ROME OF THE WEST
MONKROCK (MR): So, as we get started, tell me where you’re from.Michael James Mette (MJM): Effingham, Illinois.
MR: What’s Effingham like? What was it like growing up there?
MJM: People always laugh when I tell them the name of my town. Effingham is a small German farm town in Southern Illinois. I didn't realize how sheltered I was growing up until I moved away. It was great because it protected my innocence for a long time. But it was difficult growing up there because I didn't fit in very well. If you weren't good at sports you were sort of an outcast or a nerd. I got into music but there were not a lot of opportunities for artists.
MR: Where do you live now?
MJM: St. Louis, Missouri.
MR: What’s life like in St. Louis? What’s your favorite thing about living there?
MJM: I love St. Louis. It's a very affordable place to live with lots of cheap / free entertainment options. St. Louis has been called the "Rome of the West" and is a very Catholic city. It's also a great baseball town with the St. Louis Cardinals. It's a family tradition of ours to pull the kids from school to catch an afternoon game. St. Louis is also great because it's about 2 hours from Effingham, which is close enough for visiting family. Both sides of my family as well as my wife's family still live there. We visit about once a month or so. It's nice because now Effingham is much more of a retreat for us – a place that we can go to relax and recharge.
MR: Have you lived anywhere else?
MJM: I was in the Air Force for four years and was stationed in Abilene, TX. I also was in San Antonio and Wichita Falls for a short time. We also served as youth ministers in Roseville, California (a large suburb of Sacramento).
MR: So when did you start playing music?
(MJM): I've loved music as long as I can remember. I started playing trombone when I was in fifth grade. I wanted to play drums because they were cool but Sr. Cordula wanted me to play a brass instrument. So I played trombone. Later on I learned drums in high school, and then electric guitar. I've always enjoyed playing music.
MR: So what kind of music is your favorite then?
MJM: I mean I know it's cliché but I really do enjoy ALL kinds of music. If you look at my Spotify playlist it's very eclectic. We have this ever-evolving family playlist that we keep on in the background when hanging out at home. It’s our soundtrack, you could say. It’s also a game of sorts. Anyone can add a track, but it takes two people to remove it. There's a ton of pop stuff on there that my daughters really like. I like the happiness and simplicity of pop, but find it overall very one-dimensional. If I had to pick my favorite music / bands, it would have to be alternative stuff from my youth. That's what I really grew up on: Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters... 90’s alternative rock. It's hard to beat that. I love the passion and energy of the punk rock ethos. I try to bring that in a unique way to my own music.
MR: So you’re married and have a family?
MJM: Yeah... I've been married 13 years and I've been blessed with five kids. Annie (8), Trinity (7), Charity (5), Cecilia (4), and Michael Jr. (2). They bring a lot of joy to my life although family life can be very challenging also.
MR: So how do you balance family and music?
MJM: Family time – doing things together – is very important to us. Prayer time is very important to us. We make those things priorities and the rest seems to fall into place. It's not uncommon that we'll stop everything that everyone is doing so that we can honor prayer time in our house. We also try to make sure we have enough leisure time in our lives. It can be easy for me to want to work at almost all hours of the day and night. I sometimes have to make lists just so that I can feel satisfied with relaxing at the end of the day!
BRING FORTH THE LIGHTMR: So tell me about the new album “Bring Forth the Light”. Why did you choose that as the title?
MJM: "Bring Forth the Light" points to the world that we're waiting for – that there is a whole new life that awaits us in heaven, and the life we are living now is temporal and passing. There’s a line in the song (“Bring Forth the Light”), "The time is coming when everything I see will fade away into the night like forgotten memories." It's a song about a holy aching, a spiritual longing for more, a desire that cannot be fulfilled this side of heaven.
MR: Tell me about the making of the album – the writing, the recording, where you recorded, who you worked with…
MJM: We recorded the album in Nashville, Tennessee at a studio called Legion of Boom, which is owned and run by Steve Wilson (Ugly Kids Club, The Class of 98), who was one of the producers of the album. Kevin Clay (Lo-Fi Liturgy, The Science of Letting On, My Little Dog China) – the other producer, who lives in St. Louis – and I wrote for several months before going to Nashville. Kevin and I have become close friends. He used to live in Nashville and still works there a lot when doing music. We also did some finishing touches here in St. Louis at Shock City Studios, which is an incredible studio.
