Spreading the gospel

Minneapolis band Gospel Machine combines ’60s style, neo-soul and social consciousness.

Members of Gospel Machine (left to right): David Osborn, Jimmy Osterholt , Jayanthi Kyle, Wes Burdine and Scott Munson.

Photo courtesy of Sarah White

Members of Gospel Machine (left to right): David Osborn, Jimmy Osterholt , Jayanthi Kyle, Wes Burdine and Scott Munson.

Austen Macalus

At their first show as Gospel Machine, singer Jayanthi Kyle gave communion from around the bar in the 311 Club.  
She called the performance “Balls-out Jesus,” a term she coined on the spot.
When asked about the event, she cited inspiration from a scene in “The Simpsons Movie,” where the townspeople in the bar and the zealots in the church switch spots upon learning of the impending apocalypse.
With her spontaneous antics, passionate performances and soulful sound, it is no surprise Kyle stands out as the frontwoman of Gospel 
Comprised of Kyle, guitarist Wes Burdine, Jimmy Osterholt on bass, David Osborn on drums and Scott Munson on keys, the band will be performing at the Current’s 11th Birthday Party on Saturday
For Burdine, working with Kyle has been a learning process.
“It’s been realizing that we — this group of white guys and Jayanthi — could do this kind of gospel music, this weird melange,” said Burdine.
The group describes its sound as “garage gospel,” a blend of ’60s-inspired soul and R&B, with an emphasis on social awareness. 
All the members — with the exception of Kyle — performed together before this project. Burdine, Osterholt and Osborn met in college at Bethel University and later joined Munson to make up part of the indie rock outfit the Small Cities. 
Prior to the creation of the group, Burdine said he was more familiar with the rock genre. 
“I grew really bored with writing and listening to indie rock — not much of it excited me,” he said.
Gospel Machine traces its roots back to Mercy Seat Lutheran Church in Northeast Minneapolis. While writing gospel liturgy for the church, Burdine asked Kyle and the members of Small Cities to back him up. The reaction from the performance was so positive, Burdine continued writing gospel music, garnering inspiration from the likes of Nina Simone, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. 
The group started playing shows at local clubs as Gospel Machine in 2011, now with Kyle at the helm.
“When I started to hang out with Jayanthi and heard her sing, I realized this is easy. All I have to do is write for someone else’s voice,” Burdine said.
This relationship works well for Kyle. 
“I kind of just vibe with these storytelling styles,” she said. “I put my heart into it. I connect with Wes’s lyrics and feel like they help me to express the ways and areas that I have felt in my life.”
This past October, after two years of work, Gospel Machine released their first album, “Your Holy Ghost.” The self-produced record has been well-received by its audiences. 
“It is amazingly nice to be doing something that people genuinely connect to,” he said. “Something else is happening at these shows that’s bigger than the work [we] are doing.”
Burdine said he doesn’t shy away from political issues in his lyrics, especially racial and economic issues. 
He points to the intentional parallelism between the civil rights movement and the band’s ’60s vibe.
“Peace in the Valley” — a song questioning modern injustice in the world — is highlighted by both Burdine and Kyle as the emotional core of the album. 
“I want to be able to feel these things I care about through these lyrics,” said Burdine. 
This past year, a piece written by Kyle and Burdine outside the band became more than just an ordinary song. “Hand in Hand” became the anthem for many activist groups, including Black Lives Matter protests in the Twin Cities.
“People really do connect with it,” said Kyle. “I hope that song is for everyone.”
Despite recent success, Gospel Machine didn’t find their groove overnight. 
“Jayanthi was the new ingredient,” Osterholt said. “Learning how to communicate with each other — that’s taken a little bit of time.” 
The collaboration process has only gotten easier. 
“It’s been a learning curve, but I think we have all gotten to the point where we all sort of get it now,” Osterholt said.
Burdine said it took time to build trust and comfort with Kyle, and a large part of the band’s ascent comes from recognizing Kyle’s charisma.
“Jayanthi is doing the heavy lifting. … We are just there to create a space that allows her to connect,” Burdine said.
Gospel Machine at the Current’s 11th Birthday Party
Where: First Avenue Mainroom, 701 N. First Ave., Minneapolis 
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Cost: $20
Ages: 18+