The reason we love this column so much is that it provides insight into the creative process behind the songs we sing at church and/or listen to in our own devotional time. This interview is one of my favorites because Kim’s journey as a songwriter is a relatively recent one, and provides a myriad of inspiration for deconstructing the challenges that we as worship songwriters face.
[WM] Aside from the fact that you’re one of our favorite worship leaders (and vocalists in general), we’re really excited to know more about Kim Walker-Smith, the songwriter! In our last interview, you mentioned that prior to “On My Side” you’d never considered yourself a songwriter. Noting that the lyric video for “Throne Room” has over 2,000,000 plays on YouTube, that has obviously changed. In that same interview, you talked about how challenging this past season of your life had been. It sounds like out of that season of pain, God was birthing something in your spirit – Kim the Songsmith! What tips do you have for other songwriters on turning seasons of pain into songs of rejoicing that encourage a congregation to step into a closer relationship with God, even if they are still hurting?
[KWS] I think it is really important to remember how special worship is when we choose to do it even while we are hurting. This is our sacrifice of praise. It makes our worship so precious because it costs us something. I think some of the best songs are written from stories of pain and struggles we are facing. They come from a place of humility and imperfection. We strive not for a perfect song, but to pull meaning out of our experience. I would encourage songwriters to find the language for every season and to not stop in the hard season. Dig deep, and the treasure you’ll find will be worth it!
[WM] One of the things people love about your worship leading is how bold you are – it is both endearing and inspirational. Did that boldness translate over when you decided to put on the songwriter hat, and if not, what did you do to develop the ability to pour your personal experience into expressions of praise and worship for congregations to sing?
[KWS] Honestly, no! I was terrified of songwriting! It is so vulnerable. All of my songwriting is co-writing with others. I started every co-write with just expressing that I was nervous, but committed to bringing my best and putting every idea out there. It helps so much to work with other people. They can help put different words to ideas in your head, give good feedback, and bring fresh inspiration. The only way to press through any fears with songwriting is to just face it head on!
[WM] Was the enemy in your ear saying, “You’re just a worship leader. This songwriting thing is for other people,” and if so, how did you work through that?
[KWS] There were definitely moments when I had to remind myself to “Take captive every thought.” I just kept plowing ahead. I don’t want fear to rule my heart or my head, so I do my best to keep going. I also reminded myself that God has given me all I need to fulfill my destiny, and I believe part of that destiny is in songwriting.
[WM] What are the most important things you learned about songwriting in the years you’ve been worshipping alongside writers like Brian and Jenn Johnson, Chris Quilala, and Bryan and Katie Torwalt?
[KWS] The most important thing I have learned about songwriting is to write from your heart. You can craft the words later and make it smooth, but when you first start out you should just let it flow from your heart. What is it that you really want to say? Don’t worry about getting something perfect in the first shot.
[WM] Who are your favorite songwriters, and what about their writing do you enjoy most?
[KWS] Jordan Frye from Urban Rescue co-wrote “Just One Touch,” “Infinite,” I Know,” and “Alive in You,” with myself and my husband. He listens to the Holy Spirit so well and spends time in prayer before every writing session. I also love Lindsey Sweat, who co-wrote numerous songs on my solo record. She is really talented at coming up with interesting melodies and unique ways of saying things.
[WM] Which secular songs speak to you most as a songwriter, and why?
[KWS] I love pretty much anything Adele does. Her songs are very honest and written out of her experiences, and I appreciate that. She also has killer vocals!
[WM] Many songwriters struggle with finding that balance between finding forms that work and feeling too formulaic. What are your thoughts on this?
[KWS] Personally, I think that is over-thinking it. I want to first write from my heart, and then polish it up.
[WM] The trend these days is for writers to work together to craft a deeper shared revelation. When you co-write, do you prefer to start a song on your own, or work from the ground up with writing partners?
[KWS] I do both! If I have a moment of inspiration and come up with something to bring to the table, that is great. If I don’t, I’m happy to start from the beginning with my team.
[WM] What advice do you have for people who want to jump start their songwriting, but don’t quite know where to start?
[KWS] My best advice is to get with someone who has some experience in songwriting and work on something together. When you are first getting started, it really helps to be around someone who has done it before and can take the lead and help draw it out of you.
[WM] Do you have any specific suggestions for teams looking to create a songwriting culture?
[KWS] For teams looking to create a songwriting culture, I would encourage them to be intentional in scheduling the time for it. Be honest with each other, but also very encouraging. Things like sarcasm don’t create a great environment for people to feel safe being vulnerable. Keep that in mind. You want to steward an environment in which people feel comfortable bringing all their ideas.
[WM] Thanks again Kim, awesome as always!