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Bethel - the Interview
By Ben Ohmart
(more articles from this author)
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Terry Thompkins (of Bethel) is a guy who's going places. Apart from owning half the sites at 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 behind 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 Music.

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 full, 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 happen. I am blessed w/ a loving, devoted wife and a radiant son. So I make sure I have time for them; they are my strength.

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 this 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. 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 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,,, 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 out.

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 mean?

[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 everyday.

"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

[Ben] What are your plans for the future with Bethel? Is 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 and stomping.

[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. For instance, if you don't go to church or talk about God much, or have no Lutheran, Jewish, etc. faith to share 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 album. 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 of thing? Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy? Did you have a set of songs that you found told a story, or did you 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 various bands?

[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 ( 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)

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