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Maher's second single, What A Friend, from his Echoes
cd is currently on Billboard's Contemporary Christian Music charts
recent morning our Editorial Director Doug Doppler and myself jumped
on a phone conversation with one of our favorite
songwriter/musicians Matt Maher and did a tag team interview with
him. The following is what transpired...
an evangelist, and music is a great tool for evangelism. You are
obviously very attuned to the idea that part of what you want to do
with a song is to draw a person in, even if it's the first Sunday
that they've been to church. Tell us what evangelism in music means
Music is a great
gift from God that opens the soul to new horizons. It presents
possibilities in the human heart for revelation to happen. Out of
all the art forms, music is the one that is the most accessible.
There is something about it... there's probably science behind it
about the physics of sound waves but music that is beautiful is not
just a subjective thing, but it is objectively beautiful as well.
Objectively beautiful music corresponds to what the sound waves actually
look like. When you hear a boy's choir singing in a cathedral and
everyone is in tune and the place is acoustically well designed, it
creates an overtone series that looks beautiful, and that is
Music tends to reveal things that are good, true, and beautiful. Then the
possibility arises to be able to engage with someone about an idea
that may or may not be related to what you're singing about. Music
becomes a way to illustrate a point using words and melodies in a
way that speaking alone can't do.
Personally, I wrestle with the idea of music being a tool of anything, in
the sense that I wonder about using it when it comes to evangelism,
which I think is one of the primary (if not the primary) mission of
the church. I believe evangelism is God's work, primarily, not the
church's. What I mean by that is that the Holy Spirit is the one
that ultimately makes connections with the human heart and does the
hard work of transformation, not us. When you realize that there is
less pressure for music to become a tool that produces changeable
One of the things I wonder about when it comes to music in church, is if
we are measuring the success of a song by how much it moves people.
Sometimes that is a valid criticism, but it is very subjective. Some
churches you go to, like a Lutheran church with a large Norwegian
congregation. . . they just don't raise their hands. Yet you talk
with people afterwards and they express how moving the song was and
they thank you for playing the song. It created an opportunity for
the Holy Spirit to do something powerful.
What I've tried to
do more and more in my songwriting, when it comes to congregational
music, it to write music that people can sing together and that
creates an environment where God can do transformative work.
I do still see what I do as carrying the banner of Jesus, without a
shadow of a doubt. I believe He is the hope of the world. But I'm
not doing it in a way of subversively trying to hypnotize people
into a place where they will say "yes" to Jesus, because I don't
think that's what needs to happen. I think music opens up people's
hearts, minds, and souls in a way that nothing else can. It points
them upwards. So, I struggle sometimes with the idea of music being
used as a tool.
One of the things we struggle with now is music just having value in our
culture, period. Technology and innovation seem to be almost
celebrated more than the music that is made. With streaming
technology, people are listening to music more than ever before, but
at the same time artists are struggling to make ends meet more than
ever before. It's a very interesting age.
My heart and my hope is that music will continue to be made that helps
the church sing. I believe that singing is a big part of what we are
supposed to do on Sunday mornings. I think that singing is different
than watching or listening. Those things are valid too, but I think
singing is a big part of what we're supposed to do, so I am very
conscious of trying to write songs that people can sing together.
describe congregational worship music as being "vertical" music, in
that it is intended to be sung upwards to God.
How do you describe
your songs that aren't written as "worship" songs, or as "vertical"
but are intended to be heard
and taken in
by the listener?
To use a
"Christian" term, you could say that there are congregational songs
and there are devotional songs. More and more I'm trying to just see
it as music. Even the whole conversation around "sacred" music
versus "secular" music... "Sacred" music is a very specific reference
to a very specific style of music that was written in the 16th
century using polyphony and chant. It's a historical reference, not
a genre reference. "Christian music", in a way, is a lyrical
reference, not a genre.
So, worship music is not a genre, it's a lyrical classification. Someone
first called it "Modern Worship Music" because it was a good
marketing slogan, and nobody was really thinking about the
implications of what that would mean. I tend to think of it all as
just music. I got a degree in Jazz Performance, but I wouldn't
consider myself a Jazz musician.
I love music, and I love great music, and I think that a fair amount of
what I write is congregational church music that people sing on
Sunday mornings. Occasionally I will write a song that is still
coming from my faith, but isn't specifically meant for Sunday
There are a bunch of songs that I wrote for this record that didn't get
recorded. I actually wanted to be more diverse on this album, but
when my dad died it brought everything into focus in a way that
helped me to focus what I was trying to say in this season with this
record. It's a collection of songs that tries to help people give
voice to dealing with suffering. That's the point of this record.
about a song on the new record that deals with suffering. Is it
meant to be a "vertical" song? Because everybody in the church has
gone through something. It resounds with everyone.
