My God : Stories Behind the Songs

This is hands down my favourite song on the record…and I didn’t write it. But that’s ok, cause great friend AJ Cheek did! He sent it to me years ago when we did a tour together. He was playing guitar for a friend on the NINEOFIVE tour we did with Parachute Band in 2012. I loved the song when I heard it, and was really into it. Stephanie (my sis) and I had planned to put it on a project, but we never released it.

When I was digging through my iTunes listening to old demos, I found this song. I was literally moved to tears that night in my room listening to it. I probably woke up my wife with my weeping, but it just hit something in me. I was feeling like a desert, like a canyon waiting for heaven’s rain to fall on me. It rang so true to my heart, and I just had to record it for this record. It fit so well musically, and thematically.

Having Amanda Cook sing on this track totally made the song. I had Amanda come lead worship with me back in 2013 when Martin Smith was at the church. It was actually kind of cool how it all worked out. Amanda just wanted to come for the chance to minister and sing with Martin, so connecting them was a joy! I had Amanda stay for an extra day to help me with some unfinished demos, and some stuff I was messing around with in the studio. She ended up singing on a demo of this song, and only needed one take to do it (she’s one of the best singers I’ve ever gotten to work with).

When we started working on this record and recorded this song – I dug up the old demo sessions to see if the vocals would work, and they totally did. Who knew that a fun demo session two years ago would lead to her singing on the first song Caves released! We were so honoured to have her on the record, and she really took the song to another level.

Stronger Than Death : Stories Behind the Songs

 When you’re in a season of feeling defeated, few things will encourage you more than reflecting upon what Jesus had to go through to defeat death for us. Its so funny how I look at my situations and think “woe is me!”, but compared to what Jesus went through for me, its nothing.

I was listening to some older songs I had recorded in the past during a night of feeling pretty down (I had many of those). This song came on (I had written it in 2011 with Aaron Gillespie), and I was quickly reminded of just how much Jesus loves me, that he would go to the cross for me. Not only to remove the penalty of sin – but the SHAME of sin. So many of us live lives that reflect the penalty of sin being lifted, but still stuck in the shame of sin that enemy tries to cripple us with.

I ended up re-writing the bridge to reflect that thought. When Jesus went to the cross, and rose again, he broke the chains of sin and SHAME. We can live confidently knowing that Jesus has paid for our failures, and that shame no longer has a hold on me.

A Reason To Hide : Stories Behind the Songs

I’ll forever remember this song as “the grocery store” song. When I write songs, I usually start with a melody, an idea with a few words, and then build off that. These ideas typically come while driving, cleaning, or even buying groceries. My phone is full of little ideas (often very quiet so I don’t look like a weirdo singing in my phone in public).

I wrote this song a few days after God began this process in me. I had recently stopped working at the church I had worked at for 5 years, and was in this very uncertain place in my life. I was thinking a lot about Elijah and when he hid in the Caves because he was scared for his life. Well, I hid because I was scared for my reputation. And now I didn’t have to hide anymore. I didn’t have to carry on anymore like I had it all together, or that my family was perfect – it wasn’t, and God was mending those pieces in a very tangible way.

When Elijah was hiding in the cave, he was waiting for God to show up, there was a massive wind that came, and the Lord wasn’t found in that. There was an earthquake that came, and God wasn’t in that either. Then came the fire, and sure enough, God wasn’t found in that either. Then came a gentle whisper that Elijah heard, and it was the Lord. What I love about this story, is that it shows us that in our darkest moments, our most desperate times, when God chooses to whisper to us, He does it to indicate his closeness in proximity. The Bible tells us that God draws near to the broken hearted, and I felt a closeness of God that I hadn’t ever felt my entire life.

When recording this song, it was such an honour to have my friend Bryanna Fretz sing on the record. She's the worship leader at the Young Adults ministry (Reckless Movement) that I pastor, and I felt like this was a perfect song for her to be a part of. She has the sweetest voice, and an even sweeter spirit about her.  Shoutout to Stevie Benz (who plays guitar with The Rocket Summer) for laying down some slide guitar on this song too!

Trust : Stories Behind the Songs

I’ll forever be thankful for my friend Gary Powell. Man, this guy lives out what it truly means to be a pastor in the truest sense. If he says he’ll follow up with you, he will! Gary was so present during this season, in a way I can probably never repay. In fact, we talked on the phone for over an hour once a week for quite a while, as he’d challenge me, and encourage me, all at the same time!

I remember telling him in one conversation, that I felt like I trusted God with this journey, with the outcomes – but yet I felt like I didn’t trust him with so many little things along the way. I felt like I trusted God to bring healing, but I didn’t trust God to take care of what joe-schmo thought of me. Or I’d trust God that he’d provide for our family, but not enough to be consistent in my giving. I summed it up by saying, “its like I trust God for the big things, but not the little things”.

I told him I was going to write a song about it, and that I did. My favourite lyric of the song is, “I’ve seen failure, I’ve seen favour, in this ever raging war.” It was one of those lyrics that just came out naturally, while brushing my teeth to be exact.

Musically the song came to life when we recorded it in the studio. The guy who mixed the record, Derek Hoffman, had a cool idea for some of the guitar parts, so we ended up cutting it a little bit different than planned. 

