Mike Rimmer talked to Australian singer/songwriter NATHAN TASKER about his bold decision to relocate to Nashville.
The Christian music scene in America has been invaded by a number of artists from the land "down under" over the years. Most famously Rebecca St James and Newsboys have found great success whilst others like Paul Colman Trio and Michele Tumes have found the transition more difficult. The latest artist to try to make it over there is Nathan Tasker. Originally from Sydney, Tasker became a popular figure on the Australian Scene recording seven albums and playing more than 1,500 concerts. But in early 2007 he moved with his wife to Nashville in early 2007, thinking they'd "give it a shot" in the northern hemisphere.
So what is he doing to get established in America? "Right now we are spending a lot of time trying to play at churches, to encourage people within the American church. We'll see what happens later in the year. We'll see whether there's an opportunity to have some of these songs played on American radio and hopefully people will enjoy them and get something out of them and it might lead them to invite me to their church and encourage them there. I spent 10 years playing in Australia and from more of a worldly sense, we had a lot of success from radio and things like that. So coming over here has been very hard. In the last three months I think we've played four or five gigs as we've been building things. Back in Australia I played about 200 gigs a year. So there's a lot of times where I feel like I'm just twiddling my thumbs wondering what's going to happen next!" He laughs, "But God's been very faithful in that. He's led us to deeper relationships with our home church here in Nashville, which I normally don't get to experience because we're away on the road. However we needed those roots to get sent down and I think God knew that obviously before I did! It's been a really positive thing having this time to prepare and get our hearts in a really good place before who knows what's going to happen."
His 2005 album on Cross-Word, 'Must Be More', is still to be released in the UK. It was produced by Charlie Peacock and Scott Dente. Nathan explains, "The reason we chose 'Must Be More' as the title for the album is the fact that I look around this world. . especially with my band. A couple of the guys in my band in Australia aren't believers and we spend time together. We experience great relationship moments. We see beautiful places when we're touring. And often times they will look at me and say, 'Don't you just feel like there's more to life than just what you can see here? It seems to be like an echo of something bigger and greater.' I can't help it, but obviously I then break into encouraging them to then consider believing in God and his Son Jesus because I feel that as well. I feel that longing for something bigger than me. I look around this world and I do hear the echo C S Lewis speaks about, of something off in the distance. A song that I haven't heard but I know it already. I want to explore that. I want to get closer to that and the way to do that is through the Creator, through God. I think that's the reason we put this song there. It's just to encourage people to open your eyes enough to see through, and not just with your eyes, you know? To actually see that there is more to life. Which is a common question that many Christians have encouraged others to ask so I'm just another one giving my version of the song."
It was reading the Keith Green biography No Compromise that really impacted Nathan spiritually. Having been raised as a Christian, he hadn't always walked close to God and it was the book that really challenged him. He remembers, "I was so impacted by the Jesus he knew. It wasn't the Jesus that I knew and so I looked into the Gospels and really just prayed that I wanted to know Jesus. My parents had been very gracious and they have prayed for me every night that I've been alive. Really praying that God would not let me go. I think they trusted in that plan even though I know at times it broke their hearts to see the things that I was doing, and they don't know the half of it as well!"
He continues, "So when it all turned around through reading No Compromise it was my dad who was there, waiting. He would encourage me. He's not the kind of dad that was like, 'Go and do whatever you want!' He would always encourage me to consider what I was doing and there were times when he would put his foot down and say, 'You're not doing that.' But when you're a child you somehow work out a way to get around any kind of rules or regulations. He, I think, is just so proud of that fact that God has been faithful in my life and continues to be."
Originally Nathan confesses that he first wanted to pick up the guitar and play music when he was a kid and saw that girls were attracted to musicians on stage. His motivations changed after he became a Christian. "It happened when I first started playing Christian music at schools and at conferences and at churches. And starting to see that when you strap on a guitar and you play in front of a group of people, especially young people, they take everything you say as gospel. It's almost like this power that you wield, and I realised that I had to have some serious responsibility in regards to that. Immediately my thinking shifted and I started studying the Scriptures more, I started reading theology books more. Not necessarily so that I could give diatribes in-between my songs but so that my songs would come from this deep well rather than just my own take on life."
He continues, "That, I think, is when it all shifted. I realised that I had a responsibility with what I was doing. I put myself in the way of people like Michael Card, people like Charlie Peacock, guys who've had a lot of integrity over many years. Regardless of what the industry has done they have continued to seek truth where it is found. That has inspired me. It has kept me on more of the narrow path knowing that I've got these people around me. Mentors, who as soon as I start to do it for any other reason; whether it's wanting to play because girls will be impressed or because there's the possibility of fame and glory, there's people who will pull me into line and say, 'No, remember your focus! Remember the prize. Remember what you're aiming for.'"
