The Common Good

Troy Bronsink’s 'Songs To Pray By' Travels To Wild Goose

Troy Bronsink’s meditative live album Songs to Pray By stretches its sonic arms to embrace every listener with expansive words of spirited awe and awesome humility, with ecstatic waves of audio grace and rhythmic gravity.

Troy Bronsink, photo via Andrew William Smith
Troy Bronsink, photo via Andrew William Smith

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Bronsink and his band bring to church what we’ve seen out on the festival circuit for years: a shimmery and psychedelic use of sound and language to elevate listeners who choose to inhabit a song as if it were wings, the place where the spirit soars and the heart sings. We don’t often associate noodly guitars and trippy percussion with the worship sound, which is exactly why this album is such a perfect addition to the praise genre.

A solo Bronsink will be presenting his musical work tomorrow at the Wild Goose Festival. We both took a break from packing and planning our journeys to North Carolina for this email interview.

Describe your motives for playing at WGF? How is it different from a church conference or a music fest?

I think WGF is a way to hear a wider conversation — to hear what the Holy Spirit is doing in surprising places. Jesus followers have a lot to learn by listening to others at the margins, the Goose puts those margins on the radar and lifts marginalized conversations to table conversations. 

Upon listening to your record, pretty much on repeat since I discovered it, this may be the closest to a Jesus-y jam band I have found in the contemporary scene (not since the early Jesus movement music), and I mean that in the most complimentary terms. Discuss the sonic ambiance, percussion, instrumentation, and performance styles that lead listeners to this experience. Do you seek an altered state? Is that a spiritual or psychic motive for you?

The band that made Songs to Pray By drew from a number of influences — jam bands, math rock, indie, Americana. I believe the spiritual real is physical, our soul-selves are embodied selves and so harmony, rhythm, dissonance that are held in our bodies can also be part of our prayer. Like Augustine who said that when we sing we pray twice, we wanted to be sure that we didn't miss the prayer either time—first or second.

Is this record a mix of originals and traditionals? What's the importance of that balance for you?

We wrote these songs and arrangements with a congregation. Most, if not all, congregations are made up on novel experiences and traditions we all bring to the table. Familiar hymns and praise songs can help integrate our pasts — so I think arranging the classics is a great call. 

But new experiences of music form new neural pathways, they help us for new thoughts, and open the door to that incessant knocking that Jesus is known for. Worship has to train us to open to the new or else we miss the opportunity for wonder and inspiration. 

How do you personally juggle musician with your other roles — family man, pastor, author, etc.?

I'm a lousy juggler but the last year has brought some great balance. I work full time as a curator/pastor for a congregation and they offer me time to travel to speak and play. Last year I also published my first book,Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers. And in it I confess much of my own weaknesses here. But I would say that the many roles we have pour out of the life that is born in us every day, the renewing work of the Spirit. I have to let go of projects as much as I have to push them forward. I have to go back to the drawing board as often as I have to promote an idea. And I have to be God's canvas as much as I need to paint on the canvases that are laid before me. Juggling isn't the best image, but resonance — ringing a chord and letting it vibrate on its own for a good while — that works for me.

Why should someone check out your set at the WGF?

There are so many great musicians and speakers to hear and see. My stuff will be a mixture of folksy light heartedness and passion soulfulness. And each set is only 30 minutes (11:30 and 3:30 on Friday) so it will go by fast. You'll love singing with me on catchy tunes and rocking to other ones. And then come by the "hot off the Grill" session at 5:30 on Friday for some Korean BBQ style steaks and readings from my book and two other great author/poets: Mike Stavlund and Michael Toy.

Troy's book & album are available widely on the web from Amazon and other sources. He also put a song on Bandcamp in honor of Wild Goose. 

Check out his website HERE.

Andrew William Smith is an English professor by day and DJ by night who works as the Faculty Head of the Tree House environmental living and learning village at Tennessee Tech. He’s an activist, poet, blogger, writer/editor at Interference.com, ruling elder in the PCUSA, Vanderbilt seminarian, and aspiring preacher. Check out his blog at http://unlikelysundayschool.blogspot.com/ or follow Andrew on Twitter @teacheronradio.

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