When we heard that three of our favorite modern worship songwriters were getting together to augment/update a hymn that is a pillar of the faith… well, that perked our interest. When we dug deeper into the “why” behind it, we decided that it would be something beneficial for you – our readers too! First up is Jason’s interview and then Mike’s follows.
[WM] We want to hear the story about “Great Is Thy Faithfulness (Beginning to End)”. You got a call from the publisher, HOPE Publishing, to rework the song?
[Jason Ingram] You know, I did not talk to them directly. They talked to my publisher and they had asked if I could bring something new to the song because it’s an important song for the church and has been around for generations. So, the idea was to see if we could do something to make it a bit more accessible and to give it some fresh wind to keep it in front of people and hopefully get a whole new generation loving and singing the song. This song has meant so much to the church for so long.
[WM] Is that a regular type of call that you get?
[Jason] No! I’ve never had that call before (laughs)! I felt super honored, honestly. I’ve grown up with that song and, as a songwriter, you always wonder when you’re writing something, if you’re writing something that can last and can help people for years to come. So, that song had accomplished something that, at this point in my life, I don’t know if anything I’ve written will accomplish. It’s a song that the church has sung for many decades, and so for Mike and me to get to sort of join the collaborative effort of those writers is not something that I’ve been able to do before. I’m very honored to get to do this!
[WM] Does that give you any desire to rework more hymns like this?
[Jason] Yeah…I mean, I think when it’s done well, it really does serve the song. I think of “Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone” and “Jesus Paid It All.” There’s been a few that have come out as second writes on these powerful hymns that have really taken the song into a new place for people. It’s very challenging sometimes to work with kind of an older language, or even an older vocabulary as far as chords go compared to where music sits today. I’m not announcing that I want to go rewrite a whole bunch of hymns, but it’s something I’ll likely do more of at some point for sure.
[WM] Mike Weaver told us that when you had called him to be a part of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness (Beginning to End)” you had already fleshed out the start of the chorus, “Beginning to end, my life in your hands” phrase. Where did that come from and how did it finish up?
[Jason] I was just trying to think about the scope of the faithfulness of God. As a songwriter, I’m always looking for that section in a song that sort of sums up everything the song has said so far. Usually, in modern music, that would come in the shape of a bridge. So, maybe the bridge is the kind of place you wrap your arms around everything the song has said and maybe say it again in a new way. I was just thinking about God’s faithfulness and that song talks about like sun, moon, and winter… it talks about seasons and time. I just thought it would make a lot of sense to cast the scope of God’s faithfulness and how it’s from the very beginning of my life to the very end. There won’t be a moment that I don’t walk in the faithfulness of God… that God’s faithfulness is not here with me and for me. So, I wanted to say something in the new section that made it personal and also just kind of kept my heart aware of the scope of God’s faithfulness. I really spent like three or four weeks just worshipping the Lord with the hymn and not trying to bring anything new to it so that I would have it in my heart. So, “Beginning to end” was just a phrase that sort of came out of the overflow of my worship.
[WM] I searched your name in CCLI and it came up with 664 titles.
[WM] Do you keep track?
[Jason] I don’t keep track of how many. I am inspired to write as many things for God as I can in my lifetime. Then, however He chooses to use them is certainly not up to me. I look at songwriters who have come before… you look at some of the hymn writers like Fanny Crosby and Charles Wesley and you look at how many hymns they contributed… it’s in the thousands! When I look at their contribution, I still feel like mine is quite small. I just feel like the calling on my life is to write songs for the Lord. As long as I have the ability, I will keep adding to that number. I am sure most of those 600 songs on the CCLI list are unfamiliar to most people. But, you just have to keep putting them there before the Lord. Every now and then, He does something really remarkable with one of them.
[WM] The top three listed are “Great Are You Lord,” “Glorious Day,” and “Open Up The Heavens.” When you wrote any of those, did you foresee them being received as they have been?
