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Unto Us

Aaron Shust


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Since their inception, MercyMe’s music has fueled a continual dialog both among people of faith and those who are grasping for it. Whether offering up encouragement with their multi-format hit “I Can Only Imagine” or inciting random acts of kindness with their 2010 album, The Generous Mr. Lovewell, MercyMe creates music that enlightens, entertains and invites community among a broad spectrum of people. The Texas-based band does so yet again on their seventh studio album, The Hurt & the Healer, a compelling collection of songs that rock with the authority of a seasoned band, yet also insinuate themselves into the souls of listeners through insightful, heartfelt lyrics. “We’ve been doing this for 17 years,” Bart Millard says of the group. “You still need a fresh perspective. You still need to have these moments where you are like, ‘Oh I totally get it. I see something new.’ That is what this album has been for us.”

Once written, the title track set the bar for the entire album. “Last fall I was sitting in an arena and I started writing these lyrics to ‘The Hurt & The Healer,’” Bart recalls. “It was one of those moments that happens once in a blue moon where you have something hit you it takes about 10 or 15 minutes to write. I was extremely emotional. I kept texting the lyrics to the guys and they were saying, ‘Oh man! This is incredible. This is totally a God thing.’”

The outpouring of emotion that led to “The Hurt & The Healer” was inspired by a tragedy very close to Bart and his family. “My cousin was a firefighter who was killed in the line of duty this past year in Dallas. Watching his wife and two kids go through the healing process, it’s been incredibly tough to say the least,” Bart says quietly. He and his cousin had grown up as close as brothers and the loss has been devastating. Yet he drew comfort from the community of firefighters. “Just seeing how the firefighters have surrounded his family and have been there for them . . . that kind of led me down this path of the whole idea that we can’t just have contact with God, we need a full blown collision with the healer to get through something like this. The idea of the song is to have this collision with the hurt and the healer to where we are changed, whether it’s painful or great or whatever, that we walk away closer to Christ than where we were before.”

“The Hurt & The Healer” became the foundation for the rest of the album. “We knew this song needed to be the title of the record,” he says. “It raised the bar for us because it’s hard to call an album The Hurt & The Healer and have a lot of light material, so it did challenge us to keep going down this road to what’s important in our lives, the idea of redemption and restoration.”

The result is perhaps MercyMe’s most personal record. “Instead of trying to write what we thought the church needed to hear about, we basically wrote what Christ had been showing us this past year,” Bart says. “If no one can relate to this, I’m sorry, but I feel like people will. It’s just where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. It was a different kind of challenge to write 10 or 11 songs that go along this line. God called us to write songs that help people through the healing process, so why not embrace that and do it to the best of our ability? The more we got into it, we started having almost too much to say. It was like how do we narrow this down?”

Working again with producers Brown Bannister and Dan Muckala, MercyMe recorded at Echo Mountain Recording Studio in Ashville, NC. Together they crafted a potent collection of songs that are as musically adventurous as they are lyrically substantive. “Dan and Brown took me aside and said, ‘Let’s just be honest. With a title this heavy, you’ve got to be careful not to write 10 ballads and 10 moments and just bring people down to this somber place. It would be easy to go there,’” Bart says recalling their conversation as the album took shape. “It was a challenge for me as a writer because if I have a really good lyric, I have a tendency to lean towards an emotional ballad and not so much on a fast song.”

Yet working with his bandmates and producers, the songs began taking on a different life. “As a whole this album by far is our biggest rock album,” Bart says proudly. “To approach somebody that’s going through a difficult time with all these ballads of hurt and pain could be detrimental, but the idea to have a song that makes you want to get up and start your day and still tackle something that has such substance, that was the challenge. I would write lyrics and go, ‘Oh my gosh, this would make a great ballad,’ and they wouldn’t let me do it. They were like, ‘No, it needs to be up tempo. Don’t make your fast songs fluff and slow songs solid. Everything needs to be solid. So it was an interesting challenge for me and when the record was done, it is by far our biggest rock and roll album.”

“Best of Me” is a pulsating rocker with an infectious melody that reels the listener in. “The First Time” is a poignant piano-laced ballad that showcases Millard’s warm, evocative vocals as he revels in the wonder of God’s mercies and grace feeling new again, while “Take the Time” is a rootsy alternative number featuring Bear Rinehart from NEEDTOBREATHE. Bart describes “To Whom It May Concern” as a “real quirky song about accountability. It’s about the idea that you’re not the first person to fall on their face. Instead of us throwing stones, we’re not going away. We’re going to stay right by your side and prove to you that you’re not your shame.”

“You Are I Am” finds the band paying homage to some of their ‘80s musical influences. “It’s a straight Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, 80’s kind of song that I absolutely love,” says Bart. “Every once in a while you can get what’s in your head and it turns out in the song exactly the way you thought it should. This is one of those songs. It talks about what we used to be. I used to doubt who you are and I used to question everything, but then the chorus comes in and says, ‘You’re the one who conquers giants! You’re the one who calls out kings! You shut the mouths of lions!’ It’s just a very inspirational thing, so that’s the song I’m most excited about.”

After nearly 20 years together, the members of MercyMe remain as excited as ever about connecting people through music. Long before signing with INO Records (now Fair Trade) in 2001, the band had amassed a devoted following. That fan base has continually grown over the years as the band has sold over 6 million units and served up such memorable songs as “I Can Only Imagine,” (the first song in Christian music to go platinum in the digital domain) “Here With Me,” “So Long Self,” and “Word of God Speak,” which was named the No. 1 Christian Song of the Decade by Billboard magazine. MercyMe has scored 23 number 1 multi-format Christian radio singles and four consecutive mainstream radio hits, along with Grammy nominations, numerous Dove Awards, an American Music Award, and appearances on The Tonight Show, ABC News, The New York Times, USA Today, Fox & Friends, the CBS Early Show and more. In addition to selling out venues like Radio City Music Hall, hundreds of thousands have flocked to their Rock & Worship Roadshow, one of the most successful tours in the Christian music industry.

