[WM] Noting that your self-titled debut album was just released, you’re best known for being part of Housefires. Although you’ve been releasing albums since 2005, the 2014 Housefires II release included “Good Good Father” which Chris Tomlin also went on to cover. Considering the Housefires version you lead has 25M plays on YouTube compared to Chris’ 32M, people are nearly as familiar with your worship leading as they are with your songs. You’re not only the first artist to sign to Chris’ Bowyer and Bow label, he also produced your album. Ironically, at the time of this interview you had 1,300 followers on Facebook and 4,800 subscribers on YouTube. Given the strength of your album coupled with your upcoming tour with Chris, chances are the number of people following you on your social feeds isn’t the only thing that is about to change. Can you describe the feelings you have going into all of this as well as some of your expectations for this disc?
[Pat Barrett] OK, some of the feelings I have – excitement, pure joy, and crippling self-doubt (laughs)! I’ve been gearing up for this for the past two years, so I’ve gone through every range of emotion. When I started this whole process, I never had it in my mind that I would do a solo record. There’s part of me that feels like I’m doing the same thing that I’ve always done – writing songs, leading worship, and connecting with leaders. There’s nothing really new, per se, about any of that. But releasing it under my name makes me feel all of the good butterflies that remind you that you’re alive. That you care about what you’re doing, and that you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. There’s something about that feeling that I really love. What Meg, my wife, and I have said over and over during this process is that it feels like faith again. And it’s not like it didn’t feel like faith before, necessarily, but something about this phase of my life reminds me of when I was 18. The start of something brand new reminds you of all of the unknowns you’re about to walk into. It just forces you to depend again; depend on God, depend on the people in your life that help to give you strength and encouragement when you need it. There’s a dependency that’s amazing that I think is happening.
My expectations! I decided early on in this process that I wasn’t going to worry myself with things that I couldn’t control. On my best days that has actually worked (laughs)! I can’t control if someone likes a song or wants to share a song. As an artist and songwriter, I want to be as honest and transparent as I can. I want to be sharing things with people that I actually connect with myself so I’m excited to share them. These songs have all come from life experiences. I needed to sing them. They brought hope, peace and perspective to my own life in a way that has been really meaningful to me. It’s easier to share things that have been really impactful and really helpful to you. Then you are just sharing something that you love, as opposed to, “I’m only going to love this if you love this too.” These songs have been part of my daily walk with Jesus for the past years, so I’m excited to share that with people. How it goes over, who knows – those are expectations. I don’t think human beings are meant to worry about as much as we do.
[WM] As an appropriate and telling juxtaposition to how many YouTube subscribers you have is that fact that the video for “Sails” has over 300,000 views. Amanda Cooke and Steffany Gretzinger weren’t just co-writers, they also sang on that track with you. People are obviously connecting with how their style of worship is intersecting with what you are doing. What did it mean to you to have them come along side you to be part of the album?
[Pat] Amanda and Stef are such a gift. I had the first line of the song “Falling is easy/staying in love is hard…” and that’s all. I had a couple other ideas around it, but weirdly, I felt in my heart that Amanda and Stef were supposed to help me with this. Months later we wrote together, and I loved it so much because there was a forced sincerity. You can’t be around them and just talk about shallow, surface level things that you don’t care about. This song is about relationships and vulnerability, the difficulty of connection at times, and staying in a place that is open. The Latin origin of the word vulnerable means to be wounded, a willingness to be wounded – that type of openness. That one line felt so true of my relationship with my wife. It felt true of my platonic friendships. It felt true of my relationship with God.
Connection is such a dynamic thing that can be tended or neglected, cared for or forgotten. Connection is affected by that. It was one of the songs that was so important to me, and I knew it was different. It wasn’t like, “Oh, here are some themes I want to write about.” To have them be a part of writing it and to have them sing on it – oh my gosh it was such a joy! When I first got back the initial rough with their vocals on it, I was in the car with Meg, and I had to pull the car over and I just weep. Then I simultaneously thought, “Should I have had them sing on every song?” (laughs) I just can’t tell you how happy I am that they were able to be a part of it.
[WM] The line “I let out the sails of my heart – here I am, here you are…” opens up into what sounds like a moment of free worship. Is this something that you planned, or did it
[Pat] With the layout of that song, I knew there was going to be verses and a chorus, but once we went into that part it was just going to stay there. I wanted it to be long and extended. Funny enough, I was not in the room with Amanda and Stef when they recorded their vocals, so it really was like, “Hey, this is the plan!” and then just let it rip. And that’s what happened, we had the base already there because the music was already recorded, but the way it was sung and their take on how to sing it was just a mix of both – planned and not.
[WM] Speaking of writers, Ben Smith co-wrote “The Way” with you and numerous other songs. How did you guys meet, and in the framework of this moment in your ‘career’, what does that connection mean to you?
[Pat] Ben was the best man at my wedding. My friendship with him goes back to the beginning of my leading worship. When we were 15 years old we were in a worship band together at our church. I traveled with him until I was twenty-eight or twenty-nine, leading worship every weekend. It is such an important relationship and friendship to me. He just has a way of writing and melodies that really inspire me. I met him in middle school! There aren’t that many relationships where you can have people that have been in your life that long who have been a part of the process. He’s just been such an encouragement to me every step of the way! So, more songs to come!
