Here's a picture of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA, where I am currently a virtual guest in a class called "Song, Mission, and Culture." I'm not physically there right now, but I'm appearing in the class through an online discussion.
One year ago I was on tour in Pennsylvania, and I got to perform at the Seminary and conduct an audio interview with the professor for this class. His students listen to our interview, listen to my albums, and then ask me questions about faith, church, art, and showbiz. It's a great honor for me to be a panelist for a Graduate School class (especially since I only have a high school diploma!), and the students have been shooting off excellent questions all week. I thought it might be interesting for some of you blog readers to see what we're discussing in the class, so I've posted some of the discussion below, as part of this blog's "Ask the Independent Singer/Songwriter" series:
You describe yourself as making snapshots of moments in church. But I was wondering what kinds of moments inspire you the most. When is it that you feel most compelled to write? Some artists talk about how they feel inspired by their environment, so they go somewhere alone. Other artists find inspiration in being with people.
These are great questions! I'll boil them down to two:
WHAT inspires me to write:
This year is my 20th anniversary of being a songwriter. As I look back over all that time, I've found that the one thing that inspires me the most is ABSENCE. I love to write songs that fill a void, bridge a gap, or say something that I want to hear (because nobody else is saying it). I think it's the reason that I don't write "praise songs" or songs where God is the object. There's no void there...from Psalms to the Hymnal to Christian Rock, there are thousands of years worth of songs about God. SO, that's why I've been so interested in writing songs about the Church, or about Christian People, or about religious behavior. Those topics are hugely important in the life of faith, but songwriters rarely address them. That was the motivation for writing the Heartland Liturgy, too...I wasn't finding many liturgical resources that were singable, easy to play, and friendly for a rock band, so I tried to help fill that void.
WHEN am I inspired to write:
At the beginning of my career I would only compose music after being hit with some sort of surprise idea or inspiration. These days, it's much more of a craft...like a carpenter going into the shop to build a dresser. Once in a while I'll get hit with a song like a bolt of lightning (my new album has a song that came that way, called "Dialysis Carpool"), but usually I'm more deliberate about it. It took many years to learn certain tricks to crafting a song out of thin air. But I think a songwriter gets better with practice.
Also....I've found that I write music in phases. I'll be in a creative phase for 6 months or so, and I'll write 10 songs. Then I shut off the songwriting valve and pour all my time and energy into recording the songs in the studio. Then I shut off the studio valve, and put all my time and energy into business stuff: booking concerts, getting press coverage, writing blogs, networking. Right now in my life, I'm in the business phase, and I'm enjoying it. I don't really have any desire or plans to write new songs at this point. I imagine that by the Summer of 2009 or so, I'll be ready to come up with some new tunes.
Also, I was wondering how you would like your music to be used. Would you like to see it used for/in worship? How would you like people to view your music? I'm particularly interested in this topic, as I am doing my final project as a study from a theological perspective in the use of rock music. Is it meant for performance-type situations? Or would you like to see it used in worship?
When I first started writing/recording/performing I thought of myself only as a performing artist...somebody who wrote songs, with the expectation to only play them myself. Even now, I suppose, that's mostly how I operate.
BUT, I added a new dimension in 2006 when I wrote and released the Heartland Liturgy, because for the first time I had created a set of songs that didn't depend on ME to play them and perform them. I wrote them specifically for OTHER people to play, and I even created a songbook to help that happen. So, for that group of songs, I'm really hoping that congregations will use them in worship. I've found it to be greatly fulfilling to know that there are people out there singing my music every week at church, and they've never met me or been to my concerts, or heard my albums!
I'm trying to follow in the footsteps of the great contemporary Lutheran liturgists who have gone before me...people like John Ylvisaker, Marty Haugen, Ray Mackeever, Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan, Jay Beech, etc.
But I imagine that I'll always have a whole series of rock/pop/folk songs/albums that exist only for ME to play, and for an audience to listen to.
I would like to have my cake and eat it too.