The day after indie-rock favorite The Violet Burning offered an energetic and deeply spiritual live show to an ecstatic audience at Cornerstone Festival, RELEVANT sat down with Michael J. Pritzl, songwriter, guitarist, singer and all-around creative force behind the band. He told us about his new album, his side project The Gravity Show, making the song king and the miracle of worship.
[RELEVANT magazine:] What would you say are the differences between this record [This Is the Moment] and The Gravity Show record [Fabulous, Like You]?
[Michael J. Pritzl:] The Gravity Show has some things that for me are pretty spiritual, but This Is the Moment has things that are more obviously spiritual. I think the challenge for me as an artist, is that … for so long I’ve made these records and people go, “Oh, well, that’s not Christian enough.” Like last night we were playing “Crush” at our show here at Cornerstone. “Crush” is the opening song on the self-titled record. and it’s a song about being betrayed by the church, and yet it’s really such a psalm. Because David was like, “Lord, kill my enemies.” But what’s so Christian about that? Well, it was an honest thing. But if you read the whole psalm in which he says that, he also turns to the Lord in worship, and in prayer and in adoration.
“Crush” is kind of the same way, because right in the middle of the song, it turns to God and asks for His love to heal that hurt that’s just been addressed in the verses before. And it’s funny, because so many people in the church wouldn’t consider that Christian, and yet the Bible is full of those type of writings. Thank God we have the Bible and not just churches telling us what God’s like, you know? [Laughs]
The song which is kind of the backbone of [This Is the Moment] is “Lost Without You Near Me.” It’s such a yearning, longing type of song; it’s not really, “I’ve got it all figured out.” It addresses chasing God—and then, finding Him. We have those times in our lives where we really sense the presence of God, in those certain moments. And it’s like, “Wow, this is the moment, this is the place! This is where I feel fulfilled, finally, here in Your presence.”
[RM:] Do you think there will be any more Gravity Show records?
[MJP:] For sure. Yeah. I mean, I write a lot of stuff, so I want to have an outlet to put out more songs. It’s fun. I think those songs suit that title, too. It’s an interesting record.
[RM:] I agree. You know, it took me a while to figure out what you meant by “The Gravity Show.” I actually wrote a review of [the record] for RELEVANT. I have my conclusions in there.
[MJP:] Yeah? What was your conclusion?
[RM:] Well, like This Is the Moment, The Gravity Show is a lot about longing. And I said that I thought that the thematic center of the record was really the line, “I’m [fighting] to hold back the tears [because] gravity’s keeping me here.” So it’s all about being here, embodied in a fallen world, and having this desire for the divine. Which is kinda met, and kinda not, at the same time.
[MJP:] It is, yeah. And that’s exactly it. I think that that’s part of why I love This Is the Moment, because there’s just the same thing. You know, a song like “I See Stars” or “Slowa” … those songs, man, they just, they kill me. When we play those songs, they’re really strikingly beautiful. And sometimes for me, I think, God, where did this come from? Because I believe, in a kind of mystical way, that songs are out there, and there’s certain people who are able to kinda tap into ’em.
Some musicians who want to be songwriters, they force it. They go, I want to write a song like that song. But I’ve never been able to force a song. Then there’s a song like “The Only One” on our new record. It’s one of those songs that so many people relate to. It has a broader audience, which is weird for me. And it’s an awesome blessing to hear people go, “Oh man, I’ve been singing it in church.” I think, Wow. Awesome. Sing it in church! I hope that it would lead people in the presence of God. Because for me, when I sit at the piano and play that song, it wipes me out.
[RM:] It’s interesting that you say it’s a mysterious process, because I read an interview with you, and you were saying that you felt led to write more broadly accessible songs. I wondered if you had sort of a songwriting process?
[MJP:] I don’t remember saying that I felt led to write broadly accessible songs, because I don’t think—I don’t know how to do that. But what I do know is that I’ve tried to look at my songs as an outsider and go, “Let’s cut out this boring stuff.” The New York Dolls said, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” So it’s more punk rock and more … b—-in’ … to get into the song than it is to stand up there and play G and C because you’re feeling emotional.
So that’s what I was saying. I was not saying, “I want to write broadly accessible songs.” No, I’m saying, “Look man, don’t bore us, get to the chorus”—you know, like we were talking about with “Slowa,” like, “Where did that song come from?” Well, I have the original tapes of me playing the guitar line and jamming in my room—I know exactly where it comes from. But at the same time, I also know that just me jamming for 5 minutes or 10 minutes or 20 minutes, that’s really not a good song. Nobody really wants to hear that.
Yesterday we were at sound check and we were joking; we said, “Is there anybody here who used to listen to the band Yes? Maybe you need to be delivered or forgiven for playing too many notes.” Part of what I love about Andy Prickett is that he can shred, but yet he makes his guitar lines match what the song is about, not vice versa. And it’s the same thing with any of the musicians I play with—what makes them great is not their chops, but that the song is always the king.
[RM:] Do people ever say they have a hard time understanding your lyrics? Because you have sort of a unique way of talking about spiritual things.
[MJP:] The only kind of negative stuff I get is from people who are religious. And it really doesn’t faze me. We do what we do, and we give it all we’ve got, you know. I mean, there’s always people who like you and who don’t like you.
[RM:] So it doesn’t bother you.
[MJP:] No, I mean … There’s a lot of people out there who are insecure. There’s this one guy who wrote me an email and said, “You’re a sellout.” And I said, “Sellout to what?” You know? You want to come see my little apartment where I live? What exactly do I sell out to? And where is the money? [Laughs]
[RM:] So what do you think is next for The Violet Burning, or The Gravity Show?
[MP] I’ve just started writing a lot of songs recently in between tours. So I’m writing already for the next record. And hopefully we’ll finish that in a few months.
I’m excited. The band’s been touring, and the lineup’s just solid. And they’re nice guys, and they love God. It’s just awesome for me that God shows up when we play. Like last night, it’s just … it’s b—-in’. You can’t make that happen. There’s no special words you can say to suddenly make the presence of God show up like that. So for me, what’s next is just following Jesus and seeing where it takes us. And hopefully, people will be blessed and touched by what we do.[Melanie Seibert works as a copywriter for a catalog and Internet retailer in Charlottesville, Va.]
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