Filled with gritty resolve and a special measure of God’s grace, Marvin Sapp’s newest record (and life) reminds us that we can defeat any obstacle through Christ.
FC: What was the biggest inspiration for I Win?
Marvin: I titled this CD I Win because I want to affirm for myself and for others that the winning is in the enduring. People have a perception that the winner is the one who crosses the finish line first – but I maintain that winning is not a destination but an attitude. I discovered the song I Win at a pastor’s conference a while ago – a young singer named Brittney A. Wright co-wrote and performed it. I was so very impressed by the song I asked her if she would allow me to record it, and a year and a half later I did.
Family Christian: To date, your live albums have been recorded in your hometown of Grand Rapids, MI. What led to choosing to record this album near Washington D.C.?
Marvin Sapp: I recorded the album near D.C. at Evangel Cathedral, simply because that was one of the first places I ever did a concert when I first started in the Gospel music industry some 22 years ago. I was in Commissioned and one of our first concerts was [there]. I’ve had a great relationship with that church for literally 22 years. As bad as I wanted to do the new recording in Grand Rapids where I’ve done all of my live recordings, it was just too close of a reminder of having buried my wife. She was always a part of my recordings because she managed my career. So, since I wasn’t going to do the recording in my city, the only place I could think to take it was to [the] family that’s not here, and that was Evangel Cathedral.
FC: Your Twitter page includes the quote “I’m a preacher that happens to sing, not a singer that happens to preach.” How do you balance these two distinct roles?
Marvin: I always say that I don’t balance, I prioritize. Because, when you try to balance or juggle, something inevitably is going to fall. The call on my life is to preach. I started preaching when I was 22 years of age, and that is what I prioritize. The music is an extension of my ministry, it is a gifting, but I keep it in its rightful place based on God’s call on my life. The gifts come without repentance. I’ve learned that you can be gifted and anointed and live like the devil. In order to be successful in your call, though, you have to tap into the Source. The only way that you can maintain being connected to the Source is you have to live a life that’s holy and acceptable in the sight of God. That’s one of the things we don’t talk about anymore in the church, and that’s trying to live holy. I challenge people who live close to me, next to me, with me that they have to learn to strive to live holy at all costs. Everything else springs forth from that.
FC: Your life took an unexpected turn in 2010 with the loss of your dear wife. How has that affected your approach to ministry/music?
Marvin: One of the blessings was that all of my contracts were negotiated by MaLinda already so it hasn’t affected my business at all. My booking office still does what it does. I’m still turning down a bunch of different dates… Opportunities are still there because we built a great staff so it hasn’t been difficult to move forward. Musically, I continue to record songs that I connect with because I know that those are the songs that will connect with people. MaLinda also laid out in great detail how things would move forward at our church, where she was the administrative pastor. So my approach in both ministry and music has been to adopt a motto that MaLinda had and said all the time: “keep it moving.” That is what she wanted me to do.
FC: What helped you through that time?
Marvin: For me, prayer, praise and worship absolutely sustained me through the bereavement of my wife. I know I would not have been able to endure that great pain without God.
FC: What is your favorite moment/song on the record, and why?
Marvin: A standout moment was definitely the “Hymns Medley.” I grew up on hymns and my mom kinda taught me almost every hymn I know. When we were doing the recording, the “Hymns Medley” just happened. We were transitioning between songs and I just started singing hymns. At first, it wasn’t even supposed to go on the record. We were going to drop it and then the staff was like, “No, this is unbelievable. It’s gotta stay.” So, we just ended up putting it on the record - but I was just singing things I grew up listening to from traditional hymns to Andrae Crouch. And [so] we just went back and forth and people were blessed by it and I enjoyed doing it. Hopefully, people will love it when they hear it on the record.
FC: For all of the recognition you’ve received over the years – is there a specific honor that has meant the most to you? And if so, why?
Marvin: [laughing] The BET Award for Best Gospel Artist – because my kids were so excited about that! Honestly, every award and recognition is a very humbling experience.
Click here to experience the passionate Gospel-energy of I Win.
After an unexpected and uncontrollable hiatus, Alabama rock group Rush of Fools is back with "We Once Were". Their third album is a hit from the get go with driving rhythms and heavy guitars. It's obvious from the lyrics and sound that the group is back with a lot to say. "We can't go back to what we were before because we were so changed by the events that occurred along the way," says guitarist Kevin Huguley, "...we learned how to count it all joy by writing songs in the midst of the storm...Had we not walked through so many trials in the past two years of our career, we would never have the songs that are on this record."
That feeling is carried through the twelve track album with an upbeat yet contemplative feel. Songs such as "A Civil War" and the last track "Inside and Outside" best reflect this with lyrics like "It's time to bow out of this race/ About time for me to be in last place/ I got myself in a civil war" and "I'm not over/ I'm not finished yet I've got a ways to go/ I'll be alright/ When it comes down to that moment when our dreams have lost their way/ I'll be alright".
"We Once Were" has a creative raw texture, almost an indie feel to it. A great example is track eleven "Help Our Unbelief" which starts out with an organ like a classic horror movie. Although somewhat short lived, still a unique sound you might not expect from the group.
It's obvious a ton of heart and thought went into this recording. Front man Wes Willis says "We gave this recording all of ourselves... We spent over a quarter of a year away from our families and friends on this one...The difference is night and day compared to the first two releases." Just about every song will be stuck between your ears because this album is so infectious. Rush of Fool's fans will love this latest release, not to mention all the new fans they're going to garner from this immediate classic.
Family Christian Stores: This is the band’s first Christmas CD. What inspired you to create one after all these years together?
