Jeremy Horn: A Memphis worship leader seeking to make an "eternal record"

Wednesday 11th March 2009

Mike Rimmer went to Memphis where he met up with singer, songwriter and worshipper JEREMY HORN

Jeremy Horn
Jeremy Horn

Such is the vast torrent of contemporary albums flowing from the world Church, plus the undeniable fact that much congregational worship (particularly live recordings) simply don't sound too hot on the radio, the fact that Memphis-born worship leader Jeremy Horn has landed three songs on the Cross Rhythms playlist should impress. Jeremy's debut album 'Atmosphere', released at the end of 2007, is a real grower. Horn has an impressive ability to write catchy, memorable melodies (witness the turntable "hits" "First Love", "A Lion Has Roared" and "Draw Near") while deft production from Kerry Kernan puts 'Atmosphere' up there with the latest offerings from Chris Tomlin and Jeremy Camp. While in Memphis I arranged to pay a visit to meet up with this talented songsmith.

Hope Presbyterian Church is situated just outside Memphis in Cordova and on a sunny April day, I drive over there. The church has recently expanded and opened a huge new sanctuary. We arrive in the mega-car park but pitch up at the wrong entrance and drive around the huge building for a while before locating the correct one. It's a Monday and there's not much going on with a few staff bouncing round the massive facility.

We are shown through to a recording facility where Horn recorded the album and the offices of The Grove which is the small label who are helping to develop him. The only other artist on the label is Christian music veteran, country gospel hitmaker Bruce Carroll who is Hope's worship pastor. I'm introduced to Carroll as I look around the plush recording studio; he's upbeat and wearing a Beatles cap. He wanders off down the hall to his office. I'm then introduced to the youthful Horn who is friendly, smiley and immediately enthusiastic. I'm ushered into one of the studio rooms and left alone with him to have a chat though I suspect that producer Kernan and label boss Matthew Temple next door in the control room are eavesdropping as we start the conversation. However I feel safe that they won't burst in and stop the interview if I ask the wrong question!

Horn was born and raised in Memphis but doesn't belong to the church here but leads worship elsewhere at Christ The Rock Metro Church in Memphis where the website invites you to join in as national recording artist Jeremy Horn leads worship. I begin by asking him to define what he does. "I'm a worshipper of Jesus," he says simply. "That's what I would describe myself as. I'm a worship leader, yeah, and a dad, and a husband, but I'm definitely a worshipper."

In America, there has been the development of an entity called a worship artist. Does Horn see himself as a worship leader or a worship artist; and does he understand the difference between the two? "I do understand the difference between the two," he
explains, "and without giving you the easy answer, I would say yes to both things. As a corporate worship leader I don't necessarily do things that an artist would do. I don't make it all about me when I lead worship at my church on Sunday morning. I might not do any of my own tunes. I might not try to pursue my 'art' so to speak. My job is to get people into the presence of God and get their heart ready to receive from the Word; that's my job as a worship leader. I get paycheques to do that, I'm blessed to be able to have that, but at the same time I'm also an artist; I create music and it comes out of my own personal worship. Sometimes those songs translate into becoming worship songs that I do in corporate worship and sometimes they're not. So I feel like I'm both things; I'm 'both/and' as my friend Matthew Temple would say."

Christ The Rock where Horn has been a member for 10 years is a multi-cultural church in Memphis, Tennessee. "It's not only multi-cultural," says Horn, "I see what I do at local church as multi-generational. I mean, I sang 'How Great Thou Art' this Sunday and then I sang 'We Have Overcome' by Israel Houghton, and then I sang something like 'How Great Is Our God' by Chris Tomlin. It's just a wide spread of material." He started going to the church when he was 20 and fell in love with the people there. He also fell in love with the pastor's daughter. He laughs, "Didn't mean to but it happened! A beautiful girl who loves Jesus will definitely keep you there!"

