10 Questions with ... Matt Maher
March 16, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- 2001 The End And The Beginning
- 2003 Welcome To Life
- 2006 Overflow
- 2008 Empty & Beautiful
- 2009 Alive Again
- 2011 The Love In Between
- 2013 All The People Said Amen
- 2015 Saints And Sinners
1. Brief history/synopsis
I was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, where I lived until I was 20. Newfoundland has a very musical culture; it's like an amalgamation of Celtic, Irish and Acadian. There is a lot of history represented in the music there. Canadians love rock and roll; I think most commonwealth countries tend to love rock and roll. I grew up with a heavy dose of all kinds of music; my dad used to listen to Frank Sinatra while he cooked dinner. We listened to Willie Nelson, The Beatles and I had cousins who lived next to me who listened to classic rock - everything from The Rolling Stones, to ACDC to the sound track of Cats! I moved to Arizona at the age of 20, shortly after my parents were divorced. I finished studying there and got a degree in Jazz Piano, Music and Jazz Performance. It was shortly after that when I gave my heart to Christ; I got involved in church and started writing songs. 10 years ago, I signed a publishing deal with Capitol CMG and in 2008 signed a record deal with Sony.
2. What does a normal day at home look like for you?
I wake up sometime between 6:30a-8a depending on how late my kids choose to sleep, then get kids dressed and make coffee; I don't talk much until I've had my first cup of coffee. Then I read the daily Scriptures on my phone and have some quiet time with God and some quiet moments, in general. Then I read the news and what's going on on social media and take a look at the day ahead; if I'm writing I'll prep for that; if I'm home with the kids, I just try to be as present as possible with my family; whatever I'm doing is usually done by 3 or 4 o'clock which is around the time my son gets home from preschool; we play and have fun; now that the snow has melted we'll usually be outside; we have dinner then bathtime then bedtime; my wife and I usually unwind at night by spending time together and sometimes watching some TV shows that we've caught on DVR; she'll go to bed before me; I'm a night owl so before bed, I read some, listen to music, or occasionally play on my Xbox.
3. What's the song that you just can't get out of your head right?
"Uptown Funk" by Mark Bronson f. Bruno Mars; although it technically came out in 2014, I think it's by far the best song of 2015. It's a tribute to old school and new school motown all at the same time; great hooks, great rhythm section, tracks - it has everything you want in a pop song.
4. How much do you travel, what are the challenges?
I travel a fair amount; last year was intentionally a slow year and even then, did 85 shows; I've been fortunate to have a career as a songwriter, which has helped offset my income; I'm on the road more than half of the year usually; the notion of finding balance is an absurd thought to me; I find it easier to consider living life in seasons; you work hard and then you need to rest well; my wife has had to challenge me to do a better job of this; it's taking good care of yourself; not just diet and exercise but also rest; you have to give yourself space to unplug. We're in this 21st century where there is a new paradigm of when it comes to being an artist; you're an artist, an entrepreneur and a small business owner. You have to constantly think on multiple levels and it's very easy to become a work-a-holic. Traveling is tough, but it comes with the gig. The thing I really find more and more difficult is the infiltration of technology into every facet of our life and business; you can't take a guitar with you everywhere you go; but you can take a phone; it can actually become a barrier between me and the rest of the world; finding space to be fully present with the people who I'm with, both on the road but very much at home takes being very intentional. My kids are young so we're learning boundaries and ground rules for how to accomplish a healthy balance, for example, I'll tour 6-8 weeks then try to take a couple of weeks off.
5. What's the biggest "God moment" that you've ever experienced, personal or professional?
Two things; the births of both of my children. Everything that has to do with being human has a dignity and a purpose to it because God chose to become human as well; watching my children being born reminded me of the efforts God will go thru to proclaim life; very meaningful amazing things. The other biggest "God moment" was the day I got married - when I was holding my wife's hands and saying our vows. I remember seeing our hands joined together and realizing that something else was happening on a spiritual, supernatural level; it wasn't just two people making promises with each other, it was two people making a covenant with God
6. What's the last book you read?
For the past two years, the books I've been reading have been children's books at bedtime; three per night, to be exact! I can't even remember the last book I read that wasn't a children's book!
