1) Christmas music always sounds better on vinyl.
2) Parents should never lie to their children about Santa Claus.
3) Decorating should never,ever commence under any circumstance until the day after Thanksgiving.
Brandon has dreamed of creating a Christmas album for a long time, writing quite a few songs along the way in anticipation for a future holiday release. In the end, he wrote three originals that made the album, Christmas is Here. In the few months leading up to recording he enlisted some friends to make the process memorable. Sonja Isaacs, Ellie Holcomb, Andy Gullahorn and Matt Wertz to name a few. Ben Shive (Andrew Peterson, Matt Wertz) produced the album, which was recorded in mid-July.
I sat down with the Nashville native on a warm autumn day. The leaves were just starting to turn some color and the hint of "Frosty The Snowman" was a long way off.
John: Okay Brandon, we need to talk about your song "The Day After Thanksgiving." I’m sensing maybe there’s a little bit of angst in that song.
Brandon: There might be a little angst. I really just wanted to make this Christmas record fit me, and I’ve been wanting to make one for a long time.
John: Okay... We need to talk a little bit about that.
John: Who wrote the song?
Brandon: I wrote it with my friend Ross Copperman and Lee Thomas Miller.
Brandon: I have a very strict rule about Christmas music in that I don’t listen to any Christmas music or want to see decorations, or inflatables, or anything until the day after Thanksgiving. Consumerism has just taken over Christmas, and I think I really just want … fall is a great time of the year.
John: It is.
Brandon: Pumpkins and apple cider, and football games, and …
John: Candy corn?
Brandon: Candy corn, absolutely. All those things are great things that we should celebrate about fall. The seasons are an amazing time, so it’s unfortunate to me that the mall forgets about the fall, or maybe they’re celebrating the fall in the summertime. You just fast forward to Christmas every year, and by the time Christmas actually gets here you’re kind of tired of it.
Brandon: I wanted to really kind of punctuate that, like a Christmas gift, there is a time to open the gift and I think it starts the day after Thanksgiving.
John: Yeah. For you, the Christmas tradition … so post-Thanksgiving Christmas tradition, what would that be like in your family growing up? What are some of the fond memories that you have? Are you bringing any of those into who you are today?
Brandon: Yeah. One of the most fond memories I think of about our family Christmases was really, honestly, the music. Whenever we listened to music, it was usually on vinyl, and so I really wanted to … I think we tend to adopt, as children, we adopt the music that our parents listened to for Christmas.
Mine would have been Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin. Kind of the crooner-type of Christmas music with great arrangements, and so I wanted that to influence this record. I did “Silent Night,” a very close rendition to what Nat King Cole did, which is all choral. It’s just a choir in the background, a cappella, very free-flowing. There’s not really a meter to it. Then his version of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” which is actually called “The Christmas Song.”
Brandon: He was the first person to ever record that song, and I think he did it the right way, so we basically borrowed from old Nat King Cole. Every time I hear that song, that to me, that song is the official beginning of Christmas when I hear that song.
John: What do you think it is? You’re talking about this idea that a lot of people have in trying to go back to this childhood. One might say, "It was greater back then." What do you think that is? What draws us to that sense of thought, of ideal, of philosophy when it comes to Christmas? Why do we do that this time of year?
Brandon: I think Christmas is personified by a child. I think we think about The Child, the baby. There's something about maybe even gift giving that kind of comes from the Three Wise Men. I think we have made a tradition of giving gifts at that time of the year because of the Christmas story in the Bible. There is something about tradition that I think makes Christmas really special to people.
It’s a time when family comes together. It might be that the only time that you see your family is at Christmastime every year. It’s important to know where we come from and who we belong to, and I think the Christmas story certainly fits in all that. Jesus was born to remind us who we belong to. His life was to remind us who we are, and that we’re loved.
I think that’s why, after all these ages, it’s still important, even though people would argue and even old Brandon Heath would argue that consumerism has really kind of come in and invaded Christmas. I don’t think that you can completely extinguish what it’s all about, and that’s the birth of Christ.
John: How does someone in pursuit of Jesus during the Christmas Season, how do they continually have the heart that says, “This is what this time of the year is about”? How do you wrestle with that? On your record, you certainly have these great, very fun, sentimental Christmas songs that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the birth of Christ. You’re talking about Santa, “Mama don’t lie to me.” You are talking about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. There’s that, but then there is this explosive idea of God becoming Man and just entering into humanity. How do we, as a follower of Christ … how do we transition to this idea of "remembering that God with us" is what it’s really all about?
Brandon: Well, I think a lot of people think about Emmanuel, which means God with us. It helps us to feel not so alone, and it’s not necessarily as much an emotion as it is just the fact that God is with us. He is with us. I think that changes everything. We can live in confidence knowing that we’re not without purpose, and that we’re not alone. I think that that can really be a game-changer for people who have been looking for something to live for.
When the Creator extends His hand and says, “This is who you are and this is why I made you; so that I could delight in you, and you could delight in Me.” It was the Trinity’s, not necessarily last-ditch effort, to connect with Man. The Trinity certainly could have chosen to start over. They, God, created us and He can choose not to have us anymore, but He does choose us. I think we should certainly celebrate that. I really wanted this Christmas record, it’s called Christmas Is Here, I really wanted it to remind people of their memories from a long time ago.
I also wanted to bring in some new, fresh stories. There’s a story about the innkeeper that I took some liberties with. We don’t really know what happened with the innkeeper, but I wanted him to be remorseful. I wanted him to realize that, “Oh, I just turned away a pregnant woman; I could have helped her.” Then he finds out, “This was the Son of God that was born, I could have had a part in that. God gave me this opportunity, but I said, ‘No.’”
In contrast, you have Mary, who could have said no but said yes. Isn’t it a great thing that she said yes? That God chose someone like her, a 15-year-old girl, who in our world would be a very unlikely character to carry out the birth of Jesus, but she did and in an unlikely place like Bethlehem, that’s where He was born. Any of us who say that we’re not qualified should think maybe twice about who God uses to carry out His great works.
John: Do you think that God opens doors of opportunity, or windows of opportunity, towards us and many of us are blind to that?
John: You have had a lot of success in your life. You’ve had some great, very inspiring singles on the radio. You have toured very successfully. You seem to be a man who is walking into those opportunities that God has given you.
Brandon: That’s key right there, what you just said.
John: How does one discern God telling us, “Left, right, not this door, that door?” How do you pursue Jesus in your everyday life when it comes to stuff like that?
Brandon: It’s definitely been a fun ride for me. I have had some success, but I’ve also had some failures and I’m really thankful for those. In the moment, I’m not so thankful for those, but in hindsight I’m glad that I have failures because then I can celebrate my successes more.
I also am thankful for that because it reminds me that I’m not God. That I can’t govern what happens in my life but everything is by His Grace and His Power, and it’s His Plan. It kind of humbles you. How do you know which direction to walk? There’s really no way to tell that, but I think that … we were just talking about Mary and she just said yes.
I think you kind of know when those doors open, you just have a feeling. It may not be an angel appearing to you and saying, “This is what God’s Will is for you,” but the ultimate reality is that all of our calling is to spread the Gospel. Everybody’s calling is to spread the Gospel. Now how you do that is gonna be different for each of us. My gift is music and I’ve known that for a while, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way that I can spread the Gospel. It’s certainly the most fun way that I could think of, and I feel like I’ve got a gift at it.
It’s just applying the commandment to spread The Word, and applying my gift with that commandment, and it’s flourished. I guess in some ways I’m not surprised, but honestly I’m always surprised because somebody at the end of the day will say, “Your song did this for me.” I will never get used to that, that God’s used me in that way. I feel an immense amount of gratitude for that.
John: What’s on your bucket list?
Brandon: What’s on my bucket list? I would like to, and this is so typical, I’d love to summit a mountain 14,000 feet or above. I’d love to summit a mountain.
John: How far up have you climbed before?
Brandon: Seven thousand.
John: Which was?
Brandon: In British Columbia, Canada. There’s a mountain there called One Eye, it’s 7,000 feet. That was cool, but that’s going from sea level to seven.
John: Oh, sure.
Brandon: You think about in Colorado you’ve got 14,000-15,000 footers, but you start at 9,000.
Brandon: It was a long hike, but it’s an amazing experience. It’s about a 3-day trip, spending a couple of nights in the woods. You could take it slower if you want, but we packed really light so that we could do it pretty quickly.
John: Yeah, that’s cool.
John: Are you still riding the Harley?
Brandon: I still ride, yup.
John: Did you take it with you?
Brandon: It’s not with me on this trip. I was telling somebody today it is 80 degrees in Michigan; it would have been a perfect day to ride but, no, I didn’t bring it with me.
John: It’s all right.
Brandon: Yeah, next time.
John: Let's circle back to the new album. Christmas Is Here certainly encourages us to celebrate the memories, the traditions, the joy and the meaning leading up to December 25. There’s a reason you want us to hold out to celebrate. Isn't there?