Jeremy Horn: A Memphis worship leader seeking to make an "eternal record"

In 2006, I attended a showcase at Visible School in Memphis and having picked up considerable favourable reports about Horn from other Memphis musicians, I had expected something truly worshipful and transcendent. Instead, it was more like watching a pop rock show than entering a worship experience. That troubled me. So I wanted to know what Horn was trying to achieve in a live setting outside his own church's Sunday services. It felt like a performance. Horn responds, "Yeah. It's funny that you would say that. I've never felt that I've ever 'performed' in a worship service but let's be real; the fear of man can be on what you do unless God puts his grace onto that and let you out of that, which is something that I'm always trying to be free of. If I was being really honest, going to things like Gospel Music Week is a necessary evil I guess. That's the best way I'll be able to say this because I personally don't like being a self-promoter. I don't like having to shake hands and try to do that. I'm trying to be authentic to the Spirit of God and the oxymoron of that is this.I'm trying to answer your question the long way around.but I don't really know.I can't really tell you a reason why that was. I don't know."

He continues, "There've been two times in my life that I've been grieved in my spirit that I knew I shouldn't have done something: There was one time that I knew some Worship Together people were going to be at a worship service I was at and I couldn't help but think about it, okay? I was like, this is just the flesh and I'm trying to operate out of the flesh! I'm trying to show them something! The second time is probably just in my own corporate worship times with my church knowing that I had sin in my life and I'm [being] phoney in a worship set. Now God will use that, I really believe that, because it's HIS grace to his people. He cares about his people. But in a worship service, I try, honestly, I try to get out of the way, man. When I go to churches, when I go and minister to people, that's what I see that we do as a ministry."

This is where I struggle with the idea of the worship artist. I understand that Horn can be a worship leader and lead congregations into worship. But surely once you start talking about being an artist, Jeremy Horn starts getting in the way because his artistry draws attention to him, when as a worship leader, he should be pointing people towards God. I am not convinced it's a tenable position to do both. "Maybe I don't know your definition of what 'artist' is," he responds. "Maybe we're just tracking into a different place. I'll tell you this; I use art as a vehicle to get people to God. Does that make sense? So the next record that I'm going to make? I really don't even care about the production that much; for me what it's all about is the Spirit of God on the music and is it able to make a connection so people can connect to God? I honestly see music as a vehicle that I use to be able to get people to God. Now that might be in a really cool artistic kind of way but art and music and culture, everything that we have connects people to God. It's like, I could make a really, really simple picture and just use an acoustic guitar and it's just like me painting with stencils. Or I could use lots of colours and paint with oils, and the beauty of that and the excellence of that draws people to God. I don't really see music as anything more than a vehicle. Some cars are blue and some cars are red but they still do the same thing."

The title track on 'Atmosphere' is particularly strong. Horn explains about the track and the title: "That song I feel is like a God song. There are some songs that you can write out of what's going on in your heart. But there are some songs where you sit down, whether it's at a piano or with a guitar, and God kind of taps you on the shoulder. And after it's done - after the inspiration is done - even though there's still the perspiration of writing you have to clean songs up. After the original inspiration is there you look at the piece of paper and go, yeah, I didn't come up with that; you know what I'm saying? And 'Atmosphere' is a song I feel was like that."

He continues, "There are some heavier topics in that song. I mean, I feel like they're heavier than the average [song you hear at] church. You're not going to hear, 'You still do miracles today/Let miracles and faith collide/Let faith rise up so that an atmosphere of miracles can take place in our midst,' on the radio." So is that what he's wanting to see happen when he leads worship? The use of spiritual gifts, miracles happening in the congregation? Is that important? "Yeah", he agrees, "it's important to me. At my Sunday morning church I believe in a balance of using spiritual gifts. If there are a thousand people in the room you don't know if somebody's an unbeliever or not. You don't know if praying in the Spirit is going to freak somebody out so I restrain myself in that environment. And the worship is the thing where I'm getting people's hearts to receive from the Lord. Now I'm a college pastor and I have a home group at my house and if I know that everybody there is a believer I WILL operate in the spiritual gifts and I try to facilitate that through worship."

So does that mean that he's a worship leader who approaches his time leading with a list of songs he is going to use or is he more free than that? "There's nothing wrong with having a setlist," he states. "Some people will live by it. There's a famous story that Kent Henry tells. He's recording an album and he's got his little set that he's going to do. He's in the middle of recording a live album and God's like, 'I want you to do this song.' And Kent tells this story about how he's having this internal dialogue with God and he's like, 'But God, that's not on my setlist! We're recording!' And God's like, 'I don't care! I want you to do this song!' He's kind of joking around and he says, 'Okay, if I do one of yours can we do one of mine?!' It's almost like he's joking!"

