Take a listen to some of the most popular bands on the radio these days and you might hear a lyric or two suggesting that religion is invading the airwaves.
Bands like Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire explore ideas relating to faith, belief and spiritual awakening.
“Like the city that nurtured my greed and my pride, I stretched my arms into the sky,” sings Marcus Mumford on the band’s song “Babel” from the album of the same name. “I cry Babel! Babel! Look at me now. Then the walls of my town, they come crumbling down.”
Babel is the name given to the city of Babylon in the Bible.
On “Neon Bible” the second album from indie superstars Arcade Fire, Win Butler, the band’s frontman sings “Been working for the church, while your life falls apart, singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart. Every spark of friendship and love, will die without a home.”
It’s not just a recent phenomenon.
A quick glance through a stack of influential albums released during the past 50 years reveals plenty of religious themes. A wide range of artists have dabbled in faith-based music over the years, including John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan.
Coltrane’s landmark album “A Love Supreme” is a thank you note to God for giving him the strength to kick his heroin addiction. Listening to Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life is like eavesdropping on a musical conversation between himself and the Lord. Dylan’s output in the early ’80s was largely dominated by his newfound religious beliefs, resulting in three records that explored his faith.
Even in Chester County, religion is influencing songwriters and musicians.
Nicole Zell, 18, of Honey Brook, has fronted her own band, the Nicole Zell Band and performed around Chester County and Philadelphia for several years.
Zell said her own religious beliefs have shaped her preferences when she’s deciding what she wants to listen to.
“It really depends on what the genre, message and lyrics are as to whether or not I will listen to it,” Zell, a Christian, said. “Music can have a negative or positive affect like most things in life and no matter what religious beliefs a person has, I think we should all try to surround ourselves with positive, uplifting music. It’s good for the soul.”
Zell said her faith also shapes the kinds of songs she writes.
“Incorporating spiritual aspects into my music is very important to me,” Zell said. “When I write songs, I love pulling inspiration, stories, verses and messages from the Bible. However, I also write songs about life, love, heartbreak, relationships as serious topics such as depression, suicide, death, etc., so not all of my music is spiritual.
Her religious views also shape the way she approaches her live performances.
“In live performances, my band and I usually pray before we perform and we strive to make our shows uplifting and positive whether we’re playing spiritual songs or not. My band is all about peace, love and rock ‘n roll!”
Thomas McKee is the music director at the Downingtown School of Rock.