[Jason] No. The thing I always say when I teach on songwriting is that every song we write as songwriters and artists, I think we should feel like every song has potential to be sung around the world. I’ve talked about this before and my buddy, Chris Tomlin, has talked about it as well… as a songwriter, I see three tiers of songs in the songwriting community. I see good songs, I see great songs, and I see God-songs. My aim is always to grow as a songwriter to where I’m writing as many great songs as possible, but the “God-song” piece is not up to me. Sometimes a “God-song” isn’t even a great song. It’s just something that He used in a great way. So, with “Great Are You Lord,” I felt really connected to the song, but I certainly didn’t have any idea or expectation that it would be sung by as many people as it has.
[Jason] Yes, that was amazing to see. That song kind of had this really unique journey where God’s used so many people to sort of carry it to different places. All Sons and Daughters first brought it out to places only they could take it to, and my friend, Amanda Cooke, started leading it with Bethel everywhere she went. Then One Sonic Society had the opportunity to bring it to radio and it has really been helpful in bringing the song to a whole new group of people. Even this last year, Matt Redman recorded it on the new Passion album, and he’s got like a black gospel version of it going into the second half, which is so amazing. I’ve just seen God use that sort of version of it to take it to even more people.
[WM] Reading more of the list of your most popular tunes on CCLI, number 5 is the Zach Williams song, “Fear is a Liar.” Could you give us some back-story on that song?
[Jason] Well, on that one actually Zach Williams, Jonathan Smith, and I were writing that day, and his A&R guy had seen a sign somewhere that said, “Fear is a Liar.” He took a photograph of it and sent it to us and said, “I saw this on a wall and just thought I’d pass it along. It could be an idea for a song.” So, he just sent us a picture of something someone had written on a wall and we just started unpacking the idea that fear would be named as a person. So, the song says “Fear, he is a liar” and “he’ll” try to do this or that. It kind of puts fear in a place that’s more tangible and not just an idea. Fear really comes from the enemy, which is a person. We always try to write songs that help people. We tried to just name as many fears that we could that people get locked up in and then use the scripture that “Perfect love casts out fear.” That was one of the few songs I’ve ever written that started with a photograph!
[WM] You’re now working with Lauren Daigle. What does that whole picture look like? Are you writing and producing?
[Jason] Yeah, so Paul Mabury and I are the two shoulders that One Sonic Society sits on. Paul goes way back with Lauren. He was the first one to start working with her and record the first batch of songs that everyone heard from her. We teamed up on the second half of her first record, and then we did the Christmas album with her, and we’re just wrapping up another album with her. Paul and I, and some other amazing writers as well, have been writing a lot for this project, and then Paul and I have been in production mode on it now. We’re pushing into something that carries the weight of the first album but also shows growth, and maybe will “widen the tent pegs” from what she’s already done, which has been so incredible. We’re just believing that there’s more for her, so we’re going for it!
[WM] Is there anything that you can give us that we can be looking for in her new release?
[Jason] We had a wonderful opportunity on her new album to record an orchestra, which is something we definitely did not get to do on the first album. There are a lot of incredible live strings on the new album. I think that just kind of puts it over the top. It’s absolutely amazing. Every album sort of marks a season of life, and she’s in an amazing season in her walk with the Lord and her ability to communicate and reach people that yet have anything to do with church or God. So, she’s just brought everything in her world to this project and it marks a great season for her.
[WM] The fact is, you are one of the most sought-after writers in worship music and CCM. What is something unique that you bring that sets you apart?
[Jason] I hope what I bring, I don’t know that it’s unique as I would not want to say that other people don’t bring the same, but I know what I focus on bringing to the table is authenticity and heart. I don’t want to just write words. I don’t want to just write melodies. I write as though I’m journaling or as though they are only for me. The amazing thing is when I’m writing things that I need, or things that I need to confess, or things that I need to believe about God, or melodies that really inspire or move me… or work on a song that I feel really connected to…it just seems that it connects with people in the same way. I never want to just go about the craft and just have a song that exists just based upon songwriting and the craft and not to feel connected to it and assume that other people will. My M.O. is that I’m really going to bring my heart to it and see where we go.