Take All Our Titles : Stories Behind The Songs

I had the pleasure of writing with song with Jared Anderson out of New Life Church in Colorado. He’s written a bunch of worship songs over the years that I’ve loved and found incredibly encouraging. I actually reached out to him on Facebook – and turns out him and I were going to cross paths in Nasvhille and the only time I had free, was the only time he had free!

I’m not one of those super professional musicians who do the Nashville thing, so cowriting is always a somewhat nervous experience for me. When I met Jared, we got to know each other a bit, and he asked a lot of questions about my journey. No guitars, no melodies, just brother to brother talking. We talked for almost an hour before we even picked up a guitar. This threw me off a bit! I was so antsy and ready to get to the music stuff because the studio we were writing in had the best vibe (and sweet gear). We were writing in the studio of All Sons and Daughters, with Stu G just across the hall. Talk about some vibe in the room! But that all didn’t matter to Jared, he knew that getting to know each other’s hearts, would ultimately help us tap into what God wanted to say.

I remember telling him, that a year into my journey, I was just so “done” with everything ministry had brought. I was so done with the titles, with the status, with the next big thing, with the campaigns, the spin, and trying to accomplish earthly successes. I was just ready to be emptied, and filled again with the presence of Jesus.

When we began demoing this song, Jake Nicolle (who played drums on half the record), was goofing around, and we started jamming at the end of the song. In fact, you can hear at the beginning of the song the original iPhone recording we made that night. That later became what I call “the hoedown ending”. I felt like it was so appropriate to keep because when we reach a place of being emptied, and allowing the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on us, we can’t help but dance in celebration of the newness that comes!

The ending has this sort of southern Americana vibe to it, and so I couldn’t think of anyone else better to sing guest vocals on it but my friend Aaron Gillespie. He’s been a close friend through what was a difficult season for me, and we’ve learned so much together over the last 5 years or so. At the end of the song, we basically just turned on the mic, and let him throw down whatever. We kept one of the takes in its entirety. No edits, nothing.

 

Obsession : Stories Behind The Songs

Obsession

Perhaps the person who has inspired me the most in my musical life would be Martin Smith of Delirious. If you don’t know Delirious, I feel bad for you, because they changed the course of modern worship, and Christian music like nobody else. When I was in the 8th grade, I was at Cornerstone Festival in Illinois, and my Dad took me to see Delirious on main stage. I’ll never forget looking up to my Dad, as Martin Smith lead 50,000+ in worship – and saying “I’m going to do that someday”. It wasn’t out of arrogance (I was like 12), but more out of sensing a calling God had on my life. Fast forward to being 23 yrs old, I ended up getting to tour with Martin Smith, and play in his backing back 5 or 6 times. Pretty rad how God works!

Obsession was written by Martin back in 1993….yes, over 20 years ago! Besides this being such an incredible song – the lyrics of the second verse felt like they were written for me in this season. It put into words what I had been trying to put into words for weeks.

“I’m so filthy with my sin,

I’ve carried pride like a disease.

You know I’m stubborn God, but I’m longing to be close.

You burn me deeper than I know.

I feel lonely without hope.

I feel desperate without vision.

You wrap around me like a winter fog

You come and free me like a bird”

YES!!! Amen a million times. It was an honest outpouring of my heart, and an earnest prayer I had prayed. Truthfully, a prayer I wish more in ministry had the courage, or humility to pray. It’s a dangerous, and vulnerable one, but the promise of God’s freedom is there for all who would step out and pray it!

Also, fun fact, my sister Steph KILLS it vocally with backing vocals on this song that she recorded from California where she lives now. Shout out to JMAC for engineering the session.

The Rescued : Stories Behind The Songs

Boy, this song sat in the demo period for a LONG LONG time. It was written by a friend of mine, Sam Cantelon, and I heard it when he handed me a worship project his ministry had released. Sam is a good dude, and a GREAT writer, and I had always wanted to put this song on a record. In fact, my sister Stephanie and I had record a previous version of it that was going to go on a NINEOFIVE record, but we never released the record – and I wasn’t super keen on the vibe of the track.

Funny side note, we worked with a super rad producer out in California on this record, and I was like; “I want to make a worship record that sounds dancy, and like Selena Gomez, meets Demi Lovato, meets (insert top40 pop artist). I don’t even care if theres ANY real instruments.” Well- that’s what we made. And it sounded like Hillsong Young&Free….before Hillsong Young&Free. And I didn’t like it at all. I got what I wanted – and didn’t dig it. Funny how you can get what you wanted, but then not want what you got huh?

Anyways, Matt and I decided to re work the song a bit, give it a bit of a rock and roll vibe, and see how it came out. We were super stoked about how it sounded, and the whole vibe of it – so we ran with it. We then got our buddy Daniel Richter who’s in a pop band called Elevenpastone to come sing a guest spot on it. We always talked about doing some music together, but never had until this point – and it was a perfect collab to do.

I love the whole theme of the song, about being THE RESCUED ones. For me, the rescuing nature of Christ just felt like something I could identify with during this season. It was something I could sing passionately, and honestly.