There's a song
called "Faithfulness" that says, "There are memories that
seize my heart, but they will never steal or tear a love apart."
There are things that happen in life, and bells that you can't
un-ring. Things happen, and you're forgiven, and grace covers and
transforms, but sometimes memories are still there and they can come
back to the forefront. Even with my dad passing away, the weirdest
things will set off a memory.
It's not the big things, it's the little things. It's in those moments
that there is a temptation to lose sight of the love of God and give
in to despair, fear, and doubt. But to be able to sing "Great Is
Your Faithfulness" over that is really powerful.
A lot of the songs on this record were inadvertently inspired by
different hymns. What's interesting is that many of those hymns were
written by people in seasons of doubt. Like "Great Is Thy
Faithfulness" was written by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm, who
was an insurance salesman. He wanted to be an evangelist, and he
tried it when he was 36, but he had terrible health and he ended up
retiring from ministry after one year. He wrote 1200 poems while
holding down a desk job as an insurance agent. In the midst of that
mundane existence he was writing these poems to Jesus, and one of
them was "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."
Judson VanDeVenter, who wrote " Surrender All," struggled
for a time between going into full-time evangelism or going into
art. It was when he surrendered his future to Christ that he wrote
Charlotte Elliott wrote "Just As I Am" after being up half
the night one night having an existential crisis about her faith.
Her spiritual mentor told her that she could write poetry as a way
to help her process her emotions, including her doubts. So, while
going through a season of crippling doubt where she was questioning
everything, she wrote this simple poem to help remember what Jesus
had done for her at the cross.
What's so cool about this record, for me, is that so many of the hymns
that these songs are inspired by are hymns that were born out of
suffering. In my own life, so much of this record was written just
before and then recorded during a time of suffering. In some ways, I
feel like God was having me write songs for the season that I was
about to go through.
There's another song on the record called "The Cross Forever Speaks"
that is about persecution, from the perspective of someone who is
dealing with the weight of the sense of feeling alienated and alone.
As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, "We are pressed, but not crushed.
Persecuted, not abandoned. Struck down, but not destroyed." It
describes the ability to have the faith to respond to the challenges
that we face.
In this day and age, especially for Christians, we ask ourselves how we
should respond to the challenges that we face. That's really my
heart behind the record. Even my single, "Your Love Defends Me",
wasn't written from a place of confidence or emotional certainty as
much as it was a place of meekness, feeling the weight of life, and
declaring the faithfulness of God in the midst of that.
You are one of the
forefront evangelists inside the framework of the Catholic Church
these days. Oftentimes it's easy to pigeonhole artists and think of
them as belonging to one sect of Christianity or another, and then
to vilify those that don't fit into our theological paradigms.
Darlene Zschech recently caught some flak from certain segments of
the Christian audience when she sang for the Pope.
What kinds of things would you like to say to people about how we
are all worshiping Jesus, and the unifying things that bind us
no matter what segment of Christianity
we come from?
Matt Maher's live performance of
"What A Friend" featuring
Jason Crabb -
I think a couple
of things need to happen. It's a good time to reflect on this, since
we are at the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. We can look
at the net positives and the net negatives of the events that happen
in our life. The Reformation is an event that happened in the life
of the church, and there are objectively bad things that came about
as a result of it. There were wars that were fought and people were
killed. Christians were killing Christians. 8 million people died in
Europe. That grieves the heart of God.
There were aspects to how the Catholic church responded to the treatment
of Protestants that were terrible. And vice versa. In the history of
the United States alone, there has been religious tension since its
inception. America was largely founded by Westminster Christians who
were fleeing the influence of the King on their way of life. They
didn't trust anybody who wore a crown, so they definitely wouldn't
trust someone like the Pope. Other terrible things have happened,
like families that were split apart because of denominational
The first thing that would be great for Christians to stop and think
about before this anniversary slips away would be: Does the fact
that the church is not unified grieve the heart of God at all?
There has been
tremendous missionary activity, and so many people have come to know
Jesus, and you can't argue that this isn't a good thing. But
overall, is the disunity of the Church a net positive? Should we
just accept it as something that doesn't need to change? Or, is part
of the reason that Jesus prayed that we would be "one", in John 17,
is because unity is a part of ushering in the Kingdom of God here on
earth? Jesus prayed that before He went to the cross, probably
because He knew that we wouldn't be unified. In Christ, there is a
relational reconciliation that is possible that isn't primarily
focused on doctrinal reconciliation.
