Breedlove is honored to have Jon Micah Sumrall of KUTLESS as a Signature artist. He took some time off the road to answer some questions.
Breedlove: Your new album “Glory” is out in the public now. What was different about writing this album than all the others?
Jon Micah Sumrall: The writing process on this record was a really unique and special experience for us. Typically we write songs throughout the year and when we begin to work on a new record we select some of these songs and begin to work on them as a band. While there were a few songs that were still completed in this manner, we actually wrote the majority of the record together. We carved out dedicated writing time and began our writing sessions at a beach house on the Oregon coast. The rugged beauty of the coast was an inspiring theme and backdrop as we began the writing process and really made the overall experience very special for us. After the initial several days at the coast, we continued getting together to write in the Portland area until the songs were ready for the studio. Later on, when it came time to do the photo shoot for the record, we decided the Oregon coast would be the perfect backdrop for the imaging of this record. After all, many of the songs were written in that very location. The cover photo and the imaging through out the record, capture some of the coastal backdrop that inspired us as we wrote.
BL: I’m sure you connect more to some of your songs than others – are there any songs that you’ve played live that you’ve been surprised by the crowd response?
JMS: I’ve always been amazed at how different individuals will connect with different songs. Sometimes it is a song that I least expect. That being said, however, the songs with the most exposure tend to have the greatest reach and impact. Our song “What Faith Can Do” was the most successful radio single we have ever released, and to this day we hear more stories connected to this song then any other. I believe this is not only because of its reach as a radio single, but also because of its content and message. It connects with people in a very real way and encourages them to hold on to their faith, to put their trust in God, and to never give up. This is a message that so many people need to hear, and I frequently see tears in people’s eyes as they sing along with the words during our concerts. This song has become a theme song for many individuals battling cancer or other illnesses and it is always a privilege to hear how it has brought hope and encouragement to them in the midst of very difficult days.
BL: Do you have a favorite song?
JMS: I think our favorite song changes every time we write a new one, but currently my favorite song we are playing live, is a song called Revelation. We are opening our set with it and it carries a lot of energy and tends to get people singing and engaging with us. I love getting the crowd engaged and this song helps make that happen right out of the gates.
BL: You provide tutorials for many of the songs on your record. What was the inspiration behind doing that?
JMS: A lot people don’t realize how many songs in the Christian music industry are played in local churches and youth groups. We get requests all of the time for chord charts, lyrics, sheet music, and even backing tracks. One of the goals of this record, was to make these songs accessible. We wanted people to be able to sing them and play them, and to be able to take the songs with them. When you play or sing a song as opposed to simply listening to it, it takes on a whole new life. Music is a way of expressing ourselves, and for a Christian it is a significant part of the way we worship God. We hope that these songs inspire people to worship and to sing and we want to give them the tools to use these songs in their churches, youth groups, and even around the campfire.
BL: What’s it like seeing your music played by others?
JMS: Honestly, it is pretty cool. It is an honor anytime someone values one of our songs enough to learn it and sing it or play it. There is real effort that goes into learning a song and generally we choose to learn songs that mean something to us. Seeing people connect with our music and desiring to play it like us is really a special thing.
BL: The band is in the middle of the Change a Life Tour – how has that been?
JMS: This tour has been great. The music industry has changed a lot the past few years and touring is a constant challenge, but we have had some really great shows. The crazy thing about this tour is that we are on the road with Audio Adrenaline and between the two of our bands, we have many, many years of music industry experience. They got their start in the early 90s and our band started touring in 2002. It’s been cool having so many seasoned veterans on the road together and I think we are all just happy to still be able to make a living playing music. A lot of our friends careers have come and gone, so we feel very privileged to still be out on the road sharing our music.
BL: Does your family ever join you on tour? Has your kids ever joined you on stage?
JMS: Yes, I bring my family out as often as I can. My family used to tour with me full time, but as my kids have gotten older I have been doing a lot more flying to and from the road. Each tour we try to figure out what will work the best for our family and for the road logistics. My son is 9 and my daughter is 5 and both of them have very busy school and sports schedules. They love coming out on the road though any time they can. They have both been on stage, but since my son is older, he has had a few more opportunities. One of my favorite memories was while we were on a tour called the Rock and Worship Road Show. We performed to a nearly sold out crowd at the Rose Garden and he came out on stage with me and jumped around. It took him days to come off the adrenaline surge he got being on stage with me at that show!
BL: Its no secret that you love being in the outdoors – and no place is better for that then Oregon (although we may be a little biased!). How do you keep active when you’re on the road?
JMS: We are very fortunate to live in such a beautiful place. I have traveled all over the world and my travels have only confirmed that Oregon is one of the best places on the planet for outdoor activities. Unfortunately, I usually have to come home to enjoy most of my favorite activities, but every once in a while I will get a great opportunity to get out while I am on the road. To stay fit while I travel I use TRX suspension bands that I can hang from almost any anchor point, from a hotel room door to a tree branch. The whole system fits in a nice little mesh bag and weighs less than 5lbs. It's the best workout I’ve found that I can fit in a suitcase.
