The new album drops on Friday, so I thought I'd share some background on either the writing or recording of the songs.
I'll also be previewing the entire album on the worship podcast next week if you'd like a sneak peek! Be warned though, my song stories on the podcast will probably be pulled directly from this post!
The album is five all new songs and three bonus tracks (at the end) that were previously released this year as singles. I was pleased to see folks download them this past year but definitely wanted to get them on an actual collection of songs.
Written by Blake Russell, Sky Howard, Todd Wright
WRITING: This was a co-write with my friend, Blake Russell. Blake showed up with the chorus already written. He wanted to write an adaptation of the Doxology, which his church had been singing each week. On our first write, Blake spent most of the time teaching me how to play it! (I'm not a good guitar player.) But eventually, we started writing. We got the first verse down and then called it a day. For the next couple of weeks, we would text each other lyrics for verse two until we could meet again. When we did meet up, we got a second verse done rather quickly but couldn't figure out a bridge. Initially, we thought the bridge would be a big instrumental turn, but Blake had an idea. He asked his friend, Sky Howard, to help with the bridge. Sky built a beautiful bridge melody and then the three of us wrote the lyrics together.
TRACKING: Coming into the record, I didn't know what to expect from this song. For some reason, I was worried about it; I'm not sure why. But as we began tracking it, every iteration just got better and better. When I finally went back to do final vocals, the song really took me by surprise. The performance had certainly gotten really good, but it was something more than that. When I heard it as a finished song, I knew this was the most congregationally friendly song on the record. The studio process made it a "real song" for me. I can't wait to play it live.
WHAT I LIKE: Electric guitar and drum loop on the intro; drum groove on verse 2; melody and dynamic build on the bridge; extended jam at the end.
ONE AND ONLY HOPE
Written by Todd Wright
WRITING: At my church, I try to plan worship along 5 principles each week - GOD IS IN CONTROL / CONFESSING OUR INABILITY TO MEASURE UP / CELEBRATING THE GOSPEL THAT MAKES US RIGHT WITH GOD / THANKS AND PRAISE FOR THE GOSPEL / RECOGNITION OF THE MISSION OF FOLLOWING JESUS. I had this idea to write a song for each one of these five elements. This song was my attempt to write a GOD IS IN CONTROL song. I intentionally wanted to stay extremely focused on that theme. In fact, I wanted to stay away from the confession and Gospel aspects in order to hone in on the theme. The problem is that I got so into the song, I couldn't help but sing about the Gospel! I fought it for awhile, but then thought, "I think this song needs to be what it is" and finished it.
TRACKING: I knew it would be the most upbeat song on the record. The producer and I had a clear vision for what the arrangement would be, but there were still some very fun surprises. While our drummer, Brad, was listening through the songs and the producer said, "I'm hearing some roto-toms on this," and then looked back at me as if to say we can do that, right? Brad had a set of roto-toms and he had them setup in 20 seconds. For a long time, V1 and Chorus 1 were pretty sparse because we knew we would be doing programming for those parts. The other thing we knew we needed was a gang vocal in the bridge. Since I had done it previously this year on another tune, we decided to track the "choir" back in Tyler with folks from my church. One Thursday night after a band rehearsal, I gathered up the band and had them sing through the bridge for about thirty minutes. We stacked them, put a couple other voices on it and then added some reverb to thicken it up and BOOM - instant choir!
WHAT I LIKE: Roto-toms, choir in the bridge, dotted 8th delay from the guitarist. Obviously, having my friends sing on the bridge is a highlight of the album. I think what's most fun about that is being able to hear some of their individual voices.
CHRIST HAS COME
Written by John Paul and Joseph Allen, Todd Wright
WRITING: This song, by far, took the longest time to write. A couple of years ago, I met two brothers who's parents were missionaries and had just moved back to the states. They were young guys who loved Jesus and loved making music. We met at a songwriting conference and made plans to write not long after. When we met, the guys had a hymn idea. Of course, I jumped at the chance to co-write a hymn. They had a verse melody and a solid idea on what the overall musical treatment of the song would be, but that was about it. We worked a couple of hours on the song and didn't get very far. For weeks after that, we emailed ideas back and forth. We met again for another marathon write and got a little farther. Then, more emails. After a couple of in person writes and months of emails back and forth, we settled on the song. And then I forgot about the song. I liked it, but I just got busy with other things and didn't think of it again until the Allens sent me a video of them leading the song at a worship service. I was amazed at the response of the congregation. The song sang well, the lyrics built the Gospel narrative in a really easy way and the guys sounded great leading it. I opened up the notes from the song and immediately started considering it for the record.
