Matt Redman: The UK worship leader with a new album

Thursday 1st June 2000

Britain's highest profile worship leader MATT REDMAN returns with a new album and a new appetite for ministry. Mike Rimmer spoke to Matt.

Matt Redman
Matt Redman

The Christian Booksellers Conference (CBC) at the Doncaster Race Course sees all the movers and shakers from Britain's Christian retail meeting in one place to set out their stalls and check out what's new and interesting. Creating a bit if a buzz on the first day of this year's event is one Matt Redman who is singing some worship tunes during a special lunchtime event hosted by Kingsway and Integrity. Strumming an acoustic guitar, he plays mainly older material weaving in a song from his forthcoming album 'The Father's Song'. I am standing at the back of the small room which is crowded with delegates munching their sandwiches, finishing their coffees and enjoying the music. After selling an unprecedented number of his 'Intimacy' album; and being successfully launched in the USA marketplace; I reflect that Christian booksellers everywhere must be bracing themselves for the release of the new album.

In this intimate environment, Matt Redman almost seems shy as he plays and sings. In the past he has commented to me that he has felt that the role of the worship leader is to become invisible whilst leading worship. Earlier at CBC we sat down for a chat and I wondered out loud whether part of the desire to be invisible suits him because he does appear to be a shy bloke. "Probably shy is not the word," he responds before laughing and joking, "Probably boring is the word! I think my wife would tell you that I'm a very boring person. I'm not really keen to be on a stage and all that stuff but I've done it so much now that I'm used to it. It's always remembering that what's happening there is not for you, it's for Jesus. If the motivation for you doing certain things was for you to get attention, or for you to stir something up, then that's really not a call. For example, dancing. I can't dance anyway so I can say this, but I think it's okay for a worship leader to dance because they're so full and it's the overflow of their heart. But you can get beyond a point where you suddenly become the focus of attention and even worse, if you know you are and you carry on dancing."

He continues, "These are the sorts of things where you can really test it. One great test you can do for a worship leader is to analyse how they handle compliments. If someone says to you that something's really great, do you say, 'Oh no, that wasn't me, it was God,' in a false humility. And then they say, 'It wasn't that good, God could do a bit better!' In one sense there's a pride and a showing off and in the other sense there is a false humility. I guess we just need to get to that place where we're doing little tests on our heart, how do we handle compliments? Are we feeding off them or do we just take them as a nice bit of encouragement? How do we handle criticism? Are we reacting and defending ourselves quickly? Or are we saying, 'Yeah! Let me look into that to see if there's anything in that.' How do we handle our colleagues? Other people are doing the same thing. Do we ever get jealous of them or try and pull them down in our hearts and judge them? Do we speak against them to other people? I think these are the real heart tests at the end of the day. You might have great music, great songs, a great band or PA but at the end of the day this is where the rubber hits the road. It was John Wimber who said that the real test in these days isn't gonna be in the producing of new and great worship music, the real test is going to be in the godliness and the life-styles of those that deliver it. I think that's so true and we've seen it in the last few years. All that great music is not going to mean anything unless it's backed up by heart standards and lifestyles that match up."

In a high profile place, Matt must have lots of people paying him compliments so how does he deal with that? He responds, "In a way, what someone's trying to do is just encourage you, and that's wonderful, but I'm aware as a worship leader that you get more encouragement than you need. Take someone who does the tea at church or someone who types up the church magazine, I bet you they don't get so much encouragement. I bet they do as good, if not a better job so you're aware that you're actually getting a bit more than you need. Often after an event or something I go home and try and check my heart. How did I respond today? Yeah! When they said that, maybe I believed it a bit too much. I just say, lord, get rid of that in me, I don't want that stuff. I know it's all about you'. Again, it's that phrase, 'You must increase, I must decrease.' I think the NIV says, 'You must become more, I must become less.' It's just making sure that we keep bowing down."

A new album brings new opportunities and new songs for the Church to sing. The huge success of the 'Intimacy' album means that there are great expectations surrounding the new release. Was Matt tempted to make 'Intimacy' part two? He responds, "I think everything's moved on in the last two years. It's hard to think like that anyway because it always comes out of new songs."

