The Christian singer talks taking a risk, recording the soundtrack to 90 Minutes in Heaven and finding a new perspective
- Posted on Jun 12, 2015
Rarely do musicians with as storied a career as Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith decide to take risks when it comes to their music, but after 27 albums, more than three-decades in the industry and enough Grammy and Dove awards to fill a small library, that’s exactly what Smith has done with his latest record, Sovereign.
Smith departs from his usual style, on Sovereign, trading in the live orchestra for a studio sound, one that lends itself to radio-friendly hits like “You Are the Fire” And “Sky Spills Over.” It also had Smith collaborating with fellow artists like Kari Jobe, who joins the singer in a beautiful duet on the title track “You Won’t Let Go.”
For Smith, the change in sound was all about pushing himself as an artist in order to explore his faith.
“I think at the end of the day, obviously this is a God thing and I never could’ve orchestrated any of this,” the musician said. “The history -- when you talk about trying to get from one record to the next -- I’ve had to reinvent myself. It’s reinventing yourself while staying true to who you are. I think that’s always been the challenge. For some reason, I’ve been able to pull it off and then thankfully the fans and the audiences -- it’s still connecting. If it didn’t connect, I might have had to get another job.”
Smith was so committed to the idea of challenging himself artistically that he switched record labels, leaving longtime house Provident Music Group for Capitol Records. It was a choice that has definitely affected the musician's creativity in a positive way.
“I needed a fresh start,” Smith said. “I needed a new team. I said ‘Guys, I don’t need ‘yes people.’ You don’t need to say yes to me all the time. We need to make this record together and butt heads if necessary to try to get something really special and something really great.’”
But even with the new changes, Smith wants to assure fans that you’ll recognize his signature style on this new album.
“I don’t think I’ve strayed off the path too far, I just think I’ve continued to reinvent. The core of who I am is still evident in all these new songs.”
At his core, the Tennessee native is a family man, and what better way to show that than to bring his family into his music-making process? The music video for hisnew single, “Sky Spills Over” features the musician’s grandchildren and was directed by his son, Ryan.
“They had a blast,” the singer told Guideposts.org of the family-focused video. “I don’t spend hours and hours on social media but I post from time to time and whenever I post a picture of me and one of my grandkids, it gets the most hits out of anything. What is it about that? So I just told Ryan, 'I want to figure out how we can put kids in this video.’ And he just ran with it.”
Currently, he’s working with his eldest son Tyler on the soundtrack for the new Kate Bosworth film 90 Minutes in Heaven. The opportunity to work with his children on projects that inspire him is something Smith says he’s especially grateful for.
“It’s awesome,” the singer said. “We tag team really well. [Tyler’s] really good at taking my melody and putting his John Williams hat on and coming up with all of these amazing arrangements. It’s been a great experience.”
Another opportunity he’s grateful for – the chance to share his faith and music across the globe. The artist is currently in the middle of a world tour which has taken him everywhere from Nigeria and South Africa to Brazil. After he finishes work on the film, he’ll be hitting the road again, this time heading to Tokyo, North Korea and Ukraine. The schedule is exhausting but according to the singer, the time spent jet-setting to places where he needs bodyguards to accompany him anytime he leaves his hotel is actually one of the biggest perks of the job.
“There’s so much favor on me when it comes to the nations,” Smith affirmed. “Nigeria, where I just came from, they sing every word to every song. It blows my mind. Sometimes, they’ll break into their own language, like in Brazil, they’ll break into Portuguese. It’s just astounding.”
Being able to visit these places and interact with the fans has also helped to put things into perspective for the 55-year-old musician.
“I really like the Eastern Bloc countries; Bucharest, Budapest, Poland -- these places were under communist rule for so long and have only been free for 26 or 27 years. There’s just anticipation. There’s so much energy in the room. I have to be careful that I don’t say anything bad about our country but we have everything here and I think we tend to be spoiled. You go to a country like that and they are so grateful.”
With all the success, all the accolades and the hundreds of thousands of fans that crowd the stage when he performs, it would be easy for Smith to have grown a bit of an ego. Instead, the artist is focused, more than ever, on giving back. He’s currently working with organizations like Compassion and Rocket Town – his own outreach facility in Tennessee – to help kids and teens discover and grow in their own faith.
It’s something that clearly means a lot to the artist.
“I just think that’s the most important thing in life,” Smith said. “I always challenge people, ‘Are you making a contribution? Are you doing something for somebody else?’ That’s the greatest joy of my life -- being involved with Compassion or Rocket Town, working with kids -- it really does overshadow all the awards. You always want to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing in terms of pouring your life into people.”
And it’s the people in the singer’s own life that have helped him stay grounded amidst all the pressures and privileges of fame.
“Every believer needs a group of friends. You can’t be a lone ranger, you just can’t do it. We’ve got a great group of people around us. I’ve got a great pastor who’s been my mentor for 33 years. Those are the kinds of things that keep you grounded because all of us have the potential of losing our way. I just want to make sure I don’t become a casualty, and I believe I can finish well.”