Bethel - the Interview
Terry Thompkins (of Bethel) is a guy who's going places. Apart from owning half the sites at MP3.com with his various bands, he's now got a Christian rock opera on the loose! Here's what he says about it and all sorts of etc.
[Ben Ohmart] Tell me about Bethel the band, and the story
the rock opera.
[Terry Thompkins] Bethel is a collective of artists. I put the band
together in the studio as the debut album grew from an
idea to full length CD. There are many Praise Bands
around these days, but not enough rocking Christian
Rock bands. When I was a young teenager, I rocked to
The Rez Band, early Petra, Steve Taylor, and Mylon
LeFevre and Broken Heart. Eventually, I exhausted my
resources and became disenchanted with Christian
Today, bands like The Newsboys, Creed, Rhythm and
Sycamore are rekindling the fire, but we need more
Rock and Funk and Jazz and Blues and Hip-Hop (yes,
Hip-Hop) with a positive message. So I started
working on Bethel to fill a void in my musical heart.
As for the Rock Opera, it only seemed natural that
we'd tell a story. When Bethel began, we had nothing.
The Rock Opera format gave us the freedom to express
ourselves, and the building blocks to create a lucid,
flowing body of work.
[Ben] Now, this isn't the only band/project you're
involved with. Seems like you've got your plate
your glass full, even the dog dish full. How the
heckle do you cope??
[Terry] I started by burning my candle at both ends.
Then the middle, and then I got a few more candles.
Music has always been my passion. If I don't have a
project underway and new tunes in my head, I am not
happy. So I prioritize periodically. First and
foremost, I make sure my family is at the top of the
list. If my house is not in order, nothing can
I am blessed w/ a loving, devoted wife and a radiant
son. So I make sure I have time for them; they are my
Next, make sure you got a plan to take care of rent.
I worked as an actor at one time, and it dawned on me
that 80% of any professional artistic endeavor is
paying the rent. The remaining 20% seems to be a
nebulous mix of talent and luck. But no matter who
you know, or how gifted you are, if you can't pay your
bills, you can't make it to rehearsal, let alone the
studio or a show. I have to work a day job to make
sure my family never has to worry about the roof over
our heads. Eventually I hope to focus all my energies
on music, but for now I have to wear 2 hats.
In addition to functioning as a productive member of
society, I make efforts to stay available to
opportunity. Many times that means I have to make the
opportunity. But what goes around comes around. Many
of the session players I hire for my projects are able
to help me find new venues, new players, and new
inspiration. If I can surround myself with people who
are better than me, they lift me to their level so
that I can grow.
Finally, I let myself enjoy the entire process.
Studio work can be tedious at times, but I'll let my
muse sleep if I find myself no longer enthralled with
the art and science of making music. What a powerful
mix. To think that art can utilize modern technology
to realize itself. As a producer/musician/composer,
my challenge is often to influence the work without
distorting it. Songs can take on a life of their own.
Especially if you let other spirits jump in the jam.
[Ben] And what do you do to support yourself in all
musical glory? Or is the sheer number of projects
making it pay off for you yet?
[Terry] I work for an investment company to pay my bills so I
can work on my music. I set goals for myself. Just
believing in myself is not enough; someone has to
write a check.
And I've seen progress. MP3.com and IUMA provide an
income stream for my studio efforts. Royalties are
immediately reinvested into more music projects. The
more tracks I have posted, the easier it is to
generate decent traffic.
The internet music revolution has changed everything.
Talented artists are finding a revenue stream.
Check out any MP3.com site. Just below the band
picture you can see how much they're making from
royalties (Payback for Playback). I've had some
decent success with mp3.com/bethel,
mp3.com/celestialbrass and several other sites (click
on the links to get to more). But I'm just scratching
the surface so far. Some artists are making thousands
of dollars a month just on audio streaming royalties.
So I continue to contact people, talk about the music,
swap reviews, and even give away CD's to get the word
If I have the best song in the world, but it just
gathers dust on my shelf, I haven't accomplished
anything. If I can get it in someone's head, I stand
a much better chance to succeed.
[Ben] Getting back to Bethel, what do you expect to
accomplish with it? And what does the word Bethel
[Terry] Bethel means "House of God." In the old testament,
people used to make altars out of big rocks to mark
certain geographical spots or to commemorate an event.
Since we are a Rock band at our core, I thought one
of these rock altars might do the trick.
I was troubleshooting ideas with Kevin Hardesty one
day and he suggested Bethel. Kevin preaches at
Fellowship of Lake Cities near Dallas, Texas.
So armed with a name, I started pulling together some
ideas. I worked with over 70 musicians, graphic
artists, lyricists, and theologians on a concept
album. Bethel's debut album "The Long Road Home"
tells the story of the prodigal son through scripture,
art, and music.
The project is already a success. Bethel's purpose is
to share the gospel with Christians and people who
don't necessarily listen to Christian music. We've
had thousands of plays from the site, and CD sales are
starting to pick up.
