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      Christian / Rock / Blues
      There’s an axiom that should apply in so many areas where we live our lives, be it classroom or boardroom or family room. “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” But there’s one place where this idea tends not to apply. So many -- young and old, male and female, seeker and believer alik... read more
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      There’s an axiom that should apply in so many areas where we live our lives, be it classroom or boardroom or family room.

      “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.”

      But there’s one place where this idea tends not to apply. So many -- young and old, male and female, seeker and believer alike -- run into opposition of asking the tough questions in the one place they should feel most free, the church.
      Todd Agnew wants to help put a stop to that. Through his travels as a recording artist and performer, he has seen it start to happen on its own.

      “I’m just finding more and more people who aren’t fooled by the ‘everything’s fine’ version of Christianity,” the Texas-bred Memphis resident says. “I’m just trying to just get some of those questions out there, the questions people are afraid to ask in church, but also to get the questions asked sincerely and without anger.”
      Which brings Agnew to this place in time and art, using his platform and talent to get to the core of who we are as humans, to get to that moment where we’re able to ask the Better Questions:

      What happens when you die?
      Why do we define people by their mistakes?
      How does God still care for us when we keep messing things up?

      Todd Agnew’s willingness to stand up and provide perspective and voice to this and more doesn’t come from a place of anger or defiance, but rather from the experiences of a man continuing to wrestle with the very questions he poses.

      From his debut Ardent release Grace Like Rain to the sophomore explorations of Reflection of Something to the epic nature of last year’s seasonal effort Do You See What I See? to the present-day realities of Better Questions, there is a deepening lyrical maturity displaying confidence while still maintaining power and edge.

      This set of songs came to Todd with a clarity with which even he was surprised.

      “We had planned to do a live worship record next after the Christmas record,” Todd says. “But after taking some time off, I’d written a bunch of new songs. I went into the management office and said, ‘Um, I need to tell you about some things.’

      “I went in with my pitch that I needed to do a studio record, to be called ‘Better Questions,’ here’s the reasoning behind it, and here are the songs, all of it,” he continues. “They said, ‘Well, we were going to tell you we thought you needed to do a studio record, too,’ So I thought, ‘Wait, then, I didn’t need to do all this work leading up to this?’”

      “We started with the idea of doing a real simple record, musically. I’d just finished the Christmas record and it was so big; there was orchestra on every single song, and it’s just this epic thing,” Todd notes. “So my thought was, ‘Let’s do a record with a drummer, a guitar player, a bass player and some keyboards.’ So that’s how we started...but we definitely strayed from that. As we started meshing the creativity and the simplicity together, sometimes the simplicity fell away.”

      That creativity, that exploration of various sounds and styles -- be it rock of “Still Has A Hold,” the groove of “Least of These,” the lightheartedness of “Funny” or the reinvention of Rich Mullins’ piano-driven “Can I Be With You” -- weaves in tightly to the singer/songwriter nature of some of the other tracks, giving Better Questions a sonic diversity that holds the listener’s attention while maintaining that reflective thread the overall theme requires.

      “For me, it meant going some different directions sonically, like having more keyboards on a record than ever before. We used loops for the first time, which had always been a real ‘anti-Agnew’ kind of thing, like ‘I don’t need computers to play music for me!’” Todd laughs.

      “That’s the great thing about working around these guys who’ve been in the studio for so long. You put in a CD and play something, and they’ll go, ‘Aw, man, that’s a Gretsch hollow body through an old Vox AC30,’” he continues. “So where the second record was about exploring and learning how to make all the music that had influenced me, this time it was about leaving that stuff at the core and doing a lot of creative stuff around it.”

      For Todd, the merging of the project’s theme and the creative drive behind it manifests most noticeably in the song “If You Wanted Me,” asking a litany of questions within an approachable musical habitat. “It may be my favorite song I’ve ever written, because I got to the last line and it wrapped it all up in that one line, ‘If You wanted me to be like You, why did You make me like me?” Todd notes.

      “Musically, it’s a unique combination. For example, the drummer played all her parts with her hands. She’s on a regular drum kit, but she’s tapping the drums with her hands and hitting the cymbals with her fingers, so it’s this little, intricate rhythm that she ties in with the bass player,” Todd says. “But at the end of recording the song, we got the guitar player to go in and create all these feedback loops, then we put that behind their simple rhythm. So you hear the feedback and expect the rhythm to come crashing through, but it just subtly comes in and moves you along.”

      “But this song also deals with the danger of the format we’ve been taught in writing for this genre: you can present any question you want, as long as you answer it 30 seconds later,” Agnew says. “I’ve started to think, ‘But what about the questions you can’t even ask in three minutes? And what about the questions you can’t answer at all? What about the questions you have to have God for? What about the things in our lives that are so devastating and so unexplainable that we can’t get our arms around them? Should we leave them out of our art?’”

      “When we ask questions, God gives us answers, but they’re answers that are going to help draw you to Him, not answers that are going to help you be right,” he continues. “He’s not going to give you the answer that will let you think, ‘Oh, I’ve got it all figured out now,’ He’s going to give you the answer that is going to pull you in to Him, because that’s what you need.

      “We’ve kind of developed this idea that says Christians can’t be challenged by art, they can’t be made to think about anything, we can’t have lyrics that are more than two syllables long, you can’t directly quote stuff out of the Bible because it’s going to go over their heads,” Agnew says. “But my thoughts are, if they’ve connected with some of the things I’ve done in the past, then they’re probably asking some of these same questions.

      “And I can’t help those people by giving them the answer, because I don’t know the answer. But I can help them in letting them know that they’re not alone in asking the questions. The church, as a body, can ask those questions, and we may or may not end up finding the answers, but we can walk that path together.”

      And for Todd Agnew, an artist willing to stand up and make the music he’s called to make while simultaneously making the points he’s compelled to make, just getting the questions asked in the first place is an encouraging first step down that path.

      Categories: Music | Inspirational

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