Brandon: Christmas is like a good surprise, like a present. You should wait and open it when it’s time instead of opening it as soon as you get it, and then there’s nothing special about it anymore,” he says. “I think you should restrain yourself and say, ‘Okay, I’m not going to fully engage in this until it’s time.’ And Christmas is one of those things for me. I want people to savor the moment...just wait.
Now Martin is thankful he's alive;
The doctors said he might not survive.
That was seven years ago...
What a miracle.
And now there's this new baby girl
And with one breath she's changed our whole world.
Some say she looks like dad,
But she looks like grace to me.
Your grace to me.
You're the God of every story,
You see each tear that falls.
We may not understand but one thing is certain.
You are faithful, You are faithful.
It’s one thing to write compelling, heart-stirring, emotionally rich songs of worship, praise and honor to Christ. People have been doing it for centuries, forming the backbone of faith traditions the world over.
It’s another thing entirely to bare your soul, share your vulnerabilities and risk criticism and career success by challenging the mold and daring to say that God is not necessarily a God of happy endings.
Instead, He is the God of every story. This is what Laura Story is learning day by day.
On her new album, God of Every Story, Laura becomes the most vulnerable. In Great God Who Saves and Blessings we certainly heard the heart of who Laura is, but it was within the established relationship of artist and listener. With her new title, she attempts to bring those walls down, bridging the separation. God of Every Story is an album where we don't just see Laura's heart in some sort of abstract way - from a distance, but she asks us to join her in seeing what God is writing in Laura's life.
Mountains high. Valleys low. The ebb and flow of life. The daily grind. The spiritual high. Often in our own lives we get frustrated with the minutia of all that is around us. Be it the piling laundry, the undone devotions, the angry spouse, the undisciplined children... LIFE. Laura, in her tender way, gives us a glimpse into how a family deals with life. No pat answers. No this-problem-will-be-solved-in-a-30-minute-sitcom-on-TV type of thing. This is the real life. How do we deal with the here and now?
John: Laura, you started your musical career with a band called Silers Bald that was signed with Essential Records.
Laura: Actually, I left them six months before they landed the deal with Essential.
John: Oh, you did?
Laura: So, part of me was thinking … We did this process eating cheese food out of the back of a van and all of a sudden they get a record deal and I’m thinking, “Man, I really missed out.” But the truth of it was I feel like God let me leave right before all that happened just because I was supposed to finish school.
I had gone to school part time for probably six years and I needed to go back and do one full year on campus in order to finish it up. It’s just something I had been meaning to do and I probably would have never done it if it hadn’t of been for me leaving that band.
John: So you were part of this indie band out of the Carolinas and then you finished school and you started working at your church as a worship leader, is that correct?
Laura: Well, not really. I finished school and wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I had gotten reconnected with my high school sweetheart, Martin. I played bass guitar for Silers Bald and then I met Andrew Peterson through that and I went on the road with Andy for a couple of tours. I continued to play bass, I was in a bluegrass band, I was kind of doing a few different things. Then Martin and I got married, so I did about a year of college ministry with him. That’s when we got the call from Perimeter Church and that’s where I have been serving for eight years now.
John: You came out with your first record and it did incredibly well. “Mighty to Save” certainly was a song that you helped both catapult you on radio. Then you came out with Blessings and shocked the world again by having your song being played on mainstream radio. What has that been like since that has happened?
Laura: Well, it’s been a little bit crazy, John. It’s been a wild thing. The thing with recording “Mighty to Save,” was just that it was so much fun because there was this church in Australia that was writing these fantastic songs that a lot of churches in the U.S. had been playing, but not all of them. So it was nice to get to be one of the artists who helped get those songs here to the states and to the church here in the United States. That was huge in and of itself. Then the thing with “Blessings,” was just that God used me as a songwriter to share about truly one of the most personal things that I’ve walked through with my husband and the fact that as I was processing everything with Martin’s health.
What that’s looked like over the past few years is that I process all that through song form and all of a sudden it ends up on the radio. It was the most honoring thing, yet it left me… well, it’s a pretty vulnerable song. But what we found is the more honest we’ve been before God about our doubts and our questions--and admitting that sometimes faith is just an obedience thing, where you just trust God even when it doesn’t make sense--the more we are honest with other people about our feelings, the more we see God’s faithfulness in using those stories really to bless others. And that’s been a beautiful thing. It’s been such a beautiful thing to see how the trials that we’ve walked through (which we’re nowhere near the other side of), God has used through song-form to reach a lot of other people in the midst of their hard journey.
John: When you have a song like “Blessings,” you talk about the vulnerability of something. Has that opened up a door of conversation with people that perhaps you would have not been able to talk to five years ago about?
Laura: Oh, absolutely. I meet people at my concerts that don’t listen to Christian music. That never heard of me before, but someone at their workplace that was battling cancer would send them the YouTube link of a video that someone made with this song as a background. And all of a sudden, they end up at this event and they’re hearing this thing called the gospel. That there’s a God that is bigger than the here-and-now and that He has a plan for our lives that’s bigger than the pain we’re walking through in this life. The fact that we’ve been able to talk to people about that, that really weren’t interested in spiritual things at all, that’s just a pretty amazing thing.
John: Yes, for sure. When you set out to write a song, Laura, do you feel like you’re writing a song to yourself, or do you have people in mind? Do you have your family in mind, or your church in mind? Do you have the faces that you see while you’re out touring in mind? Who do you write your songs for?
Laura: That’s a great question. I’d say that it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes I’ll write songs just as a worship leader at my church. Like this past Easter, my Pastor was in a servant series and I knew exactly what kind of closing point it was going to be and I thought, “Man, I wish there was a song out that really could just allow people to soak in that truth that he’s going to land on right here.” So, I start looking through songs and kind of feel like God is saying, “No, no that’s a song you’re supposed to write.” And so, one of the new songs on my record is song called “You Gave Your Life For Me,” and it was written out of necessity. They needed a song in church that Sunday about that very truth, so a lot of times it is having the church in mind and it’s having other people in mind.
There’s another song on my new CD called “Forgiven,” written for that girl in the very back row who doesn’t feel worthy to be in church. She doesn’t feel worthy to ever experience the love of Jesus. It’s a song declaring the heart of forgiveness and the grace of God, and the more you get into that song, you realize that each of us is that girl on the back row. None of us are worthy of God’s grace. And not to get too deep into the different songs on the record, but all of them are written for other people, yet they’re all written for me as well in a way. A lot of times people have this misconception of songwriters, that we have mastered this truth and now we’re going to bless everyone with it.
That’s usually not the case--at least with me. It’s usually the truth of God that I’m struggling to believe myself. Those are the truths that God will sneak into these song formats and I myself sing them each night. Not as a truth that I’ve mastered, so much, that I want to share with others, but a truth that God is wanting to seep into the depths of who I am. The truth that God wants to be an anchor for my soul, and so I share it with other people, as one theologian said, “One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” That’s very much how I feel. I’m just another follower of Jesus trying to hang on to His truth in the midst of life’s trials. So yes, all the songs I’ve written, they’re for other people but they’re also always for me.
John: Then there’s “God of Every Story.” You do look at those individual faces to some extent, and at the same time, you keep yourself in mind recognizing that there is this greater story going on. How did you come to the point of saying, “Okay, God, you are involved in every story going on here?”
Laura: Well, that song is kind of a funny one how that came about. At the very beginning, before I had written any songs for this new CD, I came to Ed Cash, the producer, and said, “I want the whole CD to be called God of Every Story. And, I want to write a song called “God of Every Story,” and I want the whole CD to be about how every story finds their ultimate purpose within the context of God’s overall story. And if I’m trying to find purpose in my individual story, I’m just going to be frustrated because all of our lives are meant to be lived out like that bigger picture, that bigger story. So I came into it saying that, but then we never did it. We just wrote all these other songs and it ended up being a sweet CD.
When we were at the very end of it and had two songs left until we were done, all of a sudden, Ed said, “Yes, it does feel like we were supposed to write that song called ‘God of Every Story.’” Literally, we wrote it probably a week before we turned the CD in and it so captured the theme of the whole CD that we actually, at the very last minute, changed the name of the whole CD to God of Every Story. So, I guess that’s kind of what the CD is about. It is about all of our individual stories, whether it’s those really fun, joyful chapters or the really hard, grueling chapters. In every single story, in every life out there, our stories find their greater purpose in the context of a bigger story. It’s this beautiful story of redemption when God is in the process of redeeming all people in all things. I know that’s probably too big to even talk about. I hope I’m giving you something helpful.
John: It is and it is a huge story or a huge concept to behold, but I think as people are reading this blog, Laura, obviously everyone’s struggles in finding identity. And if they recognize that God is doing something in their life, hopefully they will be able to find themselves in Him.
Laura: Yes, and the song “Blessings” was such a good example.
