This interview was conducted by Nolan Shigley and Tricia Krull at Cornerstone 2000. In all honesty, I hadn’t listened to much Violet Burning prior to Cornerstone 2000. I’m fairly new to the Christian music scene (4 years), but after an incredible live show and a humbling interview, I’m definitely a listener of the Violet Burning. As a matter of fact, I Am a Stranger in This Place hasn’t seen its case in a couple of months. Its beautiful sounds of worship help me sleep at night. I was really intrigued when Tricia got the interview with Michael and even more impressed by the middle of it. As you’ll see, Michael is as down to earth as musicians get.
Tricia: Can you start out by telling us a little about yourself, your name, where you grew up, and where you are based out of?
Michael: Yeah, my name is Michael Pritzl. I was born in Long Beach, California and grew up in Huntington Beach, California. We’re currently based out of Long Beach. How’s that?
Tricia: That works. When did you start playing music and how long has The Violet Burning been together?
Michael: I kind of started playing music when I was about 16 in punk rock bands. I then got converted and I kind of taught myself to play guitar in my room. My older sister had a K-Mart guitar and fortunately she had moved out. I had this kind of newfound faith. I was raised Catholic and I was converted as a Catholic, but I didn’t know about any of this evangelical stuff. I had a real powerful conversion experience. I wanted to worship God, so I had a friend tune the guitar. I just had this K-Mart guitar chord book and I just started figuring out chords. I would just sit in my room and worship God like that. That was when I was 18. I started this band, I think 11 years ago. It’ll be 11 years coming up.
Tricia: Has the line-up stayed consistent?
Michael: No, the line-up has been different from the beginning. It was originally just my friend Kurt Gentry and I making tapes and then my friend, now brother-in-law, Mike. He started playing guitar with us. I think I have changed line-ups with each record with the exception of the last two that are out and the one that’s coming out. We made two this year and Plastic Elastic, which was a couple of years ago.
Nolan: When’s the new album scheduled to come out?
Michael: The newest one just came out, I Am a Stranger in This Place. I then did a worship record in May and I just need to finish the artwork for it. It’s a modern, kind of congregational worship record.
Tricia: Something that can be played in churches?
Michael: Yeah, I try to make the songs as verse-chorus as I could, not as much meandering as I’m prone to.
Tricia: Could tell us about your musical and lyrical influences? I know a lot of it is you just wanting to worship the Lord. That comes across in your music.
Tricia: Oh, I love cinnamon Altoids!
Michael: I’m addicted to them. We’ll just leave them out. You can’t just eat one.
So the question is, what kind of things inspire me musically and lyrically. I think that my conviction has always been to write about what God has brought me through. You know, if that’s heart, write about it. I heard a band say the other day, kind of in a really proud way, “God wants us to quit writing songs about where we’re at and just focus on Him,” and then they did this whole thing. I thought, “Yeah, that’s kind of true,” but then I thought about it later that day. I realized the Bible is not really that way, when David’s crying out to the Lord or Jeremiah in Lamentations.
God really cares and loves us. The things that weigh heavy on our hearts concern him. It’s OK for us to express ourselves in that way. I won’t say who the band is, because they are very popular, but I just happened to be at their press conference. At first I thought, “Well, maybe I’m missing it and I shouldn’t be so selfish.” You know, and then again I realized that God really does love me and He really has, you know, when my friends die, He cares that my heart is broken. He cares that I’ve had a hard day or that I’ve had a wonderful day. He wants to share all those good and bad times. He wants to be the friend of sinners.
Mike Roe and I stayed up for like 3 hours last night, until dawn came up, just talking about that and how Jesus said, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” If you look at Jesus, I mean, sometimes we picture the Father as this ogre up there ready for judgement. If we’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen the Father. Is that how Jesus was? The only instance in which Jesus had words that were harsh or strong was when they were religious people. The rest of the time, with all us rotten sinners, that’s who He was friends with. That’s how the Father is, too. We forget that sometimes. Well, I don’t know if I answered the question.