David Crowder: Well, I think when you form a band you know that it is inevitable you make a Christmas album. It only took us 11 years to pull it off! We were actually supposed to start work on our last album in January and instead of making any headway on it, a Christmas album popped out. I would get calls from our label asking how the new recording was coming along and I responded, "Are you feeling festive?" We didn't mean to make this album, but Christmas apparently, was still in the air.
FCS: Since Christmas music is so regularly covered, how do you find something that hasn’t been done before?
David: Well, the beautiful part about the Crowder*Band is that we are a collection of six different folks with varying tastes in music, so for us to revisit some of the classic carols would, by default, turn out a bit different than what you've heard previously. It's really something special when you consider it a conversation; that everyone's voice is important. It gives it an eclectic blend that is compelling, I think.
FCS: Do you have a favorite song on the album? What makes it special to you?
David: My favorite song on the album is “Silent Night.” I think the reason that I love it so much is because the center is people in the room with us when we were playing. Plus, the outro was a rather spontaneous thing that turned out better than I could ever have hoped for!
FCS: There’s a very unique bluegrass version of ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ on the record. What influenced that musical direction?
David: We became intrigued with the genre a number of years ago. If you could have ever been on tour with us, you would have heard us sitting around in the dressing room together playing old gospel songs or bluegrass tunes. So, this one just sort of popped out. It's rowdy, fun and very unlike any version of this song I've heard. But I think it is completely appropriate, given the subject matter. Christ has come and that is reason to celebrate and throw a hoedown of sorts!
FCS: Do you have any special holiday traditions as a band?
David: Actually as a band we have always taken December off so that we could be with family. It's been rather annoying for all of those wonderful people attempting to book us during the holiday season, but we've been careful about keeping those days set aside for family.
FCS: You’ve been very open that the album you’re currently working on (Give us Rest) will be your last. What can we expect to hear?
David: It is the last offering we will have as a collective and it's turned into the most ambitious offering we've had since we formed in the year 2,000. It's the most music we've ever put in one place at the same time. We have composed a ‘requiem mass’ that feels like all of our explorations as a band in one place. We absolutely can't wait for people to hear it.
FCS: So how will everything wrap up?
David: Our final CD will release January 10th. I couldn't be more pleased with the songs we've collected for it. We will play together as a band for the last time at Passion 2012, a collegiate conference in Atlanta, GA. The album will release shortly thereafter.
FCS: And finally, are there real Crowder*Band nutcrackers, as seen on the album art?
David: I wish! We're actually working on that and if it happens, you'll be able to find them on our website.
FCS: Thanks for such a fun interview! We wish you a wonderful Christmas & a memorable final tour with the band.
Sara is a kaleidoscope of colors. With everyrecord she creates we, the listeners, climb a little closer to her heart and discover something new about her character. Her honesty, vulnerability and artistry are what make us feel so connected and keep us so inspired. We recently caught up with Sara to hear about what big, new things are happening around the Groves home and discover the backbone of her new record, Invisible Empires.
Sara Groves: Well, I never fully know what I’m working on [when I start writing] – such as a theme, but inevitably the songs will start to overlap, and I’ll start realizing ‘oh this is all kind of about the same thing.’ It’s always a mystery for me when I’m working on a record, figuring out what the hub of the wheel is. And I feel with this record the hub ended up being a lot of what I was reading from Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He talks about Psalm 127 which says “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builder builds in vain.” He says the work of man is frenetic. We chase after things, it’s futile. He says literally, man works like the devil, and then he compares that to the work of God. He says the work of God is a lot like pregnancy, you’re making a human being. You’re doing quite possibly the most important work you’ll ever do, but you’re not really doing anything. You’re just getting out of bed, and walking around and eating. As a mom, having carried three children I can appreciate that metaphor. So this whole record is really wresting with the fact that a lot of times I feel like I’m working like the devil. ‘How on earth do I get to that place where His yoke is light, where He’s making my paths straight?’ So this record is looking at the flawed areas of my life where I’m really worrying a lot [and asking], am I seeking stuff on my own and how do I work with God, letting Him work through me?
FC: And so the Empires are Sara’s empires?
Sara: Yeah, Invisible Empires to me talks about what Eugene talks about, and what’s in 2 Corinthians: the unseen world – the work that God does – is eternal and real. The Kingdom that He’s building is real but invisible, and then here we are building what we think is real but it’s actually virtual. I look at technology a lot because I feel like it’s something we’ve got to stop and question, ya know? Right now it’s sort of running ahead unabated and I feel like we’ve got to look at it and say ‘Ok, I’ve gained all of these conveniences, but what did I lose?’ And that to me is all part of the same idea of man-made work. We literally worship the things that we’ve made with our own hands. That’s as old as mankind, that problem. I just want to ask the questions about the stuff that falls in with man-made struggle and that frenetic life.
FC: So the cover kind of also tells that story, right?
Sara: Well, you’ve got the dark city which might be like man-made cities and behind is this ethereal Kingdom of God. Again, the invisible things of God are more real than the visible things of earth. And then you see a sound wave and that’s actually me singing the words ‘invisible empires’ from the song “Obsolete.” So it’s sort of an embedded message inside the cover. When people get the actual record there are midi files which look like flowers. When you play the piano in a midi file, it looks like flowers with stems and those are also decorating the artwork throughout. So we kind of merged this idea of technology and the spiritual world. We were trying to capture all of those ideas.
FC: You’ve talked about technology and how at times it could be a big hindrance to our lives, not necessarily a convenience. How does the Groves family ‘unplug’?
