with Christian Musician Doug Tesnow of Cross Record
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:
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.