“The only decent art I’ve ever created has been out of the overflow of my heart.”
Though it’s true that most of us tend to be our own worst critics, and that many of us tend to don a bit of false humility when complimented, these words from Steven Curtis Chapman couldn’t be more sincere, or—according to him—accurate.
“It’s a weird thing that I haven’t really figured out yet,” Steven explains, “but the times that I have felt the need, creatively and artistically, for a fresh wind to blow in my life, the music has really matched what was going on in my heart.”
There has been a lot going on in the heart of this accomplished and well-honored artist of late. Not content to rest on his laurels (which include 47 Dove Awards, four Grammy Awards, an American Music Award, two certified platinum and seven gold albums, nine million total albums sold and 41 number one radio hits), Chapman has found himself in a season of renewal at the very time he is being taught and reminded by pastors, authors and friends that the Creator of the universe is continually making all things new.
“I’m scratching my head over this as much as anybody. I have made more records than most artists ever do in their whole career, and I realize what a gift this is. But the truth is, at 41, I’ve never been more inspired, compelled, excited and passionate about making music as I have been in the last year. The challenge for me was this: If I’m going to write an album about the reality that God makes all things new, that He is the one who will be continually be rolling back the curtain on Himself, revealing more and more of Himself for all of eternity, then I need to do my job as an artist with diligence and with freshness, lyrically and musically.”
Steven says this process started when his voice went out on him about three years ago, bringing much of what he has filled his life and career with to a screeching halt.
“When I lost my voice for three months, I didn’t know if I would ever make another record or even sing again, and during that time I read some books that really influenced my thinking. A book called Rumors of Another World: What on Earth are We Missing? by Philip Yancey started me thinking about the ‘Big Story,’ where God is revealing Himself in our everyday world. That kind of got the wheels turning early on. Then a friend asked me if I had read John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life, and I grabbed it on my way to Seattle, read it on the plane, and before the trip was over, had written about eight songs after reading that book. I’ve been inspired by books before, but never had one open up a thicket in my soul like this one. All those songs didn’t end up on the new record, but its themes are certainly represented there [“Big Story,” “Much of You”].
“Piper’s point is that we are not the point, that the cross reveals God’s glory and we are the recipients of His grace, that it might make ‘much of Him,’ not to make ‘much of us.’ That notion so disoriented me at first, but then opened my understanding to a deeper level of God’s love and mercy in the world. And that made me start wondering when we as God’s people go from reaching up (in worship) to reaching out (in what James called ‘true religion’). It’s not a sense that I have to do this or that or God is going to be disappointed. It’s the freedom of understanding that, ‘I’m not the point Lord, and the point is to make much of You.’ ”
Chapman’s response to the challenges of his renewed mind led he and his wife Mary Beth to adopt first one, then another, little girl from China. This July they are adopting their third. Steven says that ‘reaching out’ in this way, more than any other in his life, has caused him to ‘reach in.’
“My pastor was teaching recently on the things that we do in response to the needs around us. James [the Apostle] encouraged believers to care for orphans and widows, and Jesus said as you’ve done these things to the least of these, you’ve done them for me. If we do that just because God said so, then that’s okay, but the fact is, obeying God in this way changes our lives as much or more as it affects anyone else’s.
“What’s overwhelming for me is walking through orphanages in China, and knowing that there are 34 million orphans, and… we just adopted three? But my pastor said, if we really believe that there is a day coming when God will make all things new, then what we do—the reason we adopt one child or sponsor a child in this case—isn’t to end world hunger and negligence. It’s to show the world a picture of the Gospel, to give the world a preview of what is to come. We do it in faith and in hope of the day that is coming.”
Newly inspired and armed with a satchel of new songs, Steven met with record company executives and long time producer Brown Bannister to discuss a strategy to bring the freshness in his soul and songs to the recording process.
“After a series of talks, we decided that perhaps a great new challenge for me would be to work with musicians and engineers I haven’t worked with before, and set the time limit of one month to make a new record, period. At the same time, I’m also a creature of comfort and I like hangin’ in the studio here [in Nashville] with my buddies that I have worked with for years, and getting out of that habit is scary and dangerous.”
The results, of course, need to be heard instead of contemplated in writing. Suffice it to say however, that Chapman’s work with a group of Los Angeles-based musicians—with resumes long enough to wallpaper a house—at the legendary Sunset Sound Studios, as well as engineer Trina Shoemaker (known for her work with Sheryl Crow and others) proves worthy of its moniker All Things New, and showcases an artist at the top of his form with energy and ideas to spare.
Those changes may explain the sonic differences on songs like “Only Getting Started,” “Please Only You,” Big Story,” and the title song. But Chapman himself takes chances with new approaches vocally, recalling at times, artists like John Mayer, Coldplay and Five for Fighting. And, according to Steven, new approaches to his own writing process.
“I ended up writing more on the piano this time around, which really brings out a different side of my music. It was part of what I found doing the love song record [All About Love], writing ‘How Do I Love Her’ on the piano, which was probably influenced more by Elton John musically than the artists who have typically influenced me before.”
Though most of the songs reflect the themes of renewal, Chapman says one special song has been waiting in the wings for just the right moment.
“‘I Believe in You’ is a song I wrote for my oldest daughter Emily when she was going from fifth grade into middle school, and I kind of set it aside for all these years. I’ve totally changed the verses, but the chorus has remained pretty much the same. It’s a song of affirmation, and there’s a line in it that says, ‘Aren’t you the little one that hid in my arms afraid of the thunder?/Aren’t these the little hands that held so tight to mine?/Didn’t we both agree you’d never grow up?/Now here you go…’ It’s like, ‘we had a deal!’
“It’s phenomenal what Emily has accomplished in her life and in the lives of many over the last few years. What’s happened in Nashville is amazing in and of itself. We have this thing called ‘Asian Invasion,’ where about 15 little Asian girls come over and play in our barn once a month, and every one of them can be traced to my daughter Emily praying for our first adopted daughter Shaohannah to come to our family. Every one of them is connected, seeing what we did and making their own decisions to do the same. What a legacy for an 18 year old!”
Part of that legacy is evinced in Shaohannah’s Hope, an organization the Chapmans founded to help Christian families who want to adopt a child. Steven says he is both encouraged and overwhelmed by the response to the work.
“When we started this, we hoped to engage the church and reduce the financial burden for Christian families that wanted to adopt. So we give grants at an average of about $4000 to families that qualify, and we’ve helped about a hundred families to date, and another thousand waiting in line, so I’m completely blown away what God has done already.
“Last year, Christian radio stations and Family Christian stores both kicked in to help us raise over $100,000 for the organization, and we hope to begin helping the thousands of orphans that will never be adopted, right in their home countries. Right now, we’ve got our hands full managing the grants, but we’re hoping the Church gets on board to match our funds with funds of their own for their own congregations.”
Chapman’s immediate future will take him back on the road. The “All Things New Tour,” scheduled to hit 75+ cities, will open October 21 in Albuquerque, NM* and finalize mid-April in Nashville, TN. Sixstepsrecords artist/worshiper Chris Tomlin and Beach Street Records' group Casting Crowns are slated to open the tour.
Source: EMI Christian Music Group