Sara: I have a friend Miranda Harris who says ‘technology is a great servant and is a horrible master.’ I feel like my job as a parent is to get technology into that place where it is under our feet, not mastering us. My husband and I really struggled with watching TV too much and our kids basically had a video game addiction. So as a family, about 2 years ago we did a media fast for the entire summer. We thought, in Minnesota you gotta get outside in the summer! So it was really hard, but we drew a deep line in the sand. [We decided] for the next 3 months we’re going to abstain from everything; we did a whole media fast. And then we talked about what we would add back in. It was really neat. The conversations were really healthy. I think having been detoxified, my kids were able to talk about it reasonably – in the past they couldn’t even talk about it, like it was their obsession. We were able to decide that 30 minutes a day with video games was enough for us and that we didn’t want to let the TV back in because it was definitely eating into all of these things we discovered. We still to this day don’t have cable, but we do have a physical TV that we watch a movie occasionally on, but those are some steps we’ve taken. Troy and I try to keep our online life really to our business or the music, connecting with fans and stuff. I’m not on Facebook at all. As soon as Facebook came out it was a divine moment for me because I knew it would feed into all of my vices so it was something I wouldn’t be able to participate in. I basically heard God say, other people get to do this but you don’t (laughs). So we do other stuff that will feed into our Facebook page, like I write a blog occasionally and Troy does Twitter a lot. I just really felt that it was going to keep me away from my family, from my kids and the people that I really want to be physically there for. So anyway, that might seem radical to some people and I’m not saying that this is in anyway a judgment or a law, but those are some of the parameters we’ve drawn.
FC: So that’s how the Groves family operates…
Sara: Yeah, that’s how we roll.
FC: When you look at the overall record, you do talk about busyness, technology, all these sorts of outside influences coming into us – but there are a few other themes in the record as well. What else is there?
Sara: In ‘Finite,’ the first line of the song says, I’m not every woman, it’s not all in me. I was sitting across the table from Jill Phillips and we were both feeling absolutely exhausted, pulled in a million different directions and she said the word ‘finite.’ I latched onto that and said ‘there’s a song in that word.’ So we sat for the next two hours and worked on that. In ‘Mystery,’ I talk about trying to bring God to earth somehow as if I could specifically do that. In ‘I Will Wait for You’ I say, I’m going to wait for You now more than ever. I can work like the devil, but that can’t really be my way, I have to wait for You. So it is my weariness at trying to do all of this work by myself and trying to make the Kingdom come. You’ve (FC) followed us as we were embarking with International Justice Mission, and we still work with IJM, (we have the song ‘Eyes on the Prize’ on this record that’s about their work). But I think I jumped in with two feet and started taking off, maybe getting a little ahead of God a little bit. And I had to realize and say, Ok, I can’t change the world, God will change things through me and He can change me. I have to wait on the Lord, and say I’m waiting for whatever You’ve got for me, and I don’t want to get ahead of You anymore. And then tying that in with the idea that I want to be about Your work, not my own work, not my own kingdom but Your empire. So that’s definitely, I would say, the river that runs through the whole record. Honestly, it’s a tired mom trying to figure it all out saying ‘I think You have more rest for me than this and I don’t think that all these things I feel obligated to are You. I think I’m obligating myself to things that aren’t necessarily God-centered.’ So how do I purge my life of all the distractions to really listen for the things that God wants me to do?
FC: Through your art you’ve certainly opened up – whether it is marital issues, strengths, weaknesses, parenting, you’ve shared a lot that maybe other artists are uncomfortable doing. It has certainly made an impact on people. When you look at Invisible Empires, do you feel that you’re following along that same path, opening up that heart again to the public and saying ‘here we are, this is our life?’
Sara: Yeah, ya know Fireflies and Songswas a very personal record and almost every song was me lying on the operating table. With this record I did pick up again kinda like with Tell Me What you Know and Add to the Beauty where I looked at some other things that were happening in the world. ‘Scientists in Japan’ is about bioethics (laughs), that’s not necessarily where you find me at home opening up own personal heart. So I did return to some other broader, cultural themes in this record, but there definitely are some. ‘Mystery’ would be a deeply personal song about my last couple years’ struggle with anxiety and walking through fears. I couldn’t feel God in the traditional ways I had felt Him. I’ve always had very emotional connection to God. So basically in dealing with the anxiety and panic attacks I was having I had to tell myself, my emotions are not my reality. The way I feel is not real right now! I feel like I’m going to die, and I’m actually not going to die, I’m going to be okay. But I had to deny my emotions. For a good year and a half I just rehearsed that. My emotions are tricking me, they’re not reliable. And so having had an emotional connectivity to God, it impacted the way I would feel when I would pray, everything, how I sensed God. But in the place of this emotional sort of thing I’ve always had of God, this other sense of His presence has come, that I’m really grateful for. I don’t think I would have gotten there without this whole experience, but He has been so faithful to me, and so present. Not in this emotional way where I’m “Oooh! I feel Him! I feel these emotional goosebumps!” It’s just been this solidness, I can’t even describe it. It’s literally just been a season of manna. So ‘Mystery’ is definitely a song where I’m confessing that I’ve just been working at this, trying to pull God down, I’m physically tired from trying to bring ‘Your kingdom come on earth’ And saying ‘I must not be doing it right because I need a rest. But You will meet me again. You will show up, it’s not about me, it’s about what you’re doing.’ ‘Miracle’ is a very personal song about marriage and relationships. Feeling things I can’t feel, saying things that are hard to say, not just in my marriage but in friendships. So yeah, I definitely have moments where I’m writing from that very deep personal place, and then I have other things where I’m revisiting things like I have in the past, cultural movements and events. Things that I feel like I want to ask a question about before we run full force ahead (laughs).
FC: So yeah, tell us about ‘Scientists in Japan?’ Where’d that come from?
