In eager anticipation of their upcoming concert this weekend, I jumped at the chance to speak with singer-songwriter couple Cody and Melody Curtis as well as vocalist/musician/visual artist Thomas Griffith about PSALLOS. PSALLOS is a musical group made up of fourteen individuals currently supporting their ambitious ROMANS project, a concept album that details the book of Romans in the Bible. I knew prior to this meeting about how musically talented and driven the PSALLOS team is, but I had no idea that Pink Floyd influenced the ROMANS album . . . and that’s why I loved this interview.
When did you first start playing music? How did you come up with the idea for PSALLOS?
Cody: The idea for PSALLOS came about when we lived in Greensboro, North Carolina. We attended a small church there, and I had the idea to write an album called Slave Songs . . . because our pastor was teaching about what it means to be a slave of Christ. So we recorded an album in our apartment, just the two of us [Cody and Melody]. Melody is very talented musically, so I had her playing clarinet, drums, singing. . . . We released it here, our first year at Union. That’s the background, when we created PSALLOS.
Melody: The word “psallo” is from Ephesians, chapter 5. The term is Greek, “psallo,” [which means] making music, making melody, to the Lord, so we turned it into our band name . . . While we were still in North Carolina, we were going through the book of Romans. Our pastor asked Cody to come up with a way, musically, to express the doxology at the end of Romans 11. So we just kind of ran with it, and we [performed] it on the day we got to that passage at church. And the response was overwhelming. That song became the very first of the ROMANS album.
Cody: It’s funny because that song was written very quickly. It ended up being the last song on our Slave Songs CD. Then we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to put the book of Romans to music?” And so, I think over time, I casually wrote songs just for fun. Then we thought that maybe we can really do this. We approached the book of Romans like a preacher would try to outline it and think about the main points. [The project] is kinda like “musical exegesis,” with exegesis being when a pastor takes Scripture and brings out the message, and we’re doing that through music.
I was wondering how your songwriting process works, since you’re taking some lyrics from Scripture but also using your own words?
Cody: We released a book a few weeks ago [ROMANS: a Companion Booklet to the Album by PSALLOS], and it shows how the lyrics correspond to passages. Sometimes, with certain songs, it’s almost word for word. One little stanza can cover tons of verses. We tried to articulate Romans in a very concise way.
Are there certain musicians, projects, or theologians that have inspired your work?
Cody: Indelible Grace at Belmont was sort of a reference point for developing PSALLOS here at Union. My inspiration for [PSALLOS] comes not so much from the Christian world, but I have had Andrew Peterson as a reference, with regards to [making] a concept album. I grew up listening to Pink Floyd a ton. I’m a huge fan. So albums like Dark Side of the Moon, and especially The Wall, like, ROMANS is basically structured the way The Wall is structured. It’s two parts: a complete first half and a complete second half. It’s united, with two different ideas. And I’ve had experience preaching and teaching before, so that helped, too.
My friend Shane Caver [who plays in PSALLOS] told me some about your recording process in a dorm room at Union. Can you tell me some more about that?
Cody: We [Cody and Melody] live in a dorm at Union, and since I work in Residence Life, I knew that there was an empty dorm above us. If we had recorded these twenty-three tracks professionally, it would have been way too expensive. So Shane and I went and collected about twelve or thirteen mattresses and built, seriously, a mattress fort.
Thomas: It was very dark. There was one light. It was a very pale, blue light. It would flicker. When the lights were on, it would hum, and we couldn’t have that, so we had to turn them off. The fort was about four feet by four feet. We recorded basically all the vocals in there. We all had to be shoulder-to-shoulder [for the harmonies].
Cody: It actually says on the back of our CD: “Recorded at Mattress Fort Studios.” It was a matter of recording tons of vocals and then later on layering it all together and making it work.
Thomas: What’s wild about recording it that way is that you do all of these little tiny parts, and then six months later you hear the entire thing.
Cody: The seamlessness [of the ROMANS tracks] came from Pink Floyd, with music never stopping. . . . We recorded ROMANS starting in September 2014. We did drums in Nashville, which is the only thing not recorded in Mattress Fort Studios. Clark Bilbrey, Matt Battistelli, Thomas, Melody, and I all went to Nashville and worked with Dewey Boyd, who mixed the album for us. We released it in March 2015.
With your performances coming up, what are you hoping people take away from your music?
Thomas: If you took out the book of Romans, it would be good music but it wouldn’t be this. You’re playing for these people who are expecting to hear the book of Romans. I’ve never done anything like this. It’s not like leading worship . . . but it is like it.
Melody: I would say that it’s like scattering the seeds of the Gospel on all the types of soil that are the people in the audience. It has the elements of worship. There’s people crying in the audience, repenting of sin.
Thomas: How balanced can we be between worship and performance? I think what we have to do is embrace both of them wholly.
Check out PSALLOS on Bandcamp, their website, or their Facebook page to learn more about their fascinating work. A full list of PSALLOS contributors and artists can be read here. Be sure to attend their free concert at First Baptist Jackson on Friday, April 22, at 7:00 P.M., and consider partnering with PSALLOS to further their musical endeavors.