In early March I joined forces with Jason Ingram and Rusty Varencamp, th team that produced Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue, to break ground on my next full-length record.
Originally we had planned to record last summer, but with the still growing success of “More Like Falling In Love” it seemed good to let Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue have a little more time to find it’s audience. We were then blessed again to have a good reception at radio for “I Am New” – after 11 years of doing this full-time, I am overjoyed to finally have connected with radio and have been grateful to find a whole new audience for my work.
2011 was a busy touring season for us, too, which left me little time to write new songs for the next record. But any moment I could break away was spent working on songs that I hoped would give shape to a new record and the next season of my ministry.
I came into the first day of recording with about half the songs still needing the lyrics finished. Every spare moment was spent trying to find out exactly what these songs wanted to say. In the past, this kind of situation has caused me a lot of stress. But I was surprised at how much peace I had going into this. My mantra (I use that term in the colloquial sense, not as an expression of Hindu practice :- ) went something like this: “God has called me to this work, he’s made me to be a song writer, I’ve been entrusted with the gift of songwriting. God has intended for me to make this record. I trust his plan, I trust the gift and calling he’s given, which means that I trust that as a writer of songs, these songs will be written when they need to be.”
Deep breath. Followed by waiting.
And eventually they were all written!Sometimes I was working on the lyric up until the very last moment – and in one instance even going back after the fact and re-singing a new lyric – but they were all written, and I’m trusting that they are all what they were intended to be.It was the closest I’ve come to striking that balance of believing that it wasn’t all up to me, and yet working diligently as though it were.
That sounds very Calvinist of me, doesn’t it? Well, I don’t mean it to be necessarily; it somehow feels to me both more and less than that. But that’s another blog…
I’d like to think that this is my best record yet. Time will tell whether that’s just the newness of it all or a legitimate assessment, but I know one thing: I’ve never been more grateful for a batch of songs. I feel like as a whole they touch deeper places of truth, fear, and hope than any other collection of songs I’ve brought to a record. I was blessed to have the players comment repeatedly about how this project felt different and one night I even got a text from Jason Ingram saying he thought this was going to be a special record and that he was grateful to be working on it with me. Maybe that’s up to you, the listener, to decide, but these kindnesses and encouragements add up and help assure me that we’re on the right track.
It’s immodest to talk of my own songs this way – especially at this point in the game – so I’ll stop. But what I hope you hear is my sense of gratitude. That is my overwhelming sentiment, and for those who struggle with their own creative process, you know how significant gratitude is.
My modest success with radio this past year has made everybody I work with hopeful and expectant, but we still had to work with a realistic budget, which means that every moment had to count – no room for mistakes or for songs getting away from us. As we wondered early on about what the sonic signature should be for this record, we decided it would be cool to build it around the drums.
So we brought in Paul Mabury – my favorite drummer in the business – a day early to be really intentional about beats and the overall drum vibe. He spent the day dreaming up live loops that he would create with stomping and all kinds of other cool sounds and we laid all of that down before the band came in.
With the foundation of the live drum loops and textures in place, the rest of the band already had a bit of a road map for what kind of vibe to go after on each of the songs and we set to chasing after it. Guitarist Mike Payne joined us again and we also had Tony Lucido, one of Nashville’s most sought after bass players. With every song, we asked, “what’s your first instinct for how you would play this song? Okay, now let’s not do that and wonder what else the song could be.” They worked hard on every single track to reach for something that felt original and unexpected, and yet not showy in a way that would be distracting.
John Mays, the head of A&R at Centricity, made me aware that nearly every song spoke of fear. I hadn’t realized that before, but as I look through the lyrics fear has emerged as a theme, as well as the antidotes to fear, which mostly have to do with trust and allowing ourselves to be loved. More on all of that later…
I tried to make a one take video each day to let people hear little pieces of the songs as they were being “born” and I’ve included them here. They’ll probably make more sense when you hear the finished project, but hopefully they give you a little taste of what we’re cooking up for you.
The release date is September 13th and the tentative title is “A Way To See In The Dark”.
Thanks for listening and caring about my music,
Here are the videos:
Day 2: The Sound Of Our Breathing
Day 3: Remind Me Who I Am
Day 4: Good To Be Alive
Day 5: No Thief Like Fear
Day 6: Nothing Is Wasted
Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".