Sara: Well, so in the very beginning of that chapter in Long Obedience… there’s a quote that Eugene Peterson pulls out from a French philosopher and says [something like] The marker of this day is that we set great machines in motion without any idea of where they are headed – I’m butchering this – but he says, how tremendous the means with no concept of the end. We set machines in motion without any concept of where we’re headed. We just set things in motion, set things in motion. So I was at this think tank with Christian leaders and this bioethicist look the stage. He said literally there are only a handful of us who are Evangelical in the field of bioethics, and he had spent a year of his own time going around to all of the Christian colleges asking them, begging them to start carrying at least a minor in bioethics. There’s not a single Christian college, university of liberal arts or otherwise that is carrying a minor in bioethics. And the response was the same, well, students aren’t coming here for that, they go to the universities for that. Well exactly! We’re giving the entire field over, he said, we can’t talk about these things in churches. If I were to stand up on a Sunday morning and say “Scientists in Japan are building a robot to take your job,” I would be booed off the stage. So ya know, the little feisty part of me said, I’m gonna write a song, hopefully a whimsical one, that starts with that line (Laughs). It was compelling what he said, ‘you will face ethical challenges as you care for your aging parents, unless you think about it, you will be caught off guard.’ And that spoke to me. I will one day be caring for my aging parents, and I need to know what I think about life and death and all of the things between those.
FC: So you and Troy are working alongside Charlie Peacock on an ‘Art House north’?
Sara: We are. We are hoping to get an offer on our house this week. We’ve purchased a 100 year old church, and the Art House in Nashville is a 100 year old church, that is also the studio and home of Charlie and Andrea Peacock. So we asked him about four years ago, ‘would it be possible for us to partner with you in this way?’ and they were excited, so we’ve been looking for properties. The byline of the Art House is ‘creative community for the common good.’ So basically the goal in the simplest form is, artists often work in isolation but we want to give them a reason to gather whether formally or informally, and we believe that sparks will fly when they get connected. So we’re hoping that people will respond to the different artist forums and things that we hold at the Art House. I really believe something creative and new that our city has never seen will be born out of artists connecting with other artists. So that’s our dream. We’re going to live in the church, we’re building out a parsonage in the basement, and then the whole building will be used for hospitality and events. So that’s where we’re headed!
FC: Ok, so last question. We know you started homeschooling this year. Can youbriefly tell us about your experience? And are you homeschooling all three kids?
Sara: I am sending Ruby to preschool, that gives me time with the boys that I need, they’re 5th and 3rd grade. [It was] a little bit out of necessity but it was also [a result of] a neat experience with a missionary family that put us squarely in the homeschooling camp this year. A friend of ours from IJM called and said my hero in the faith is coming to the United States and he wants to meet you. He’s a missionary in Burma doing incredible, incredible things. So we cleared our calendar and they came, and they were a team, Team Eubank. And in talking with Karen Eubank (the matriarch), I just caught a vision for us that I haven’t had before. We’ve always been Team Groves but we were doing a lot of things by putting the kids in school, a lot of gymnastics and things to keep them in the sort of ‘normalcy’ of public school, whatever that is, and we just all of a sudden felt really free and called to homeschool. We really call it ‘world school,’ we like the term. It’s been surprisingly joyful; I thought it would be more stressful than it’s been. I actually feel like we’ve simplified in a lot of ways, and the boys are thriving. And I’m having fun, the teacher in me is waking up and it’s really been joyful! That’s the only word I have for it. So I don’t know how long we’re going to do this, I don’t know what God has in mind for us, but it has been a huge blessing.
FC: Ok, we said that was the last question, but one more. Candy corn or the fake pumpkin candy corn things?
Sara: The real deal, that’s so funny. I just went on a trip where I wasn’t with my husband or my kids and I got a glimpse of myself without any checks and balances (laughs). I didn’t mean to do this, but I went to the grocery store and before I knew it, I had a bag of candy corn and like, all kinds of terrible snacks. So over the weekend I ate an entire bag of candy corn! If my kids were there, or if Troy was, I never would have done that… but I got a little freedom and I just went nuts and ate a whole bag of candy corn. So yeah it’s definitely a favorite (laughs).
FC: Sara, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. We love your music and message – and wish all the very best to you and your family.
To learn more about the International Justice Mission or the Art House North that the Groves are busy creating, visit www.saragroves.com.
Here it is, the highly anticipated album of 2011 Switchfoot's "Vice Verses". The second from the group since leaving Columbia Records and moving to their own lowercase people. A move I highly agree with after their amazing release of "Hello Hurricane" in 2009.
"Vice Verses" is exactly what I was looking for, a continuation of their last album mixed with some hints of old and yet some stretching musically into other creative avenues.
Frontman Jon Foreman on the title of the album: "The whole thing is about polarity. We wanted to write about the polarity of what it means to be human, the lights and darks. I'm always intrigued by the tension that exists between life and death." The twelve tracks sum it up well with a lot of ups and downs both musically and lyrically.
The first track "Afterlife" begins with guitar only as Foreman enters. An almost classic sounding Switchfoot and a great way to start off the album. "The War Inside" has an almost "The Sound" beginning to it. Listen carefully because it's got a very unique and addictive music track.
Song four "Restless" has a rock worship feel to it that could have been sung by Bono. I just had to play the end of the song a few more times because it's that good. "Blinding Light" is a song about searching for hope and finding it "Deep down there's a hope inside / You got wings but you're scared to fly / wake up, wake up".
The sixth track "Selling the News" is a commentary on the sensationalism of, well, the news: "Substance, oh substance where have you been / you've been replaced by the masters of spin". "Selling the News" definitely stands out with Foreman speaking, not singing, the verses. I can already see the music video of Foreman in a news room or war zone reporting/performing this song.
Can't get your fill of hard hitting vocals and blazing guitars, then play "Dark Horses". One of the coolest rock songs I've heard in a while. I'll be playing this one too much, way too much and way too loud. So will you.