Part of the issue that we've faced is that, for too long, humanism has
meant really smart people coming together to try to figure out how
to reconcile our differences. I think what the Holy Spirit has been
doing, especially for the past 10 years, has been to build
relationships with people that love and follow Jesus. Yes, we have
theological differences and we have different ways of doing things,
but the commonality of what we share in Christ is bigger than our
I think the notion of a reconciliation that comes about through
relationships is beautiful. We are reconciled to God through
relationship to Jesus, so why wouldn't we be reconciled to our
brother through relationship with our brother? A part of our
reconciliation with God through Christ has to extend to our
relationship with each other.
another aspect of this new record. In a way, there are two halves to
the record. The first half deals with how the cross reconciles us
with God, and the second half dealing with how the cross reconciles
us with each other.
I think that, for too long, evangelism has focused on the first and just
assumed the second. More than ever, it's the second that's under
attack. You can't attack what Jesus has done. You either believe it,
or you don't. But you can't theologically undermine the cross,
because it's already happened and it forever impacts human history.
That's why I wrote a song that says, "You may silence me, but the
cross forever speaks." It's an eternal event that stretches out and
has implications for all of human history. You can't change what God
has done. But you can ignore the responsibility of what God has done
means for what we should be doing with our fellow man.
The last thing I would say, is just to throw out a theological thought
for people: We follow Jesus and we want to care about the things
that God cares about. God Himself is unified in perfect relationship
in the Trinity, and God cares about relationships. Part of being in
a relationship with God is that you are not in a personal
relationship. It's a communal relationship, because God Himself is a
community of three Persons.
song, "Your Love Defends Me", has 2 versions on the record.
When I first heard the acoustic version, I heard the first 2 chords
and immediately thought, "Oh, this is one of those songs." But it's
interesting that there is an electric version and an acoustic
version. As I was listening to the recording, when I got to the
acoustic version I immediately thought that it has something very
special to it. What was your intent with having both versions on the
album? Was it to make it feel more accessible and playable for
worship leaders who are sometimes intimidated when trying to
reproduce the giant arrangements they hear on some of the modern
worship songs? Your acoustic version really struck me as a way that
one person with one guitar can still make worship sound huge.
For me, what
always makes a song most compelling, is a compelling performance. We
live in a day and age with Pop music where ninety percent of what
you are listening to, and that your attention is drawn towards, is
in the vocal. A live version with just piano and vocal, to me,
forces you to just listen to the voice and the lyric.
In my thoughts, that song was never going to be a radio single.
Originally the arrangement was super vibey and didn't get big until
the very end. It was a song that was much more reflective and inward
focused, and there were other songs on the record that I thought
were going to be the first single. But we ended up pulling out this
I did the vocal for the studio version and was really struggling with my
voice that day due to allergies and being in Nashville. I could
barely sing, so there's a frailty to the sound that's never gone
away, and I feel like that's just how it always needs to be sung
now. I'm very glad that it turned out that way. It was a great
"accident". It changed the way I looked at singing the song.
recorded the piano version, were you singing and playing at the same
time? That's a different experience to do that, isn't it? I know
you’re thinking about worship, but how do you take your mind off of
the fact that you're recording it when you're trying to create this
intimate worship moment in the studio?
I think it's one
of those Malcom Gladwell quips about 10,000 hours of
practice, even though I'm probably only about 5000 hours in, to be
honest. It's about learning to play and sing at the same time and
get to the point where the piano playing doesn't take a lot of my
direct attention. It's like active RAM in a computer versus
hardwired stuff. From playing so much piano, there are certain
styles of playing now that don't take up as much active thought, so
I can focus more on how I'm singing. I'm not that strong of an
instinctive singer. There are some singers for whom it is completely
effortless, and the scope and breadth of their voice, and how much
control they have over it is remarkable... but I'm not one of those
people. I do what I can with what I have.
about your partnership with
Martin Guitars now.
This guitar has
been super fun to play live. I wanted something that was a little
more like a D16 or a D18, so I worked with Scott Follweiler
at the Custom Shop, and they built me this guitar. It has Martin's
new pickup system in it.
about that. How does it sound
through the PA?
great! The enhanced system is really cool. It's basically 3 buttons:
volume, tone, and the enhance button. It took a little bit to figure
out, because in my older D18 all I had was an LR Baggs with a volume
knob, which literally was just plug-and-play. That's my favorite
Martin. It's in my studio right now and I don't travel a lot with it
currently. So, between this new black smokeburn colored D17 Martin
and that D18 Martin, those were the two guitars that I used on my
whole new record.