[Jason] I tend to play piano in my writing more than I play guitar. Although, when I’m writing worship songs, which is probably my favorite (but I also find it the hardest to write), I always at some point use a guitar because I tend to lead more from guitar. Even in the writing, I mentally picture leading the song and what it will feel like. I can’t get to that place easily from a piano. So, I’m always going to go and pick up a guitar and put myself, mentally and visually, in that place of leading worship for a group of people and envision how that song feels in that space with people singing along. It helps me put the song in context and analyze if it’s going to work.
[WM] What is your “go-to” guitar?
[Jason] Um, my “go-to” for leading worship and writing is a Collings. I’ve written a bunch over the years with Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin… I’m the lucky guy in that room! They call that “writing-Up” in my world (laughs)! They both, at times, have had a Collings in the writing room, and I’ve just been, “Gosh, I’ve got to get one of these!” So, I did get one eventually and that’s what I play primarily. What I record with primarily is an old 1957 Gibson that does not have pickups in it, so I don’t take it to lead worship. But it’s the most recorded guitar that I have.
[WM] You were playing a Nord Stage 2 in the video for “Great is Thy Faithfulness (Beginning to End)” – Where did you shoot that, and is that the piano you lean towards?
[Jason] We were actually in Paul Mabury’s studio. Yes, I was playing the Nord for piano. I use the same as most people in our world… it’s all soft synth sounds that come from a computer. I use Kontakt everyday. I use Omnisphere everyday. I use Keyscapes everyday. But, most of the sounds come from things I’ve got inside Kontakt.
[WM] You talked about “writing-Up.” What is the biggest difference between writing with young writers as opposed to writing with seasoned writers?
[Jason] I think the biggest difference is knowing when the song is done. I think the younger me was satisfied a little easier than I am now. And so, young writers – and I was the same – you get your verse, chorus, and bridge, and you’re excited that you’ve got a song that’s done, and that’s great. There’s some momentum in that, but the thing that I’ve seen seasoned writers do more and more is go back and rewrite and rewrite and look at each section to see if it is as strong as the section before it and after it. I think that’s the main difference. I’ve heard Matt Redman say about songwriters writing a batch of songs that there aren’t “bad” songs written in the batch, but there are “unfinished” songs. It’s learning to stay in the songwriting process longer and work on a song and push past the first thing you have, and even come back to it at a later date and see if it still is as good as it felt when I wrote it. It’s difficult to do because it always feels so personal. Any negative feedback, you feel it personally.
[WM] When writing with a variety of writers, whether seasoned or young, do you change your approach?
[Jason] No, I treat each write the same. I don’t have a different approach for different environments. I usually find my way into melody and chord progression first. But, I never want to work too hard and long on a melody or chord progression until I have an idea of what it is we want to communicate and what it is we want to say. Almost every co-write starts with just a conversation with whomever is gathered in the writing session. What is on our hearts to say? What is the message? What is the theme? Does anyone have a title or a quote or a thought to give us a central focus or message of the song? That’s the most important thing to me for getting started. I would be that way with young writers or seasoned writers.
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[Mike Weaver] Dude, we have been through the gamut! It’s like extreme highs and extreme lows. But the Lord can be found in that extreme low, you know what I mean? It’s like it’s not the kind of stuff you ask for, but you encounter Him if you look for Him even in a more profound way than in the highs… in a different way. Because, see, you find out He really is in everything. We had been through the thing with my brother and we lost my dad back at Christmas last year. There’s so much real life we’re going through, you know? Finding out though… some of those things are the things that you dread and some are things that you’ve been afraid of maybe. But, when you go through it, you find out that God is so real and He is so there… and He is so faithful.