"Souvenirs" is a beautiful track with great lyrics "These are my souvenirs / the memory of a lifetime". "Rise Above It" is a fun song that is slightly different and changes up in a lot of places throughout the song. Very fun lyrically also: "Just because you're present doesn't mean that you're here".
Title track eleven "Vice Verses" is one of the best songs on the album and an instant classic. It contrasts life and death in a very thoughtful and memorable way: "You got your babies / I got my hearses / Every blessing comes with it's set of curses". And in true Switchfoot fashion gives you a lot to think about.
The final song "Where I Belong" is a good wrap of the album. It has a mid tempo 'good feeling' anthem to it that makes you want to replay the album all over again. So I did.
Switchfoot's "Vice Verses" has exceeded my expectations. A perfectly executed album with loads of 'classics in the makings'. No trendy synths or unnecessary auto-tune here, just straight up rock, pure and thoughtful, what Switchfoot does best. And when they're at their best, they're amazing.
The current landscape for Shane and Shane looks significantly different than when they became friends in college. They’re husbands, fathers, and now worship leaders at their local church in Dallas. This year they even signed with a new record label, Fair Trade Services. We caught up with Shane Everett about this new season for the duo, and their recent release of The One You Need.
Family Christian: This record is distinctly different than many of your others, stylistically and even in the overall tone of the message. How did you land on this direction?
Shane Everett: Maybe I should start a little further back. We changed record labels and started demoing songs. We were really working through what we wanted to say to our community, which was the first time we’ve ever written from a ‘non-devotional-type’ place. We started asking the question “Lord, what do you want to say to us?” That sounds pretty elementary, but it was kind of a new thing. We’re part of this collective of people (The Oaks Fellowship in Dallas, TX) who are pursuing the Lord together. When you get involved in a local level it’s eye opening, ya know? There are people with a lot of hurt, issues, [you’re] walking with people through stuff. So I think we were just in a different place, asking different questions than we’ve ever asked before.
FC: There seems to be a variety of genres represented on the album – was that intentional, or did the songs just seem to take on lives of their own?
Shane E: We said, “Ok, let’s approach this by saying that nothing is off limits.” So any idea that the team had, we said “Let’s try this on one song... Ok, scrap that. Let’s try this on another song.” We just had a blast making this record, and hopefully that comes through. We were invigorated, it was a new season, and we were asking different questions. So if it feels different it’s probably because the approach was completely different. We were just like “Man, let’s seek the Lord, have a good time making a record and say the things that the Lord puts on our heart.”
FC: What led to your new role as worship pastors?
Shane E: Well, the college that we’ve been involved with, Southwestern Seminary, had a leadership program that was 90 students. They would work with a local church and study in one of three different tracks: evangelism, pastoral and missions. So they asked us to come be part of a worship track and they would add more students. Now we have 35 worship interns. They do normal curriculum at the school and then come to see us for ‘lab’ time – six hours on Mondays. We do songwriting, and discipleship. So that’s our portion. [The interns] also have a theory class and some other stuff, but our specific role is in the songwriting and recording part of the program.
FC: That’s awesome! Not going to guess here but, coffee or Red Bull?
Shane E: Oh, coffee man!
FC: So, in this six hour period of time, how many cups of coffee do you and the other Shane consume?
Shane E: (Laughs) Ya know, we actually don’t drink any coffee then!
FC: Well, for being in a class 6 hours, you certainly have your job cut out for you, to make sure it’s all interesting and engaging…
Shane E: Yeah, well, I’ll tell you this – we have such a good time. This is how a basic class works: The students don’t go to class, they come to us. We have a new studio in a big, old stone house on 22 acres and there’s recording stuff set up everywhere, so it’s pretty high energy. They get there, and we’ll talk, have some snacks – we have coffee if you want it – and then a student will share his heart about a song and play it. Everyone has a lyric sheet and a chord chart, and we’re just making notes and giving critiques and reviews and then we mess with the song for a little bit. In the first few weeks everyone’s timid and it’s a little awkward, but after that everybody opens up. The students become pretty tight knit. We’ll ask, ‘What’s the message you’re trying to say?’, ‘What are you trying to communicate?’, ‘What’s the Lord telling you through this?’ So, that’s our role – less about the music, more about the heart. Then we collectively pick a song and produce and record that song all together. We’ll have a drum kit set up, so we’ll do a click track and record the drums, we’ll do bass, guitars, and then vocals – so everyone is super engaged. Everybody’s into it, as you can imagine. It’s pretty awesome for them.
FC: You and Shane both have families now, and the writing on this record certainly addresses that to some degree. How much did your current family situation influence those songs versus what you’re doing over at the seminary?
Shane E: I would say that four or five of the songs on the record came from class songs. Because we make them write a song every week, either Shane or I will have to write one each week too. So a lot of the songs came from that. But one song specifically is written toward our kids, Shane and I both have little girls. The title of the record is from the song “The One You Need.” It’s like, if we had to stand before our kids or our family and we had one thing to say, what would it be? We just want to let them know that Jesus is the One that they need. In a world where there’s a lot of competing world views and ideologies of how to find peace, ya know, there are a billion and one self-help books or even Disney telling them this is what a happily ever after looks like, we wanted to say at an early age, Jesus is the One you need.
As men we want to be the one to take care of our families and our daughters. I want to give them everything - I don’t want to mess up. I want them to come to me for anything that they have and I want to try to fill that place in their heart. But eventually, Lord willing, this kid’s gonna grow up and move out and be on their own. It’s just a horrible thought for me (laughs), but one day it’s going to happen. I just want them to know that Jesus is the only One who can fulfill the deep places of their heart. The only one that can give them a true hope and a future. I hope this song resonates with my daughters throughout the entirety of their life. We want to point them to Christ as much as we can and this is just one of our attempts to sing and say that over them.
