BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
Timeless Truths Found in The Red Letters Project
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
The words of Jesus Christ are more powerful than anything in this world. So, important that lives have been touched, changed, and delivered through the mighty words of God’s son. His words are found prominently in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Red Letters … a life-changing message of the truth.
Consisting of a sprawling three-disc, 40 song collection, The Red Letters Project is a word for word re-creation of the Book of Matthew (New Living Translation) set to a driving rock beat.
The project is the vision of Mario Canido, a professional session musician whose foremost desire is to see Scripture find its way into the hands of those who might never otherwise hear the Gospel message. Seemingly unorthodox, his hope is for the Red Letters Project to sear Biblical truths into the hearts of a lost generation.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Mario to discuss the importance of sharing Biblical truths through music, why he chose the Book of Matthew, and the challenges he faced in recording such an ambitious project.
Let me first say this is a very interesting project. I spent some time on the web site recently and found it to be fascinating. What was the inspiration for doing this?
I think to bring it into another medium, another art form. We have the pictures. We have the paintings. Gospel music has been around as long as there’s been the Gospel, I believe. Because music’s been around forever. I want to do the Psalms and Proverbs first. A lot of people have done music to Psalms back from Bach and so. But I want to make it modern. I want to make it to where people who wouldn’t normally pick up a Bible could have access to Scripture. I’m a secular artist, so to speak, but I’ve been a Christian all my life, so I haven’t ever been a Christian artist so to speak, but I am a Christian that is an artist. People ask me about that all the time, and I’m out there with the lost sheep sometimes. People are looking and searching, and this medium is just that common barrier to bring people together.
Why the book of Matthew to start with?
It was just the first one. It was just the first book. And it read a little easier. And it seemed to capture everything we needed. Every book is a little different, but it’s telling the same story. So I think what we’re trying to do now since we’re finished with this is move on to the next book and maybe do a country version of it or a praise and worship version of the next one, and maybe a hip hop R&B version of the next one.
Let’s push this out a step further. Are there thoughts to do the entire New Testament, or it’s just stick with the red letter books?
What we did when we initially did the lyric sheets, we just did the red letters. When Tyndale, that’s the version we use, the Bible version, the New Living Translation, when they really started getting involved, we all decided to put the whole book of Matthew. So when you read to the lyrics, you’re reading the whole story. You can put the CDs, open the book of Matthew, and you’re off, word for word.
Did you find in the recording process that the Word came alive to you even more so than before you entered the project, because you were so immersed in it?
Yes, there are just countless stories of those songs, of writing sessions, of no writing ever got one. We just sat there and talked about scripture. And these are some guys that had never read scripture ever. We had never had these conversations before. We were just writing. And some sessions just went so smooth, that there have been songs there that I had in my head. I went and picked up the guitar and it literally wrote itself. A lot of magical things happened during that process.
In your opinion, is there a right way or a wrong way to listen to the Red Letters Project? In other words, is it better to listen to it from beginning or end or pick it up and bounce around different songs?
I’d ask people to listen to it in portions, because it is three CDs, five or six songs at a time. It’s not like taking in your favorite band, because it does get to you. It does wear on you. And the lyrics start really meaning something different. The reason we did it word for word I wanted to really put the real truth out there. And so in listening to it, I always say, I wouldn’t say you have to take the time to meditate on it. I would rather have you put it in your iPod and walk down the street listening to it.
Is this is something you can pop into your iPod or into your CD player in your car?
Absolutely. When we found out it was going to be 40 songs, I wanted to put together this thing on our website to get 40 people to listen to it 40 days and 40 nights and interact with each other on how the song affects you. Play it in the morning, go about your day, play it in the evening. Go on the Internet, you can talk to these 40 other people about how it was processed in your day. Within 40 days, you’d have gone through the whole book of Matthew.
Is there any one track or song that of all these 40 that is your favorite, or has the greatest meaning to you? If so, what would that song be?
Hands down, the best song for me on it is “O Jerusalem.” It’s a very basic song. I think it’s two minutes and 40 seconds long. It’s so basic, but the story of Jerusalem and it’s the sentiment, and it kind of captured everything I think that Jesus Christ wants from all of us. And I also have a connection to it, because it was probably the only song that came into my head. I walked to the guitar and it just flowed.
As word trickled out that you were working on this, were there skeptics who said, “Oh, you better be careful. You’re working with the Bible here. You can’t mess that up.” Did you feel a sense of pressure to make sure you got it right?
I did at first, and I also got “You are not a well-known Christian artist. Your background doesn’t really support this or what have you. And a friend of mine who actually was from another secular band suggested I call former dcTalk member Michael Tait and ask for his opinion about it. I called Mike. He just said you can’t get wrapped up in that. You really need to believe in your calling if this is what you feel like you need to do. So go beyond it. You’ve been called to do the work. So, do the work.
I want to get your thoughts on a quote from Shelby in Waco, Texas, who has listened to the Red Letters Project. She says, “And now I’m getting the words of Jesus stuck in my head. I find myself singing it in the shower and thinking of it during the day.” Are you familiar with this quote?
No. There’s just so much power in it. Yes, to have it stuck in your head, because look what else you have offered to you to get stuck in your head. It’s mayhem out there. It’s coming at kids and people 500 miles and hour. How do you make that stick? This has to be in the mix somewhere. Early on when I turned to do this in the Pop fashion, I was at the intersection of International when a car pulled up next to me, and it was blaring out this repulsive music. It was offensive. With that kind of thing, I’m glad my mom’s not in the car with me. And I had to glance over and look, and there were these two, probably 11, 12 year-old girls just singing it. The rhythm was there, the rhyme scheme was there. It was a great sounding recording, but they had no idea what they were saying. And I just felt bad for them. I felt sorry that that’s what was coming at them. And that’s when I really went and said this had to be done.
Some critics would say you are compromising and tainting the Gospel by setting this to rock music. What’s your response to the folks who might have that question or might question this?
I think when people say you’re defaming it or you’re not doing it justice, all I can say is I had to follow what I was called to do, and I can’t feel any different than that. I understand that, though. I understand where people are coming from, and if they could just take a minute to find out how many people are really going to hear it that would never pick up a Bible. Because it has already happened. (Getting the Word to people is all that matters.)
As an artist, after people have listened to the 40 tracks on the Red Letters Project, what is the one thing you want people to take away from that listening experience?
That they are part of it. This was done for them. This was not done for us to sell millions of records and go live some life somewhere to—this is for them. I’d like them to find themselves in it. And hopefully they would make it part of their lives. It’s like having a personal trainer. He can only show you what to do, and it’s your duty to—and I think if you find it for yourself, and you start—you’re not going to listen to it and get saved. I don’t want to give that message at all. Your salvation is yours, and I hope that people find that out. Listen to three songs. I guarantee it’ll move you to the point where you’ll come back to it. Not because they’re great songs, because of what it is.
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