One beautiful advantage for Bethel is that the point
is not to achieve Rock 'n Roll Glory, but to glorify
God. We used a sheep in wolves clothing strategy. I
asked my studio personnel to focus solely on the
music; not as Christian music, but music. In working
on the lyrics, we took great care in staying true to
our text (Luke 15:11-32) without beating anyone with a
Bible. If Jesus Christ can tell the story without
sounding like a televangelist, surely we avoid the pew
jumping, Bible thumping, brow beating, money tugging
and stone casting many religious projects use.
If you listen to individual tracks, you probably
wouldn't notice that the album is spiritually based.
Some tracks are more obvious than others ("How You
Shine" is straight up tent revival music, for
example), but others require some insight.
Listen to "Freakin'" and "Tightrope Bridge."
"Freakin'" fleshes out the "riotous living" the
prodigal son finds when he leaves home. Sex and drugs
don't typically get included on Christian albums, but
if Christ felt it was important enough to include it,
we needed to address it. Besides, if we excluded it,
we would not have been true to the text, and the
Prodigal Son's turnaround wouldn't have made sense.
So we took great pains to make sure we didn't glorify
sex and drugs. It was important to honestly look at
the attraction in order to discuss the down side.
"Tightrope Bridge" is a hard hitting Hip-Hop track.
Shorty the Man laid the rap for me in Atlanta over the
instrumental tracks I remixed in Dallas. The
Tolpuddle Martyrs allowed me to use master cuts from
one of their most recent studio offerings. Short
portrays the Older Brother's side of the story.
Wouldn't you be pissed off if you came home from
working the fields to find out your deadbeat addict
brother wasted all of his money only to return home to
a welcome back feast? Check the scripture; Shorty
stayed right on target.
[Ben] Are you a religious person? How do you think the
average Christian will take to your piece?
[Terry] I am a devoted Christian. As such, I think it's my
responsibility to live my life by His rules. I fall
woefully short of His example, but I'm working on it
"The Long Road Home" should give good fodder to any
Christian who takes the time to listen to album and
reads Luke 15:11-32. The prodigal son parable is one
of the most beloved stories Christ told. Religion is
too varied and personal for everyone to agree on every
point. Rather than water down the story or dodge
issues, we faced them head on. I included the bible
verses and song interpretations in the liner notes on
the interactive CD. They are also available via the
song story link from mp3.com/bethel.
[Ben] What are your plans for the future with Bethel?
it going to be a show, or mainly a cd to sell?
[Terry] I'll let the Spirit lead. I would have never been
able to coordinate this project if it was for my
glory, but working for Him, everything fell into place
once I started using elbow grease.
We've discussed live shows for a couple Youth Groups,
and a stage show of the Rock Opera. Joseph and His
Technicolor Dream Coat certainly reached a lot of
people regardless of religious affiliation.
Bethel will do whatever God wants us to do.
The trick is to stay attentive to the still small
voice even when the rest of our thoughts start yelling
[Ben] How does the Christian music market differ from
other markets? It seems like Christian music is
sometimes a private club, but this could be wrong.
instance, if you don't go to church or talk about
much, or have no Lutheran, Jewish, etc. faith to
with those to which you wish to sell your wares, are
you in trouble?
[Terry] Depends on marketing. Christians will recognize what
we are trying to accomplish, and hopefully find
strength in the story. But why just preach to the
choir? If we only get the word out to the converted,
have we accomplished anything?
My target audience is as diversified as the world
itself. The album is Rock, Funk, Gospel, Jazz and Hip
Hop. So at least 1 track should appeal to any
listener. If that listener is not a Christian, so
much the better. We are all charged with spreading
the good word. But therein lies the challenge.
In order to be effective, we had to have a tight
The music must speak for itself. Then the lyrics have
a chance to burrow into the subconscience. I hope
that people will hear this album and even memorize the
lyrics then one day realize that "The Long Road Home"
is actually a parable.
[Ben] What influenced your decision to write this sort
thing? Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy? Did you
a set of songs that you found told a story, or did
work from the story first?
[Terry] A friend of mine suggested I work on a Rock Opera.
We tried a few ideas, even sorted through potential
lyrics. Then it dawned on me that we could let the
best selling book of all time provide our plotline.
So we set our sights on Luke 15:11-32 and let 'er rip.
Altogether the album took a year and a half from
concept to compact disc.
I like Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar, and put some
faith in Bethel based on those shows' successes. I
also wanted to borrow from The Beatles' "Abbey Road"
and Pink Floyd's "The Wall."
Ultimately, I wanted to go on a musical journey. In
the process, I wanted to provide a positive message
for the listener.
[Ben] What's up in the near future for Bethel and your
[Terry] Bethel has a couple new singles getting polished. I'm
working with Bobby McGhee on an Ash Wednesday
performance piece (2 man acoustic show).
River Crossing has a couple tracks under way, and
Jealous Cowboy (mp3.com/jealouscowboy) is working on
its sophomore effort "Trailblazing."
I'd also like to produce a Children's album and
another Christmas album. We'll see how many candles I
can get lit before the year's through.
[Ben] Anything else you care to add?
[Terry] Enjoy your life and enjoy your music.
Whether you make the music or simply appreciate it,
music is a gift.
Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» Bethel - The Long Road Home (2000-11-28)