FC: Do you think this song is the theme of the record?
Shane E: It’s definitely the theme of the record. The whole record is very Gospel-centric, probably more than any other record we’ve ever done. I think we’ve written out of a devotional spot usually – something really introspective and this has been more of a ‘global’ Gospel record. We did it on purpose because we feel that the more we do this, especially being involved in a local community, man, we just need the Gospel. It’s the renewing power of the Gospel on hearts that is so huge. C.J. Mahaney said something that’s really resonated with me; we feel like in our Christian world we have the Gospel, we get saved and then we move on to bigger and better things, and I thought that was so true. It’s like we think ‘Oh man, I’ve got all this ministry to do,’ and ‘we’ve got the Gospel but that was 10 years ago.’ It’s coming back to that and letting it wash over us daily. It’s changed my life. Remembering what the Lord has done and remembering what He is doing through the renewing power of the Gospel. I keep saying the same thing but it’s become a residual prayer in my heart, daily in my journal “remember the Gospel, remember the Gospel, remember the power of the Gospel.” It’s become the heart beat of the record. It is devotional but it’s been a really good season to remember that.
FC: Since you have transitioned from the ‘devotional’ place of writing to this ‘Gospel’ focus, do you think your listeners are ready to transition too? And were you at all scared, or do you think your audience is going to dive right in?
Shane E: Hindsight’s 20/20, ya know (laughs). We HOPE they go with us. As an artist I think there’s already insecurity that comes from wearing your heart on your sleeve, which is what we do in our writing. A lot of the songs come out of our journals. Apprehensive is the nature of our business, for us anyway. Your art is special to you and we try as hard as we possibly can to make it as good as we possibly can. You never know, but the response so far has been really great. We played these songs for a bunch of people before and everyone seemed to be really on-board with the production, the songs, and the themes, so I think so!
FC: We’ve really appreciated the direction that you and Shane have taken on this record. It’s really fresh and it’s a fun listen.
Shane E: Oh, thanks for saying that. Honestly, we’ve had fun, we’re getting out there and taking breaths. Our label tells us they appreciate us; what we do. It’s felt like a team, it’s got energy. We’ve been really enjoying the process. I think the last four or five years we’ve been doing it and walking with the Lord, but we just didn’t feel like we were moving forward, if I can be transparent. We were on the road, writing songs, seeking the Lord, but I think that now being involved in the church community has pushed us over a hump – there’s a bunch of cogs in the wheel. A step back has given us a new heart, a new vision for the future. We’re more excited about this than we’ve been since, I think, our first record that we came out with - which is crazy. Don’t know how to say it other than to say that we’re having fun.
FC: What is your preference, playing at a church or in a concert setting?
Shane E: We like them all, it just usually depends on a crowd. Leading worship at our church we really enjoy, but just for having fun, we like an old theater or something with people who are the most engaged.
FC: If you could choose anybody that you’d love to go on tour with, who would it be?
Shane E: U2, man. That would be so awesome.
FC: Ok, what about realistically?
Shane E: The Crowders. They’re not going out anymore, but we did a tour with David Crowder*Band and that was the most fun touring situation. We love those guys so much, we’re great friends. Maybe we could convince David to go with us to do one more?
FC: What book are you currently reading?
Shane E: Multiple books, but I started the Chronicles of Narnia over and I’m almost done with that. Also, Justification of God by John Piper, again. It takes me so long, but it kicks me in the teeth everyday.
FC: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. We really appreciate what you guys are doing out there. Take care!
To learn more about the program that Shane and Shane are a part of, or to hear the songs created each week by the students, visit oaksleadership.com.
Family Christian Stores: Matt, God has used your song, ”Lead Me,” with Sanctus Real, to touch and heal many lives. Now, over the last year, it seems there is another chapter in your story. Can you share with us how your new solo project, Every Falling Tear, was birthed?
Matt Hammitt: When I wrote “Lead Me,” I had no idea that God was preparing me to lead my family through a season of great adversity. It was only a month after Pieces of a Real Heart was released that my wife, Sarah, and I found out that our son had a severe, life-threatening heart defect. They told us five months before he was born that we had a long and hard road ahead of us. That’s when I started writing the songs that ended up becoming the album Every Falling Tear. I was writing songs because I needed them, songs about trusting God in difficult circumstances. We listened to the songs while we were in the hospital for both of Bowen’s open heart surgeries.
FCS: Many people have been following the story of Baby Bowen. How is he doing? Are there some specific ways we can pray for you and your family as you continue on this journey?
Matt: Bowen’s cardiologist is pleased with his progress. They’re telling us that he won’t need another surgery for two years. We welcome prayers for healing, but also know that our story is part of God’s sovereign design. Please pray for perseverance as we continue on this path with Bowen.
FCS: We understand that each of the songs has a specific story behind it. Will you tell us about one of your favorites, and what it means for you to have it on this album?
Matt: One of my favorite songs from the album is “Holding You.” We were told by some friends and doctors to prepare ourselves to not to be able to hold Bowen for, potentially, weeks after his surgery. A few days later, I heard our guitar player Pete playing a riff on the bus. I began to think about Sarah, and what it would be like to be a mother watching her child in pain, not being able to hold him. Within an hour, I had almost all of the lyrics written.
FCS: How have you been able to “Consider it pure Joy when you face trials”? Has there been “joy” in the midst of this storm for you?
Matt: Seeing the way that God has been faithful to work what appears to be a tragedy for our good and His glory has been the greatest source of joy and comfort. The gift of a son is pretty amazing as well.
