When Fr. Claude Burns isn’t tending to his flock or weighing in on hefty theological issues, he’s spinning rhymes. Burns, a Catholic priest whose stage name is Fr. Pontifex, released “The Symphony and the Static” on Tuesday — a new rap album that he hopes will stir people ”to embrace the presence of God in their lives.”
TheBlaze interviewed Fr. Pontifex this week to learn more about what fans can expect from the 11 tracks on his new album. In addition to aspiring to move fans’ hearts, Fr. Pontifex said that his new music directly confronts some of the more problematic shifts he sees in American culture — mainly the perceived removal of God from society.
Read the interview below.
THEBLAZE: What can listeners expect to hear on “The Symphony and the Static?”
FR. PONTIFEX: They can expect to hear a wide diversity in sounds and moods. The track production, by design, reflects the theme of the symphony and the static — that is the tension between hope and suffering. I spent almost a year writing lyrics and creating themes for this album. It has some tough cutting edge rhyme schemes and also thought provoking spoken word poetry. They will hear my experiences with the human drama and the hope I hold in my heart as I deal with [this experience].
THEBLAZE: What are some of your favorite themes dealt with on the album?
FR. PONTIFEX: The one theme that comes up throughout the album is perseverance. I find that in my own life when I deal with the drama of life that I am deeply motivated by the hope of beliefs. The drive of the Holy Spirit within the heart to keep going even in the midst of suffering and obstacles is a major theme that I love.
THEBLAZE: Culture is changing rapidly in America. How do you confront that dynamic in this new album?
FR. PONTIFEX: The track on the album “No Mercy” is really my lament over the state of our culture. The line in the song that says “What do we live for? What makes the soul soar? Doesn’t anyone fear God anymore” pretty much sums it up. We really have a crisis within our culture of moving God out of the way. Some people have a tendency to see God as a threat to freedom, which is simply not true.
History has shown us over and over again that the further God is removed from the culture the more inhumane the culture becomes. Another song on the album “Mindfields” (spelled that way on purpose) begins by saying, “My culture has beauty but lament pervades, saturated with self and black parades.” Those two songs certainly represent the static of life and culture.
Here’s a video preview of the album:
THEBLAZE: So, where did you get the name — “The Symphony and The Static”?
FR. PONTIFEX: The idea for “The Symphony and The Static” as a concept came to me during Christmas last year. I was going through a difficult time in my life and I had also walked with some people through some tough times — and yet it was Christmas, which is always a joyful experience for me. The feelings I had inside birthed in me the idea of the tension between hope and suffering, joy and pain, and peace and violence.
One of the lines from “The Overture” sums it up: “We live in the tension of chaos and glory, chapters buried in time with so much more to the story.” My life feels like that and it’s what I observe and experience with my people. Not one of us is immune to the human drama. Each one of us experiences our own symphony and static.
THEBLAZE: Tells us what your favorite song on the album is and why.
FR. PONTIFEX: My favorite song on the album is “Walk On” … because it reflects the direction I want to go in stylistically as an artist and [because] the lyrics and feel of the track are the most heartfelt. It’s a really a dialogue between myself and anyone who may cross my path. It’s a song about the journey of life, sticking together in the struggle and the questions that arise from that struggle.
The last song on the album “Own the Night” is a second favorite because it highlights the answer to the tension of the symphony and the static and that is Jesus. He owns the night.
THEBLAZE: What do you say to people who are surprised that a priest doubles as a rap artist?
FR. PONTIFEX: St. Thomas Aquinas said that “Grace builds upon nature.” I grew up listening to and writing poetry. I loved Bob Dylan and Leonard Coehn and was fed that as a child. When hip-hop became a force in my neighborhood, I took notice. It was poetry with a pulse. The power of words has always been a passion of mine and I think my priestly character only makes that more unique and enriching. At least that is my hope anyway. For me it’s not a gimmick. It is an extension of who I am and what I stand for.
THEBLAZE: If listeners could walk away with one message from your album, what would it be?
FR. PONTIFEX: We all experience the human drama, our own symphony and static. Sometimes I think we deal with this tension on our own and we don’t talk about it. Through engaging this album and the visuals that will go with it, I hope people will be stirred within to embrace the presence of God in their lives as they wrestle with the joy and suffering of life.
Again, Jesus is the answer in the midst of the tension. He is the answer to the deepest longing of the human heart.