[WM] I had a chance visit the way back machine on iTunes and fell in love with “Holy Is Your Name” off of the first Unhindered release City Streets. What is it like looking back and thinking about that song now?
[Pat] Humiliating… just kidding! It’s actually pretty amazing to hear the subtle differences. My voice sounds different. My writing is different. What I mainly think about is the stage of life I was in when that was happening. Thirteen years ago, I was twenty, in college and pre-kids. That was one of those formative times. I had no idea if any of the relationships I had then would still be in my life. I had no idea how many more songs would be written after that song. That’s what I think about when I look back.
[WM] You don’t just write songs, you also co-wrote the “Good Good Father” children’s book with Chris Tomlin which has sold over 200,000 copies. How did this come together, and in your wildest dreams did you ever imagine you’d co-author a book with Chris Tomlin?
[Pat] When you say it, it sounds like a joke! When Chris reached out about the song “Good Good Father” he invited me to the studio to play acoustic guitar and sing some harmonies and BGV’s (background vocals). While we were there, he came up to me and said, “I’ve been thinking about how amazing would it be to have a way to talk to your kids about what God’s like? Like a children’s book?” His daughter is the same age as my daughter, so we’re in the same life stage in that way. So, it was just kind of a thought, but I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s genius, what an amazing gift that would be.” I thought, “I need that right now for my own parenting (laughs), that would be amazing!” That was the beginning of it, and crazy enough, I wrote a children’s book with Chris before I ever wrote a song with him.
If you haven’t read the book, each town is a different type of animal. I want you to imagine two grown men having a conversation, almost whispering, “Yeah man, so what should we do, should we go with safari creatures or are we going with woodland creatures?” I thought, “Am I really having this conversation right now? I had such a blast doing it but I still can’t believe that there is a children’s book out there that I helped write.
[WM] You’re heading back out on the road with Chris in the fall. Tell us about that?
[Pat] We’re going to do a two-week run of dates in Canada. I’ve gone there a bunch to do ministry, but to be there again to share some of these new songs, I’m really looking forward to it. This past tour, “Worship Night in America”, was just such a blast. To have that opportunity again, I’m just so excited about it.
[WM] Can you tell us about the relationship between Housefires and Grace Midtown Church?
[Pat] It was affiliated with the church, but wasn’t necessarily under it completely. Regardless of what you’re doing, being in a community is so important. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing music and traveling. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing real estate or you’re an accountant, community is so important. So when I think of the covering of a church, it reminds me that it’s not good to be alone. Even with a solo record now, in no way do I feel like I’m by myself. I feel the support of my community back home. I feel the encouragement and prayers. Those people and those relationships build me up and also challenge me. If someone doesn’t have that dynamic, you miss out on the gift of the body of Christ. It’s so important that things function as a body. If anyone thinks they don’t need that, that they can be by themselves, I think that is a very misleading thing to believe.
Jesus didn’t believe that.
[Pat] I’m looking at the guitars I have right now! A Gibson J-200, a Gibson Hummingbird, a Guild D-40, and a Gibson 335 electric – she’s sweet! I’ve also got an Orange AD30 amp. I used to play Les Pauls, and I had a Gretsch I loved and played for years. If I ever play electric, I play more rhythm, holding down the foundation. I’ve been exploring the Kemper (modeling amp) a little bit, although I think its capabilities are so much more than what I’ll ever use it for (laughs).
[WM] In many ways you’ve come full circle, and in some ways, you are kind of starting out again. From where you are now, what advice would you have for someone who is just beginning the kind of journey you’ve been on?
[Pat] My advice would be a couple of things, the first being encouragement. From a songwriter/worship leader lens, what’s happening in your life is really significant. What God is doing right now with your life is so significant. I would also say, it’s going to take way longer than you think it’s going to take to develop the things that God wants to develop in you. The reason I say that is because there has been a message of, “Oh, you walk with God and then…” like we expect immediacy. As if we’re immediately going to have some spiritual moment and then have all this wisdom far beyond our years. There is a big difference between a gift given to you and something that’s grown within you. I would just really encourage the person who has the posture like they are waiting on some gift that they haven’t been given yet, to shift their perspective a little bit. What if God’s not going to give you something, he’s going to grow something in you? If you’re growing something, you don’t want it to grow quickly – weeds grow quickly! You want something that can take root and have the integrity, the strength to hold the fruit that will come later. One of my buddies just planted this little peach tree, a sapling. A year or two later he came outside and there were branches all over the ground. The tree was destroyed because it started to fruit too soon and the branches couldn’t hold the weight. You don’t want fruit that your branches can’t hold. If you want to see lasting fruit in your life, significant, long-game fruit, then you actually want to grow slowly and deeply. And I think God is far more interested in what he’s growing in you than what has already been given.
Special thanks to Mary Claire Photo + Video // MaryClairePhoto.com