Darrell Evans: The American songsmith talks about marketing a "worship hit"

Monday 21st October 2013

Tony Cummings spoke to Washington-based singer/songwriter DARRELL EVANS about his ministry

Darrell Evans
Darrell Evans

The release by Dream Records of the 'Awesome God Is He' album by Olympia, Washington-based songsmith Darrell Evans brings back into the spotlight one of America's most popular worship leaders and songwriters. Cross Rhythms first wrote about Darrell back in 1997 when his song "Let The River Flow" was fast becoming one of the most sung worship songs in the USA. I began our chat by asking him what had changed in Darrell's life since that time.

Darrell: A lot! At that point I was very young. I wrote that particular song while I was a waiter in a restaurant serving pancakes [laughing]). And leading worship in a small Vineyard Church for $25 a week. So this year is my 17th year of itinerant ministry. I've been travelling around, I have been on staff for different churches and things like that. In terms of travelling ministry, there has been such a work of grace in my life from the Lord and in my relationship with the Lord and such a work of grace in me over the years that that's what I minister from. And I believe that all ministry is an overflow of our relationship with Jesus. Time spent with Jesus allows us to know his heart better and serve other people better. Also since that time my wife and I have had four children and we are now expecting our fifth. We have a girl and three boys and another girl on the way. I think this is it!

Tony: Do you travel abroad much?

Darrell: Not a lot, but it's been interesting to see how the Lord has taken my songs all around the world, even to uttermost tribes while I have focused most of my life and ministry in the United States. I have been to Canada a few times, South Africa twice, the Philippines once and Brazil once. And that's it. I mean, I have never even been to the UK and all my family roots are in Wales, Scotland and England. You know Evans is a Welsh name, we have Irish, Scottish and Welsh in our family line not too far removed. But anyway, that's what my life has looked like; it has been raising a family and serving in our local church in whatever capacity. My wife's father is a pastor of our church and then just travelling and serving people with worship and preaching and teaching and Holy Spirit ministry.

Tony: "To bring a prosaic note into it, presumably the royalties that come in for "Let The Rover Flow" have been a great help in supporting your ministry.

Darrell Evans:  The American songsmith talks about marketing a "worship hit"

Darrell Evans: "They have. It's interesting, that song opened up everything else to me in terms of kind of being found and recorded and these type of things. That song went everywhere. I actually wrote it in 1991 but it wasn't published until 1995. There is a ministry over here called King Mania Ministries and they send teenagers on youth mission trips every summer and they have what they call Acquire The Fire youth conferences where they will have 10 to 20,000 teenagers at these events around the country. In that four year period they were singing a lot of my early songs, 'Let The River Flow' included and so the song started spreading around the world before it was even published or recorded or anything like that. Since that time some of the other songs I have written have overtaken 'Let The River Flow' in terms of popularity and use in America and different parts of the world. Songs like 'Trading My Sorrows', 'Your Love Is Extravagant', 'Fields Of Grace' and 'Freedom'.

Tony: Does the phrase "a worship hit" make you feel uncomfortable?

Darrell: Not from my perspective because between me and Jesus my heart is clean. I'm writing songs for him and I'm writing songs for people. Paul says in Ephesians 5:19, "Speak to one another with songs." I like that, don't you? Speak to one another. And then it says sing and make music in your heart to the Lord. And I think in this element of worship there is what we like to call over here, a kind of an old common phrase, vertical worship. But there is something powerful in proclamative worship as well that proclaims his character, his nature, his works and his faithfulness and these types of things. There is a great power that speaks to the life of a person drawing them into becoming a worshiper. In terms of "hit", I don't look at it in the pop term like Sting's new song becoming a hit or U2 or something, I think of it in terms of it connecting with people. When you shoot an arrow you want to hit that centre circle, right? So to me if a particular song has connected with people, it's hit its target. Some of my favourite songs are not the world's favourite songs. I have songs with way better theology, way more Jesus focused songs, but you can't pick which ones are gonna be a hit or connect or hit the target, which speak to other people in a way with the encouragement that they need or how they need to see the Lord more clearly. I don't have a problem with the word. I wouldn't use the word hit to describe one of my songs but I do have a quiver full in terms of my family and I'm hoping to have a quiver full before Jesus comes again of songs that I have shot. The Holy Spirit is the one who determines, I believe, what really connects to people on a large scale. We don't really get to pick it.

