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With so many worldly distractions, it's easy to lose sight of what's most important. Chris Tomlin recognizes this and desires to reacquaint us with the one fundamental element that's become all too elusive. He explains, "The thought I've had running through my head is that it's time to introduce ourselves to love again. People need to be reminded that what we're here to do is to love God and love people. Worship is a relationship of love. It's our love of God and our love of people."
Tomlin doesn't find a great amount of value in hashing over his musical journey again and again. It's not that he's disinterested, it's more that he's much more interested in the present."I want to talk about what's right now," says Tomlin, the singer/songwriter/worship leader/Texas native/three-time Gospel Music Association male vocalist of the year/two-time GMA artist of the year/two-time GRAMMY nominee/most sung Christian artist in the United States. (Sorry, Chris…we had to recap it all somewhere.)
Tomlin's present revolves around this new set of songs titled Hello Love, his fourth studio record for sixstepsrecords/Sparrow, and the continuation of what Tomlin believes is the direct calling for his musical talent, creating songs for the church.
He's unapologetic about that, as well. "I feel a responsibility to use that talent, because God's given me a gift to connect people with God," Tomlin says. "So I try to write songs with those people in mind. I try to open worship up to everything it can be, not just my personal preference, but what can it be for a person sitting in an office, or a mom driving her kids to school, or a teenager in high school? How can I bridge all those generations and try to grab something that can help them worship and communicate with God?"
The result of Tomlin's internal questions, and the elements that make his music so instantaneously powerful, are found yet again on Hello Love. Simple choruses fraught with great beauty weave themselves seamlessly into the listener's worship mentality, giving new songs like "Sing, Sing, Sing," "You Lifted Me Out," "Praise The Father, Praise The Son" and "Exalted" both a sense of immediacy and a tone of timelessness.
It's finding that balance of time and place, of rote cadence and vertical awareness that Tomlin the songwriter spends the most mental energy on, so that Tomlin the worship leader/performer (not to mention the countless others who will use the songs in a worship setting around the world) can use to connect.
"I always come to songwriting always thinking about God and people. There's something that is stirring in me about God, so how do I get that out so that it's maybe a voice for everybody? How do I write that so it can be sung by anyone anywhere? I love it when people think, after the first time they've heard a song, that they can really sing it," Tomlin says. "At the end of the day, what's going to last is who's causing people to say and sing, and that is response to Him. Worship is responding to God for who he is, what he has done for us, and that's what we're trying to do with these songs: help people respond to God for who He is and for what he's done in their lives."
Tomlin is quick to give credit where credit is warranted, pointing out the aid of producer Ed Cash and co-writers like Cary Pierce, Louie Giglio, Matt Redman, Matt Maher and fellow band members Jesse Reeves, Daniel Carson, Travis Nunn and Matt Gilder in crafting some of the powerful moments on Hello Love. There was even some help from a random band from Ireland, though maybe not the one you might think.
"I was in Belfast and this band called Bluetree opened up for me. I heard part of a song they played, and I fell in love with it," Tomlin says of the track "God Of This City." "They gave me an old demo of it and I thought â this is exactly what we're trying to believe at Passion.' There's unbelievable power in that song, and then I heard the story of how they wrote it.
"These guys were in Patia, Thailand, one of the top places in the world for human trafficking, a very dark place," Tomlin continues. "They were in the city, just hanging out, looking around, and were introduced to a guy who owned one of the bars. The guy found out they were a band and asked them if they wanted to come play. They said â sure,' so they got up and played nothing but worship songs for two hours in the bar.
"In the middle of that set, God gave them this song, saying â greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city.' It was a real prophetic song, and what I think is worship leading at it's best, in the midst of the darkest place, there's a light," he says. "Cities aren't bricks and mortar and streets and buildings. Cities are people, and they can be a small tribe of people or a massive group of people. This song is speaking hope that God's story is still being told and is still going strong. We're hopefully encouraging people to step into that story and let God do amazing things in their lives."
Stories, and even the individual words that help convey them, are an important component of what Chris Tomlin aims to accomplish with the songs on Hello Love. The album's debut single came from Tomlin's desire to focus a worship song around a specific word. "I'm really excited about â Jesus Messiah', because Messiah is a word that I've been trying to figure out how to put in a song for a while," he says. "It's such an amazing word for who Jesus is, and you hardly ever sing that word. But it really pronounces that he's not just an historical figure, but he is the Son of God, the sent Savior."
Many of the other tracks on Hello Love were given birth through similar purposeful motives, Tomlin says. "We're starting to get this history of taking the older hymns and revitalizing them, hopefully bringing them back to a younger generation. So with "All The Way My Savior Leads Me," here's a song that's a couple hundred years old and we just restructured the melody and lyric to make it a little more modern. I feel like it's a powerful benediction song for this record.
"â I Will Rise' is special in that [sixstepsrecords/Passion Conferences founder] Louie [Giglio] challenged me to write a song that people can sing in the midst of grief, standing at one of the hardest places of their life. A song of worship people can sing at funerals of those who believe," Tomlin continues. "We wanted a song that gives hope in the midst of the grave, of death. Through Jesus, the grave is overwhelmed and death doesn't have any more power. It hurts, but in the end, there's victory for those who are in Christ."
"With â Love', I wrote it with Cary Pierce, and then Ed Cash said it would be great to make this a more â world music' kind of sound. I felt that way, too, and we thought â what if we had an African children's choir on it?'" he says. "We get a text not too long after that saying the Watoto Children's Choir from Uganda was in Nashville with a day off the same week we were recording that song. I couldn't believe it. It was one of those things where God just said, â Here you go. I'm making the way.' It's just beautiful to see these orphan kids, and to watch them come into a studio and just light the place up. It was more of God breathing wind into what this music is about, the heart of what worship is."
If you look at it a certain way, reintroducing oneself to love is exactly what we're doing by entering the heart of worship. Tomlin hopes the purposeful way in which he and his compatriots have crafted this fresh set of songs will translate into the listeners' own set-upon journey to that heart.
"Worship, in itself, is not a religious word. Everybody worships things, whether they realize it or not. It doesn't mean they're worshipping God; most people aren't. It's a natural thing to give value, to give worth to something or someone," Tomlin says. "That's what we're trying to do through this music, to help people give worth and to say there's something in life that matters most. There's one thing that's more beautiful, more famous, more amazing than anything else. We're trying to help people realize that He is Jesus Christ.
"I know that it's easy to get anyone into the mechanics of worship and the lip service of worship. But it's all about your heart, and your heart can be so far from God and you just go through the motions. When it just becomes about the reflex or routine, it's dead," he continues. "You have to engage your heart and be moved to the core of who you normally are. That's when the worship becomes real."
And that's exactly when you rediscover your brand-new relationship with love.
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