Pop! Goes the Gospel

After being involved in music ministry since she was 14, Canadian Janelle Reinhart finally hit it big in the Catholic music scene following her feature performance at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.

Her first CD of Gospel-inflected pop songs, “New Day,” was a critical and commercial success and its follow-up, “Livin’ for Something,” has generated two No. 1 singles on Canadian Christian radio. She is currently on tour through the States with her band, her husband, Jason (who serves as her manager) and their young son, Eric. She’s also six months pregnant.

Janelle — whose stage name is her first name alone — spoke with Register correspondent Iain Bernhoft.

How do you balance parenting, pregnancy and playing upwards of 40 shows in two months?

My desire is to be a mom and a wife, not to be on tour all the time. But we were able to work this out and it has been a huge success so far.

We planned most of the tour before we found out I was pregnant. We were absolutely thrilled; my only prayer was “Please, no morning sickness on tour.” God has been merciful. Eric is a roadie king, and plays one song on a little drum kit with me. He really keeps me rooted. After a concert, I still have to change a diaper.

How do you plan and promote your shows?

We’ve built an extensive network of people who will host and help promote shows. My husband, Jason, is the king of databases. He’s a brilliant and really gung-ho businessman. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere. In this industry, talent is 10% and business is 90%.

To what do you attribute the success you’ve enjoyed so far?

When we thought of recording “New Day,” we really wanted to make a quality project but knew it would cost at least $100,000. We went to our bishop for advice. We said, “$100,000 gets us a quality album, airplay and a media campaign. But $50,000 would be decent.” He said, “Wouldn’t you give your best for Christ?”

So we went to investors and told them about the upcoming World Youth Day. We convinced them to front a recording in Nashville with a good producer. We were able to pay them back the week after World Youth Day. You have to give people a first-rate product.

What’s the core of your message, the one thing you want an audience to take home?

When you’re faithful to God in little things, he will bless you in big things. I think young people want to do the right thing but feel pressured to make bad choices or be ostracized. I tell them, “High school only lasts four years, but Christ will always be there. Persevere for him, even when it’s hard.” I try to help by connecting them to youth ministry programs in the local parish. Young people need that spiritual support.

I also emphasize the importance of purity. I tell them about saving myself for marriage and praying for my future spouse, and share the story of Jason and my courtship. I’ve also played at 17 “Pure Fashion” shows, which is a ministry that’s much needed in a world where young women are lied to about self-image and what’s appropriate.

How do young people respond to your message?

A lot of kids tell me, “Thank you for saying what I feel but don’t dare to say.” I see relief as well, when guys see that they can be “protectors” instead of “predators,” and for the girls, that saving yourself isn’t something to be ashamed of.

What role does your music play in enhancing your message?

For me, music is really just a tool. It’s a “business card” to … promote the message God has asked me to share. We begin with a pop-concert style show — lyrically positive lyrics, but melodically like MTV. Once we’ve identified with young people culturally and entertained them, we can bring them the message of hope, of being faithful to Christ, of living lives worthy of heaven.

How would you respond to the claim that “MTV-style” music is somehow inherently impure?

I feel that we have to meet young people where they are in the culture. They’re hungry for the truth, but you have to give it to them in an appealing way. On “Livin’ for Something,” we’ve purposefully made it more “edgy” than “New Day” in order to appeal to young people.

So does your music itself have a message, or is the music a lead-in to your speaking?   

With each album, I ask God to give me a theme. The theme for “Livin’ for Something” was “Live your faith out loud.” No song specifically came out that way, but all of them have to do with making it evident that you’re living for the Kingdom in your everyday choices.

Based on your success on Christian radio, it looks like evangelical Protestants have been accepting of your Catholic faith.

Absolutely. Our investors for “New Day” were primarily Protestant. It took some time before Catholics realized, “Well, it’s not music you’d play at Mass, but it’s wholesome entertainment and a good ministry for engaging young people.” But our interactions with Protestants are great. I’m asked to tell my story of meeting John Paul II in Baptist churches, and we have “demystifying” talks with pastors, addressing their misconceptions of the faith.

We’ve been asked, “Our Protestant music artists are leaving the faith after three or four years on tour; why is that?” I tell them about the universal Church, and how you lack support if you’re relying on a specific church alone. It’s not rocket science.

I think the Protestant music scene is so saturated that people who’ve been in it are looking for more. We have so much to offer them.

What’s your vision for the future of your ministry?

I want to gain the credibility that will allow us to cultivate the contemporary-Christian music industry. Right now, it’s driven by Protestants, because they’re the ones with record companies, radio stations and business experience. We’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best people in the industry and we want to impart our experience to other aspiring Catholic musicians.

Christ is calling us to step up to the plate. We have to give Catholics something to get excited about and invest in. Jason knows many people in the music industry who want to invest in something that builds the Church, but they haven’t found anything yet. I know there are people with way more talent than I have, but they need to be found. That’s what excites me.

Iain Bernhoft is a graduate student in English at Boston University.


Janelle Online