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Matt Maher: Sharing the Blue Collar Gospel

By Chris Carpenter Program Director

CBN.comIn the span of just 12 months, six-time Dove Award nominee Matt Maher has become a husband, father, and today will release his third album, The Love in BetweenNeedless to say, Matt is a very busy man these days.

The Love in Between, is a diverse 12 song collection infused with many musical textures including rock, country, folk, and the praise and worship he has become known for.  Combining his strengths as a songwriter and worship leader, Matt’s latest recording takes listeners on a journey of suffering, grace, redemption, and hope. Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Matt to discuss the creative process of writing praise and worship music, how falling in love influenced the new record, and the concept of Blue Collar Gospel. 

I have been listening to your new record, The Love In Between, and let me just say it is awesomeI loved your second album, and your first; but this is just like blasting off to a new level!  What have you been hearing from other folks?

It’s funny, I try to maintain relationships with people in the industry just because I'm signed to one record label, and after the record was done, I actually went by and visited another label. A friend of mine I know is an A&R (artists and repertoire) person with another label, and he listens. He said, “Every once in a while in the career of an artist you make your first record, and then you make your second record,” he goes, “And the third record is always the telltale sign.  He said, “Either something changes, and you reach a whole different level. And you did.”  It’s funny because, I didn't even really perceive it when I was writing the songs so much. The only thing I did, I could tell in my heart was, I know it was obvious, because I was falling in love and pursuing my wife the whole time that I was writing some of these songs.  In the process of writing the songs for this record, it happened during all that. In my life there was this sense of wow, God’s doing a lot of new things, and I think definitely it reflected in my songwriting.

I hear a lot of different influences in this album. I hear rock. I hear country. I hear blues. There is some praise and worship in there as well. Was that by design or is it just the way it worked out?

To me in my life when it comes to the creative process, I just try to create and then I sort of look back and say okay, how did you do this, God? I spent 11 years in local church ministry. Being effective as a worship leader in church ministry means to be as forgettable as possible.  Ministry doesn't work if it's personality driven. Paul says, “We don't proclaim ourselves.” What we proclaim is not ourselves, but at the same time, what I've realized is that God is going to use the perspective that He's given me on my life. The way that I look at marriage or the way that I look at myself, and it’s not so much that it’s the way that I see things, but it's realizing that God's given me this gift to try to see life the way that He sees it. And so whether it's writing corporate songs for Sundays that talk about the things that His Word talks about, or whether it's talking about life, and love, and relationships in a way that's a little bit more real, and people can relate to. So I think that the sound on this record, I call it “blue collar Gospel.”

What exactly is blue collar Gospel?

I think two things that are distinctly American in music are rock and roll and Gospel music. I've been thinking about this a lot. Rock music developed because there was a strong moral fiber to American society. So it had something to kind of bang up against.  And that's kind of what made rock music and gave it sort of an edge. Even in the early days when it's like, “We’re going to have fun till the dad takes the T-Bird away.” But now, living in a post-Christian society, what's it going to bounce up against? So now, it’s like rock music, has it turned into Muzak? Is it just background noise now? Is it really saying anything revolutionary? So for me, I say, “Well, if you put the Gospel to that, that would be something that's truly revolutionary.” Other Christian bands have done this but for me, what I wanted to do is take the music that I grew up listening to, and then take certain sounds that are more “Gospel-y” sounding and sort of mash the two together.

This record was very much in my heart. I think it’s a record made for the American church, to help out the church in America. We're at a very critical turning point, not just in the nation’s history, but in the Church. So I wanted to write and create songs for people outside the walls of the Church. Two sounds that are in the DNA of American culture are Gospel music, and rock 'n roll. And so when people hear that, there's an immediate sense of familiarity of, “Man, this sounds like stuff I listened to when I was growing up.”

Earlier, you mentioned the progression of making records.  It is usually the third album when you arrive or depart as an artist -- make or break time.  Do you feel that you have arrived on The Love In Between?

Oh definitely. I would say that. It's different for me, though; because I made three records independently.  So I had a lot in my pocket, and you know, it's funny, I had a vision for how I wanted Empty and Beautiful to sound, but it never got there. When I made Alive Again, I ended up working with a different producer, and it was at the end of making that record that he and I were able to look each other in the eye and say, “You know what, hopefully we get to make another record together, because we feel like the next one would be really, really, good.” That's really what happened with this one. I write all the time, so for me I'm writing constantly with other artists for other projects, and along the way I'll get ideas for songs. To me more and more songs, a good song, it starts with just a simple idea. For example, I wrote a song called, “Here for You.” It's on Matt Redman's new album. It started with a prayer. I was praying on a plane, and just imagining what would 15,000 college students want to say, and God is here for you? There are a lot of different reasons we could come together. It could be to hear great music to hear great speakers or be entertained for three days or be distracted, or whatever. But just to say what we're here for you. So in my writing, I'll get ideas like that, and I just sort of kind of try to put them away.

Why did you call this album, The Love in Between?  Why not “Rise Up” the first track on the album or the first single “Turn Around”?

It's a reference to the song “Heaven and Earth” which is sort of in the middle of the record.  Basically, I think that most people when they think of the idea of the afterlife for eternity, even if it was to talk to somebody who isn't a Christian, they kind of see it as a far off place. It's at the end of your life. And the reality is, with all of the Cross, but the actual incarnation, what God did through that was He invaded all the space between Heaven and Earth. So now between the sinner and the saint, it's a very, very fine line. The reality is that what God has accomplished is far greater than we actually give Him credit for.  The whole idea was exploring just the magnitude of what Jesus did, but through the lens of repentance, marriage, living life, and looking at that love that's in between now us and Heaven, but between each other in different ways.

I realize that every song you write is close to you but if you don’t mind me asking, do you have a favorite song on The Love in Between?

Right now it's “Turn Around,” because it's what we're playing live. It takes me back to the moment when I wrote that song, and made a demo of it.  It's funny, you can take the worship language out of a song, but you can't take it out of a worshiper. When I play and sing that song, I feel like I'm still just as much leading worship as when I'm singing, “Your Grace is Enough.” It's just different. Well I just think, repentance happened when I gave my heart to Christ, but it's something that's continually happening in my life. I'm realizing that there are areas in my life that I still just relinquish control to God, and there are places where I take control back. So that speaks to me a lot.

After people listen to The Love in Between, as an artist, what do you want them to get out of the experience?

Jesus.  I think we live in a very precarious time where our lives are being fragmented systematically, and there's massive amounts of separation happening. We are more interconnected than we've ever been, yet we’re so distant from each other. The world is capable of so much good, yet, there's still so much selfishness. I think for me, my heart with this record was just to try to, two things. The last track on the record kind of says it all. It's a song called, “The Spirit and the Bride.” It's based on that final part of the Scripture where it says, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.” Where the Spirit and the bride say come, and it's basically my hope is that not only do people say, “God come. Come into my life. Come into my marriage. Come back into help keep this whole thing. Glue it back together.” But that they also realize that God is saying to them, “Come.”

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