Priest Rocker

It was for his seventeenth birthday that Fr. Joseph Gill received his first guitar.

“All of the cool kids played guitar,” he remembers. “I was stuck playing the piano, which I enjoyed, but when I wanted to make some portable music, a piano just isn’t very handy. I was going off to college that fall, and not knowing if there would be a piano around, I needed something to satisfy my musical whims.”

Four albums and fourteen years later, he still plays that beat-up old Takamine. Only now, he does it for the Lord.

Fr. Joseph Gill is a priest of the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who “moonlights” as a Christian rock musician. He has put out four CDs of Christian music, the latest of which, “No Lasting City”, was released in 2014. It complements his ministry nicely, he says.

“I do a lot of youth ministry,” he reflected. “And I realize how much music can influence teens and how they view the world. Music was instrumental in my own conversion – it was through a number of worship tapes and CDs that I experienced God’s love. As I would sing along in the car, I didn’t even know I was praying, because of how easy and natural it was.”

And from his youngest years, he has been playing and singing. When Fr. Joseph was only around 8, he and his best friend Byron formed a band, which they called “The Boys Band”…that is, until his sister joined. Yet that band performed a number of neighborhood concerts, often performing songs that he had written.

“Once I discovered God’s personal, passionate love for me, it seemed silly to sing about some abstract girl or to glorify the kind of puppy-love that was in my songs,” he said. “My conversion to the Lord was a long process, beginning with a pilgrimage to Rome in 1998, continuing through Eucharistic Adoration, Conquest retreats [a boys’ club run by the Legionaries of Christ], whole family retreat-vacations [at Catholic Familyland], and finally when I was a senior in high school, I was sold-out for the Lord. It was, ‘become a saint, and nothing else’, because I realized that holiness was the only thing that mattered in life.”

His first foray into recording came at the hands of his sister Cathy, whose senior project involved creating a CD of music which she sold for Birthright crisis pregnancy center. She enlisted the help of her friend’s father, Doug Jackson, who had a studio. This album, “Last Rites”, made hundreds of dollars for the charity – and while it fulfilled the lifelong dream of Fr. Joseph to finally have his music recorded, it also gave him a hunger to record more.

Two years later, he finally got the chance. Once again hooking up with Doug Jackson, Joseph recorded his first full-length album, “The Sacred Romance”, in 2004.

“Looking back, Sacred Romance had some good songs, but it was technically deficient,” he said. “I knew I could do better if I had more time to plan and prepare. It was a fun start, though, and I knew I had to follow that up with a better album.”

He finally got the chance in 2008 when he and Doug teamed up to put together “Mount Zion”. Tapping some talented friends and family members, this album was truly a corporate affair – his parents sang on it, friends played everything from tin whistle to electric guitar, and in one of the final tracks, everyone selected their favorite saint quote and recited it over a background of organ and piano.

“I had just returned from a year-long study in Rome,” he explained. “I was in a foreign land, pretty isolated from family and friends, and had plenty of time there to write music, so it just poured out.”

Most of the tracks on Mount Zion come from that year-long stint in Rome, but he continued to write even after that. In fact, six years passed between this album and the next. During that time he had a tumultuous personal life – living in a different environment every year, going from parish to school to parish, and finally having to move to Connecticut due to circumstances outside of his control. All the while, he was trying to do ministry, study for the priesthood, and keep up with the music.

“It was a tough time,” he said of the years following the release of Mount Zion. “But I have always found that from a suffering heart comes poetry and music.”

In 2012, as he hiked across Spain doing the famous Camino pilgrimage, he felt God calling him to put together a new album. But he was no longer in Maryland; working with Doug Jackson was out of the question. Where would he record it? It wasn’t until his friend Karen Mattera (a music teacher by day and a recording artist by night) offered him the use of her studio – for free – that he finally began to put together No Lasting City. He entered the studio in the fall of 2013.

This was the first album where he had complete creative control, and so it is quite different from the first three – significantly edgier, from the grungy tune “No Lasting City” to the bright pop “I Need Love” to the acoustic “Between Two Worlds”. The CD came out on Easter Sunday 2014.

What have been some of the highlights of his musical career? “Definitely leading the band for the Mount 2000 youth retreat in 2009,” he said. “It was two thousand teenagers, all worshipping the Lord together, and getting to lead the worship of such magnitude was amazing.” That, and the fact that Matt Maher was the opening act…a pretty cool experience.

He has found a way to combine his priestly ministry with his music. “Music has helped me to preach in a way that is unobtrusive, and hopefully easy to hear.” He plans to start another CD in 2016 or 2017, if all goes well! In the meanwhile, he is playing music around the Connecticut and New York area at various coffeehouses and events.

You can download his music for free at the following websites:

http://www.noisetrade.com/josephgill

http://frjosephgill.bandcamp.com

Or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/musicofjosephgill