Although he hasn't recorded a studio album in two years he has been very visible in terms of new songs and live albums. Does Matt think there's a danger of being so successful that he is overexposed? "Yeah!" He sniggers, "I'd be bored of it by now!" Then he continues seriously, "One of the privileges is getting to do things in different genres. I've done a track with Zark Porter for an Alliance album 'Oh Sacred King' and that was really fresh to sing to that. At the other end of the scale I worked with the Methodist Youth Orchestra and a 60-piece orchestra and choir. I love being able to do both. Again, the live album stuff is really different too. Hopefully it's all a little bit different." I suggest that for a worship leader who wants to be invisible, isn't he one of the most visible? He laughs and jokes, "I'm probably the shortest!"

Matt Redman
Matt Redman

As Matt has already noted, the worship scene has completely changed in the time that has elapsed since 'Intimacy' was released. To put it simply, worship is trendy now! Through Matt and Delirious?, the USA has discovered contemporary worship music and many band: Stateside are rushing into studios to record worship sets. Does Matt think there's a danger of it becoming too formulaic? He is firm in his reply, "Definitely. You just watch the whole industry and how everyone just suddenly got turned onto worship. We just hope and pray that it's all heart-felt, genuine stuff. The people I've met that live over in America, God's put them in a place for a particular time. You meet this person and they've been longing to do that for ages but there's never been an outlet for it."

He continues with his observations, "There are A&R men or publishers and it feels like God's raised them up. Just as he's raising up worship leaders, it's like God's got a plan and a strategy and it seems like he's been raising up people within the industry who really understand and really get it. When they're not sitting behind a desk, they themselves love nothing more than to be in a worship time, meeting with Jesus and I really think that's the key. This whole worship music thing has become so fashionable. A little bit of that excites me and a little bit of it scares me. For me it's how can we make this more of a worship experience? Worship has become big business. So how can we keep it rooted in being a spiritual thing more than a musical thing?"

As for 'The Father's Song', it certainly hasn't followed the formula for 'Intimacy' but Matt has created a diversity of songs and arrangements. He comments, "I've said a couple of times now that you could just strip it all away. There's one track we've got that is just piano, guitar and some voices in a room and we're just worshipping God. If we can capture a bit more of that in the worship scene, if you want to call it a scene, then I think it would be a whole lot better. There is the danger of moving into this artist mode. To be honest with you, one thing I always find hard is the CD covers because I don't think we've ever quite worked out a way to fit the cover into our values. We've got these values of non-performance. Being visible enough to lead but not so visible that you yourself become the focus. We've tried different patterns and other things but they always look a bit naff. That's just an indication of an area where the whole thing can get so artisty and performancy. It would be a big shame if there are people coming through who have great musical talents, songwriting talents but really more than anything they want to be on a stage and do stuff. To some degree that is the heart of a performer but that's the absolute opposite of the heart of a worship leader. I think worship and performance are opposites. In the end we'll see what happens. It's going to be an interesting time but, hopefully, very exciting."

Is there a danger of Matt finding himself on a treadmill where he has to write songs and get stuff out there? "Even when you decide to do an album, there's no point in doing it if you haven't got any songs. We got to the point where we had some songs, so we decided to put some studio dates in the dairy and hoped we'd have the rest by then. If we didn't, we could have to do an EP or something! I think it's different for me compared to an artist or performer because I want to have congregational songs. The only reason for me doing an album is to get a resource out of some fresh new songs and if I haven't got the songs then there's no point in me doing an album because that's not really what I'm about."

There is a tension that runs through many of Matt's albums between writing songs that are designed to be sung by a congregation and worship songs that will touch an individual listening to the album. At the same time, there is also the balance between recording something that will appeal to young people and the wider Church. Matt comments, "In a way there's a little bit of pressure to always get that edge between trying to make it accessible to youth but also not wanting to write off the wider Church. There's a really fine line."

