In your own words, who is Kevin Straine?
I am a guitar player and singer who loves to jam and also thinks that there should be more than just surface level themes in music because it can be such a powerful force if wielded well. I’m California born (Sacramento) and raised (Ventura county and Inland Empire). I’ve been a musician for 20 years but still know that I have a lot to learn. I’ve been through university a few times and am in the process of raising a family. I’m a proud Seventh-day Adventist that takes our history to heart. I enjoy sharing with younger musicians how to advocate for themselves because often we are the only ones who do. When it comes to music, I'm not only interested in the song but the journey that brought it to life. I need to know lyrics, music, genre history, gear used, other musicians’ influences, where and how they grew up, how their experience fit with the people that supported them and also derided them, and what that spark was that made everything click. I’m into that because I think music should be purposeful and try to aim for a higher good, especially Christian music, where a moral standard mixed with great music can be an illuminating experience.
You are both a recording artist and a worship leader. What is the dynamic like between those two different callings? Do you see yourself as more of one or the other? And do you find those two roles overlap a lot, or are they mostly separate for you?
I never thought I would be an artist. Mostly my aspiration was to be a guitar player. I was content leading worship in my community and crossing denominational divides to try and see what other Christians were doing musically. Then God called me to put my own voice in the mix. I think of worship leading as a service and response to God in and for one’s community. The focus for the worship leader should be on the communal response of worship, not on the performative aspect of the music. Being an artist is using that talent as a unique reflection of all of the experience and inspiration that comes with it. Maybe they’re two sides of the same coin with different emphases. I know my calling now as an artist, but I’m content to support others and their communities if they need a worship leader. I think there can be a lot of overlap between artist and worship leader, and there certainly seems to be a connection for most people if the artist is religious in some way. I guess it depends on how those roles are viewed. A good thought exercise would be to think about how the Seventh-day Adventist church sees those roles. Then zoom out and think about how different denominations see them. Then different faith communities. For instance, for someone in the Greek Orthodox church, what I do with a guitar in my community for worship time (probably a CCM vibe) would not be how they would worship in church usually. But then I looked at a worship service like Jewish community of IKAR in Los Angeles, CA and they were singing a Beatles tune when I tuned in to their online service a while ago.
Your most recent release is titled “The Riverside Response.” How has your location and/or community been a factor in inspiring your music?
La Sierra University Church has been my home for over a decade and it’s a community that takes God seriously enough to question our own motives and thinking on an individual level to benefit the community in accordance with the Word. I cannot count how many times I’ve seen others be uncomfortable with a decision where God is moving and then, once prayer and discussion is over, support it enthusiastically. It’s not magic, but it is an intentional willingness to consider the question, “Am I wrong on this?” followed by, “What does the Bible really say about this?” The combination of intentionality and being willing to lay our egos to the side is so refreshing in a church, especially when that value is reflected in each echelon of church hierarchy. This is what happened when I was the lead musician there for a season. Some people were not excited about a young(ish) guy with an electric guitar leading music for the holy hour, but when we were able to discuss and try it out, they saw that their kids and grandkids were taking somewhat more of an active role in the community. In this, they saw the movement of the Spirit and recognized that they could at least tolerate it for a while. That lasted eight years and when it was my season to step down, I trusted God’s plan for what was next, even though letting go of the reins in the music ministry was frightening.
Although my record stems from my community’s values, it’s actually a direct response to the Nashville Statement. When I felt called to write my second record, it was the night of my record release concert for my first album, “The Declaration EP,” and that chapter in my life had seemingly closed. For that first record I felt like I learned a lot in the process of making music on that scale. When the concert was over I was the last one awake in my house, all the lights were off and I reflected on the seeming finality and pride in what I had accomplished. I prayed, “God, I think I did what you wanted me to do. So if you need anything else, I’ll be here.” Then it came to me: Write music that tells the Christian church that we need to be treating the LGBTQ+ community better and more like God's children. So when I started to write music again, that idea was my north star. Then when I saw the Nashville Statement, it really angered me. I thought, “There is so much pain and hurt in the world, and these clergy members decide to do the opposite of what Jesus would do?” Christ’s ministry is inclusive and they made an effort to codify exclusion in this document. That’s when I knew what my record would be called. Not to mention I felt the anti-creedal nature of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism boiling in my bones!