FCS: Is there a specific Scripture verse the Lord has given you and your family as you have walked through this last year?
Matt: 2 Corinthians 4:16–18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
FCS: That’s beautiful. You and your wife have found a way to bring hope to many families facing a similar situation. What has the Lord led the two of you to do in this regard?
Matt: Sarah and I have started the Whole Hearts Foundation to support families with children suffering from heart defects. We’re still in our infancy, but some exciting things are on the horizon. We believe Whole Hearts will be assisting families by the end of the year.
FCS: What are some things we can do to help in our communities?
Matt: Serve your neighbors (like your next-door neighbors). It's a good way to get to know them better and show them what Jesus is about.
FCS: Matt, thank you for sharing your heart with us. It’s our privilege to partner with you. May God continue to bless your family and your music ministry.
Delivering hope for those in crisis, Every FallingTearshares the heart of Sanctus Real’s lead vocalist Matt Hammitt. Sparked by the joy of a new baby and the pain of learning his son would be born with a heart defect, this heartfelt solo debut chronicles his journey with deeply personal songs that claim God’s faithfulness.
How much ground can you cover in one short interview? Well, when it’s a chat with John Mark McMillan, the answer is ‘not enough.’ You get the sense that there’s so much beneath the surface; this man’s waters run deep. Even more intriguing, is how his music draws you into a different type of worship. It must be something about the union of his paper-thin vulnerability and roughly-hewn vocals reminiscent of a rock and roll legend. Here is the dialogue that left us wanting more…
Family Christian: So, let’s start with some background questions. Where are you from?
John Mark McMillan: I’m from Charlotte, NC. I was born here and still live here today.
FC: How long have you been doing music? Did you grow up in a musical home?
John Mark: My mom and dad messed around with guitar, but I don’t think they would consider themselves musicians. I grew up in a Christian home and went to church where music was played regularly. Honestly, I got into music to impress girls, because I wasn’t very good at sports, but I don’t think it really worked. I did [however] fall in love with music [in the process].
FC: So, are you married?
John Mark: Yes sir I am, and I have 2 kids.
FC: So music must have worked at some level…
John Mark: (laughs) Yeah, I don’t know if it was the music or what but… um, yeah (laughs).
FC: So with that in mind – how did you transition from being in music to impress girls to saying, I want to do something with this?
John Mark: I had friends who played and I thought, if they can do it, I can do it. So I picked up the guitar and started playing. But there wasn’t a particular moment or anything. [I was] like most young kids; they start playing music because their parents make them take lessons or they’re just kind of interested in it or in my case, because there are some musical friends around. It’s typically a discipline or something you kind of enjoy, but for me, I just really became enamored with music and the idea of making melodies – even just for my personal enjoyment. I just became really interested in music somewhere down the line – practicing, playing and writing songs.
FC: In your bio it mentions that you were influenced by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. What is it about those artists that resonates with you?
John Mark: I think a couple of things. One is the ability to tell a story – to write words that resonate with people. The second is their ability to speak to the sort of ‘common man’ – the average guy or girl. For some reason that idea of making music to connect with the common individual or to empower [them] is fascinating to me. And they both have such an amazing ability to do that. So that’s really why I became enamored with those kinds of guys.
FC: You came out with a couple of independent records before you signed with the largest worship label in our industry. How was that transition for you?
John Mark: You know, when you’re independent your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. I was coming from a world where I could do whatever I wanted with the resources I had, into a situation where I had to bring a bunch of other people on board. The positive is that I actually had resources through Integrity [and could do things] that I hadn’t been able to do before. You have a bigger community of people to get work with, to get behind what you’re doing. I think the negative side is that you have to get all of those people behind you, and you have to have a lot of conversations about things that I used to just say, ok, I’m going to do this. That hasn’t been bad though – [Integrity] has been really good, that’s why I signed with [them] as opposed to other labels. They really seemed interested in letting me be myself and do what I wanted to do. They haven’t had major questions over lyrics, song titles, album covers or anything. They’ve never challenged me on any of that. They’ve been pretty cool on letting me do what I wanted to do. It’s a double-edged sword, ya know. You have a team behind you, but the negative side is that you have to work with a team (laughs).
FC: When the average person thinks of Integrity Music they typically think of Don Moen, Darlene Zschech or Alvin Slaughter. When you think of John Mark McMillan you don’t necessarily put him in the same lineup. Do you consider yourself to be a worship leader in the same vein as those other artists?
John Mark: Ya know, in a lot of ways I don’t know. In the world I came from a corporate worship world was – well, I just wasn’t really exposed to all of that stuff, to be honest. I didn’t really know much about all of those guys when I came on board. I’ve met a few of them and they’re all really great people, really sweet and talented. I didn’t really think about it that much. But in philosophy, yes, they want to connect the hearts of people to the heart of God. They want to give people a language to express the things they want to express – and that’s what I do. Stylistically we’re very, very different. So it’s yes and no. I think we’d sit down and have great conversations and be on the same page on most every issue, especially creatively. They’re very creative. I think sonically, lyrically, and in the way we do what we do, we’re very different, but in philosophy we’re the same.
FC: So do you consider yourself to be a worship leader?
John Mark: I do, and I have a couple of things to say about that. The first is that I have done and still do what people consider to be a worship leader’s job. You stand on the stage and play sing-alongs before the guy that speaks gets up at whatever fellowship you attend or whatever community you’re involved in. I do that and I love doing that. I think on the broader scope, it’s like there are two words for worship that overlap in places but are different things. There’s sort of a biblical term ‘worship’ that music can be a part of but is actually a small part of, and then you have this sort of cultural phenomenon of worship which is the musical portion of a gathering. I am involved in and I love being part of the musical portion of the gathering, but also in my mind I think if you’re a janitor you should also be a worship leader in the way that you’re a janitor. If you’re a CEO you should be a worship leader in the way you lead your company, ya know? So for me, I consider myself a worship leader in both of those regards.
