RCTalk: Kutless brings 'very natural' combination of rock and worship music to Rupp

Jon Micah Sumrall and Kutless have appeared regularly at Ichthus, where they never knew what to expect from the weather. Being in Rupp on a winter tour, says Sumrall, the band "can just set up and go."
Jon Micah Sumrall and Kutless have appeared regularly at Ichthus, where they never knew what to expect from the weather. Being in Rupp on a winter tour, says Sumrall, the band "can just set up and go." Lexington Herald-Leader

When Kutless emerged from the Pacific Northwest a little more than a decade ago, it was a decidedly rock 'n' roll outfit.

But in recent years, the group has leaned more toward the worship side of the Christian music market with some of its most successful albums, including Strong Tower (2005) and It is Well (2009).

Conveniently, the Portland, Ore.-based quintet comes to Lexington next weekend on the Rock and Worship Roadshow, which by its very name gives Kutless an invitation to show both sides of its career in a 25-minute set.

The tour, set up much like the annual Winter Jam concerts, includes MercyMe, Jeremy Camp and Family Force 5 in a nine-artist lineup.

"We still love rock 'n' roll music, and we love playing it," lead singer Jon Micah Sumrall says from Kutless's tour bus. "It's part of who we are. And we love worship music. We lead worship back home at our church, and that's part of who we are.

"So it's very natural to us to do both, and really, what's unnatural is how separated those genres usually are. So we're doing our best to kind of blur the lines between those genres."

Part of that effort was Believer, Kutless's latest album, released a year ago.

Rather than choose whether to make a rock or worship record — a question the band had struggled with openly before — Sumrall says the group just decided to make a Kutless record, and let their natural tendencies shine through.

"Sonically, I believe you can praise God just as much with rock 'n' roll music as you can praise him with organ," he says. "So we tried to sonically meld the two a little bit and cast that net really wide, and hopefully put out music that people on both ends of the spectrum enjoy.

"Our newest rock stuff may not be quite as heavy as our early stuff. That's also in part because our personal styles have changed, too."

Kutless now holds a place as one of the establishment Christian pop music outfits with more than 2 million albums sold since its self-titled debut in 2002, three years after forming as a campus worship band at Portland's Warner Pacific College, a Christian liberal arts school.

Whether it's choosing what direction to take the next album or picking a set list, Sumrall says Kutless is very audience oriented, saying, "the performance really isn't for us."

In Central Kentucky, many of those performances have been in much warmer weather than Kutless will be greeted with when it pulls into Rupp Arena on Feb. 10. The group has been a regular at the Ichthus Festival, playing the opening night of last June's event with fellow West Coasters Switchfoot. That turned out to be the last Ichthus as the festival has closed because of financial troubles.

Kutless also had a memorable stand at Questapalooza in 2008, with guitarist Nick De Partee losing in a Guitar Hero competition with Lexington teen Henry Shrader.

The summer festival circuit and winter tours do have their differences, Sumrall says.

"The nice thing with the winter setup is it's indoors," Sumrall says. "We had a few years there at Ichthus where, boy, you didn't know what was going to happen with the weather and cicadas.

"Having it indoors brings a lot of consistency. You kind of know what to expect and can just set up and go."

One of the defining things about the winter tours is the brevity of the sets, which for a band that has been around for a while can make working up a set list a bit of a challenge. Being audience-focused, Sumrall says, Kutless knows two songs it must play each night: "If we leave out What Faith Can Do or Strong Tower, I don't know that we'd ever be forgiven."

But for 11 years now, Kutless has stayed in its audience's good graces, which is already beating expectations.

"If it all were to end tomorrow, I'd be really stoked with what we've been able to accomplish," Sumrall says. "At the same time, I'd be really sad if it ended tomorrow, because I really don't want it to.

"I believe there will be many more opportunities as a result of what we've been able to do for the past decade."


Rock & Worship Roadshow

Christian rock tour featuring MercyMe, Jeremy Camp, Tedashii, Kutless, Family Force 5, Luminate, Adam Cappa, Rhett Walker Band and Tim Timmons.

When: 6 p.m. Feb. 10.

Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St.

Tickets: $10 at the door.

More info:

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