Gotta have faith
Regular readers of this paper will no doubt be familiar with our fearless leader’s weekly feature exploring matters of faith, Filet of Soul. Every week, RN&R editor D. Brian Burghart visits a local church, synagogue, temple or whatever else and explores part of Reno’s complex spiritual life. In these ruminations, he almost always comments on the musical elements of each organization’s services.
One week, while reading one of his columns, I mumbled, almost to myself, “You know, sometime we ought to do a Musicbeat on one of these church bands.”
Brian had an instantaneous response: “I know exactly who it should be!” and he told me to call Donald Zimmerman. It was clear that in two years of writing about religious music for Filet of Soul, no one else had made as strong an impression in the area where rock ’n’ roll and religion intersect.
Donald Zimmerman is the principal singer and songwriter of Zimmerman, formerly known as Anchordown, the house band at Grace Church, a young and hip congregation based in Northwest Reno. He’s a tall, good-looking guy with direct, soft-spoken sincerity. He’s forthcoming and articulate when talking about matters of music and faith.
The band performs a mixture of material: covers—modern, electric arrangements of traditional hymns, as well as covers of contemporary bands like Coldplay—and contemplative originals.
“We’re obviously focused on Christ,” says Zimmerman. “And we try to do that in a way that’s tangible and honest. … We try to share the high points and the low points.”
Some of the originals are upbeat songs of praise, meant to rouse the spirits of the congregation, but others are more introspective, personal songs, some of which even explore the challenges of leading what Zimmerman calls “a Christ-centered life.”
“I work in a church; I’m not supposed to struggle with that,” he says, but adds that he’s often surprised that the personal songs—even those that deal with the difficulties of faith—often resonate more with Grace Church’s congregation than do the more straightforward sing-a-long praise songs.
“Get You There,” for example, is a song Zimmerman was inspired to write by a friend’s bout with cancer. “There’s tension there,” he says. “She felt a collision of the shortness of this life here and the hope she felt in Christ.”
Zimmerman, the man, writes and performs most of his originals using an acoustic guitar, but onstage, Zimmerman, the band, plays alt-rock with the sweeping, dramatic uplift of mid-period U2 or very early Radiohead. Guitarist Tim Millim plays with an Edge-like, delay-drenched tone. Back-up vocalist and keyboardist Brennen Daley adds atmosphere and color, and the rhythm section of drummer Aaron Mueller and bassist Cory Bettinghouse is tight and sympathetic.
In their home base at Grace Church, the sound is rich and full—the mix is clear, and the volume is bold but not overwhelming. The band’s performances are accompanied by tasteful video projections that include the lyrics to each song.
“Part of our function is to create songs for the community,” says Zimmerman. “And by having the lyrics up there, we involve them directly.”
Zimmerman is a band with a specific function: They provide the soundtrack to one Christian community’s church-going experience. But they provide a lot of original expression while performing that function, and it’s striking what a wellspring of inspiration faith can be to a songwriter like Donald Zimmerman. He’s always going to have something meaningful to write about.