Tony: I understand you actually recorded 'Awesome God Is He' three times! Why was that?

Darrell: Well, because the first time it didn't sound right to me and in the end, listening back, it was an engineering nightmare so I tried again in another city, at first in Los Angeles then in Shreveport, Louisiana. There is a lot of great music that comes from Shreveport. In fact we had a big name drummer on the album but it just sounded like a good demo recording of the songs but not quite what I wanted and so I waited another whole year before we could afford to go into the studio and try again. I went with a producer, I worked with Colorado Springs' Michael Rossback. He's done recordings for a lot of people besides me - Paul Baloche, Michael Gungor and The Desperation Band. So I got musicians in that setting that had all logged miles with me and played with me before in various things.

Darrell Evans:  The American songsmith talks about marketing a "worship hit"

So some of the songs I have road tested just because I am travelling. Sometimes because I'm writing and I'm driving a spontaneous moment happens and I will develop it into a song. So "Awesome God Is He" is one of those songs. The way we recorded it was kind of Americana flavoured rock, and that's how I wanted to record it. I don't know if anyone is going to hear what I am hearing in the song but when I do it live, just me on the acoustic guitar, everyone in the room connects with that song immediately. But I don't know if the recorded version is going to carry it over, or I just need to keep singing it live until people catch it. There are a couple that in my opinion should be sung; "Unto The King" is one. I've got some celebrative songs on there that are very like "A Mighty Fortress": "Alive" and "Freedom Is A Song". "Freedom Is A Song" is kind of bluegrassy, a little bit like an American version of Mumford & Sons, but with an American point of view and instrumentation.

Tony: The production values have improved tremendously in modern worship over the years, haven't they?

Darrell: Yes they have. I believe the reason why that is so is that more musicians are playing in church. I don't know how else to say it but the electric guitarists want the cool part to play. I remember on the previous CD, one of the comments I got on the road was a huge thank you from drummers. I had two drummers on there, two guys that I used a lot and one of them was very influenced by Stewart Copeland from the Police and the other one was a genuine jazz drummer. And so all these influences had come in there and they commissioned the drummers to be a little more expressive in their worship so it was okay. I think in songwriting it's given permission too but you know just in the mid to late '90s, the modern worship music was Delirious?, me and Matt Redman and very few others, maybe Kevin Prosch, so to see how it's developed, and the musicianship and everything, I think it's all good as long as there is, I don't know, something that you can't make happen.

I've had great musicianship happen around me, but the heart and the spirit, that special something you can't put your finger on, is missing off it. And I think that just the honesty of the heart crying out to the Lord is the most important thing. You know I have a record that I did independently that is just me in the living room with a guitar, just worshipping the Lord, one take, and that has ministered peace to people in their homes. Prayer and worship times have been fostered like that. And so I think that is the most important thing. But I have seen the development of arrangements and bigger sounds and all of that type of thing - it is funny that for a while we were pushing that envelope, years ago, and now I find myself going back to the simplest form.

Tony: There's clearly a business element tied up in getting a worship song to the maximum number of people in the churches.

Darrell: Absolutely there is, anything that is going to connect with people, or like we said earlier that is going to be a hit, or potentially a hit, someone is going to jump in and make the most of what it can be, and it might be for money reasons. But I think that the Lord is bigger than all of that process and will have his way with it. It all comes down to the musicians or artists to be true to who they are. That is what I think we did on this record. Hey, I just want it to sound like me. That may sell 10 records or it may sell 10,000 or 1,000,000 or whatever it is. That can't matter to me. What does matter is being honest and true. I think the best that any of us can be in this world is ourselves. That is not to be confused with deny yourselves. I think in Scripture it encourages us to deny ourselves, it doesn't mean our personalities or who God has made us to be, or how God has made us to function in this world, to serve people or to express his gifts, his love and his power but rather that we deny ourselves of always having to have our way and control and building our own kingdom. When God makes you uniquely you, there is no one in the world who can ever be you and or in the history of mankind that has ever been exactly you. And so I think it is a display of the grandeur of God and the diversity of God and the creativity of God that we're all created to be unique in this world and show another side of the diamond as it were of the character and wonder of God. And so that is all I am trying to be, just honestly me before God and before people, and hopefully that gives me an opportunity to serve people and for the songs to serve people as well. 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 Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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