[WM] That leads us to your song, “Great is Thy Faithfulness (Beginning to End)”. How did you get drawn into that project?
[Mike] That’s kind of how it was when you say “drawn into it.” I’ve been writing songs with Jason Ingram for a while. I think six or seven songs from the last record, we wrote together. And I didn’t want to go to his house at first! You know everybody was all like “oh, Jason Ingram… Jason Ingram” you know? Whenever I hear that much about somebody, there’s just something in me that makes me not want to go do it! (laughs)
Well, when I got there, he was not the “machine” you know what I mean? He really did care about the song, man! I was so blessed by that and I really look up to him where his instincts are concerned. He really does care about the song, so we wrote a good many together. Then, he was given this opportunity with “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” That song is about a hundred years old now. And the publisher of that song approached Jason and said, “What if we make a new version… like “Great Is Thy Faithfulness 2.0” or something like that for today? It’s tricky because that song is a very sacred song. So, yeah, he invited me to come be a part of it and make it part of One Sonic Society’s new record. They were kind of approaching it in a different way. Jason wasn’t singing a lot on the record, and he was having a bunch of other people that he had also written with come in and record songs with them and kind of be the voice on these songs. It was other folks that I love too, like Amanda Cook from Bethel, and just some others that he had worked with for some years. To me, I was just greatly honored, and I really mean that! After working with him, he has become someone I really look up to. Because he has worked with so many people, when he invited me into that, it was a really special thing for me to be a part of. So, I jumped at the chance of it. And it ended up taking all of about 30 minutes!
He had the first part of the chorus already… that “Beginning to end, my life in your hands, Great, great is Your faithfulness.” And he just kind of threw it to me and I was like, “You never let go, this one thing I know, great, great is Your faithfulness.” (Laughs) It was just really easy! I love singing that chorus over and over again.
[Mike] Yeah, that dude is amazing as a producer, you know? Just to hear him play the drums is like a dream, which is weird! That’s not normally what you’d say about a drummer! (Laughs) It really was beautiful. You know, I see those guys and I feel like the nerd in the room with the cool kids. I was blessed to be part of the whole process.
When we finished the song, I was waiting to hear back with the mix and everything, and in the meantime my dad had struggled with pulmonary fibrosis for the last couple of years. It was really prevalent in the last year or two. He passed away on Christmas Day and, you know, my dad was standing on the fact that Jesus is the healer literally three months until his last breath, man. My earliest memory of him was him singing over me. It wasn’t Christian songs, it was probably like the Statler Brothers or Neil Diamond or something like that, you know. He had a very profound encounter with the Lord when I was very small, which turned him into the guy that I really looked up to. He was my greatest example of life with Jesus. So, my first memory was him singing over me in the middle of the night, and just about my last memory with him was him having a rough time breathing in his chair. He would lean forward and put his head on my chest and I was singing over him. I just sang these old praise songs that I had known growing up. Then, literally, after the funeral, we were headed over to this military cemetery where they had put his body, I got the email from Jason with the final mix of “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” And so, I’m listening to this song before we left for the cemetery and so it’s just floating around in my mind, “Beginning to end, My life in Your hands, Great is Your faithfulness.” And I’m walking around this military cemetery just feeling the reality of how faithful God has been to my life and the kind of man that my dad was and who I want to be and how I want to share the faithfulness of God with my kids. And I also want to share that with the people we get to minister with and to. Gosh it was just a powerful and special thing, and this song has an even more special place in my heart now.