When it came to building a relationship with Michael Card, he very nearly didn't get anything started. Nathan remembers, "I was playing in Ireland for just a month and I visited Douglas Gresham, C S Lewis' stepson. He's a friend of Michael Card. So I sat down with Douglas and said, 'I'm a big fan of Michael Card. I read all his books. I listen to all his music. He shaped my understanding of Jesus and the Scriptures probably more than anyone else in this world.' I said, 'I would love to get to know him.' He said, 'Well, here's his phone number. When you get to Nashville give him a call. Tell him I said you had to hang out with him.' So about three months later I jumped on a plane to Nashville, knowing no-one. I arrived, went into my hotel room, picked up the phone, rang up Michael Card and said, 'Douglas Gresham said we should hang out.' And he said, 'Well, I'm going to the movies tonight with Darrell Waltrip.' He's a famous NASCAR racer. So I went to the movies with Michael Card! Basically I said to him, 'I'm here because I want to know more about the Christian music industry.' And that was my first mistake. He looked me in the eye and he said, 'You want my advice? Go back home, work in your local church.' That was it!"
Nathan remembers the frustration. "The silly thing was that I didn't care about the Christian music industry. I wanted to know what it meant to be a Christian man, and how to create music and art that is going to bring glory to God and have something worthwhile to say. But I just lost it. And so over the next five or six years that I was visiting Nashville I'd spend summers there and I would go to his Bible studies, I'd hang out with his prayer group. And just over the years, I didn't once tell anyone that I had music. I didn't hand a CD to anyone. I just spent time being mentored by older men and that shaped me. It meant that in the last two years when I've been coming to Nashville to record or to start to talk to people in the industry, that I have this close group of friends who know that my main goal is to use music to encourage people and to bring glory to Jesus. That's it."
One thing you notice about Nathan Tasker when you talk to him is that he talks at a tremendous rate and sometime sits almost as if he has stepped into a pulpit so passionate is he to communicate what he is carrying. He sums up his ministry this way, "I want to encourage people to seek truth. I've been recently reading a Eugene Peterson book called The Way Of Jesus. I like Eugene, I try to take him everywhere I go, in book form at least! I've never met him but if I did I would probably take him with me. . and that would be kidnapping! What I like about Eugene's writing is that he speaks about things like truth but then always brings it back to the fact that truth is a person. Truth is a relationship that you can actually have. You enter into truth. You participate in it. It's a story. And I think that's what I want my songs to do in the best way I can; to encourage people to enter into the story. To realise that God is saying something to us and he's said it in Jesus. Get to know him. Get to know Jesus. Participate in that relationship. I want to break down the idea that it's just a bunch of rules that you follow, or a bunch of doctrines that you kind of ascend to. Although that's part of the package, the main gist of it is story. It's storied living and you've got to be involved."
He continues, "I hope my songs do that. I don't want to use my songs as propaganda. I want them to be something that I speak with such honesty about this life, about my life, and I speak with honesty about who Jesus is. And that people realise, 'That's MY song! That's MY life that he's talking about!' Or, 'That's the life I want to enter into.' That's probably a high hope for my music. I hope that I achieve it in some small way but that's certainly what I'm aiming for. I think that the more I play and travel around the more I realise that my story is uncannily like 'your' story. It's like so many people that I play in front of. We all have at the very deep down part of us very similar stories and the great news is that God meets us right there, every one of us."
So isn't there a bit of a dichotomy when it comes to trying to establish yourself as a Christian artist? Fame and glory don't go well with Christian music unless all the fame and glory go to God. It's refreshing to find an artist like Tasker who has a level headed approach to his ministry and music. He shares, "My wife, any time that I start to think, 'Hey, I'm pretty good at what I do!' or whatever it might be, she reminds me that, 'Oh well, let me tell you some things that you aren't very good at. .'" He laughs, "It strikes me as an anomaly. I think that it's a hard thing to get in front of a group of people at any level, whether it's preaching or making music, whatever it might be. There is a sense in which, if you wanted to think, 'I'm doing this. This is ME making a difference!' you can start to get fooled and think that it actually is about me. I think that it takes a lot of energy, it takes a lot of meditation on the Word and devotion to the Word and it takes a lot of friends helping to keep you down. To be constantly pointing, reflecting, any kind of glory back to Jesus. I find one of the most simple ways to do that is just to speak about it a lot. It's funny how our words often do impact our heart and vice-versa. So I try and speak about that a lot."
He continues, "I hope that when people come to hear me play that it is transparent. I hope they see past me. And I like that. I feel so awkward when people want me to sign a CD or something like that. It really makes me feel awkward. I understand what's going on there but you also want to keep on trying to say, 'No, no, no. Keep on focussing.'"
It's the truth of Scripture though that God opposes the proud and raises up the humble. Tasker is in an industry where there's plenty of room to get proud. "Yeah." he agrees. "My wife and I pray every morning together and the one thing that we pray every morning is that whilst we're in the Christian music industry we'll be salt and light. Because I don't think that at any point you cease to be salt and light just because you're in a 'Christian' industry. In actual fact my personal experience is that you've got to be more salt, you've got to be more light, because it's harder and the lines blur so much more. I've got a lot of very faithful friends in this town who've been so faithful and yet every now and again you'll meet other people who, it feels as though it's a quick way to get a buck and it's a quick way to become famous as well. I don't want to be associated with that but at the same time I realise that it can happen by default. So in those times I want to be salt and light, whatever that means. I want to treat people well. I want to be honest. I want to be a man of integrity. If it all disappears tomorrow I've got no qualms, I'll go and do something else. I honestly don't hold tightly to it. But while it's going, then I think God's calling us to just be Christian, to follow him wherever we might be. So I hope that that continues. I hope that if ever I get proud that God rips it away. I don't care how much it hurts."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.