Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter


Putting the “Cross” in Crossover

posted by Esther Kustanowitz

Relient K is a Christian band. Like Switchfoot, they have managed a tricky crossover from the Christian market into the mainstream. But according to a Monsters and Critics interview, their lead vocalist/songwriter Matt Thiessen doesn’t enjoy the segregation.

“We view Christian music and the general market all as the same thing. It’s funny to have a genre just based on lyrics. If I was Jewish and I was writing songs about Judaism, you [wouldn't] sell me only in Jewish bookstores. I feel like Christian music gets segregated,” he says, wryly noting, “Green Day isn’t in the Democratic section at Wal-Mart.”

While a girl like me can certainly sympathize with not wanting to be labeled, even in identification with an aspect of yourself you’re proud of, the truth is that Thiessen shouldn’t yearn for Christian music to be treated like Jewish music. Before Tower Records (and HMV before it) closed, I would routinely go to music stores looking for something reflective of or incorporating aspects of Jewish life. Sure, there was a little bit of emergent neo-klezmer, or classic Yiddish tunes that my grandmother might have hummed to me when I was a kid. But young Jews didn’t have “family values crossover rock” like Collective Soul, or even Amy Grant. Personally, I was hoping to find the newest Israeli bands and artists who don’t even necessarily sing about Judaism. I kept looking in “World” and “Eastern” and “Middle East,” but it was mostly Shakira and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Online was no better; BMG Music (“10 Albums for the Price of 1″ draws you in and then 10 years later you’re still a member, returning unwanting selections of the month) had a few token Hanukkah records in December, but was otherwise similarly bereft. The fact was, to find anything approaching Jewish music or “songs about Judaism,” I would have to go to Jewish bookstores, because they’re the only places that carry them.

But now, with the internet making the real-life music superstore all-but obsolete, it’s a lot easier to find Jewish music. Amazon lists over 1500 titles in the results for “Jewish Music” (compared to 18,477 for “Christian Music”). JDub Records, the company that found and developed Matisyahu for the big time, is producing new Jewish music that blends traditional and contemporary. And JMG Music is not only distributing new Jewish music (like this year’s Grammy-winning Klezmatics CD, “Wonder Wheel”), but resurrecting oldies like “Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites” and the comedy album “You Don’t Have to be Jewish/When You’re In Love the Whole World’s Jewish.”

Still, when it comes to mainstream store representation, I’d be willing to wager that Christian rockers are better off than their Jewish contemporaries. Thiessen might be interested to learn that on Monsters and Critics, the number one search result for “Jewish music” leads readers to the Relient K interview.



  • http://HASH(0xfd59bc8) melissa

    I have heard similar sentiments expressed by Christians who are also musicians, Christians who love music, and Christians who work as journalists covering music. It sounds to me like Thiessen was using Jewish musicians as a general example, not because he claims to have special knowledge about how Jewish music fits within the overall music industry. In the U.S. it does seem that Christian music is the only one separated into its own genre based on religion. I don’t think the point is that that’s all bad, but that doing so often pigeon-holes bands. You can call a band “pop” or “punk,” for example, but if that’s all the record company allows them to be, then is that really fair? There’s so much more to this issue than Thiessen’s quote. I do appreciate your insight into finding Jewish music.

  • http://HASH(0xfd59eb0) Margaret

    Always enjoy your articles. Merv and Merla Watson–& now their daughter Elena–write & sing Israeli music which is very beautiful. Hope you have heard them.

  • http://HASH(0xfd5b8d8) Chelsea

    Personally, I’d like to know whether or not a band is Christian. It kind of goes along with the recent conservative censorship movements of the FCC. I don’t want to have to listen to Christian music if I’m not Christian, just like others don’t want to listen to foul language. I would like the opposite to occur: all religious music should be made into its own respective category. It’s equivalent to labeling a church. I’m sure a Baptist would want to know if he was in a Baptist, Jewish, or Satanist temple, eh?

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