Posted by Craig Borlase on 27 September 2017

The WeAreWorship Guide To (Almost) Everything You Ever Wanted To Ask Matt Redman About Songwriting

We sat down with worship song writer extraordinaire Matt Redman to talk about songwriting and worship - his early influences, favourite lyrics and the future.

WAW: Who were the early influencers on you as a songwriter?

Matt: If you go way way back, my earliest memories are of listening to The Police, ABBA and the Beatles. I like the melodic side of all those bands but I also love the energy and dynamics of their songs. I always loved music and the way songs were constructed, but I have no way of breaking that down in a technical way – I can’t even read music now. I grew up knowing that the only way I was going to learn about how to write was by listening to how other people do it. I guess that’s taught me to write songs by instinct.

Worship music started to have a big impact on me in my teenage years. I loved the new music that was coming through then, like the Vineyard Touching The Father’s Heart series. A little later Kevin Prosch came to the UK and had a massive influence on me musically and as a songwriter. I met Martin Smith when I was 15 and we became friends. He was starting out on the Cutting Edge journey (which became Delirious), and he produced my first couple of albums. It was an amazing blessing to have the first two albums produced by someone who’s an epic songwriter. I learned a lot in those days.

 

WAW: When you look back at your earliest songs now, what do you see/hear that you like?

Matt: When I look and listen back to the early songs I hear something between purity and naivety! Nothing felt calculated, and it was just a matter of getting in a studio and pouring out my heart to God. There was a good deal of naivety in the mix too, but I can hear where my heart was. I was writing music not for crowds or albums but because I cared about the glory of God.

 

WAW: What were the hardest lessons to learn as a writer in those early days?

Matt: There weren’t a massive amount of hard lessons. There was a sense of wanting to do better, of wanting to paint a bigger picture of God. I always wanted to aim higher but never felt too discouraged or too hard on myself. There are a few theological things in there that I wouldn't say quite the same way these days, but in general it felt like a learning curve.

I’m still learning the lesson of Heart Of Worship today. It became a special song but it started from a very painful place – a sense that we’d got it wrong, that we’d made worship too much about ourselves and not enough about Jesus. It was written from a place of confession and repentance, of wanting to realign and recenter. I’m still learning that lesson. It’s so exciting to work with great musicians in great studios, but it’s so important to remember to ask who’s kingdom am I building here? Who’s glory is this about?

 

WAW: In recent years what are the significant events, people or periods in your life that made a particular impact on you as a songwriter?

Matt: I get to be around a lot of great songwriters, people I look up to, people I learn from. That’s fantastic, but the people that make the biggest impact are the people the songs go to. It’s wonderful to when you hear how a song has reached very deep into a person’s life, or how a song has affected some change, brought hope or joy to a hard situation. These reports are so precious and humbling. They make you realise who the real worship leaders are. I wrote a whole book about all these stories that came back from the song 10,000 Reasons.

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When you hear them, it shapes you the next time you’re in a room songwriting. You’re not just thinking about music or a church service – as good as both those things can be – but you’re thinking about people. You’re thinking about a person who just lost their husband or someone who’s walking through a grave disease.

 

WAW: What do you know today about songwriting that you didn’t know when you started out?

Matt: That’s it’s good to co-write. In fact, it’s probably essential. There aren’t many things in the Christian life that we’re designed to do on our own, lone ranger style. Songwriting isn’t one of them. I used to write a lot of songs on my own in my room, and I wouldn’t really let anyone else into the process. That can be good as a devotional thing, but I’ve realised more and more how much I need other people. I’ve seen how you can develop songwriting partnerships where you're leaning into people’s strengths and you’re pulling the best out of each other.

 

WAW: How has worship changed since you’ve been writing? Where do you think it will change in the coming years?

Matt: My observation is that the music has developed a lot, that production values within churches have moved on massively and the quality has risen hugely. When it comes to musical expression as well there’s a lot of variety, a lot of pushing the boundaries of excellence. But the flip side is that I don’t think it’s developed very much when it comes to the lyrics. Conversations with various pastors and teachers around the world confirm that. We’ve got to get deeper, paint a bigger picture of God, sing songs which aren’t just about our feelings but which are about the very truth of who we’re worshipping. Somehow we have to find a way to convey Him in a glorious, life changing way. I just know that we can do better at this. I’m not trying to discourage anyone and I would point the finger at myself first. I’m desperate to get better at this.

 

WAW: What do we need to know about the album, Glory Song?

Matt: First thing is that it’s a massive team effort. People so often underestimate these albums in terms of what went into them. They see your name on the front and think you did most of the work, but there are so many people who have written, sung, played, produced and organised. There’s a big army behind it, and I’m so grateful for the way that God has brought people into the process who have been honing their skills and their craft over years and years. They bring their best, their unique perspective,  and hopefully help keep it fresh.

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Glory Song is my first studio album in a little while – the last three main albums have been live – so it was a real joy to get back to the studio. We tried to make room for spontaneous and free flowing moments, not having everything pinned down and planned before hand. I wanted some of the moments to feel like a free-flowing conversation with God, through music.

The other thing to say is that it was a real joy to get to record this in LA at Capitol Studios. It’s a great working environment and a really inspiring place to be. My favourite moment was going back to the rooftop to record acoustic videos, as the sun was going down over LA, worshiping our hearts out. We had church up there and there was a very special sense of God’s closeness.

 

WAW: What’s your favourite lyric from another songwriter that you would love to have written?

Matt: It’s from The Servant King by Graham Kendrick, a hero of mine. ‘Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered.’ I think that’s the gospel in the most brilliantly poetic phrase. It’s powerful every time you sing it.

It also taught me a lot about songwriting. I had the opportunity to ask Graham about it, and I wanted to know whether it came to him in a flash of inspiration. He told me that the line was the last one in the whole song to come. He had to dig for it, to go round and round. He kept working, searching for something better, something stronger. After a lot of graft and hard work the line finally came to him. Up to that point I’d always thought that to be spiritual and inspired something had to come quickly. Graham taught me in that moment that hard work is part of the mix, that digging deep is an important part of writing worship songs. Not everything that is good is going to come easy.

 Graham Kendrick Servant King 910x260

WAW: What does this next season hold for you?

Matt: Every year I get to the end and think I’d love to have written more songs. So I’m trying to be in a season with not too much travel, wanting to focus on family and songwriting. I love the challenge of songwriting, the calling of it, and I love where it can take you.

While writing for this album I had a very special few days with Tasha Cobbs Leonard, who’s one of the leading gospel singers and worship leaders in the world right now. When you meet her you see why – she’s an amazing leader of worship, with real authority in the way she leads. She has such a commanding voice with an amazing tone, a true sensitivity to the Holy Spirit when she leads. I love that we got to songwrite together. We’re in very different streams of the church but I know that we can be better together and sharpen each other. I learned a lot in those couple of days, and love the fact that she’s recorded some of those songs. I’d love to do more of that, and I love how songwriting can take you to different streams of the church, to people who are very different to you. Together, we are better.

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