Laura: That song was written by a wife struggling with her husband’s disability. It’s just as simple as that. Although I found people think it was some huge thing, it was nothing like that. It was just a life struggle with her husband’s disability, struggling with the unanswered prayer’s that I’ve prayed for the past 10 years. And being honest with people about that and I also suddenly just saw God through this beautiful thing, where he has used this song to help people mourn the loss of children.
John: What was the writing and recording process like?
Laura: Writing and recording this record, honestly, was a fantastic experience. I got to work with Ed Cash, who’s someone I have been friends with and done ministry with for the past 16 years. So it was kind of a natural thing that we would get to be working on a record about God being the God of every story because our families’ stories have been so intertwined just because of our relationships. And also, because he and I are both storytellers as well as worship leaders. So, it was just so easy to work with him and it was a great experience. There were a lot of wonderful co-writing experiences and yet some of those experiences on that album were just of writing some songs in my car by myself. Those real tender moments just alone with the Lord, it probably is the best experience making a record I’ve ever done in a long time.
John: How is this different than Blessings? What do you feel like God is teaching you at this point in your life and how does that relate to the songs or theme of this record?
Laura: The last record, Blessings… I like the record, but the song “Blessings” seemed a little out of place from the rest of the record. I tried to really figure out what it is about the song “Blessings” that seemed to stand out, not just in my heart, but seemingly in the hearts of so many other people. What I’ve been realizing is that I wrote the song “Blessings” from just such a vulnerable place. I was willing to tell a story that isn’t a finished story. It’s not a story where I understand every component of the story. It’s about God being faithful and blessing us in the midst of our open-ended stories.
It’s not a story with Martin and I and his perfect health; it doesn’t have a tidy bow on it. It’s still very much playing out right now. And writing “Blessings” from that place of authenticity and vulnerability was a new experience for me. But in this new record, I really sought to write from that same place and even writing some songs about the new stage of life I’m in, which is being a mom. There’s so much about being a mom that impacted my songwriting. You know, writing about a father’s love for his kids that I understand a lot better being a parent now.
John: Tell us the story behind the title track “God of Every Story.”
Laura: “God of Every Story” is a song written about this life lesson I’m learning of seeing God in the midst of every story. Not just in my story, but in so many stories I’ve been privileged to hear over the past couple of years since the release of “Blessings.” It seems like I was unaware of how many people really felt that same way of struggling and pressing on believing that God is faithful and God is good in the midst of hard circumstances. And after hearing all of these stories, I became more convinced than ever that God is in the midst of every story--both in the joyful and in the hard chapters--and not just that He’s in the midst of every story, but that He has purpose for every story.
A lot of times I feel like we get hung up in trying to find out the purpose for why things happen in our lives. As you look to the Scriptures, you see that God doesn’t necessarily promise us that our lives will make sense. He doesn’t promise that our stories will always have happy endings in and of themselves, but the thing He does promise is that our stories find their greater purpose in context of His story of redemption. It’s not so much that we’re supposed to figure out why this happened to us, but more, how might God use what’s happened to bring glory to Himself and to further His kingdom.
I play a good many roles in my life. Worship leader, songwriter, artist, mom, wife of a disabled husband. And often I find myself trying to play the extra role of God. I find myself trying to take on tasks I was never meant to do. Not necessarily trying to part of the sea of Atlanta traffic, but I find myself trying to manipulate situations that are out of my control. That’s not just blasphemous; it’s futile. I would be a terrible God. I’m barely a decent me. I hate to appear that I’m needy, but I am a needy person because God created me that way. I’m learning just to submit and honor His role as God in my life.
That’s the journey…the heart…the transparency that makes God Of Every Story more than just another album or great collection of songs. It’s more than eloquent words to an infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God.
Emmy Award-winning, five-time GRAMMY nominee Brandon Heath will release his first holiday offering, Christmas Is Here, Oct.15, 2013. Rich in musical diversity, Christmas Is Here takes listeners on a nostalgic journey through the most anticipated time of the year. “I want people to just hear a song and slip back into the past,” Heath says. “Good Christmas music is really about sparking people’s memories.”
Heath has dreamed of creating a Christmas album for a long time and invited some friends to join him in the studio to make the process memorable. Sonja Isaacs, Ellie Holcomb and Matt Wertz all contributed background vocals, and Ben Shive (Andrew Peterson, Matt Wertz) produced the album, which was recorded in mid-July.
The award-winning songwriter looked to some of his favorite Christmas albums for inspiration—recordings by Nat King Cole, Harry Connick, Jr., Patty Loveless and Kenny & Dolly—desiring to craft a timeless release fans would want to pull out year after year. Reflecting his influences, Christmas Is Here features three originals and seven classics, including traditional arrangements of “The Christmas Song,” “O Come All Ye Faithful/Angels, We Have Heard on High,” “Silent Night” and “The Bleak Midwinter,” among others. The well-known Christmas songs showcase a spectrum of sounds ranging from big band to a cappella to bluegrass.
Two of the three new cuts reveal Heath’s witty personality that has endeared the hit-making award winner to audiences. “The Day After Thanksgiving” pokes fun at the Christmas commercialism that sets in at the end of summer, leading most to completely overlook fall, one of Heath’s favorite times of year. “Momma Wouldn’t Lie to Me” is equally as lighthearted, with Heath putting his parents on the spot for the truth about Santa, mirroring a real-life conversation from his childhood. “Rest assured, no child-like beliefs will be harmed due to the listening of the song. No spoilers!” Heath proclaims.
In his trademark storyteller fashion, Heath highlights a lesser known character in the Christmas story on “Just A Girl”—the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away. “I took a little creative license to tell what happened,” he explains. Through the innkeeper’s eyes, Mary is seen as an ordinary girl, but Heath notes the irony of the scene. “There’s a story [about] when a non-believer asked a Catholic, ‘Why is Mary so crucial to the Christmas story?’ And the Catholic says, ‘She’s just a girl who said yes.’ I think that says a lot for us,” Heath offers. “God is often giving us opportunities we don’t realize the significance of, but we just need to say yes. God can do things though ordinary people. Mary was just a girl, but she was also a catalyst in a huge event in the rest of history.”
Fans can see Heath live on tobyMac’s “Hits Deep” Tour beginning November 7 and running through mid-December. The tour will hit 20 cities this fall and also features Mandisa, Jamie Grace, Colton Dixon, Chris August and Capital Kings. Heath and Mandisa will also reunite for select dates this fall on their popular “Brandisa” tour.
Sara Groves is embraced as an esteemed, talented singer-songwriter and consummate storyteller. On September 17, Sara will release The Collection, celebrating her career thus far and culling the best and brightest from her 10 studio albums. The Collection weaves together Sara’s catalog of career successes from her debut record, Past the Wishing to her latest project, the critically praised release of Invisible Empires. In addition to the 23 songs from her repertoire, the September two-disc release will also include four brand new songs. Beginning next week and leading into November, Sara will release new live performance videos from select songs off The Collection.
“I made a map of my life on my 40th birthday and remembered in broad strokes the first 20 years of my life and then the second,” says Sara. “I was amazed that there was rarely just one monolithic line, plummeting and rising, but that in the darker hours, there was almost always a counter-rise. You know what I’m talking about because when I go out and sing, you come and tell me about your plummeting and rising and these songs that mark each turn in the line. We’ve done our best to compile a group of songs to follow that line and 15 years of making music.”
In tune with the release of The Collection, Sara and friends Andrew Peterson and Bebo Norman will embark on the “In The Round Tour” this fall. The multi-city tour begins in September and runs through November, sharing stories from each artist’s latest releases.
Track Listing for The Collection:
1. Strangely Ready*
2. Maybe There’s a Loving God
3. The Word
4. You Are The Sun
5. Something Changed
6. Add To The Beauty
7. How Is It Between Us
10. Painting Pictures of Egypt
11. You Cannot Lose My Love
12. He’s Always Been Faithful
13. Blessed Be The Tie*
1. Lay It Down*
2. When The Saints
3. Eyes Wide Open
4. Come Thou Fount
5. Every Minute
6. Fireflies And Songs
7. Setting Up The Pins
9. Roll To The Middle
10. I Saw What I Saw
11. All Right Here
12. Eye On The Prize
13. Why It Matters
14. Kindness of Strangers*
Late summer Peterson will join Sara Groves on Bebo Norman’s final tour
After the enormous success of his debut Grand Ole Opry appearance, Andrew Peterson will once again return to the renowned stage at the Grand Ole Opry House on Friday, May 24th, 7:00 pm. Joining him that evening will be Vince Gill, Eric Paslay, Steve Wariner, and more, along with Peterson’s long-time bandmates Andy Gullahorn and Ben Shive. For tickets and more information please visit online at www.orpy.com.
“I love Nashville, and this grand institution is at the heart of the city, so I couldn’t be more honored to be invited back,” says Peterson. “Now if I can just manage to keep my cool around Steve Wariner, I might survive.”