FC: Let’s talk a little about your song “How He Loves.” It was from an independent record first, and then you put it on The Medicine, right?
John Mark: Yeah, Integrity really connected to me through that song. I actually recorded and released The Medicine independently before I signed with Integrity though. So when I signed with them I told them, I want to put The Medicine out [through the label]. They asked me to put “How He Loves” (the version from the old album) on it and I said no. So then they asked if I might re-record it. I thought ok, it’s a good opportunity for people to connect with it because people know that song. So we recorded it in a way that I thought sounded a little more like the [new] album.
FC: So when you saw the song was being recorded by other artists and sort of taking on a life of its own, how did you react?
John Mark: I was excited, I thought it was great.
FC: So The Medicine has a black and white cover and there are certainly some elements of death, sin and darkness. Economy isn’t a direct opposite, but there seem to be lighter moments. Was there some transition going on in your life that this reflects, or is that just the shape of the songs?
John Mark: I think it’s more the shape of the songs. The concept behind The Medicine was death and resurrection. Those references come right out of the Bible, because resurrection only makes sense in the light of death. There’s still some of those references on the new album, but we’ve kind of moved on (not that I’ve moved on from those ideas but), to more about everyday life. I was thinking more about people when I was writing it, I mean, specific people in my life and those around me. I thought of it more as a here and now album, [whereas] The Medicine was more of a contemplation about death and resurrection.
FC: This next question may seem random, but there’s a method to it... Do you fear anything?
John Mark: (laughs) Do I fear anything? Yeah, I fear lot of stuff, but I try and overcome my fears. I mean, I know Biblically that I shouldn’t and I know the way I’m supposed to feel, but you’re human. You fear being unsuccessful, being irrelevant, being alone. You fear sometimes maybe you’ve poured your life into the wrong thing. Those aren’t things that haunt me on a daily basis though.
FC: You said the word ‘haunt.’ That’s one of the things that brought us to ask that question, because there is an element to your music that sounds kind of haunting. Pleasantly haunting, if that makes sense.
John Mark: (laughs) Yeah.
FC: So, tell us what is the main theme behind the “Economy” CD?
John Mark: If there’s a theme behind the album, it’s the economy of life and death, light and darkness, the economy of relationship and what it means to face many of these issues together as people.
FC: If there is one song that makes a statement about who you are, or what you’re about, which one would it be?
John Mark: That song would have to be “Seen a Darkness” the last track on the album. It’s also the song that inspired most of the rest of the album.
FC: Let’s finish out with a few lighter questions (laughs). What records are you currently listening to?
John Mark: I’ve been listening to The National (High Violet), Bon Iver (Bon Iver) as well as some Paul Simon, M83, and Peter Gabriel.
FC: Coffee or Mountain Dew?
John Mark: Definitely a coffee man. Espresso – cappuccinos, lattes, stuff like that. [I’m] not a big sugar guy.
FC: And what books are you reading?
John Mark: A couple of books by Francis Schaeffer and I just finished William Golding’s classic, Lord of the Flies. I know it’s kind of dark but there’s a great message in it. Plus, I missed out on reading a lot of the classics in school so I’m trying to catch up.
FC: That’s a noble reason, for sure. Well John Mark, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. We look forward to catching up with you again sometime soon.
FCS: Hello, Francesca, thank you for talking with us and sharing your thoughts on music, family and faith.
Francesca: Absolutely, it’s great to be talking to you!
FCS: Your music has really taken off since your debut. Congratulations on your success and Dove Award. What has that experience meant to you?
Francesca: It’s been quite a journey and one that has meant very much. I’ve learned a lot and feel so blessed to do what I do every day. I am so grateful.
FCS: You’re also married now and have a new baby. How wonderful! What can you tell us about them and their influence on your music and faith?
Francesca: My husband and son (Matthew Elijah) are my greatest joys in the world! You will definitely hear some references to them on this album. They mean everything to me.
FCS: I’m sure fans would like to know how you are balancing motherhood and family life with the demands of your profession. What’s your secret?
Francesca: No secret! Just a lot of prayer and a great support system. The three of us travel together, and that makes all the difference.
FCS: You have also just released a new CD, Hundred More Years. Tell us about the title and the prevailing theme of this album.
Hundred More Years
Francesca: Hundred More Years is a song about cherishing the sweet moments in life. Everyone’s moments are a little bit different, but it’s crucial to savor the good times. The album is definitely a snapshot of my life right now. There is definitely a theme of accepting God’s grace and reflecting on His goodness and blessings. I’m in a season where I feel so blessed, and a lot of these songs reflect that.
FCS: Your first single is “This Is the Stuff,” which is very cool; what is that song about?
Francesca: This song is fun! It talks about the everyday frustrations that we all face--traffic, losing our keys, speeding tickets, etc.--but it goes beyond that. It reminds us that it’s these little annoyances God uses to refine our character and make us more like Him. We pray to be more patient, and He gives us opportunities to learn patience.
This Is The Stuff video
FCS: Do you have a favorite song on the album that reflects what God is doing in your heart today?
Francesca: That’s tough. I love so many of them! I would say “Constant” is one of my favorites. I wrote it when I was still pregnant and touring and trying to finish the album and move all in the same month. Everything in my life felt stressful, and the song is such an honest cry of my heart, that no matter what’s happening around me, He is my constant.
FCS: Thank you again, Francesca. May God’s blessings be on you and your family as you continue your music ministry.
Francesca: Thank you so much! Blessings to you as well and thank you for all your support.
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