The words "pastor" and "artist" aren't often used for the same person, but Justin McRoberts is an exception that proves the rule. Co-pastor of a church in Concord, California, McRoberts is also a hard-working indie musician and author with a busy touring schedule.
McRoberts's latest work, The CMYK Project, started with an encouraging letter he received at a difficult time. He began writing letters of his own, and commissioned three different artists to create artwork for a book containing them. What ties the book together is the idea that Jesus is master of everything—especially a community full of lovely, crazy, terrible, and forgiven people. In addition to crafting the book, McRoberts wrote fifteen original songs as a soundtrack. These different elements combine, much like the four printer's inks of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, to paint a compelling picture of life together under Christ's lordship.
CT contributor Jonathan Ryan interviewed McRoberts at home in Northern California, during an A's/Cardinals baseball game, and by e-mail.
How do you balance the roles of pastor and touring artist?
I don't really think I do, to be honest. I've aimed for balance in the past and I always felt like I missed it. We planted the church about the same time I launched a career in the arts, so my vocational branches grew up together. This means I'm always tending both to some degree. I soon realized achieving balance just meant forcing my own expectations on my life. I realized I needed to focus on what God put in front of me and not worry about an arbitrary "balance."
So, now I look at my twin callings revolving through "seasons." Seasons of construction or creation, seasons of reflection, seasons focused on my primary relationships, seasons on the road. The past two and a half years has been a more natural season to focus on my work at home, because of the birth of my son. This allows me to put in major time with the people at our church in Concord. This "season" is the soil from which CMYK sprang to life. The next season will be launching the book and album into the world.
The book and album are full of little touches that must have taken extra time and attention. For example, I'm floored by the time you took with each page layout in the design, typesetting and artwork. Why was it so important to get those little details right?
I want to make art that continues to capture readers and listeners during their third or fourth time through. Details are a huge part of that. I listened to Pearl Jam's 1993 release "Vs" for months before I realized that, during the last thirty seconds of "Daughter," drummer Dave Abbruzzese plays the backbeat on his lap. That speaks to me of the band's and producer's level of intentionality and creativity. Finding those kinds of details in a piece tells me the artist is incarnate in their work. I want my listeners and readers to feel me in the details.
The attention to detail developed into a communal effort. Greg Madsen, the project's art director, and Dan Portnoy, the executive producer, and I pushed one other to uphold the ideas and dreams we committed to in our best moments.
We didn't want the CMYK Project, and particularly the book, to feel like our first attempt. All of the elements we included (3 EPs, a full-length record, and a book of letters, essays, and collaborative visual art) would come off sloppy or unfinished if we didn't pay attention to every fine point. We went twelve rounds with the printer to be certain we got it right.