Playing it loud and proud

| January 29, 2014 | 0 Comments

Faith journey leads Craig Berry to release Christian rock album

Craig Berry, aka J. Constantine of  12 Tribes, uses Winterland Studios in Minneapolis to record. He released his debut Christian rock album, “Sing a New Song,” in December. Dianne Towalski/The Catholic Spirit

Craig Berry, aka J. Constantine of 12 Tribes, uses Winterland Studios in Minneapolis to record. He released his debut Christian rock album, “Sing a New Song,” in December. Dianne Towalski/The Catholic Spirit

Local musician Craig Berry embraced Catholicism unconventionally — via the Internet and watching Mother Angelica on Eternal Word Television Network.

“So here I am finding myself sitting on a Thursday night watching a 70-year-old nun talking about the faith, and I’m just eating it all up,” Berry said about his conversion from Lutheranism almost 20 years ago. “It was a weird experience, but I loved it. I got the phone book, picked up the phone, called the nearest Catholic church and said, ‘I’m in. What do I have to do?’”

But when it came to producing his debut extended play album, “Sing a New Song,” released last December, Berry knew just how to go about it. Before becoming a web developer, he was a professional recording engineer at a Minneapolis studio.

Under the name J. Constantine and the band name 12 Tribes, Berry recorded the Christian music album basically with a computer and a $100 microphone.

Initially, he tried to collaborate with other artists, but when coordinating schedules didn’t work, he decided to produce the album solo, even venturing into new territory with lyrics and vocals — what he calls his biggest musical challenge.

“So I decided to do this as a Christian music artist and see where it went, and it’s just kind of been progressively building and building,” he said.

Making music accessible

Berry grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Metallica, so he was amazed there was edgy music in the Christian genre from bands like Jars of Clay, DC Talk and Third Day, and artist Steven Curtis Chapman. Berry describes his music “like Weezer for Christians.”

“I would never want to hear this in a liturgy, or in a church setting or a Mass,” Berry said. “This is not what this is about.”

What it is about, he said, is using the themes of Christianity in the context of modern songs to make music easier for both Christians and non-Christians to identify with. Berry wanted to give people the opportunity to listen to good beats and cohesive song structures minus the bad messages prevalent in a lot of current music. That’s important to the father of three, ages 11, 9 and 5.

“There is secular music that’s just poisonous, that’s full of really bad images, bad words,” Berry said. “This is not like people complaining about Elvis and The Beatles. No, this stuff now is terrible. It’s shocking that this is played on radio stations.

“The songs I write I want to be very hopeful, encouraging, and showing the love of Christ for individual people, specifically so that they know that Jesus loves them. And you don’t have to sing ‘Jesus loves you’ over and over and over to get that message across. You can do it in new ways, in ways that they understand, in language that they understand.”

Quirky lyrics in the upbeat “Pray” take listeners through the stages of a day, showing anytime is good for prayer.

“I see the moon a-risin’, I see the sun a-fallin’/ That means it must be bedtime — hey, where’s my teddy?/ I start to close my eyes, and then I hear this song / I throw the covers off me/ I lift my hands and pray, today’s the day I say no going back, I’m keepin’ this pact today/No going back, I’m movin’ on up.”

“That’s the biggest message: Pray always and be consistent. Don’t give up on it,” Berry said.

Background paved the way

When Berry’s passion for music was reignited two years ago, he knew producing an album would require long hours and switching his mind from technology mode to creative mode, all while being a husband, father and working full time. Before his recent decision to be a freelance web developer, he worked for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office of Communications as the social and new media manager.

“I give my wife [Paula] a lot of credit for support,” said Berry, who attends Holy Family in St. Louis Park.

For a week last summer, he went to Nashville, Tenn., to attend the Immerse music conference. And when he records a session at Winterland Studios in Minneapolis, it’s a whole day.

Berry didn’t set out to produce an entire album. But after hitting the books on music theory, getting updated on trends and practicing, he had enough material.

About a year ago, Berry ramped up his efforts, investing more in his home studio, writing, playing guitar, composing and singing. Now, “Sing a New Song” is available to stream on Spotify and for purchase on iTunes and Amazon. On the album’s ReverbNation page, it sits at the No. 1 Christian rock spot in Minneapolis and is up to No. 50 in the nation.

Berry said that although the Christian music scene is Protestant-dominated, music is a great common ground that can unite different faiths.

“We are, in many ways, trying to do the same thing,” he said. “And that’s really what this is all about for me — using the gifts God gave me . . . and offering it to the Lord, saying ‘What do you want me to do with it?’”

Listen upSinger, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, J. Constantine (Craig Berry), wrote, performed and recorded all the music and vocals on “Sing a New Song.” His message to listeners: “Play it Loud and Pray Always.”

Connect with J. Constantine and 12 Tribes

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On the musical horizon

Berry will be a guest on “The Rediscover: Hour” on Relevant Radio 1330 AM Jan. 31 .

“That’s the big thing about Rediscover: is showing people, ‘hey, this is out there, and it’s not what you may have thought.’ It’s accessible, it’s relevant, it’s current, it’s fresh — not just my music, but others,” he said.

Through ReverbNation, Berry submitted his music to a Christian station in Virginia that will play the songs on its showcase program. If the director likes the tracks, they’ll earn a spot on the playlist.

Berry also is actively looking for Christian labels. He sent his songs to a publisher in Nashville to assess. And he is working to get his music on Pandora, an online streaming service.

In the meantime, Berry continues to write songs and is producing a demo for another singer-songwriter. Through that work, he is reconnecting with people he previously worked with in the industry. “The joy I’ve had in seeing them again rekindles a lot of fond memories,” he said. “It’s been an unexpected joy.”

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Category: Faith and Culture, Featured