on His Chart-Topping:
'I Am Doing What God
Wants Me to Do'
Last year's Top New Christian
Artist reflects on his successful switch from secular to
Jim Aker, Billboard Magazine
Before embarking on a solo career in the Christian genre,
39-year-old singer-songwriter Zach Williams, from
Jonesboro, Arkansas, fronted a rock band, Zach Williams & The
Reformation, which he launched in 2007.
The unit had built a solid fan base that extended to Europe, but after
several tours and an admitted "reckless lifestyle," he returned
home to Arkansas, working as an associate pastor in a local
That's the short version of a longer story that encompasses the artist's
dramatic life change, finding God and turning to spiritual
Both of Williams' first two Christian
singles, Chain Breaker (in November 2016) and Old
Church Choir (this year), topped Billboard's Hot Christian
Songs and Christian Airplay charts and his debut full-length,
Chain Breaker, peaked at No. 4 on Top Christian Albums in
August. Forty weeks after its release, Old Church Choir
remains in the top 10.
And now, Fear Is A Liar, the third single from the cd, his broken
the top 15.
From that success, Zach is Billboard's Top New Christian Artist of
2017, as well as Top Male Christian Artist.
Williams' rock background is instilled in his music and, with its sound
that leans more organic than a lot of music in the Christian
genre, Chain Breaker also peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's
Americana/Folk Albums list.
Additionally, the singer-songwriter received a Grammy with Chain
Breaker winning "Best Contemporary Christian Music Album."
The artist stated on Twitter that evening that he was "shocked"
by his win.
"Blown away. Completely shocked. I'm a huge fan of everyone in the
category and honored to win, but without God none of this would
be possible. Thank you all for your love and support," tweeted
Zach had already picked up a Dove Award for Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song
of the Year and
New Artist of the Year.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, following more than a year of continual
touring, recording and visiting radio stations, Williams stopped
to take his family to Disney World. After returning to his home
in Thompson's Station, Tennessee (about 30 minutes south of
Nashville), with his wife Crystal and children, he took time to
chat with Billboard and look back on his first full year in the
Christian music world.
How does it resonate with you to hear that
you are Billboard's Top New and
Top Male Christian artist of 2017?
That's just unreal, honestly. To me,
it doesn't even seem how it could be possible. So, to hear my
name mentioned with people like Chris Tomlin, Hillsong,
Lauren Daigle, it's just crazy.
It seems like Christian radio embraced you
almost immediately, as you're also the No. 1 Christian Airplay
artist for 2017.
Your debut hit Chain Breaker was No. 1
for 15 weeks on Christian Airplay and the second, Old Church
Choir, No. 1 for 16 weeks. Programmers in the genre seem
pretty cautious when it comes to embracing new artists. Why do
you think you were welcomed right away?
You know, I have thought about that.
When we released my first single, Chain Breaker, I really
had no idea how radio would respond. The thing is, though, my
music is intentionally simplistic and my hope is always that,
it's also relatable, that it can connect with normal people. I
even thought that Chain Breaker may have been too simple
at first, and the fact that it got traction and went to No. 1
was extremely gratifying.
I don't know if you realize this but, in
talking about Christian radio, you're just the second artist
that has reached No. 1 on Christian Airplay with your first two
charted singles, following MercyMe in 2003
(not counting holiday fare).
I didn't know about that and it just
seems sort of surreal. I have visited a lot of radio stations in
the past year and everyone was gracious and welcoming, and the
fact that they supported me early on means the world to me.
I am not one that concentrates on watching the charts. You just work hard
and put out the best music that you can. So, when I hear that
the songs were successful, what makes me really happy is that a
lot of people may find God through my music.
You were working at a church in Arkansas
when you were discovered and eventually signed to Essential
the Provident Label Group.