TRACKING: This was the first song I heard with the studio players on it. Michael, the producer, had finally mixed acoustics, bass and drums and sent me a very early mix on this tune. He put a subtle pad underneath, but that was really it. But even with my scratch vocals and no other instrumentation, this song leapt off the computer and into my head. I couldn't believe how solid it sounded even in its earliest stages. Michael did a fantastic job of layering this song without overdoing it. From the electric guitar mix to the backing vocals and the key change, the whole tune felt timeless. Classic case of a producer knowing what NOT to do with a song.
WHAT I LIKE: Song moving from a march to straight groove on last choruses; Wendy's 2nd backing vocal that echoes each line of the chorus; Spence's guitar riff underneath last choruses.
Written by Ross King, Todd Wright
WRITING: I like writing songs, and I write a lot of them. Most of them don't ever end up being anything, but occasionally, one will stand apart from the rest...for a variety of reasons. This song is one of those. I had been feeling very worn out from trying to be clever. I had been in a period of writing big, long wordy hymns and I was getting exhausted. I decided that I needed to write some songs just for me - just honest, emotive, personal worship songs. I wanted to write songs without worrying about honing the words to perfection or crafting the most perfect arrangement. I really wanted the attitude of the song to be the strongest aspect. I had a verse melody and some lyrics, but I just couldn't get past all my songwriting "rules" to find that place of pure writing. So I called in my buddy, Ross King. He immediately understood what I was going for and the song immediately became something special. Ross operated as a constant guide - reminding me to write and sing from a place of thankfulness and to not overthink it.
TRACKING: My favorite tracking story is the bridge. Ross and I knew we wanted a bridge, but we ran out of time before I turned in the scratch tracks to the producer. I put an instrumental break in the demo with the plan of writing a bridge once we were further down the road. When we started laying electric guitar tracks, we told the guy that there was going to be a big empty spot where a bridge would eventually be. When we got the tracks back from him, he sent an apology: "I know there's a bridge there, but I was having so much fun, I recorded a guitar solo. Y'all can delete it." Which would have been easy enough to do. Hit DEL and the solo goes away. The problem is that the solo ended up being really amazing. We stayed true to our plan and I sang the new bridge (which I love) but it sure was hard to send that solo into the trash.
WHAT I LIKE: The whole song feels like such a prayer to me. I'm still moved every time I hear it and sing along.
TOOK MY CHAINS
Written by Ross King, Todd Wright
WRITING: Oh boy...here we go. This song was a goof. This happened in a write where Ross and I just couldn't get anywhere. I was talking about how much I loved the blues and Ross was talking about how common it is now for old-sounding Gospel music to be featured in TV shows. One of us eventually said, "well, we could write THAT." Ross had a great plan. He told me to sing my guts out - to write it as soulfully as I could and he would make sure that the lyrics stayed true to the vibe we were going for. "It has to sound old," he said. "It has to be simple." We wrote it in probably 15 minutes. It's not a complicated song, but it was FUN.
TRACKING: I was on the fence about this one. It's obviously so different from the other tunes, but my producer texted me late one night and said, "If you don't put Took My Chains on this record, I'm quitting." From the very beginning, he had a firm vision of what the song would sound like. And because I secretly want to be a blues singer, every thing we did in the studio got me more and more excited. At the last minute, we decided to have Ross sing the second verse and do some ad libs. We sent him the tracks and he recorded his vocal at home in Nashville.
WHAT I LIKE: I think Spence Peppard's tracks make up some of the best slide guitar I've heard in a long, long time. I love slide, but rarely get to use it, so I still geek out over it when I listen to the song.