Who are your biggest musical influences and inspirations?
As I wrote earlier, I just wanted to be a guitar player. For me, BB King, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Edward Van Halen were my main influences in jr. high up through high school. My mom also listened to a lot of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith as well, especially on Sabbath mornings. The odd thing is that even though I listened to rock and blues growing up (not super popular for kids in the 90’s) when I wrote music, it never sounded anything like that. I think that I knew deep down that I had to listen to my own voice to see what came out instead of copying a certain style or feel of music. Interestingly, only on my latest release can you really hear many of those guitar players’ influence I cited earlier.
Tell us about your gear. What are your go-to pieces of equipment for crafting your sound?
My main acoustic is a Taylor 714 that I bought from Scott Reed (SDA cred!) years ago. My main electric guitar is a Fender Highway 1 Strat that I have dinged and modified a ton over the 17 years I’ve had it. It was my first brand new instrument and I’ve played it everywhere. Being that three of my main guitar heroes played Strats, I thought it was the one I should go with. I have a few essential pedals and an amp that sounds pretty good, but like Stevie Ray Vaughan reportedly said, “Tone is in the fingers.” Maybe it was said about him. For recording, I usually go in the box straight into a UA Apollo Duo to Logic for electric. Their Fender amp plugin is pretty great, but their preamps seem to be the secret sauce! I have a few AudioTechnica mics that I use with acoustic and an AKG Perception 200 that I primarily record vocals on. Some people are picky about gear but I’m not usually. Like Blaine Long told me once, “It’s about the message, not the medium.”
Tell us about being part of the “Rainbow Faith” Spotify playlist - how that came about and what it means to you?
I got a notification one day through Spotify that I was on a playlist so I checked and was touched to find out I was featured on that one. It’s a playlist of spiritual music by the LGBTQ+ community and allies. I’m so glad that it might give comfort to someone who is feeling at odds with who they are and who the church says God wants them to be. Last I checked, nothing can separate us from God’s love.
What has been your most significant challenge and growing experience during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A big growing experience for me has been trusting God’s plan first before delving into negativity and despair. I think that many people are in a difficult place like that right now because of what’s going on around us. At the end of June, I was laid off from a job that I loved dearly due to COVID-19 and the effect it had on my workplace. I made it a priority to trust God every day and to try and be grateful for what I do have. It’s not easy to do that, especially in a once-every-hundred-years pandemic, and I don’t always get it right, but a little reminder every day has been helping me immensely. Just this week, I was comforted when I found out that my son’s memory verse test was on Jeremiah 29:11. On top of all that, the music industry is closed for business. If I had lost my job under normal circumstances, I would’ve tried to book any concert available to me. Now it is very rare to have the opportunity to see and hear live music. This is why I’ve been doing what I call an #InstaMiniConcert every Wednesday at 9 p.m. over on my Instagram page (@kstrainemusic). I’m promoting the music and message any way I can because I was so busy with my last job that didn’t get it out there enough. So now people can join me in my garage (online!) for a small, bite-size set of 3-4 songs to close out the evening midweek.
Last question - what one thing would you like to say to anyone reading this?
It can be common to take verses out of context when it comes to the Bible. If one looks deeper, there are, what I refer to as, “kingdom values” that God calls us to. One of my favorite texts regarding these values reverberates all throughout the Biblical narrative: Micah 6:8. I think about this one a lot and what it means for me, my family, my community, and my world. I encourage everyone to do the same. What does justice, mercy, and humility have to do with me, my family, my community, and my world? And how are those interconnected? What does that have to do with love for the other in my life? And finally, how can I act in a way that lifts others and honors God? I try to keep this at the forefront of my thoughts and actions each day. To my LGBTQ+ friends, please remember that God loves you wholly and completely. For everyone reading, may God bless you and keep you. Be well.
More about Kevin Straine
Riverside, California, USA
Adult Contemporary / Contemporary Worship / Inspirational