BL: What’s the best kept secret in outdoor activities or location in Oregon?
JMS: There are so many great places in Oregon to bike, ski, kayak, surf, wakeboard, camp, hike, etc. and I have favorites places to enjoy all of these. As far as the best kept secret in outdoor activities go, I don’t know if this is the best kept secret, but a lot of people even locally don’t know that Mt Hood is the only mountain in North America that offers year round snow skiing and snowboarding. Timberline Lodge runs lifts all summer and they build a huge terrain park while the glaciers high up on the mountain provide year round snow. In fact many freestyle professional riders as well as the US ski and snowboard teams will come to Mt Hood to train in the summer time. When I am flying home from festivals and fairs in the summer, I am always amazed at how many skis and snowboards come into the oversized baggage area at PDX. I think I see more ski gear come through the airport in the summer than I do in the winter! If you ever want to do some skiing in shorts and a t-shirt, Mt Hood in the summer is the place to do it.
BL: Let's talk instruments. You have an arsenal of Breedlove guitars – including a custom. Do you find each one has a different purpose?
JMS: I believe so. Sometimes I wonder though if I’ve invented a purpose so that I can justify adding new guitar! Each guitar I have really does serve a purpose. I have two Stage concert body guitars that are my road dogs. One is my primary and the other is my back up guitar and depending on our live set I will sometimes tune them differently and swap back and forth to accommodate the songs, which require different tunings. These guitars travel all over the world with me and see really harsh environments from hot summer festivals to freezing cold temperatures riding in the belly of an airplane. I have had to resort to my back up guitar on several occasions due my primary guitar getting crushed on a flight. My other guitars include a Pro-series cedar/rosewood concert body guitar, a passport mini guitar (Breedlove Travel Guitar), and of course my custom bearclaw spruce and myrtlwood guitar.
I typically use my pro series guitar for song writing and local things. I originally intended to use it on tour, but the pick up and cedar top combination didn’t work well for my use, playing with the full band and didn’t cut through the mix, so I switched back to the stage with the brighter sounding spruce top. This guitar was a bit of an experiment for me as I wanted to hear some new wood and pick up combinations. I put in a L.R. Baggs duel element pick up system with the M1 magnetic pick up in the sound hole. It sounds great acoustically however, and also works well when I’m not playing with a band, so it is a nice guitar to have around. It certainly has a warmer sound acoustically that is a nice change from some of my other guitars. The passport mini guitar is what I use when space is at a premium. I take this guitar camping and have taken it on several mission trips to South America. It sounds surprisingly good for its small size and can also be used almost as a tenor guitar when playing with other acoustics.
After having multiple guitars get smashed, I have chosen not to fly my custom guitar. I have taken it on a few West Coast runs where I felt it could be safely transported. I love playing it and it is a very special and amazing instrument. This guitar is heirloom quality and I hope to pass it on to my kids. As such I am much more particular about when and where I take it. This is by far my favorite guitar and while at home, this is the guitar I always reach for. It is a true privilege to play it and I do not exaggerate when I say that it is the finest guitar I have ever had the opportunity to play. It is an incredible instrument that really can’t explained or understood until it is experienced first hand.
BL: What was it like coming and designing your own instrument?
JMS: It was a really special experience for me to design my own guitar. It was a little scary too, however, as you are creating an instrument that you have never heard or played. When you walk into a guitar shop you can try a few guitars until you find one that you fall in love with. When you design your own, you hope that the combinations you have put together work cohesively together to create the tone and playability you are aiming for. You have no way of knowing how it will turn out until it is finished and you finally get to play it. Since I was designing a custom guitar I wanted it to be different from what you would pick up off of a shelf. I wanted it to be unique and yet have a sound that I liked. I did a lot of research to figure out what tonewoods and body shape to use and I carefully selected my woods at the Breedlove factory in Bend. I went through stacks of high quality wood pieces and was able to select my favorite grain patterns and wood colorations within the inventory of the tonewoods I had chosen. I then worked with an inlay artist for several weeks to create the custom inlay. The finished product turned out incredible, and the wood combinations created a beautiful tone exactly as I was hoping for. The whole process while a bit painstaking at times really made the overall experience that much more rewarding. The guitar is not only my “dream guitar” but it also has a story and an experience that will forever be attached to it. It simply makes the instrument that much more special to me.
BL: After the tour is over…what’s next for you and Kutless?
JMS: As for Kutless, we will soon be headed into the summer fair and festival season and will spend most of our summer flying from show to show. The summer is always a busy season for us, but we get to perform at some really amazing events. In the fall we are currently booking dates for a tour with Jeremy Camp. We have been friends with Jeremy for a long time, but have rarely gotten the opportunity to tour together, so we are looking forward to being on the road together.
The new album GLORY is available on iTunes and can be purchased through the KUTLESS online store.