Churchill talks about finding an identity

Churchill is releasing its debut full-length, Happy/Sad, tonight at the hi-dive. It's been a long time coming -- the band has been around for more than two years, and this album has been in the works for half that time. The album, partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, is an elegant ode to life's ups and downs. We sat down with the band, comprising songwriter and vocalist/guitarist Tim Bruns, guitarist Mike Morter, keyboard player/vocalist Bethany Kelly, drummer Joe Richmond and bassist Tyler Rima in advance of the release to talk about fitting all the pieces together and not being defined as a Christian band.

Westword: Is there something that ties this album together?

Tim Bruns: The name of the record is Happy/Sad, and in all of the songs there's some sort of reference to opposite emotion. It's all about contrasting feelings.

Why that particular dichotomy?

TB: I think, for me, it was just the way I was writing songs. It was a really interesting year for me last year. I had very high ups and very low lows, so it was a lot of happy and sad.

How did the songwriting process work for Churchill on this album?

TB: For the most part I came with a really down tempo folk song that everyone made cool.

Joe Richmond: This has been the biggest year for us kind of becoming a band. So what would happen a lot is Tim would write the songs and come to us just on a guitar and sing the song. And we loved the songs, but they were all in a very similar vein. Kind of alt-country-ish. And it fit the emotion he was trying to get across.

But what's funny is Mike and Tim have been playing together for a long time doing more folky, bluegrassy stuff; me and Tyler have been playing in rock bands for the last couple years, and Bethany was playing in choirs and stuff like that. So I feel like, when Tim brought things to us initially, he and Mike were on the same page, and then me and Tyler were like, "This isn't rock music, we don't know how to play this," so we'd just start playing rock drums and bass to it.

So it kind of developed into the sound we have. The songs start with Tim and we just kind of add on and turns into a whole different thing.

TB: It took me a while to be okay with that, with letting the song be what it was supposed to be. I remember when Mike and I first started doing stuff together, I'd be like, "I want you to play this." And he'd say, "No. I'm not going to play in this band unless I can play what I want to play." So now that's kind of my philosophy with everything: I just trust everyone to play what they think is best in the song. And it's worked out well.

What is it that you're looking for out of playing music?

Mike Morter: I'd have to say just to be able to support myself and if I have someone in the future, to support whoever I'm with by doing music.

TB: I think that's for all of us: We all want to do this as a job. But I think success is also not necessarily just monetary. We want to have connections with people, and I think music is a catalyst to connect with people.

JR: That's kind of been a tough one for me. I started working with the band Meese, and they kind of got to a point where they had a certain amount of success, or what I saw as success for a band. They got signed; they did all this stuff. And then that kind of ended the way that it ended. And then also now, working with The Fray, I've seen that kind of success, too.

That's been hard, seeing all that and then thinking about success for my own band. I think, for me, it's more a musical thing. Probably because I've been working with bands technically for so long, I want to do something that's musically successful. I'm so proud of this band because we're doing what we want to do.

How would you say that your faith has influenced the band?

TB: When we decided to start as a band, that was a big question we had. Because We all grew up in Christian families and Mike and I met in Bible college. So I think faith is a big part of what we do, but at the same time it's not necessarily the goal of what we're doing. We don't want to do Christian music. We don't want to be involved at all in a Christian music industry. I'm not going to write a certain way because I'm a Christian. I just write whatever is on my mind. We've been called a Christian band before, and I guess it's not necessarily what we want.

JR: There are a lot worse things to be called.

TB: There are Christian overtones to what we're doing, but we don't get up on stage and preach at people for forty-five minutes or anything like that.

MM: I think we try and have a message of hope. People connect really well, whatever you believe, if there's some sort of hope in what you write.

TB: As far as the record goes, that's the whole point. The last song is called "Happy/Sad" and the lyrics say that happy and sad aren't enough. It talks about there being a hope outside that. For me it's about hope outside of my routines and emotions. I used to get so caught up. I'd wake up in a bad mood, and I'd be in a bad mood all day. And I think that whether I'm happy or sad, there's hope for me outside of those emotions.

MP3: Churchill - "Miles"

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Kiernan Maletsky is Westword's music editor. His writing has appeared in alt-weeklies around the country as well as Miley Cyrus's mom's Twitter feed.
Contact: Kiernan Maletsky