A few weeks after Peterson’s Opry appearance, he will embark on a European tour that will include stops in Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom. Back in the United States in late summer, Peterson will join Sara Groves for Bebo Norman’s final tour of 2013, In The Round. Peterson and Norman have had a long friendship that started in 1998 when they both opened for Caedmon’s Call. Since then, they have toured together numerous times with Norman being the special guest on Peterson’s highly popular Behold The Lamb Of God Christmas Tour in 2008 and 2009.
“I can’t think of a better way to finish my touring career than performing in the round with the likes of Andrew Peterson and Sara Groves,” says Norman. “Even though I will be sharing the stage with them, in spirit I will simply be another member of the audience hanging on every song they sing.”
Rounding out 2013 for Peterson will be the 4rd Annual Hutchmoot, October 10-13, at Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, TN. This year’s event sold out in less than three minutes! In December, Peterson will launch his 14th annual Behold The Lamb Of God Christmas Tour and the fifteen dates are online at www.andrew-peterson.com.
Just as mountaintop experiences are a part of the Christian faith, so are valleys; moments of struggle and searching for truth. Bebo Norman’s new album Lights of Distant Citieswas forged through just such a time. What Bebo discovered through the process was this: sometimes it takes a dark time to see just how beautiful the light is...
Family Christian: So could you start by giving us some personal background?
Bebo Norman: I grew up in a town called Columbus, Georgia, about 90 miles south of Atlanta. Not a super-small town – probably a couple hundred-thousand people. Definitely off the beaten path, a little bit. I honestly grew up in a Christian home, in a strangely functional family. I say that with a grain of salt, because we definitely have our dysfunctions just like any family. But it was a pretty beautiful environment to grow up in, honestly. [I had] believing parents, but also parents who sort of gave us… well we grew up under their strict guidelines in a lot of ways. [However], they also allowed each of the four kids in our family to have their own sort of freedom in finding our way to faith, if that makes any sense. And so all four children did, in their own unique time through some labor and struggle. That’s were I grew up and what my back ground was.
FC: Where did the name “Bebo” come from?
Bebo: My younger sister; the youngest in the family. When I was probably 4 or 5 years old, she couldn’t say “big brother” and started saying “Bebo” instead. Which is super cute when you’re four, and not quite as cute when you’re about to be 40. Know what I mean? [laughs] So I have had to sort of adjust, but it is what it is.
FC: It is what it is.
Bebo: People ask me a lot if it’s a stage name that I made up. And I’m like “seriously?” If I was going to make up a stage name I can promise you it wouldn’t have been Bebo. It would have been something much cooler like “Sting” or something… Well, I suppose Bono is not exactly too cool, but he is a pretty cool guy.
FC: So at some particular point the persona out weighs any type of difficulty with the name.
Bebo: That’s what I like to tell myself anyway.
FC: So how did you get introduced to music and songwriting? Was that a part of your upbringing?
Bebo: It was. My dad played this thing called a Uke which is basically a four string guitar or an oversized ukulele. He [also] played guitar. And he didn’t play it extremely well. And honestly I haven’t seen him play it since I was a kid. He used to play these old folk songs, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez songs and really old folk traditional folk songs. And he would make up songs about our dogs and anything random that he could. That’s my first real memory of loving music – my dad playing those songs to me and my brother. We shared a room, and when we would go up to bed at night, he would come and play a song every now and then. And the truth is, he may have only done it a handful of times… I don’t really remember, but it was enough to make a significant impact. And I think the interesting thing was he was playing these old songs that were really written about kind of plain, ordinary life. And sort of finding these strangely profound things within the context of playing in a plain and ordinary life. And I think in a lot of ways that’s why I write the way that I write. And of course that has a lot to do with what influenced me once I started playing music and once I started writing music.
I still listened to a lot of singer/songwriters at that point. But it has a lot to do with the fact that that’s how faith is played out in my life... in finding the profound and the extraordinary in a plain and ordinary life. I think that is kind of how God has moved in my life. And so it tends to be why I write about the things that I write about. So I think my dad’s influence early on had a lot to do with that.
FC: So at some point did something happen in your heart or your head where you said “I want to switch gears and maybe make this a full-time gig”?
Bebo: Well, honestly, it was definitely an end-of-college/post-college sort of thing. I tell people all the time that I have a degree in biology – that is what I studied in college – and my plan was to go to medical school. Which is just insane in my mind to think about now. Mostly because that was almost 18 years ago now. The thing was, I started writing songs and playing the guitar when I was probably 16 or 17 years old. I started writing songs pretty quickly after that. Once I knew a few chords – and ironically I write most of my songs with the same few chords. It was an interesting process going through college and starting to really focus on songwriting more as my own sort of personal therapy sessions, more than anything else. There was no desire in my mind at that point to play my songs for people. I mean, I did, but that was not at all where it came from. I played them for friends and every now and then for small groups of people, but I never really performed for people – it was more just something that I did. And if somebody heard me singing they might ask me to play it for them or something. Right before I was graduating from college I just started feeling this intense sense of “Hey I need to at least see what would happen with this music.” A lot of that came from people in my life where they sort of forced me to ask that question, and they would say, “Hey, you need to at least see what would happen with music.” So, I tell people all the time I took a year off after college before I was going to go apply for medical school just to see what would happen. If I am honest about it, it was probably a little more intense for me than that. It was more of an intense “Yeah, I am thinking about taking a year off to see what happens, but this is really what I feel like what I am supposed to do.” In an intense calling sort of way. And oddly enough that year has turned into seventeen years.
You asked me if it was a hard decision or if there was a definite moment where I felt compelled to see what would happen with it. But I never felt like “hey this is going to be my life or my career.” I just thought that this was something that I needed to dive into and see what could happen – and still [all these] years into it, I feel kind of surprised a lot days that I am seventeen years into it. So, it’s been an interesting journey to say the least.
FC: So then you met the guys in Caedmon’s Call? Or somehow you were introduced to Watershed Records and did a deal there... How did you feel after that first record came out when you realized that you had national exposure?
Bebo: Well I was completely surprised by it. I was in the independent music world for years. So I really didn’t know what I was doing. Honestly I took out a loan when I graduated from college. My dad co-signed the loan for me to make an independent CD. And it was the beginning of the days of being able to make a CD digitally. We recorded it on these digital machines back in 1996. And that is when it released. So it was one of those things where I didn’t have any real expectations except, I am going to make this record and if I am making a record then maybe I should try to find places that I can go play, because I made a record before I played any real concerts. Then I started playing for Young Life camps and things like that back in the day. And that led from one thing to another…
[So] this independent music scene was sort of rising up at that point and I had heard of this band Caedmon’s Call through independent music circles. And they had heard of me. And oddly enough, I was traveling through my home town, (I wasn’t living there at the time, I was living up in North Carolina), to go play a show in Florida and Caedmon’s Call happened to be playing a show in my home town and a friend of mine was promoting their show. So I went over to see the show. It ended up that these guys knew of my music and I knew of their music and we sort of hit if off that night. They asked me that night if I would tour with them the next spring. They were releasing their first national record at that point.
So that was the beginning of this process of getting real national exposure. That’s when record labels started talking to me. And I ended up on Watershed/Essential Records with Caedmon’s Call and Jars of Clay. Andrew Peterson came shortly after. That record label is now Provident Records which is probably one of the largest record labels in the Christian music world. Definitely an interesting journey. That is how it all sort of unfolded early on.
FC: So was it in your time with Young Life that you learned how to play wiffle ball so well?
Bebo: [Laughs] Such an obviously leading question.
FC: Well I remember reading something about that a couple of years ago – didn’t you break a bone?
Bebo: Yeah, I did. That was it. I would love to be able to tell people that I broke my leg doing some extreme sport like sky diving or something, right?
FC: I was going to say, don’t you play wiffle ball with a plastic ball and a plastic bat?
Bebo: In my way of wiffle ball, it’s a high collision sport. That’s the way I see it. High impact. It was a random, random thing on a Memorial Day. I can’t even remember how many years ago it was now. In fact, it probably was six years ago, because I broke my leg right before we had my first son, who is five now. So anyway all that to say – yeah, I had to have surgery, three pins put in my leg all from a silly, little game of wiffle ball. I was running home and jumped up and landed funny. Just a complete freak accident.
FC: Did your team win?
Bebo: No! [laughs] I tied the game up when I landed on the home base. And then we went into the bottom of the last inning. The other team scored. Not even worth it… It was not even worth it.
FC: Great story, nonetheless. Maybe someday wiffle ball will be at the Olympics.
Bebo: That’s right. That’s right. And if it is, I won’t pretend to be a player, maybe I can be an honorary coach or something.
