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Tag Archives: Matt Wertz

  • Brandon Heath on Being Thankful for Christmas

    Posted on October 31, 2013 by John van der Veen


    Brandon Heath has some hard and fast rules about Christmas.

    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.

    Brandon: Yeah.

    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.

    John: Yeah.

    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.”

    John: Yeah.

    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?

    Brandon: Mm-hmm.

    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.

    John: Right.

    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.


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Brandon Heath, Andrew Peterson, Matt Wertz, The Isaacs

  • Brandon Heath Announces Holiday Album, Christmas Is Here

    Posted on September 16, 2013 by Family Christian

    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.


    This post was posted in Music and was tagged with Featured, TobyMac, Brandon Heath, Andrew Peterson, Christmas, Chris August, Mandisa, Capital Kings, Matt Wertz, Colton Dixon, Jamie Grace, The Isaacs

  • A Chat With Jake Ousley

    Posted on February 4, 2013 by Family Christian

    Jake Ousley (photo by Eric Staples)

    Jake Ousley is a singer/songwriter from Nashville, Tennessee. And you are going to love him, if you don’t already. Sure, it’s his voice and songwriting that got you here. Because his songs pull at you like the feeling you get when you pull up to your house from being gone too long, or when you have a good night with great friends. That kind of sentiment in his songwriting is what got him here. But it’s also the talent and the time and the way he glides words up to music and makes them dance together.

    FCS: Can you give us a little background yourself?

    I was born in Jackson, Mississippi. I Lived there for the first 11 years of my life and then moved to Henderson, Kentucky when my dad’s department at International Paper got bough out by another company. I moved to Nashville, TN in 2003 to go to school at Belmont University, then spent 2008-2009 living right near Grand Rapids. So, Nashville feels like home now, but Grand Rapids is starting to become a close second as much time as I spend here.

    FCS: What’s it like living in Nashville?

    I love it. It’s a big city with a small town feel. You can get all the action you want on a Saturday night but still sit in a backyard in some neighborhood just 2 miles from downtown and feel like your miles from the city. I love that about it. Did I mention that it’s also a music town?

    FCS: You’ve been involved for quite a while with Young Life; how did that start with you?

    If I really think way back, I have to credit my sister Lindsay for introducing me to Young Life. Young Life had already been started up in Henderson, KY by the time my family moved there. My sister was the one who plugged in the local area as a Wyldlife leader. I was conveniently in middle school at the time, so, my early memories of Young Life were large gatherings of middle schoolers at this entertainment center place across the river from our hometown. A Hundred or so middle-schoolers terrorizing this place with video games and go –karts and everything else under the sun. Really fun.

    As I got older I became close with the area director at the time, Chris Dillbeck.  I grew up in the church, so I was familiar with what it meant to be a Christian, but Chris was the first person that I had ever encountered that seemed to really think about what it meant to connect what he believed and how he lived. It was an on-going conversation with him. Not only that, but he was more real than I had ever experienced anyone else to be. More raw. That helped me process the idea that faith and life are connected. I credit Young Life for that.

    From there, I had lots of involvement with Young Life. I spent several summers volunteering at different camps around the country doing what they call Work Crew, and Summer Staff.

    The most profound of all those experiences for me, though, was probably when I found Wilderness Ranch in Creede, Colorado. I spent one summer at this Young Life based backpacking ministry in 2007 and was hooked. I came back 3 summers after that serving as a Trail Guide. Trail guides were responsible for taking high school students on 6 day back packing trips. You can imagine the stories

    All of those summers during high school and college were so full, but my favorite of all was being at Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains in late may. There’s often still snow on the ground then…and its beautiful. Some of my favorites times have been with the community there at Wilderness.

    FCS: There is some great history with Young Life and the artists coming from the organization – is there anyone you look up to that’s walked this line before you?

    Oh man. Well… All of them? Ha. Ha. I mean… I was a Bebo Norman fan. I don’t know who wasn’t after Ten Thousand Days came out. I still listen to that record every now and then. And I’ve had minimal interaction with Ed Cash. I love his production, again…who doesn’t?

    But the first person I ever met at a young life event that kind of introduced me to the idea of what a special musician was, was Dave Barnes. Dave and I met at a weekend in Indiana and hit it off from the get go. He was the older, way cooler, version of me in my own mind. Ha. Maybe other 16 year olds were thinking the same thing, but we stayed in touch and became pretty good buddies when I moved to Nashville to go to Belmont in 2003. If you know Dave, you know that there’s not many people, that don’t like him. But he had a significant impact on me both personally and musically in those early days. We still hang out today. So that’s cool.

    FCS: I understand that you’ve spent time touring as a manager for another friend of FCS, Matt Wertz.  Tell us about that experience.

    Yeah! Those are funny days to look back on. I wasn’t cut out to be a tour manager. Matt really put with a lot to have someone out on the road as young and inexperienced as I was. Ha.