7. Tell me how & when you became a believer. What caused you to want to serve God in full time ministry?
I struggle with this question b/c I've always believed in God; I think you're asking about the moment that I chose, as an adult, to recognize and receive the saving act of what I believe Jesus Christ did on the cross. That happened when I was 21 years old; my parents had just been divorced and I was playing music at church. One time, there was this seemingly stupid silly skits called "The Broken Heart Skit" where this girl was on stage with a heart, that was symbolized by a grapefruit. As she went through life, the grapefruit became broken and battered. This figure, supposed to represent the devil, kept trying to put the broken heart together with tape and aluminum foil, but her heart was never fully restored; then another figure, who was supposed to represent Jesus and God, gave her a new, fully restored heart. It was in that unlikely moment that I felt like God was saying to me "I want to give you a new heart." That was the moment at which it became very real to me. I actually thought I might have been having a nervous breakdown! I had to go outside and smoke three cigarettes I was so overwhelmed! Finally, I just burst into tears; not just because of what he had done but what he could do in my life. That experience compelled me to get involved in ministry. I thought the thing that made the most sense was to use the gifts I had been given as a musician to serve the church. And that's still what I'm doing today.
8. Take us through a couple songs on your latest project, SAINTS AND SINNERS.
"Deliverer" - "This song's a very personal song for me. I've been a huge believer in the band NEEDTOBREATHE for a long time and their ability to create music that goes beyond the fringes of the church, so I was honored they were willing to offer this haunting verse and chorus to this song that Bear [Rinehart] wrote out of his own conversion experience. Coupled with that, the bridge was inspired by my recent experiences as a dad. My son, Conor, was struggling with being afraid of the dark. So I tried writing what might be the antithesis of what he was feeling, trying to imagine what it must be like to be a kid and to have those moments where literally there's no fear-just total trust. I've never worked harder to capture that kind of moment; one of a heart cry-that sense of liberation. This bridge is probably my favorite moment on the record."
"Firelight" - "One of my favorite stories of someone who struggled and had a very dark side was Mother Teresa. She went through extensive effort to start a religious order. She became a nun, started her own order of nuns and then moved to India; and immediately the presence of God disappeared from her life, and she didn't feel anything. She started writing letters to her spiritual director, confessing all of her internal struggles. At the same time, her ministry blew up and next thing you know, everyone is finding out about this nun from Calcutta, and everyone loves her. All the while, she was having these moments where she struggled and felt so weak and God felt so distant. She offered a quote that says, 'If I ever do become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness. For I will not be content to roam the streets of heaven while there's one soul who still longs for God.' Her quote captures that hunger of a person, who in the midst of struggle, still loves the marginalized and still loves the oppressed. 'Firelight' is a song about disillusionment and that very frail prayer of asking God to burn and shine in the midst of that and to continue to light the way through darkness."
"Because He Lives" - "This whole record started with the making of this song, which was inspired by the lyric, 'Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.' Being Catholic, I didn't grow up singing that song, but it was a massive song in other denominations. I loved the idea of the phrase, 'Because He lives...'-that realization that because of the resurrection, I'm not dead. The record starts with this prayer of, 'I need a future not my own,' and it ends with the prayer of saying, 'I know He holds my future in His hands.' I think early on when we don't know God, we pray, 'I'm headed toward disaster. I need a different course for my life.' One reaches a point where you mature in your faith, and you realize God already has the course of your life taken care of. I think it's a hard thing when you fully surrender to the present, and you give that to God, and then you turn around and you are able to slowly trust the mystery of an uncertain future and know that the certainty in it, is God. I wanted to put it toward the end of the record to help create a space where, if somebody hit track one and just let the whole thing run, it would really take them on a journey of arriving back at the most important place, which is the resurrection. Sometimes things have to die in order for them to come to life."
9. What organization/service group are you affiliated with?
I do a lot of work with Compassion International; over the years I've come to recognize the important work that they do, especially with the local church. There are ways that Christians are called to serve the poor; children represent, in a very real way, the church of tomorrow, but also the church of today; they represent so much of the hope of our society and civilizations. A direct way to bring an end to poverty is if you can help one child at a time lift a child out of poverty and that child becomes a man or woman who will impact their community. It's not thru a nameless faceless organization; it's thru real human interaction. The role of the church is unique in the world; Jesus set things up the way He did so that there could be human hands and feet reaching out where His heart is. Compassion is an amazing organization that works through child sponsorship, trying change the world one child, one relationship at a time. It's not just giving money to an organization; you're really intentionally investing into that child. It's a relationship that you start with a person, which is how God chose to change the world.
10. Person you'd most like to have a discussion with, living or dead?
George Martin, producer of the Beatles. Seems like such a lovely fellow.
1. Favorite Bible Verse....life verse?
Matthew 6:25 - Because worrying is really bad for you. There's nothing redeeming about it.
2. Funniest or most embarrassing moment on the road?
Too many to mention, but if you get to about 9:08 in this video from World Youth Day in 2008, you'll get a good giggle:
3. What artist or pastor has had the greatest impact on you?
Rich Mullins. He was a poet and a prophet and a beautiful mess of a person. His songs aren't perfect, but that's the point. His aching heart expressed in the words and melodies gave me permission to explore the same tensions within myself as both a child of God and as a songwriter