FC: So since your time at Watershed, you’ve moved labels and are now with BEC Recordings. You’ve been really active since signing with them and have a new record coming out called Lights Of Distant Cities. We came across this quote recently and wondered if you could kind of talk us through what you meant a little bit. “The last few years have been pretty intense - a long, slow progression, or digression, into a spiritual desert. I struggled to write anything hopeful. But I wanted to be true to the season I was in, so I simply wrote about the hopelessness I was experiencing.” Now often times, Bebo, throughout the history of Christendom, there are people who follow Jesus and they say “there is absolutely no darkness once you are with Jesus.” From your quote, it doesn’t sound like that’s necessarily the case. Bebo: Well, I certainly don’t fall into that camp. It wasn’t given to me as my spiritual gift. And I say that honestly. There was a time in my life where I really found great frustration with God in the sense that, in the fact that I felt like, that was sort of the thorn in my side, in my flesh, if you will. Which makes me question the whole [idea] that when you become a believer, there is no darkness. Just because Scripture doesn’t seem to back that up, at least the Scriptures that I have studied. So I struggled with the fact that I had this tendency towards that doubt. Tendency toward questioning. And this tendency toward this idea that I sort of spiral at times into a place where I look around the world and it seems – and this is where I was writing from on this record originally – looking around the world and seeing so much that is dark and difficult and confusing. So much that is broken about the world.
I just started asking this question “It just doesn’t look like love is winning in this world. So well, if love is not winning, then is God not winning? And if God is not winning, then who is God? And if I am wondering who God is, then, who am I within the context of who God is?” So much of my identity is wrapped up in what I believe and not just in just my Christian world view, but in how I have been transformed by who I believe God is.
So that’s where I started this record. And even coming out of my last record which is really a record that is a lot about longing for something and being honest in writing about being in that place of longing for something. And I think this record, in a strange way, ended up becoming about finding that something. Because where I started writing from has a lot to do with the quote that you just read, this place of really struggling with the idea that our faith has these two counterpoints to it. One side is what we know to be true, and the fact that we make choices and the “decision” part of our faith. The willing ourselves toward love and toward faith because we know that truth is truth. There is a decision part of that and a will part of that. The other end of the spectrum is the emotional part – the part that feels what we feel. The things that when the Holy Spirit sort of overwhelms us, and gives us a sense of what it means to really fall in love with God. With a real understanding of what God is doing in the world.
I think when we are young, our tendency is toward that emotional side, and it can tend to really sway and lean heavily on what it feels like to have a faith experience with God. Then we get older and we begin to realize that our emotions ebb and flow. They wane at times. Then they are full of hope at times. They are full of desperation at other times. We can start to really rely heavily on that decision. That “will” part of faith. I think I just found myself in a place, that slow digression that I mentioned, where I have been praying for so long to God. To find that first love again. To experience that feeling of falling in love again. That emotion of faith. That being overwhelmed with the Holy Spirit. I had been relying on for so long – it felt like years really – on the will part of my faith, on the decision part of my faith, to trust that truth is truth, regardless of what I feel. I just started praying real honestly to God as I looked around the world and saw all things that were wrong with it. Love was not winning. Just praying that God would really give me a sense in my heart and in my emotions again, that He really is who He says He is. And that He still really is in control of the world that just feels so out of control from time to time.
What ended up being profound to me while writing for this record is that I started writing in that place of desperation and kind of about half-way through the writing process. And by that I don’t mean that I had written half of the songs, and then wrote the next half of songs. I had written half of all the songs. All eleven. They were all, kind of, half-written. I was writing again from that honest place, wanting to convey those emotions. The desperation. About half way through that process, God sort of met me in a really profound way.
There were three days that I went and spent in solitude by myself. And God just showed up in a pretty moving way. For me. In an intense way. I just felt overwhelmed with a sense of what it means to fall in love again. To be moved by what God is doing in this world that feels so out of control at times.
So in a strange way, all the songs on this record sort of represent that transition. That transition from the season of desperation to the season of recovery and renewal. So the title, Lights in Distant Cities, that’s what that song and this record is about in a lot of ways. As I look back on the writing process, it’s that moment when you come around the bend and you see something in the distance that is beautiful. And mysterious. And moving. And that thing, sort of likening that to lights in distant cities, it’s what pulls you forward in life. It’s what draws you in that direction again.
And that is how I would describe what God did. How He pulled us into those places where He gives us those glimpses of who He is. A profound sense of who He is. That really draws us forward in life, and pulls us out of a season of darkness that we might have been in.
So that is really where it was written from, where the title comes from and really what I was hoping to convey. Or what turns out was conveyed on the record in the long run as a whole.
FC: Do you think that’s indicative of the Christian walk? That there are times in our lives – in a true, authentic walk – that we go through periods of wilderness or desperation?
Bebo: Absolutely. I don’t know how… well… it certainly has been in my life. Like I mentioned earlier, there was a time in my life where I really felt frustration with God. That He gave me this tendency to doubt, this tendency to sort of move into the wilderness places. I sort of came into this place of real gratitude for that. Because in a lot of ways I think it sort of keeps us as a church, at least from my perspective. I think most often in walks of faith that I have seen in my life, from people, whether they are authors or friends in my life, they have all gone through these seasons of real wilderness. A sort of dark night of the soul.
It kinda keeps us from becoming that church of Ephesus. The church that Revelation 2 talks about, the one that becomes the “loveless” church. They were the ones that had done so many profound things in their faith, but then became [the church] that lost it’s first love. I think when we go into those seasons of desperation, when everything else gets stripped away, we can’t become fat and warm and lazy. Or sort of lukewarm as a church. Because we feel desperate. And we feel lost. And we realize that we can’t pull ourselves out of it. It’s really about relying on a God Who’s bigger than the burdens of this world to pull us out of it.
So absolutely, I think that’s indicative of what it means to walk and live our faith. Do I absolutely understand it? Absolutely not. Do I wish in a lot of ways that it wasn’t that way? Absolutely, because it can be painful at times. But my goodness, it makes for a beautiful experience. And one of the real quotes that moved me in the writing process for this whole record was a quote from an old German mystic from the late 1300’s, Meister Eckhart was his name. A lot of times when I have fallen into that place where I say “God, why did you build us this way, where we have to go through these seasons of the desert? Why is the world the way it is with all this darkness built into it?” Meister Eckhart said simply “If the soul could have known God without the world, God would have never created the world.” So, in some way we are built so that our soul, to really truly know God, has to go through those seasons; has to go through a world that really is a bit broken and dark, in order to really know who God is.
That quote was a pretty massive turning point for me in the writing of this record. As simple as it is, it was pretty profound and foundational for me in a lot of ways.
The Broken - lyric video
FCS: We so appreciate your honesty. Bebo, what would you say to brother or sister who is struggling right now in the wilderness? Who seems either overwhelmed by sin, whether it be their own, or sin in the world, or just overall darkness. That they just don’t feel like their prayers are getting to God. Like they would feel like their prayers are just hitting the ceiling. How do you speak to somebody like that?
Bebo: The first thing that comes to mind and that would come out of my mouth is I’m with you. I mean, I have been there. I will be there again. I happen to be in a season right now where God has really kind of “shown up” for me. In a way that I was just describing to you before. But it came out of a long season. A really long season, honestly, of feeling like my prayers were going unanswered. Feeling like… you know there is a song on the record called “Collide” and it’s probably the most indicative song of what you are talking about. That talks about these kingdoms that we build. When I don’t feel love. When I don’t feel saved. When I feel emotion-less in my faith. When I am thriving and surviving only on will and decision. Knowing that truth is truth, regardless of what I feel. When I go through long, long seasons of that, which I have done several times in my life, my tendency is to start looking for that feeling elsewhere. So I start to build these kingdoms up. And I might be peoples’ tendency to be in a dark place right now, or overwhelmed with their own sin or the sin of the world or the brokenness of the world or their own brokenness. We start to build these kingdoms up that are our attempts to fill that emotional need in our life. And those kingdoms can really be beautiful things. Things like family. Like our children, or our spouses. Or community. Even my music, for me, has become a kingdom at times. Where I seek to find my value and my worth in that kingdom. And I seek to be filled in that emotional sense. Or what strangers think of me as a musician. Of filled or completed by what my wife thinks of me. Or how I am as a father with my children. Those can be beautiful things, but when they become the center, when they become what we are drawing our emotional value from, they are bound to crumble. And truthfully, every single kingdom that I have ever built in my life has crumbled in one way or another, because they are all temporal.
My wife is not meant to be the source of life for me. And I am not meant to be the source of life for her. My kids are not mean to be that for me. That’s too heavy for them to carry, and my wife to carry or for me to carry. Certainly our music or our career is not meant to be those things for us. They are meant to be beautiful things, but they not meant to be the source. So the song “Collide”, that is what the whole song talks about, is these kingdoms that we build. And we continue to do it over and over. The whole song is written from this desperate place and the very last line of the song says “I build these kingdoms. I continue to build them. I continue to watch them fall.” Then the last line of the song says “And then You say to me, “You’re mine.’” Here I am, this desperate guy, seeking to find you in all these other ways, and you still continue to manage to show up in some way, and remind me that I am still yours.
And that’s what I would say to someone who is in a desperate place. Hang on for that “bend” that comes when we go around the corner as we see lights in the distance. [Lights] that are mysterious and beautiful and intriguing and they pull us forward in life. Because that to me, is how God has worked profoundly in my life and in the course of writing this record.