MR: What challenges did you face during the making of the album? Any learning experiences?
One of the things I learned about myself is that I need to be authentic. Growing up in Effingham, I could get by with copying other people, and since I was one of the few artists in town, I could get away with it. Moving to different parts of the country as well as touring has helped me to see that I need to be truly myself, not a parody of someone else. Also being a “Catholic artist” I thought it was enough to just say the “right” thing or be theologically correct in my songs. I learned that I really needed to write (and perform) not simply from my head – my beliefs, my Catholic Faith – or by simply singing and playing the right notes, but truly from my heart – the part of me that wrestles with the things, the part of me that is unfinished, the part of me that is unique in how I live out the Faith in my own life, how I try to articulate the message of the Gospel, how I try to love and be loved. I grew a lot as a writer with the help of my co-writers and producers. I tried really hard to listen to what the song was trying to become and participate in that process as opposed to forcing it into some preconceived notion of what other people would like or want to buy.
MR: What would you like people to take away from your music?
MJM: Wow. (Pause) I think I would like people to be able to connect with the divine. If my music, or something I say, or a CD can help people to see the fingerprints of God, the beauty in creation, I feel like I will have done my job.
MONKROCKERSo how did you get connected with MONKROCK?
MJM: I found out about MONKROCK about four years ago at a Christian music festival. It was really just a momentary chance encounter. The gig was pretty much a disaster: I ran out of gas on the way there, showed up late and disheveled, played in the freezing cold, and barely scraped by. I needed a place to charge my iPhone and MONKROCK had an outlet at their booth. From there, I just grew to really enjoy their lived-in perspective on Catholicism. It's not a company that tries to follow trends, but has developed their own style that's in tune with both the timelessness of Catholicism and the accessibility of pop culture.
MR: You were a MONKROCK model for awhile, right?
MJM: (Laughs) Yeah. I did a photo shoot for my first album “Always What I Need” and I wanted to wear something that was religious but cool – not too in-your-face or cheesy. One of the pictures of me wearing a MONKROCK shirt with the St. Benedict Medal made the cover of the album, and it kind of became the symbol for the album. MONKROCK wanted to use some of my photos wearing their t-shirts for promotion and product shots. So I became associated with MONKROCK and I started selling MONKROCK merchandise at my shows.
MR: The MONKROCK tagline is “You don’t have to be a monk to live like one.” How do you “live like a monk”?
MJM: We try to treat our house like a monastery. We can't be totally abandoned to prayer the way that monks are, but we try to have a healthy relationship with the world. Our house is always open to friends and guests, and we have people over all the time – whether it is the core group from church, house concerts or just hanging out, drinking wine and talking into the early hours of the morning.
MR: You mentioned prayer, what role does prayer play in your life?
MJM: Well, prayer is central to what I do. Since most of my music gigs are centered on ministry, and most of my time has been in youth ministry, it's important to be aware of the risk of burnout. I'll put it this way: if you work in a wood shop, the occupational hazards are that you'll cut off a finger. If you work in ministry, the occupational hazards are that you'll fall into spiritual apathy.
MR: What kind of prayers do you like to pray?
MJM: We attend daily Mass as a family. It has been one of the greatest blessings in our lives. I can't do that too often when I'm on the road, however I do try to stay connected with the liturgical calendar. My wife Michelle and I recently started praying the morning and evening prayers from the Magnificat. It has really helped us to keep our days marked with prayer.
MR: How else do you try to “live like a monk"?
MJM: What many people don't realize is that monks work – sometimes as many hours in the day as they pray. As a full-time musician and youth minister, there is always work to be done. With touring, I have a very erratic schedule where I'll be home for a week and then gone for two. We make many sacrifices to live this way, but have found in following God's call a life of joy. That's one of the things that I hope people take away from my music – that following Christ's call is a life of joy!
See: Michael's Bio » | Michael's Photos » | Listen and download "Bring Forth the Light" » | Buy the CD »