perfection of where I’m at (related: where everyone is at) in this journey is so important, it really needs to be prioritized. 

QRD – When creating music do you feel closer to God?

Doug – I might sometimes make the error of mistaking “closer to God” for “feeling really awesome!” although I think they’re related.  Struggling for hours on a song, feeling angry & stressed about it, trying to force something stubbornly, over-thinking things to the point of ruining them, these are all things I do much less when I’m in the strong awareness of God’s presence.  I’m also more trusting of myself when I’m in this place, so I tend to be fonder of the results.  There’s a place for struggle & doubt in music, in our relationship with God, & in the process of dispelling struggle & doubt.  I can actually listen back to most music I’ve made & remember a lot of what I was feeling & where I was coming from at the time.  If anything I tend to be more forgiving of myself in retrospect though. 

QRD – How has your music helped you grow as a Christian?  How has your music effected your faith?  How are your faith & aesthetic ideas linked together?

Doug – Being a musician has taught me a lot.  There’s a wisdom to it that is reflected in other things; I could think of a million parallels.  I really do think there’s a way to “insert the proverbial minor 7th” into a situation with your boss at the office.  Music making is a process of creating new things or working with what comes your way, responding versus reacting, complimenting or changing, highlighting yourself or supporting & melding with the bigger picture.  I think that one thing music has taught me that’s been important in reaching where I am is the satisfaction of throwing old ideas away rather than clasping onto them just because I’ve put a lot of time & effort into them or think them impressive.  A lot of my favorite music has happened when I felt I was listening well, rather than trying to force what was most logical.  I could liken this to the distinction between following divine influence over personal ego, which is a distinction I draw, though they’re related.

QRD – What has been your experience being a Christian in an underground “artistic” community? Have you experienced any negativity towards yourself regarding your beliefs?

Doug – I’ve been incredibly blessed to be part of a community of creative, supportive, & inspiring people.  Most of the people I play with are my closest friends. If anyone were to challenge me, it’d likely be a close friend.  It happens from time to time.  It’s not always my favorite thing to do, but I try to be welcoming of the discourse when someone does challenge it.  Most of the time, when I’m involved in these conversations, I’m more concerned with my ability to be a good arguer than I am with listening, being open to change, & expressing myself without a billion disclaimers but I’m working on that.  On the other hand, I’ve been a lot of places in my walking, & so I can certainly understand a lot of where people are coming from when people get nervous or suspicious about terms like “God” or “prayer.”  In my best moments, I just communicate what I know & maybe throw out a few ideas into the mix to see how they fare.  I think that most people who know me do not associate me with a lot of the negative connotations that Christianity has.  I’m not a very controversial person, but the potential is there. 

QRD – How do you reconcile the idea of making “dark” music against the perception that Christians making music “should” be creating music of praise or trying to “save” people?

Doug – Gosh, I’ve just been making so much slow, minor keyed, droney nightmarescapes for so long I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop.  Sometimes I wish I could make something like Van Morrison, but it hasn’t happened very often.  Everything has its place & will resonate with certain people in certain places.  My favorite music that I’ve ever composed myself has probably sounded a little sad technically, but communicated a really beautiful feeling that I was glad to share.  I’m not as brave about communicating pain & sadness as many of my friends are, but I feel that I do play honestly.  There are types of pain & sadness that I’m more content to experience, & others that I’d probably like to do away with as soon as it’s felt.  Purposefully playing sad music has never been cathartic for me, never a way through that sadness, but purposefully playing beautiful music in any mood has been cathartic for me.  I wouldn’t consider any of the above “dark.”  I understand what is meant, but there should be a better word for it. I guess some Christians, like me, may have grown up on some intentionally “dark” music & may retain a fondness for it whilst not feeling it’s fully compatible with where they’re at.  I have a pretty comfortable relationship of nostalgia for where I came from & gratitude for having attracted other things.  I listen to a greater amount of music that hits my emotional heart now than I did 15 years ago, but I retain a fondness of the powerful atmospheres evoked by some of those “dark” bands.  I just had a memory today of sitting at a then girlfriend’s piano in 2003 & trying desperately to compose a song that embodied both Mark Hollis & Type O Negative.  It was really exciting to me that I feel I came close! Again, none of this conversation has to do with real darkness.  Wallowing in certain emotions though, whether it be through music or otherwise, can sometimes be a dangerous thing though.  I could almost say that I subscribe to the hippie notion of some things being of a higher or lower vibration than other things, but what I’d probably mean by that is that certain music tends to lead to greater openness, sense of peace, remembrance of things I feel to prioritize, but I cannot say that certain music INHERENTLY possesses these qualities. 