Jeremy Horn: A Memphis worship leader seeking to make an "eternal record"

He continues, "But it's true; a both/and kind of thing. I will have a song list when I go into a place but I am trying very hard to follow the Holy Spirit. And the thing about that is you've got to have a well of material inside of you. Your band has to have a treasure of material inside; so it means if he does want you to go off the page and go do another song, and/or sing something prophetic, or get spontaneous, that your band can follow you and that you can ebb and flow. And I will tell you, that is a MAJOR thing that I am interested in. I'm interested in getting off the page! I'm interested in hearing what the Spirit of God has to say!"

He continues, "There are certain songs on here that I will do in a corporate worship service, like 'First Love', but somehow I don't feel a song like 'Mercy Comes In Like A Flood' or 'I Will See Angels' translates. Now you get into a more intimate moment, in a prophetic moment in a concert so to speak, you could throw a song like 'Atmosphere' in there. It may not be singable but it's connecting with people's spirits. So I don't know how to answer it necessarily but to say I feel like there's a lot of songs that are personal worship songs. In everything that I do it's my goal to try to write for the corporate assembly; that's my dream, if you really want to know."

It's taken Jeremy a while to release his debut album. He's been working with the people at The Grove for a little while. So what has he learned from making his debut? "I actually was talking to my producer and I've gone back and listened to the original demos. I was just archiving them - I have like gobs of garage band files and iTunes files where I've just been writing songs. And from a musical standpoint I've been listening and realising that it's good to have other people inputting into what you're doing. My original little red and blue demos and stuff like that; I was doing everything! I was producing. I was engineering. I was the only creative and it's not very good! It's good to have other people use their gifts and talents to surround you. Looking back on this album I made some compromises in some areas. I don't necessarily know that they felt like compromises to me but I'm feeling more and more drawn that I want there to be more Spirit on another album that I do; I want there to be more freedom. I don't know if that's a corporate worship album. I hope it is; it's in my heart to do that. But if it's not, that the songs are just covered with God; they are oozing with the Spirit of God."

Horn continues, "I don't really care about the production. I don't care if I don't play a note on the album! If there's somebody that's better equipped and is more anointed to play those parts, let them play it. That probably wouldn't have happened on the first album. I was probably a little bit too ambitious to be like, 'I'm not going to play this guitar part,' or, 'I'm not going to play this piano part.' But now I think I'm maturing as an artist!"

So is it possible for him to make his next album where it's, as he describes it, more full of God, with the Spirit moving without compromising the artistic integrity of what he does so it's not as musically creative? "I'm okay with that to be honest with you! I really, really am!" So the music's not important? "The music IS important because if you're going to make art it should be excellent. But if it means it's a corporate worship record and I don't jump my vocal up an octave so everybody couldn't even possibly sing it then I won't do that; I'll use restraint. There are some lines; if you're painting there's only so far you can go on a canvas, you know? You don't need to go outside the canvas. So I will use that. Art is important but it's not as important as the Holy Spirit and the message. You're talking about something that's very fresh to me that I've resolved to do. I don't even know how that's going to happen but I'm glad I have other people to help me put the hedges up a little bit. I prayed this when I made 'Atmosphere'; I had a bunch of people that I know and love me; they came and they laid their hands on me and we all agreed that the Spirit of God would be on this record. I'm gonna ask God again, 'Increase your Spirit on this next recording. Increase your Spirit on the next one, and the next one.' I want it to be an eternal record. I don't want it to just be a record people like for two years and then the next cool thing comes along. I'm gonna say this; I'm not drawing comparisons to myself but I want to have a Keith Green record! I want people to put my record on 20 years from now and go, 'Woah! There was some stuff on that!' That's my heart."

The latest report on Jeremy's website advises that he recorded a new live album at his home church of Christ The Rock on 7th November 2008. We wait with considerable interest for that release to see if there is a discernable increase of the Spirit on the songsmith's second album. The truth is that such things are a mysterious process. But Horn is giving it his best shot. 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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