FC: Are you a book reader?
Bebo: I am. I love to read. I am slow book reader. So I tend to read just a handful books a year. And a lot of times I read them several times, to try to soak them all in.
FC: What are you currently reading?
Bebo: I am reading a couple right now. I have gone back to sort of start a book again. I love Tim Keller. He is one of my favorite authors, or really pastors. He has a book called Reason for God. Which every now and then I just need to go back and be reminded of the details of what a real, healthy Christian worldview is. I am also reading a book by Bob Goff right now called Love Does. He is a friend of mine. So both of those I love. But my staple, that I go to a lot is an author named Annie Dillard. They are not novels in any sense, but she has a profound spiritual sense in how she writes and what she writes about. That’s what I go to a lot. I am reading a book from her right now call the Maytrees that I just started. So those are the ones that I am reading currently. I read a whole bunch all at the same time.
FC: One last question for you. When you go into a Starbucks, what drink do you order?
Bebo: A decaf triple-tall, Americano. That’s my drink. I haven’t done caffeine in ten years, but I love coffee. So I pay a little bit more to get good coffee, because bad decaf is horrible. So good decaf may seem like a misnomer to some people, but I am here to vouch for the fact that it’s true. So that’s my drink at Starbucks.
With strokes of his upbringing, faith, experiences and relationships, Andrew Peterson creates art. Like an intricate oil painting, the nuances, layers and textures combine to create something distinct and deep. But to Andrew, it’s just part of the process… down to the very DNA of the lyrics.
Family Christian: So tell us a little about Andrew Peterson. Where are you from, what’s your family look like?
Andrew Peterson: I’ve been married 17 years and have 3 kids who are 13, 12 and 9. I was born in Illinois (basically in a corn field), then when I was 7 we moved to what I lovingly call “redneck Florida.” So I went from having a sort of golden-boy-Midwestern childhood to [the] deep south, ya know? [With] all of the good and bad and wonderful things that come with a southern childhood. My dad is a pastor and he still preaches at the same town that I grew up in north Florida. I ended up randomly going to Bible college. Not for any noble reason, mainly because it was affordable and I couldn’t think of anything else to do (laughs). So I went to Bible college and fell in love with it almost immediately. I met my wife there, got a Bible degree, put out an indie record then moved to Nashville where I’ve been making records ever since.
FC: Which Bible college? Andrew: It was called Florida Christian College in Kissimmee/Orlando. Just a small, really conservative Bible college within my “non-denominational denomination.” (laughs)
FC: (Laughs) You may be the first person who has publicly made that into an official denomination…
Andrew: I coined it! Yes!
FC: Would you consider Florida to be southern living?
Andrew: Oh yes, at least the part of Florida that I lived in. Florida is a funny place. I maintain that it is the weirdest state in the United States – and I mean that in a good way. I didn’t like it when I was a kid, but now that I’m a writer and part of my life involves telling stories, I feel like I could not have grown up in a richer story-telling culture than Florida. It’s this kind of strange convergence of beach culture and retired people and snowbirds and Cuban-Puerto Rican culture. If you drive about 15 minutes inland from the beach or out of any town, you’re in this swampy, unique kind of country, [with] racism and southern hospitality and Bible belt stuff and it’s just a really fascinating place. I’ve gotten to [this place that] now that I’m older, I’ve started reading books by southern authors because I’m so fascinated by the cultures there. Everybody from Flannery O’Connor to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and people like that. And so I’m really grateful. I never want it to sound like I’m talking bad about my home state but it is bizarre and I’m just delighted by that.
FC: Do people in north Florida eat grits or biscuits and gravy?
Andrew: Oh yes, as often as possible. My little town is called Lake Butler and it has three generations of family sheriffs. There’s a railroad track and the white people lived on one side and the black people lived on the other. There was a poured house and a little drug store where farmers in overalls would talk in the heat of the day and my dad is a southern preacher which means that he paces a lot and occasionally little flecks of spittle. It was exactly what you would imagine a “deep south childhood” would look like. So yeah, I think that may be part of where my love for storytelling came from. All you have to do is sit on the porch for a few minutes and eavesdrop on my dad’s conversations and you hear the most colorful, beautiful language – good stories. It’s a farm culture and yeah, I couldn’t wait to escape it when I was a boy, but now that I’m a grown up I live in a metropolitan area and the older I get the more I’ve started calling my mom and dad and asking them how to grow tomatoes and how to keep the deer out of the pumpkin patch (that sort of thing), and so yeah, I feel like it’s a part of who I am.
Andrew: I did. Just 2 or 3 times, and each time it was in a really unadulterated fan context. I shook his hand and told him I loved him and passed him a demo. That kind of thing. It’s funny, I had just finished recording my independent record in college. I was 22.
FC: Was that The Walk?
Andrew: Yeah, and it’s terrible. When I go back and listen to it, I can hardly listen to it because it’s so bad in so many ways. But at the time, when you’re 22 you feel like you’re the king of the world and I thought “Man, I’m going to give this CD to Rich Mullins and he’s going to love it and we’re going to become friends!” But he died a year later so I never had a chance to live down how bad the demo was. I later became friends with Mitch McVicker who was friends with Rich’s touring partner back at the time and I was always really self-conscious that I had met them both at this geeky fan phase so I didn’t let on that I’d already met Mitch before. Years later when we started doing shows together I was like “man, do you know that we met before we started traveling together?” and he was like “oh yeah, I remember, it was at your college in Florida” and I was horrified! I said “Ahhh! No! You don’t by chance remember that I gave you a demo CD do you? And he said “yeah”, so I said, “you guys didn’t ever hear it did you? And he goes “yeah… we hated it.” (laughs) So I thought that was delightful. There’s a part of me that’s like maybe it’s a small mercy that I didn’t meet Rich because it would have been the worst thing to find out that he couldn’t stand me, ya know? (laughs) [This way] I can pretend that maybe we would have been friends.
FC: You’ve carried the storytelling trait from your dad, which Rich had too. Was that something unique in his music that drew you?
Andrew: Yes, definitely. I’ve kind of jokingly said that Rich’s music rescued me from Lynyrd Skynyrd. I was in a rock band the year after high school, touring around, but it never ever would have crossed my mind that I wanted to do Christian music because I grew up in this goofy paradigm that meant being in the ministry meant being a pastor, or a missionary. And I didn’t want to be either of those things so I just thought, well, I guess I don’t want to be in the ministry. So hearing Rich’s music around that time opened my eyes to how powerful a song can be. C.S. Lewis described stories this way, he said that stories could “sneak past peoples’ watchful dragons.” The idea is that a sermon will hit you head-on but art can flank you, surprise you and flip truth behind your lines when you least expect it. I think that’s what happened with Rich’s music and me. I wasn’t terribly interested in the Gospel. Ya know, I would have told you that I was a Christian but I was really struggling and really trying to find my way and then I heard this Rich Mullins song that captivated me with its poetry and the roughness that I heard in his voice. He was a smoker – I didn’t know it at the time – but I heard something broken in his voice. Emotionally and physically for that matter. So that brokenness was more beautiful to me than any of the slick stuff I had heard in Christian music. And it really drew me in. What I heard was loneliness and some sadness and a deep longing, and all of that resonated with me. I felt like he was singing the way my heart felt. It was because he was willing to be honest about his own struggle and the truth about Who Jesus really is. That woke-up something in me. It took all of those Bible stories that I had grown up with over the years and my love for The Lord of the Rings and adventure stories and all of those things converged in the songs of Rich Mullins and I found something that I’d never found before. So ever since then, every time I sit down to write a song, I’m trying to get close to the feet of those mountains. If I can write something like “The Color Green” by Rich Mullins or “Copperline” by James Taylor or “Graceland” by Paul Simon I think it’s good for a songwriter to keep listening to the masters. To ask yourself “well how in the world did they write songs that move me like this?” Every time you sit down you’re probably going to fail but you gotta at least try, ya know? So I’m always trying to get back to the way that I felt sitting on the side of a mountain in east Tennessee and listening to Rich Mullins music. So that’s what I’m shooting for, whether or not I ever attain it.
FC: So then you met Derek Webb… or he found you? How did that work?
Andrew: (laughs) That was back when the internet was relatively new and I was waiting tables at the Olive Garden here in Nashville. We had just moved here. Jamie and I were childless, poor and working really hard. I couldn’t get any bookings. One night I discovered this band, Caedmon’s Call, and I really liked their music. I think I discovered them because of their friendship with Rich Mullins. I think that’s how I ended up finding their website. I ended up posting something online about how their songwriting and music was really the first thing that had moved me like that since I’d heard Rich Mullins’ music. I included a link to my really lame website, and Derek followed the link and read my lyrics and he really liked them. He saw something in them and I ended up meeting them later at a concert and he remembered me and I said, can I open for you guys? And he said yes. That was basically the beginning of my music career. (laughs) I don’t know why he said yes, he’d never heard me play a song before. Never heard what I sounded like live. But for whatever reason, they happened to not have an opener like a week later so I got to drive out to west Tennessee and play a show with them. A month later I was on the tour bus.