    I took a leave of absence from Belmont my second semester – that was the official term for it if you didn’t want to say you were “dropping out” – and went on the road with Wertz. Again, it was comical because I am an obvious, right brained, dreamer, creative type. So, to have a job where I was responsible for a lot of logistical, moving parts and a lot of major, day-to-day details was quite a stretch for my personality. Matt had a ton of grace with me. We luckily – thank the lord -  can laugh about it today.

    If I learned anything about an independent musicians career during that time it was how much it helps to show people that you are thankful. I remember very vividly the nights where Matt would wear out his voice from talking to people after shows. It put something in me deep to watch that.

    FCS: When did you decide that music was for you?

    I’m not positive I’ve decided yet. Ha! No… I kind of fell in love with the idea of the acoustic guitar as soon as I saw it. My dad had one tucked underneath his bed in our house in Kentucky. I think I tried to figure out to play it about 1,000,000,000 times before he realized I wasn’t going to stop and bought me an official lesson.

    As far as listening to music, it was probably early Chris Rice songs and some James Taylor stuff that really made me fall in love with the singer-songwriter thing. (I’ve told Chris that, now just need to meet James Taylor somehow…anybody?) There’s something really honest about just one person and their instrument. Ya know?

    FCS: So let’s talk a little about your music.  How do you describe your music?  Where do you find inspiration?

    That has become a challenge. Sometimes it depends on who you’re talking to. The more I’ve played though, the more I’ve been told that I sound like the guy from Rascall Flatts, and then occasionally James Taylor, and Hunter Hayes. I take all of those as massive compliments. Gary LeVox is probably one of the better singers I’ve ever heard. And Hunter Hayes is easily as talented. If I can sing half the licks those guys can in a few years, I’ll feel pretty good.

    The country thing is funny to me because it really just happened. All through college I was much more in to independent Singer-Songwriters like David Gray, David Mead, etc. Also, it’s apparent that I was into singers named David. Ha. But guys like that were definitely not country music. So, it’s funny to get compared to people that I wasn’t listening to in the beginning. I have warmed up to a lot to Country Music though in the last few years.

    This new record, Counting Down The Days is really a blend of Americana, pop, and country influences. There are some songs on this album that were intentionally written to a pop audience and then some more written to an Allison Kraus kind of vibe too.

    I find inspiration from everything. That sounds broad. I know. I just to mean to say that I’m a passionate person that loves living. That also sounds very general. Hang with me…ha… Most of my most heart-felt songs seem to center around relationship. Whether its one ending or beginning, or struggling to survive…a lot of my songs come from my own personal experience or experiences I’ve heard about first hand from friends.

    And then a lot of the time I’ll hear a song that will make me want to write a song. I wrote “When It Rains” with Josh Robinson after listening to “Even the Rain” by Gabe Dixon about a thousand times. I love the idea and the word pictures he creates in that song.

    FCS: You have a new album out, Counting Down the Days – tell us a little about it.

    Well…for one it was a ton of fun making it. Just Robinson and Matt Campbell – the guys who produced it – are really talented and did an incredible job finding the right production for these songs. The 9 songs were written over the course of about a year in 2011.

    I am more proud of this record than of anything I’ve done so far. I listen to it like its not my own sometimes. Ha ha. AND I feel really blessed to have been able to successfully fund the whole project through Kickstarter, a website that helps people fund creative projects. There’s no way I would have ever been able to record an album of this quality without the support of all the people that funded it through Kickstarter.

    FCS: You have quite the tour schedule right now – what’s been your favorite venue to play at recently?

    I do. It’s exciting. Well, I mentioned loving Grand Rapids. So, the Intersection isn’t bad. But a few others would be Common Grounds in Waco, Texas and then Natasha’s Bistro in Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve got some great friends in both places, and it always seems to be a good time if we go through those cities.

    FCS: Alright – one last question – energy drinks or Starbucks?  Given all your driving for your tours, I have to assume it’s one of them.

    I’m a massive coffee fan. I’ve had to develop some self-control in the coffee arena lately. I do a ton of driving so its too easy to pull off at every Starbucks I see. But I love straight, black coffee from Starbucks. No red-bulls, No monsters, No 5-hour energy. Just black coffee.

    Endorsements:

    “Jake has been a dear friend for a long long time, so when he told me he had started to write and sing i didn’t know if he was joking or not. But it’s no joke, my friends. His songs get stuck in my head, as much, if not more than some of my favorite artists out there. He has the unique gift of having a voice that perfectly suits his songs, both of which I LOVE.”

    - Dave Barnes

    “Jake Ousley sings with an earnestness and longing that draw me in every time. His songs, like Jake, draw from a deep well that is instantly endearing and relatable- you’re gonna love him!”

    – Matt Wertz


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Bebo Norman, Jake Ousley, Young Life, Dave Barnes, Matt Wertz, Chris Rice

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