[Mike] You know, I don’t know that we’ve ever thought of making an entire record of hymns, but there’s usually either a remake or some kind of nod to at least one hymn on just about every record. Like a few years ago, on our Every Time I Breathe record, we recorded “Trust and Obey” and we kind of “Sting-ified” it. In fact, if you listen, you can probably pick the Sting song we were inspired by, you know what I mean! (Laughs) Man, we did “Revive Us Again” on the record after that. Even on the last record, “My Story” which is a song that worked kind of opposite. We had this new song that Ingram and I were working on and we added the chorus of “Blessed Assurance” at the bridge. I love the hymns. I think I love them more the older I get. I grew up with fighting the battle for the validity of modern worship, you know? And it’s funny, after fighting the battle for these new songs, the very next time I sat down and we did something liturgical… I was looking for something that was all about the Spirit and when we did something liturgical, God just rocked me with it, you know? The battle then was over for me. So, however you are worshiping Him, however you’re going about it, I don’t think He really cares as long as it meets the requirements of “in Spirit and in Truth”. So, I love the value and treasure that is in those old hymns.
[WM] With you, Paul, and Jason working together tell US about the chemistry. What in the process did you each contribute, whether lyrics, chords, melody, or arrangement?
[Mike] Really, I just contributed lyric and that melody as we kind of sang out together. I just picked up where Jason left off. He was just singing what he had and literally I just finished what he had started already. It was very organic and natural. Then we took it to Paul’s place and Paul really put some magic on it! There, my part was, “Yeah, that’s really great guys!” (Laughs)
[WM] Speaking just about you as a songwriter and arranger, what are some things that you uniquely bring to the table, and what are some things that you did to develop that part of you?
[Mike] You know man, I wish I could say that I did something on purpose to develop that, but really I think it was just enjoying music, you know what I mean? It’s like I just have these instincts and, in our world, I’m constantly collaborating with our guitar player, Jeremy, who produces all of our Big Daddy Weave records. I remember being a little more of a control freak early on, and then coming to the place where I realize that he (Jeremy) has a gift here, so I would focus more on writing the songs and I would share with him all of the things that I had some sort of strong inclination about. Now, I have learned to turn it loose and to really lean into his gifting. And when I did, man we had the most popular record we’ve ever had! (Laughs) I should have let go a long time ago!!
[WM] I was reading online about the time that Big Daddy Weave almost called it quits. Success as a Christian artist can mean a lot of different things, including being able to afford being out there doing ministry. What does success mean to you as an artist and songwriter?
[Mike] What I’m finding… my definition of (whatever), needs to be yielded to whatever God’s definition of it is. Here’s the deal, maybe like 10-15 years ago, I had this moment with Jesus where He showed me this blackboard in my mind and He writes on it (this is during prayer), “Success =” and then it’s like He handed me the chalk, you know what I mean? He was like, “I want you to fill in the other side of this equation.” And, so I tried to be real spiritual about it and grandiose. But I finally gave up and said, “Lord, I give up. What is it Jesus?” And he fills in the other side of it with “obedience.” Success equals Obedience. I wish I could tell you I was so awesome at that, dude. But, I stay freaked out like a lot of the time! It really is that simple and then we have the rest of our life to learn that. I think that’s what our time here is about. I think that’s what He’s the rewarder of, because He says, “I desire obedience more than sacrifice.” That’s who He is, because that was His life here on earth too. In Jesus’ ministry on earth, He didn’t have a dog in the hunt, so to speak. He was like, “I only do what I see my Father do. I only say what I hear my Father say.” That’s His M.O. That’s really what He did His whole life. It’s that simple, but somehow, I over-complicate it greatly!
[WM] On average, how many songs are you writing a month?
[Mike] Man, it’s more like starting a batch of songs. So, I’ve got probably 25 songs going. Over the last year, we’ve completed seven or eight of them. It’s like there’s this constant (flow). Sometimes it’s some idea that somebody gives me, and sometimes it’s an idea that shows up that I’m hanging on to. Sometimes I finish the idea by myself, and those are the ones that are the best, when it happens real naturally. There was a song I was writing that I didn’t really know I was going to write. One time, I forgot to get off of the bus and the bus driver had to go gas up after we go to the venue. The driver took off, and I was in the back lounge somewhere in Indiana. We were seeing a whole lot of corn, you know? I was looking out the window at these corn fields, and this whole thing just came out. I just sang it in the back lounge. I was like “Dude, I wish I could do that on purpose?” I wish I could just like go in a room and mean to do that! But that’s just not in me.