FC: Wow and now you’re getting ready to release your 12th or 13th album?
Andrew: Well if you included all of the little side projects [I’ve done] it would be about that many, but it’s either the 8th or 9th full-length studio record, I can’t remember.
FC: Ok, before talk about the new album, let’s talk a second about this “Square Peg Alliance” group you created. What is it?
Andrew: Well, it’s funny, The Square Peg Alliance is not as active as it was maybe 3 or 4 years ago. Basically, I didn’t start it – it was just something that grew sort of organically at our little songwriting community here in Nashville. In reaction to how a lot of us had been on Christian record labels, some of us had had radio play and then as the industry started to change we all found ourselves not “pop-Christian” enough to get by in the Christian world and “too Christian-y” to ever have a chance to get by in the mainstream world. And so we didn’t know what to do other than lock arms with each other and just try to help each other survive and stick to the calling of the type of songs we were writing. We kinda jokingly named ourselves the Square Peg Alliance. Ya know, all we did was give a name to this thing that was already happening. The same thing is still happening, we just don’t officially gather under that name anymore.
FC: Did the Rabbit Room kind of morph out of that?
Andrew: The Rabbit Room didn’t morph out of it, but it came for the same love for community. Ya know, I went to England and saw the pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams and their buddies used to get together and read their stories. And around that time I read a book about the Pixar company and I started to recognize that really good art thrives in the confines of community. We had some of that happening with music already, but I was writing my books and I wanted to grow into a better writer – and I knew a lot of people who wanted to do that same thing. So The Rabbit Room was kind of an experiment in community. We thought, what happens if we get some authors and pastors and songwriters and artists all joined together with the hopes that we’ll learn to make excellent work? And invite people into that conversation and see what happens? So we didn’t really have a clear direction, I just bought the domain name and made the website and invited some friends to be a part of it, and that was about 5 years ago. It’s doing really well. It’s been a pleasant surprise at almost every turn.
FC: And so now you’ve written 3 books?
Andrew: I’m [currently] writing my 4th book.
FC: Obviously you’re an artist, but do you have a preference between writing music or books? Is one easier for you?
Andrew: Um, I think that the easier one is whichever one I’m not doing. (laughs) Yeah, it’s all hard. There’s a part of me that really loves the book making process. Part of that is because I can stay home, it doesn’t involve a lot of travel, [it’s] a slowing down. It’s work, but it isn’t frantic work. Being on the road, playing music, there’s a lot of travel and deadlines and craziness, whereas book writing is probably more diligent work. It just doesn’t take me away from my wife and kids, so I really love that. With that said, I’m supposed to be writing book 4 right now but it’s been like trying to push-start a semi truck. Like I’ve had a really hard time mustering the discipline to really dig into it, so ya know, it’s all really hard, man. (laughs) It’s like planting the garden, the only way to get good fruit is to sweat and bleed for it, so that’s where I am right now.
FC: But maybe that’s due to the fact that you have a new record coming out too…
Andrew: Well, that’s part of it. I have been pretty busy with the record thing. I feel a little bit creatively capped ya know, from writing the songs probably too quickly. So that’s part of it. If I’m really honest with myself I am also just trying to avoid it because it’s a lot of work. (laughs) When I was in Bible college I wanted to be a youth minister because I thought he was the one who did the least amount of work in the church. (laughs) I did it for a year and realized that the opposite is true. So I quit [youth ministry] thinking, well maybe I can get out of doing work if I play music. And that wasn’t really true either.
FC: You’ve touched on various themes in your previous records… What is the name of the new record, and is there an overarching theme?
Andrew: The name of the record is Light for the Lost Boy. And if there was a theme (I think the title kind of sums it up), [it’s that] a lot of the songs on this record are about growing up. There are a lot of aspects to what it means to grow up. There’s the exit from Eden, this aspect of childhood that we are all kind of exiled from as we sin and grow old which creates this longing for restoration. There’s this longing for Jesus to hurry up and come back, to let us enter this Kingdom where we’ll have undying bodies [without] the pain of age or wasting away. Ya know, the effects that occur. There’s a lot of longing wrapped up in [this record]. I’m just trying to figure it out myself too. I don’t know. I’m watching my kids teeter into adolescence and the conversations with them have gotten more difficult. It’s not like we’re having problems with them, [it’s just the] preparing them for the world they’re growing into. It’s been pretty sad for me. I mean, I’m excited because they’re amazing kids and I think they’re going to do great things for the Kingdom, but at the same time, I’m grieving a little because I know that part of the process, the discipline that we receive as children of the King is sometimes painful. They’re going to make mistakes. The older they’ve gotten the more I’ve remembered my own childhood, ya know? I remember the sweetness of it, but I also remembered some of the moments that have continued to cause me pain over the years. So I’m guessing that’s why so many of the songs deal with childhood and the longing for restoration. But honestly I don’t know. I’m trying to be better about writing the songs I write and letting the listener add his or her own DNA to the thing. Most of us have seen the movie Jurassic Park, but I don’t know if you remember the scene where they’re going through the ride and the little computer thing is animating how they recreated dinosaurs from the DNA they found in the mosquitoes. And it shows these cartoon DNA strands and they’re like, well, we couldn’t really complete the DNA strands from the dinosaur so we used some from a turtle (I think or maybe it was a lizard) to complete the DNA and we created these dinosaurs. And I think songwriting and art are like that. My songs are these strands of my own DNA but there are all of these holes in them, like the songs aren’t a complete story. So the listener then brings his own DNA to the song and it begins to mean something specific to him or her. I remember that happened with “Dancing in the Minefields” this song about my marriage. The first line is “I was 19 and you were 21 the year we got engaged…” And I’ve gotten so many emails from people who are like “your story is just like my story, she was 19 and I was 21 the year we got married” and those details aren’t right at all! (laughs) They got the numbers backwards and they got the engagement and the wedding different because these people have brought their own story to my song so much so that the details of my song becomes irrelevant. So I’m hoping that with this record that whatever I meant by it will only be the beginning of the story for what the songs do in the heart of the people who are hearing it.
FC: What music are you enjoying lately?
Andrew: I have been listening to a lot of the new – I’m trying to be careful not to say anything “bad” because I’m talking to Family Christian (laughs) – I’ve been listening to the new Bon Iver record a lot. As soon as I said that I remembered there’s a bad word in one of the songs. There’s a band called Fleet Foxes that my sons and I really like. It’s really creative, almost classical sounding folk music, “chamber folk” is what some people call it I think. And then there’s this new Ben Shive record, he’s the guy who produced my new album – he’s really great. There’s this guy Josh Garrels, he’s great. We’ve connected and I tried to talk him into the Christmas tour this year. His wife is going to have a baby right before the tour so he couldn’t do it, but I’m a huge fan of his. Josh makes me feel the way I felt when I listened to Rich Mullins, I think Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot) is like that too. There are very few people who have such great music that is so unabashedly about the gospel. I think Josh is one of those guys. Man, when I’m jogging and I hear his music, sometimes I “ugly cry.” (laughs) He’s so explicit about the God that he’s singing to and about. I’m deeply moved by that. So there’s a short list.
FC: What kind of dog is your pet, Moon Dog?
Andrew: (laughs) He is a Great Pyrenees. He’s a white, bushy, sheep-herding kind of dog. That’s Moon Dog. He’s white so he’s easy to see when he runs around at night. I also have to say, my father-in-law worked for NASA back around the time of the Apollo missions, he lived right there in Cocoa Beach where all of the astronauts were and sort of ‘lived among them.’ So [he] had a dog named Moon Doggie because he was working on the moon mission. And I always thought that was a great name, so when we got this dog I liked the idea of Moon Dog Jr.
FC: Well Andrew, thanks for talking with us today. We can’t wait to hear the new album.
Andrew: I can’t wait for you to hear it either. Thanks so much for doing this.
Andrew’s new record Light for the Lost Boy hit stores this week! Pick it up here and check out his previous works here.
To look into some of the artists that Andrew mentioned in the interview, follow these links:
We thought it would be fun to ask four questions to some of your favorite artists.
Question 4: What has God been teaching you lately?
David Zach (lead singer from Remedy Drive) - The biggest thing that I've been paying attention to lately is the idea of continually being born. I keep on making the mistake that a list of steps or a formula will be the way to renew my soul - but then I keep realizing that the only chance I have to be made new again is through a redemption that's already been set in motion. It's really easy for me to look to ritual or 'doing the right thing' rather then dependence upon the voice of a King that turned on stars in the sky just by speaking. The biggest thing God has been teaching me lately is that salvation is an exciting, dynamic and essential thing. Remembering that I'm blood bought, loved more than anything and a prince of a Kingdom behind the skies makes me want to run after this hope that I can't see - makes me want to let God reshape and repair this heart of mine and renew a right spirit within me.