The cool thing about this new D17 is that it's a Mahogany body, so it's a
more affordable guitar, and it's light so it travels really well. I
love that they put the battery in the bottom end of the guitar
because it's so much easier to change out than having to reach your
hand into the soundhole. It's a really fun guitar at a great price
thing I want to say is that I love the Americana that is just woven
inside of your music. I've seen you perform live many times, and the
Americana is all in what you do. Although you don't sound like him,
I would say it's similar to John Mellencamp. Who are the guys in the
Americana camp that have influenced you through their music?
When I was growing
up it was definitely people like Bruce Springsteen and
John Mellencamp. Tom Petty as well, although his thing is
more desert rock and has a distinct L.A. vibe to it. In recent years
it feels like everybody that Dave Cobb produces is someone
that I love. Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, who I think is
finally starting to get some of the recognition that he deserves
because he is a fantastic lyricist and songwriter. Patty Griffin
was huge along the way, along with Emmylou Harris and Joni
Mitchell. I was really inspired by Joni's life. She put out
Blue when she was 36 years old, and that gave me a lot of hope!
I worked at a church for 10 years, you know? When I was in my 20's
and in Phoenix, all of my friends were loading up in vans and going
to L.A. and playing in bars, and I was doing Youth Retreats. I felt
like following Jesus meant that I wasn't going to get to really play
much anymore. I pinch myself now that I get to do what I get to do.
In some ways, it's like God is giving me back something that I laid
at His feet.
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"What A Friend"
Known worldwide as one of the premiere worship leaders and songwriters, Matt Maher offers an encouraging and hopeful collection of all new material. Echoes features the lead single "Your Love Defends Me" it's followup, "What A Friend," plus "The Cross Forever Speaks," "Clean Heart," "As Good As It Gets," and others. Deluxe edition features six additional tracks, including the two-part title track, non-album cuts, and
(Saints and Sinners)
Oscar Wilde's famous line "Every saint has a past, and every
sinner has a future," award-winning artist Maher offers a moving
exploration of inclusion, unity, and grace! Songs include "A
Future Not My Own," "Deliverer," "Glory Bound," "Land of My Father,"
"Everything Is Grace," "Sons and Daughters," "Firelight,"
"Instrument," "Abide with Me," "Because He Lives (Amen)," and
(All The People
Sure to elicit plenty of "Amens"
(and maybe some "Hallelujahs",
too!), here's the latest
offering from one of today's
leading praise & worship
songwriters. All The People
Said Amen blends expertly
captured live recordings and new
studio offerings, including
"Alive Again," "Burning in My
Soul," "Great Things," "Hold Us
Together," "Lord, I Need You,"
"Your Grace Is Enough,"
"Adoration," "Christ Is Risen,"
"On My Way," "Mighty Fortress,"
"Turn Around," "It Is Good,"
and the title track.
Again captures the
penetrating spirit and charisma Matt Maher's worship songs have
become known for in a live setting. This compelling, 12-track
journey he hopes will lead people, "back to their own hearts" and
"prompt listeners to stop and ask some tough questions about who
they are and where they are letting God maneuver in their hearts.
And in doing that, experience the heart of the passion, death and
(Love In Between)
Critically acclaimed Catholic singer/songwriter/worship leader Matt
Maher shares the depths of suffering, grace, redemption, and
hope---all wrapped in his trademark "blue collar gospel" sound!
Includes the radio single "Turn Around," "Rise Up," "Heaven Help
Me," "Write Your Love on My Heart," "New State of Mind," "My Only
Love," "Everything and Nothing," and "The Spirit and the
testament to God's overflowing blessings, its 14 songs speak
powerfully of what it means to be Christian in the third millennium.
Cool, playful, driving sound The title track is a cool, easy-paced
piece inviting God in his word and sacramental presence to overflow
in us. Bursting with joy, "Resurrection Day" jumps and hops.
A breathless, thrilling ride Matt really cuts loose on
"Everything You've Done." "Hear and Now" is a pop masterpiece
assuring us that God's kingdom is here "in our midst," not some pie
in the sky. With Overflow, Matt's visionary songwriting once
again leads listeners closer to the heart of God. Includes the hit
"As It Is In Heaven"
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