Inspirations? Well, movies inspire me. I think for me, life inspires me. For me, writing songs and writing music is more of a “I can’t really plan it, it just happens.” I go through seasons in which every time I pick up a guitar there’s something new on it. I actually have to keep a tape player with me. I have this ghetto blaster, it’s totally beat up and you couldn’t play anything back on it at all. It has this little microphone on it. It’s always set up in my house and whenever I play or worship on my own, I just put it on. I have boxes and boxes of cassette tapes, front and back full of ideas. Then what I do, when I need to make a record, I go back and start listening to things. I see what things are actually any good, in my mind at least. Maybe I should start playing them for someone else. Maybe I have a hit somewhere (laughs).
Tricia: So, you do the main songwriting for the group?
Tricia: You guys have been around for a while. Where do you see the band going? What are your hopes for the future?
Michael: I think that it’s hard for an artist, because there are so many things going on inside of you. All of us as people, and especially as artists, are selfish and we have our own dreams that we want to pursue. Some of those things God has set in our hearts and other things are me, me, me. I have wrestled with those things through the years and with the Violet Burning. I really hope the music would impact as many lives as it could. That’s what it really, really is about for us. It’s always been about making music that would move the hearts of men. Man being man and woman.
I think that for me, as an artist and music fan, there are so many things that I love. I love music, I love dance music, country music, punk rock. I actually used to get beat up for loving punk rock, which was a long time ago. When I got into it, it wasn’t “cool”. I love all that stuff, but my band isn’t any of those kinds of things. My band thrives when it has that heavy thing. It does that the best. People are drawn in by it. That’s how it has always been, “How can we make music that moves people’s hearts?” I really want the songs to be the key. It’s never been about, “Hey, I want to do a vocal solo. No one does vocal solos.”
Nolan: Yeah, then you guys could be a really glammed-out rock band.
Michael: You know, it’s not about that or what licks I can play on the guitar. It’s about letting the song take you where it wants to go.
Tricia: What out there now causes you to say, “Wow, how awesome?” What music have you listened to lately that has inspired you?
Michael: You know what’s funny? I’ve been listening to my favorite Rolling Stones song for the last two weeks. It’s called “Moonlight Mile” off of Sticky Fingers. It’s the very last song. It’s always been one of my favorite songs and it’s just been one of those things lately. I’ve always loved the band The Verve, and a lot of people are just starting to discover them now. “Moonlight Mile” is probably 1972 and it’s probably the song that The Verve just rips off over and over again. It has that vibe and that sweet melody. That’s been really moving me lately.
There’s a friend of mine’s band that’s younger than me and I’ve had the privilege to be an encouragement in his life. His songs blow me away. He plays out of this band from Longview, Washington called The Rock N’ Roll Worship Circus. He always passes me the pre-release things he does. This new thing that he has, which hasn’t come out yet, will be called Big Star Logistics. Just driving into this campsite today I was listening to it and just weeping. It’s just so good and he’s only 25 years old. He’s amazing. They have this thing that they do that’s sometimes pretty rockin? and pretty vibey. It’s kind of like Ride or Curve or The Danny Warhols. It’s that kind of poppy, glammy thing. It also has this space rock vibe to it, too. It’s almost a quiet U2 reflective thing to it. It just has the Holy Spirit on it more than anything. It totally moves me.
Tricia: Is that going to be out on a label or anything?
Michael: I’m trying to get them a deal right now. Hopefully, over the summer we will secure something for them. Had them come and play on the worship album I did in May. His name is Gabriel Wilson.
Nolan: You guys have been around a lot longer than most of the bands here at Cornerstone. What gives you the drive to stay with it?
Michael: I think some people want to be in a band because it’s cool. There’s a certain charm to it. For me, if I could stay in my room and play songs I would be just as satisfied. Playing live is a very nervous experience for me. Until we start playing and I feel the Lord in the music, it’s not until then I feel OK. I kind of forget about the crowd. You know, it’s like God gave me this fish. I want to say, “Here Lord, I’ve got this fish and it’s all I’ve got.” He takes that fish and makes it special in a lot of people’s hearts. That’s what makes it worth it. Nothing else does.