Someone asked me, “Do you like writing songs?” I was like, “No, I like having written songs!” Writing songs actually drives me crazy!
Then, there are some friends that I write with often, like Benji Cowart. I love him so much. He is a great songwriter and his pursuit of the Lord is so neat, too. I shared that song I mentioned to him and he was like, “That song is so special. It’s like it just came right out of your heart!” And I was like, “I know man, I just wish I could do that all the time.” But then, if we could do that, we would make it something that it’s not supposed to be, you know? There is an agony in songwriting for me! Someone asked me, “Do you like writing songs?” I was like, “No, I like having written songs!” Writing songs actually drives me crazy!
Sometimes I will bring ideas to friends that I write with all the time, and other times I’ll have an idea of a specific person I want to take an idea to. I played at a Songwriter Round the other day with Stephen Curtis Chapman and I couldn’t hardly talk right because he was like a hero to me. At the end, I shared with him, “There’s this song that I feel like you really ‘get,’ you know? And I would love to write with you.” That kind of thing.
[WM] There is so much that you pour into your writing… what are you doing with the songs that you don’t record?
[Mike] You know, sometimes they’ll stick around and they’ll go to another song-write and see if you can make them something you really want to record more. Or, sometimes they go by the wayside. There are times we’ll demo them and give them to folks at the label and they will pitch them somewhere. I have not had a lot of cuts like that. Most of what we write, we record. Sometimes we’ll find a song to record that’s not even ours. Like the first song on the new record is a song I didn’t even write any on. My buddy, Zach Williams, had a song left over from a record. He was like, “When we were writing this, the guy who wrote it with me said, ‘Look man, if you don’t do this, show the Big Daddy guys.’” And we loved it! It just rang my bell! We just finished that and I was just putting down some vocals for that in the studio the other day. We’re trying to have that done by July.
[WM] What is this Zach Williams song we need to be watching for in July?
[Mike] Right now, the working title is “Alive.” I don’t know if it will end up being “Made Alive” or “I’m Alive” … so now, it’s just “Alive.”
[WM] What is your writing guitar right now?
[Mike] You know man, I’ve been playing McPherson Guitars for some years now. I love those people. Like, I love the people as much as I love the guitar, maybe more! They have a new line, the McPherson Carbon Fiber guitars. They have this (smaller sized) guitar called the “Touring” model. I was at the shop when they were just putting out the first ones of them. Matt McPherson also makes Matthews Bows, so he has his own line of all this hunting stuff in camo and everything. So, I have this small Touring guitar outfitted in this amazing camo top. So, I’m ready to go sit in a tree stand and write songs, you know? I love that little guitar! I’ve actually played it live because it has a pickup in it. That is a go-to for a lot of writing sessions for me. I’m about to get the McPherson Carbon Fiber Sable, the full-size guitar, because we’re doing all these festivals outdoors, you know?
[WM] When playing live, are you using any kind of processing on your guitar?
[Mike] No, not when playing live with Big Daddy Weave. I just run my signal straight and our FOH engineer does his magic with it. But, when I do some solo gigs, I’ll bring my old college roommate, who is a fantastic acoustic guitar player. He gave me this Fishman Aura pedal that does this kind of imaging sort of thing that makes it sound kind of microphonic. It’s got a built-in compressor, tuner, and EQ. When you put on that compressor, I feel like I’ve died and gone to Heaven! I love picking like that, man.
[WM] Is there a challenge as a songwriter that you have faced and overcome? Is there something you really struggled to learn how to do?
[Mike] You know, I think I’ve gotten better over time with letting go. Sometimes I’ll get so married to something in my mind that I couldn’t hear a better thing if it hit me. I think that for me, I had to learn to let go and really let the Lord bring something different, if it’s the right thing. It just can’t be so much about your idea.