At the time of the release of 'Intimacy', Matt said he had tried to write an album of songs for the Church. Looking back he now reflects, "The one thing I regret is that there's not a few more congregational songs on there, so every time I try a bit harder. There is a tension there because if you present something so complicated, people hear it and say, 'I could never do that in my church,' and actually you've defeated your main object, which is to make the songs a resource. It's getting the balance. On this album we've actually done a few tracks very bare, very simple. At the end of the day I want an album to touch people's hearts and souls more than their ears. If it can do both, brilliant!"

Matt Redman
Matt Redman

Matt Redman's constituency was originally the younger end of the church, not surprising with his ministry coming out of Soul Survivor. Slowly that has begun to change and 'Intimacy' saw a much broader response to his songs. I wondered whether in approaching 'The Father's Song' he was challenged to write more specifically for youth? "It's weird," Matt responds. "Every time I've done an album I always think, 'I wish it was a bit more youthy,' but the other half thinks, 'I wish it had a few more songs that people could pick up and run with in the local church, whatever age range it was.' I guess more than anything with the Soul Survivor stuff, we've got a heart to reach out to people in their teens and 20s. There's a challenge to keep it moving on. Even with secular music, I look at people and some have kept moving all the time and evolving and they've actually made an effort to do that. It's the same here, we've got to always think, maybe this is working at the moment but let's keep moving on, let's keep progressing and take it somewhere new. Musically I want to do that but really more than anything this time I wanted to say, 'Hey! This is congregational stuff.' There's a place for singing songs about Jesus and a place for just singing Christian songs but I don't feel that's my place. I know what I'm meant to be doing and I'm sure it's all to do with congregational worship."

At the Christian Booksellers Conference, we're chatting in a room next door to the lunchtime bash. It's impossible to find somewhere totally private and occasionally people wander in and out. Eventually a Survivor Records' boss man Les Moir sheepishly wanders up, there's a pre-event prayer meeting he needs to go to. Immediately. Matt grins and promises to return in five minutes. He's true to his word.

In the silence I had been reflecting on the album's title. It's surprising considering Mart's testimony as he describes it "is about my dad dying and killing himself and mum's second marriage not going too cool and my step father not being very good for me. I've never actually written a song about the Father and I've always found that a bit weird. My dad died when I was seven. It's weird because this week I was singing in the studio and there's the date and time on the monitor screen. I suddenly thought it's the first of March and that would have been my dad's 60th birthday. It was a weird little moment because I was sitting working on this project 'The Father's Song' and I was thinking that I hadn't known my dad since I was seven. Yet I can't remember a time since I was seven when I haven't thought of God as my father, when he hasn't been revealing himself to me, caring for me, providing for me and our family. I thought it was amazing. I just felt that God had been so good to me. I've never really felt fatherless even though in a human sense I am. That's an amazing blessing."

I observe that in churches there is often a correlation between people who have had problems with their own earthly fathers and being able to grab hold of God as Father. How did Matt manage it? "I think partly because I was brought up knowing the Lord." He elaborates, "I've never felt a time when I didn't have a father. It's always been like God's my father because people told me that when my dad died, and that really helped me. I think it is hard for some people. For some people it has the opposite effect if they've had a bad fathering of a human kind, so when they come to hear that God's their Father they don't want to hear it."

For Matt, you have to wonder whether it was doubly difficult because he lost his own father at seven and then had a stepfather where things weren't easy. Matt explains, "Although he didn't treat me very well in so many ways, God actually drew me closer to himself through that. I knew where I could turn. Joseph calls one of his sons Ephraim because 'the Lord made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.' Often we look back on our lives, maybe as suffering is happening in the short term and we think, 'God where are you?' You've got a choice, you either choose to worship God or you turn away from him. God has got the long-term plan. I look back now and think God knew what was going on all along. He's always provided for me and kept me safe. I don't understand all that bad stuff but now I can see that he's even brought good stuff out of it, which is amazing. He's always giving you more than you think you're ever going to get."

Matt describes the title song as "The most important song I could ever hear. The Father singing over me as Zephaniah 3:17 describes, the Lord rejoices over us with singing and God says in the Psalms that he's a father to the fatherless and this is a fatherless generation we're living in. We need to hear the father's song being sung over us because that can make the difference." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Mike Rimmer
Mike RimmerMike Rimmer is a broadcaster and journalist based in Birmingham.


 

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