Peter Johnston enjoys a familiar joke, which probably was best told on “King of the Hill,” the animated television series, when Hank scolds a Christian rock star: “Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better? You’re just making rock ’n’ roll worse.”

That’s the risk of what can happen when a message overwhelms its medium — but Johnston insists that religion and rock can mix, and he has spent the last three years trying to prove it by letting his Catholic faith inspire his music. His latest album, released in October, is “Joyful-Sorrowful,” a collection of 10 songs animated by the rosary and planted firmly in the genre variously known as “alt rock” or “indie rock.”

“Creating any kind of art is an attempt to grasp or gain a glimpse of the eternal beauty of God,” says Johnston. “I believe it can be done with guitar, bass, and drums and backed with the truth of the Catholic Church.”

The 44-year-old Johnston, whose real name is Peter D’Alema, records as Peter Johnston RVA, in an homage to an ancestor on his mother’s side as well as his home of Richmond, Virginia. When he moved there to attend graduate school, he joined the city’s rock subculture as a vocalist and guitar player in secular bands such as We Are Childhood Equals and One Friend. For years, they recorded songs and performed shows, but neither became more than a side hustle: In his professional life, Johnston is a nonprofit banker whose clients are local governments.

He’s also a practicing Catholic, and therefore a rarity in a scene that’s more about Saturday night parties than Sunday morning pieties. “When we went on tour, we’d have to plan for me to attend Mass,” he said, adding that among fellow rockers, he encountered more curiosity than skepticism about his faith. “A lot of musicians are spiritual, even if they’re not religious,” he said. “In music, you’re always grasping for something eternal, such as a song that will outlast you.”

Peter Johnston RVA and his latest album, “Joyful-Sorrowful.” (Submitted photo)

Johnston felt the same yearning. Over time it grew and combined with his Christianity, whose themes started to seep into his songwriting. Yet stepping fully into the mode of Catholic rock took the COVID lockdowns, which led to the dissolution of his band because its members could not gather. He also remembered Pope John Paul II’s letter to artists in 1999. “It asked Catholics to start a revolution in the arts, drawing people to faith through beauty,” he said. “It just took me a while to get around to it.”

Since then, he has released nearly three dozen songs. Eight of them are on his first album, “Be Not Afraid,” whose title track seeks to set the tone for his musical mission.

Full story at Angelus News.