QRD – How do you feel about performing with & for people who have a completely different set of beliefs than you do?

Doug – I’m critical of myself when I think that way.  If I was thinking that way, I might soon realize I’m really insecure about something other than that.  If it’s a good show, I feel very connected to people & bigger than that.  I do think it’d be fun to play a religious festival of some sort & I’m guessing still that there’d be varying beliefs. 

QRD – What do you think of Contemporary Christian Music?

Doug – I know a lot of incredible musicians who are Christian, but I haven’t put enthusiasm into exploring the Contemporary Christian music scene.  I do really enjoy learning about other musicians’ beliefs like what we’re talking about here. 

QRD – How did you become a Christian? Can you share your experience?

Doug – I decided not to answer this in depth, except to say that after years of praying, meditating, listening, & experiences of deep love, I’ve felt an influence of Truth that moves deeply through me.  I believe in God - a supremely loving God who’s constantly speaking to us.  If we listen & get out of the way of ourselves a bit, the wisdom affects all involved positively. I’m exploring & learning all the time.  I feel this is where I should be.  I don’t agree with the “Well, we’ll never really KNOW for sure” notion.  I believe we will know.

QRD – Name a scripture that has personal significance to you & why?

Doug – I’m really fond of the story of Abraham, willing to sacrifice his son, both of whom are then spared.  I like it because I feel that this happens in my life all the time (thankfully on scales I’m ready for).  So often I’ll be wrestling with myself, perceived wants versus guidance, & then finally when I surrender to what I feel divinely inspired to do, stopping the wrestling match, the instruction may change.  I believe God is constantly helping us learn how to listen & surrender more deeply to divine will, because of how helpful it is to us.  When I was young it sounded so cruel, but I now view it as one of the most merciful passages in the Bible.

QRD – How have traditional music & hymns influenced your music?

Doug – They haven’t much in a way that I’ve noticed, but I do love them & I’m sure they’re in there somewhere.  Sometimes I’ll hear some great musical ideas or chord changes & as someone who makes somewhat abstract art I am attracted to the directness & brilliant simplicity of it. 

QRD – Would you like to be more involved with playing praise music?  Would you like to try your hand at writing traditional praise music or hymns?

Doug – It’s a possibility.  I did a song with Drekka in the late 90s that consisted of Bible pages being turned & amplified to the point of digital distortion atop a folk-jam session of many of our friends at the time playing Psalm 42.  Other songs may have been less obviously “Praise music,” but there are a lot of ways to show praise.  I’ve been a part of songs that I did not know were praise songs until I was informed so afterwards.  I would be interested in being more blatant about it if I could find a way to do so that felt sincere. 

QRD – Do you ever intentionally or unintentionally have Christian references in your songs?

Doug – I’m not a lyricist.

QRD – How do fans & peers respond to first finding out you are a Christian?

Doug – I think most of my fans are or later become friends of mine.  See above.

QRD – How do you respond to people making statements like, “I thought you were too smart to be a Christian?” 

Doug – Thankfully I tend to get a higher caliber of argument than that, but the implication, I understand. It’s probably the result of some higher profile attention-getters on the news & political landscape & the reality that many people who think critically about Christianity are likely to come up with many problems with it.  I would just hope that’s not a conversation stopper for people.  Such critiques are important, but I really think there’s something past that.

QRD – How has Christianity helped you with dealing with the stresses of working in the music industry?

Doug – Most of my record labels are or become friends, so again, not a problem! 

QRD – Has your faith ever hindered your career in anyway?

Doug – No, if it’s hindered my career it’s only helped me focus on things that are even more important.  There’s importance in sacrifice but I don’t equate faith with putting one’s dreams or aspirations behind.  Quite the opposite. 

QRD – Anything else?

Doug – I’m grateful this came my way.  I almost decided against it, but it was very helpful for me & hopefully finds a nice place for this project.