Getting Religious with Guster
Ambitious pop/rock trio Guster has been called everything from Christian, to Jewish, to blasphemous. We talk with lead singer Ryan Miller to find out the truth.
BY: Stephen Russ
What kind of books do you read?
I guess it’s the “naysayers” like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Dan Dennett that have been a really interesting part of what I’ve been reading about more recently. Although, it’s all interesting to me. I mean, I don’t read C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity all the time, but I know that we have a lot of fans who read [Christianity] into our lyrics. We’ve been getting the Christian band thing for a long time, even before this record which has quite a bit of Jesus references. It’s really interesting to me because it’s not something that I planned. In fact, I remember when we had put our record together I was like “Gosh, there’s a lot of God songs on this record, I’m gonna have to figure out how to address this” because you know, for me, using religious references is [common].
We made a record with Steve Lillywhite who did a bunch of U2 records, and he said that Bono whenever he would run out of stuff would just go to the Bible because it’s so richly evocative and it’s some of the best stories ever told. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, meaning that they are fiction. I just mean that however you choose to interpret it they’re amazing stories, and so that stuck with me. I mean, you say the word Jesus in a song and automatically you kind of get certain associations and maybe I like playing with those associations a little bit too. If you hear Jesus being sung then 9 times out of 10 it’s in this one way and maybe I’m trying to bring up the point that it’s not. You can talk about Jesus and God or Heaven and have it not be what is typically associated with those words.
I thought “Stay With Me Jesus” was an interesting one, can you tell me more about that track?
I remember when I wrote that song, that was one of those songs that I kind of wrote in ten minutes from start to finish. Words and music. I remember that specifically being born out of watching coverage of the earthquake in Haiti and watching somebody thanking God for saving, I think it was her child or her house, amidst some of the most destructive powers that have been seen recently. That idea is so… powerful to me, that somebody can be surrounded by wanton destruction and so much death, and say, “thank you for saving this.” I sort of set out to write about that without judgment in the sense that I think that that’s a really ambiguous statement, I think you can view that situation one of two ways. That can either be like “holy crap that’s amazing and life affirming” that you can find meaning in something so horrible, or it could be also be like “you’re crazy, if God really cared about you how could he destroy this many people?” I was just fascinated with that idea and wrote the song with that in mind. The protagonist is someone that’s been surrounded by death their entire life but to the end maintained this faith. And I presented it without commentary for the most part.
You know, it’s funny because when the record came out there was sort of three versions of our religiousity. There was two Christian websites, one that said that I was [against Christianity] and one that said it was very faithful to Christianity. There was also an Atheist website that said "learly, he’s making fun of or pointing out the inconsistencies of certain religious beliefs." like that there’s different interpretations of that song. I left it ambiguous enough to have people read into it whatever they want. I may have my personal beliefs when I wrote it, but it shouldn’t necessarily impact how people read the song. The intentionality of the songwriter in this whole thing almost doesn’t matter in a way. You know, we all have our own associations in all the music that moves us.