Jekob Washington (from The Washington Projects) - Patience, & giving up control. I've always been one to hold on tightly to my desire to hear something a certain way, or see a vision develop the way I'd like it to. God has been teaching me that it's not about what I want, it's about what He wants from me.
Jason Gray - To be led by the Holy Spirit in a level I haven’t given myself to before. For instance, my mentor has helped me to see that when I’m headed into a conversation, I may be tempted to speculate about what I might say, or to prepare myself for whatever the other person might say so I’m ready for anything. I make these speculations based on past conversations. So I’m always projecting into the future based on my past, which in essence means I’m only ever talking to myself. But the Holy Spirit only speaks in real-time, and when I abandon all my speculating (which is really a form of damage control and trying to have an edge), his voice emerges. This is why Jesus says in Matt 10:19 - 20 to not worry about what to say when we stand before the authorities, because we will be given the words we need. To be tuned into the spirit this way—in real time—invites the voice of the Spirit into all of my interactions, my ministry from the stage, my songwriting, and every moment.
Andrew Peterson - Not to trust people at church camp who promise you free Snickers bars for every snipe you catch.
Phil Vischer (VeggieTales and What's In the Bible creator) - Just because it isn't easy doesn't mean it isn't valuable. We always look for great results to show us we're in God's will. But God's will is more about obedience than results. VeggieTales was a massive success - a success on a numerical scale I may never see again. But numbers can be a dangerous way to look for God's will. Or, as Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." It isn't about numbers. It's about obedience.
Jon Micah (from Kutless) - Trust Him completely. When things seem out of control I can always be reminded that HE is in control. There is no challenge too great for God, I must simply put my faith and trust in His strength and not my own.
KJ-52 -Be myself! Be exactly who God has created me to be and never be embarrassed or insecure about it...
Jason Atkins (from Harbinger Media) - Joy is a choice married to faith, supported by hope, and governed by love.
Barry Graul (from MercyMe) - God is always in control. There are however circumstances in life that I want to control, but know that I have to rely and wait on God. He is now teaching me patience.
Laura Story - He's teaching me that I'm not a big deal. I read the first chapter of John this morning, the part where John the baptist tells the pharisees that he not only is NOT the Christ, but he's not even worthy of untying Jesus' smelly sneaker (my translation). As someone who plays a lot of concerts these days, stands on a lot of stages with spotlights and has my name and face on posters, its easy to lose sight of the fact that I am not the main attraction here. I know its the simplest of prayers but one I must return to daily: "He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30).
Tobymac - To continue to trust in God and the promises He has for me.
Danny Riley (from Gold City) - I am learning that I should look at the trials in my life as opportunities to watch God work, knowing that He is making me the man He wants me to be. I'm learning to trust Him. I was involved in an accident one time, Bus vs. Ford Ranger. The 2 girls in the truck were drunk. The bus had little damage, but the truck... Wow. I was amazed that the girls were alive. They were both ejected from the vehicle and walked away practically injury free. Why? Because they were so drunk their reaction time was yesterday. When the accident occurred, they didn't resist it, they just went with it. When trials come, we shouldn't resist, we need to yield. God is our strength. He will fight our battles on one condition... Get out of the way and allow Him to take control.
We thought it would be fun to ask four questions to some of your favorite artists.
Questions 3: Have you ever gone cow-tipping or snipe-hunting? If not, would you be willing to go with some of the Family Christian folks?
David Zach (lead singer from Remedy Drive) - Neither. I would love to go cow-tipping or snipe-hunting with the Family Christian folks.
Jekob Washington (from The Washington Projects) - Wow. I've only eaten cows, I've never tipped them, & I'm not even sure I know what snipe-hunting is. But in both cases the answer is "Yes" I'd love to go with the Family Christian folk.
Jason Gray - I did go snipe hunting once as a kid with my uncle and cousins. However, I’d be happy to go again with the Family Christian folks :-) Not cow tipping, though. That’s just mean.
Andrew Peterson - This question is perpetuating a lie and I refuse to answer it. Both cow-tipping and snipe-hunting are fake. No matter how hard you try, you can't push a cow over, and if you walk in the woods for seven hours looking for snipes you'll probably get seven ticks and a spider bite, then your friends at church camp will ridicule you for the rest of the week. Or so I've heard.
Phil Vischer (VeggieTales and What's In the Bible creator) - No, neither of those. I once, however, led a late night bear hunt with Mike Nawrocki on the campus of our Bible college. Since all bears like puppets, we put a puppet inside a bag and dragged him around as bait as we traipsed through the woods. Sure enough, a large, furry creature rushed out of a marsh toward us with something in it's mouth. We figured it was a bear carrying a fish. Turns out it was someone's dog, carrying a stick. We named the dog "bear," declared his stick a "fish stick," and he joined us for the rest of the bear hunt. 25 years later I still have that puppet, and his last name is still "Bearbait."
Jon Micah (from Kutless) - I've done my fair share of Snipe hunting. I actually used to be a Snipe hunting guide!
KJ-52 -Yes... At our FCA retreat my senior year of high school we took a bunch of the cheerleaders snipe hunting in the swamp... lets just say they didnt ever catch one but they did scream loudly when we busted out the swamp and scared them..
Jason Atkins (from Harbinger Media) - Not yet. We have cows all around us at the farm and talk about it regularly. It would be fun and an honor to hunt snipes with the folks from Family Christian.
Barry Graul (from MercyMe) - Have tried the cow tipping, almost got stampeded. What is a snipe? I wanna see one.
I could be coaxed to ride in a safari jeep with night vision glasses and watch the Family Christian folks cow tip and snipe hunt, for, say, some double stuff Oreos? Oh, and I will be wearing running shoes in case I have to exit quickly, not looking back. You understand.
Laura Story -I have never gone cow tipping but I'm always up for an adventure. :)
Tobymac - Yes, I have been both cow tipping and snipe hunting. The cow tipping was unsuccessful because we couldn't find any cows. The snipe hunting trip was crazy. I was totally bamboozled by the whole process. Convinced that we would find a snipe. Of course, I came up empty handed.
Danny Riley (from Gold City) - I have, unfortunately, been snipe-hunting. I won't be falling for that one again. I would love to go cow-tipping though... Call me
We thought it would be fun to ask four questions to some of your favorite artists.
Questions 2: What is the best restaurant you have ever been to?
David Zach (lead singer from Remedy Drive) - Emilio's in downtown Chicago. It's a Spanish tappas place. The dishes are very small - almost like a whole meal of appetizers (tappas) but it's great for a date because you can try each thing together and then wait for the next one to come out. The caramelized fried bananas are the best at the end. Plantains actually.
Jekob Washington (from The Washington Projects) - Fleming's Steak House in San Diego.
Jason Gray - I have to name two, both in the Twin Cities: Chino Latino—a fun and trendy urban hotspot that blends foods from the hot zones: Indian, Mexican, Asian. I also love Punch Pizza—one of only a handful of officially certified Napoli pizza joints in North America. With super fresh ingredients, a wood burning oven that bakes your pizza in 90 seconds, a fun atmosphere, they make a distinctive pizza that pleases my kids as well as my foodie friends I take there.
Andrew Peterson - That one that served chocolate chip cookies.
Phil Vischer (VeggieTales and What's In the Bible creator) - I recently had the opportunity to take my 15 year-old daughter to Club 33, the private dinner club inside Disneyland. While it isn't necessarily the best restaurant I've ever eaten at, it is really, really good and the experience is very unique since you have to walk through Disneyland to New Orleans Square, find an unmarked door, ring a buzzer for admittance, then ride a small glass elevator up to the restaurant on the second floor. Way cool!
Jon Micah (from Kutless) - Without a doubt, Fogo de Chao.
KJ-52 -I can't name the "Best" but the Columbia restaurant in Ybor City (TAMPA) is one of my favorites because my dad did all the tile work on the outside of the building and it's very historic restaurant (over 100 years old) and reminds me of growing up in Ybor City.
Jason Atkins (from Harbinger Media) - Le 58 Tour Eiffel. (The food is likely not the best ever but not far from it. Regardless, how many times can you eat from an observation deck in the Parisian landmark - Eiffel Tower? Second Choice - Scalinatella in New York's Upper East Side - best food ever in my mouth.
Barry Graul (from MercyMe) - I don't remember the name but there's an Italian place in NYC that serves a white sauce pasta dish and I'm pretty sure the noodles have been bathed in butter. So yummy!
Laura Story - Easy. its a place in Banff, Canada called Nourish. we went there for our 5 year anniversary and ate there about 3 times in 5 days.
Tobymac - The Red Pony in Franklin TN. If you have never been, you will never understand. Amazing food.
Danny Riley (from Gold City) - I've been to a lot of great places, but oddly enough, the best is a restaurant called "Classic On Noble" in Anniston, AL. They have a fried green tomato salad (that was not a typo) that is incredible. Their shrimp and grits are life altering.
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