Yes, and I was content. I was a pastor
at one of the satellite campus churches for the Central Baptist
church in Jonesboro, and just happy to sing worship on Sundays
and be part of the community. One Sunday, I just happened to be
at their flagship church and [songwriter and producer]
Jonathan Smith happened to be in church. He asked me to have
coffee with him; one thing led to another and we were writing
Chain Breaker was one of the
first songs we wrote together, and basically, when Jonathan
played it for the staff at Provident, they wanted to sign me
Working in a church, happily married and
content, that's a long stretch from being on the road constantly
with a hard rock band.
Yes, I was with the Reformation for seven
or eight years with a big enough following to tour Europe several
times and, to be honest, I led a pretty reckless lifestyle that
included alcohol and drugs... One day we're driving along, the bus
driver is scanning radio stations and all of a sudden I hear Big
Daddy Weave's Redeemed. I knew the song, but this time it
stopped me in my tracks and I clearly heard the Holy Spirit speak to
I got to the hotel that night, called my wife and told her that I was
You broke up the band right after that?
Yeah, and it wasn't pretty. It was my
band, we all had a lot of years invested, but I needed to change, so
I did what had to be done.
Zach William's "Survivor"
(Live From Harding Prison) -
Zach William's "Fear Is a Liar"
(Official Music Video) -
Chris Pratt Uses
Zach Williams Song, "Chain Breaker" in Video
Zach William's Official
"Old Church Choir" -
Zach William's Official Video for
the #1 CCM Song,
Zach Williams won
the "Best Contemporary Christian Music Album" award with his Chain
Breaker release. The artist stated on Twitter that night that he was
"shocked" by his win. "Blown away. Completely shocked. I'm a huge
fan of everyone in the category and honored to win, but without God
none of this would be possible. Thank you all for your love and
support," tweeted Williams..
So, from working with a secular rock band to
touring as a Christian artist,
where the shows, except for the really big tours, are in churches, I
was going to say that's quite a switch.
But, since you were already working in a church, was it a natural
transition for you?
Yes, but first, let me just say, I'll play
anywhere. I recently did a show at a House of Blues venue, and I
welcome that and kind of love it. I want to play in front of people
and meet them where they are. The fact that my songs might connect
with them, that they might hear God's word and that it might inspire
change in their own life, that's what it's all about and that's
always my hope when performing.
For our readers that aren't necessarily
familiar with Christian concerts,
do you pray during the shows?
Yes, it's natural, and that's what the
music is for. God's worked in my life and having it transcend to all
kinds of people, that's my wish. My only goal is that I am doing
what God wants me to do, and that it resonates with people.
There are points in the show when we're performing worship-style material
that lends itself to prayer, like the song Revival on my
album. It's more of a worship song.
Billboard's Top Christian Artist of the year
among all acts is Hillsong Worship,
a prayer and worship act, so it seems like that style of music is
It is and that's a great thing because
there's some really great worship acts like Chris Tomlin who
are phenomenal artists.
You co-wrote all 10 songs on your
Chain Breaker album.
Is co-writing how you prefer to write?
For sure, I love co-writing. It's a lot
easier to not get yourself stuck because you have people pushing you
and finishing ideas. I love bouncing concepts and thoughts off of
people and Nashville is full of talented writers.
Would you write or record with an artist
outside the Christian genre and if so, whom?
Yes, absolutely. And if I had a dream
artist living or gone that I could collaborate with, that's an easy
one: Gregg Allman. I've been a fan for years. His voice was
You've had a great year and topping it off,
your album has been nominated for a Grammy. How do you follow that
(Zach won the Grammy)
I try to not get caught up in awards and
accolades, so I don't think about it that way, although it's an
extreme honor to be nominated for a Grammy, and I'll be there.
But, looking forward, if God wants me to just come home and work in a
church, than that's what I'd do. But, for next year I'm just going
to continue to work hard, keep writing and hope that anyone that
hears my music or comes to a show will also see the message of
Christ in me. That's all I ask for.
~ from Billboard.com ~