Yet it has never been about chart numbers or music industry accolades. It has always been about sharing what God has placed on their hearts. On The Hurt & the Healer, hope, truth and grace collide in a powerful way. “There is definitely a huge theme on the album of we’ve all messed up, but Christ isn’t getting back on the cross. He died for our sins once and for all and it’s enough,” Bart says. “If people know Christ—regardless of what they’ve done—they are still redeemed. If we choose to look at people as redeemed and not based on their sin, then the mentality has to change. . . That is a huge part of the healing process. It’s not only about the hurt of losing a loved one. It’s the people who have been hurt in the church. One thing that we all have in common is that we all go through pain and hurt. There are a billion ways that we get hurt, but there truly is one way that we get healed and that’s a pretty novel concept.”

It’s a powerful message for a world that’s hurting, and the band hopes it will impact lives. “I’m hoping that people walk away saying, ‘You know what? I was tied down by the loss of my husband or by the cancer that wouldn’t go away, or the loss of my job or the addiction or whatever,” says Bart, “but you’ve made me realize that I have that same spirit that rose Christ living in me and I won’t be defined by this. This is not who I am. Whether it’s addiction or a broken marriage, this is not who I am. This is an attack, but my identity is in Christ, which means I can overcome this!’ It’s this spiritual empowerment that I think people desperately need. I still feel like I have something to say and I do love being in a band. It’s the greatest job ever. I love that God uses us to minister to people. I love making music that counts.”

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Jeremy Camp

There’s evidence that everyone else feels otherwise—he has sold three million records, charted nineteen No. 1 hits, GRAMMY-nominated and won several major Dove Awards—but Jeremy Camp is tired of himself. Not in any self-deprecating way, but in that positive spiritual sense to which we should all aspire. You can hear him working this out on his sixth recording, We Cry Out: The Worship Project.

“It’s common to say, ‘It’s not about me, God. It’s about You.’ Yet I’m really at that point right now,” Jeremy admits. “The Lord says in Jeremiah 29:13, ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’ But we live in such a distracted society; we let the world’s noise divide our focus and our hearts. Our generation is in desperate need of crying out to God.”

To get himself out of the way, Camp, a rock artist who’s also an ordained minister, makes an intentional return to worship on We Cry Out just as he did for his second album, Carried Me. In this familiar setting, he often steps back from self-written tunes, choosing instead to celebrate and share the latest praise songs by others that have been stirring his own spirit toward revival.

Jeremy explains, “This feels full circle—just coming in to make the record and saying, ‘whatever you want, God.’ A lot of people don’t know that Carried Me was the first project I signed up to do; I was launching as a worship artist. But we ended up debuting with a studio album (Stay), because the content of those original songs related more directly to my personal testimony.” (Camp’s first wife had just passed away months after their wedding when he was 23 years old).

We Cry Out is definitely marked by an air of Spirit-leading at every turn, which results in an easy and rewarding listener experience. Recorded just outside of Nashville with award-winning producer Brown Bannister (Amy Grant, MercyMe), it’s the first all-new set from Jeremy to feature his excellent live band—guitarists Randy Williams and Andy Davis, bassist Walt Smith, drummer Leif Skartland, and keyboard player Jacob Sooter. Their dynamic playing, a confident mix of modern rock and modern worship, flows naturally with their singer’s creative goal here.

“We didn’t want to over think this. It was such a chill project,” Camp says. “I just wanted to be obedient to what God has put on my heart in this time. We had been doing Hillsong’s ‘Mighty to Save’ and Matt Redman’s ‘You Never Let Go’ on tour. I simply asked the band to ‘enter in’ and help me make this an intentionally vertical, corporate worship style album through and through.”

There are two resonant ways to look at the title of We Cry Out. In addition to the aforementioned tracks, audiences will recognize the amped up version of Brenton Brown’s “Everlasting God” (previously recorded by Chris Tomlin) and first single “Jesus Saves” as outward cries for strength and eternal rescue. Most of the other selections are equally passionate declarations of God’s active grace and power, including Jeremy’s emotional take on Desperation Band’s “Overcome” written by Jon Egan.

“When I first heard the song, I thought, ‘I’ve got to record that; it’s getting into my spirit,’” he says. “During the recording, there was a spontaneous moment of worship. The producer raised his hands, and my father was there; he stood up and worshipped. I had to stop singing from all the emotion. We felt God’s Spirit was so thick in that room—and I would never say that lightly.”

Covering Egan’s uplifting song inspired Camp to call and meet the man. In turn, they ended up writing together on “Not Ashamed,” a fist-pumping new anthem with a big chorus that’s already an early favorite among friends. Similarly, Jeremy wrote with Brenton Brown on the title track, a joyful rocker that captures the album’s theme of seeking God’s face and duly responding:

We who called upon Your name cannot be silent / We will praise / We will sing it out / We will cry out to You / Your loving kindness and Your truth / It has delivered us / You have delivered us

Other collaborators on We Cry Out include Matt Maher who helped pen “You Are the Lord” straight from Psalms and Isaiah. The softer, piano-laced tune calls God’s people to raise their voices and features supporting vocals from recording artist Adie, to whom Jeremy has been married for six years; they have two daughters. Adding to the family atmosphere, “The Way” was co-written by Adie’s brother, Brad Peens. With a back-story similar to the late arrival of “There Will Be a Day” on 2008’s GRAMMY nominated album, Speaking Louder than Before, Camp recalls first hearing the song now marked by thundering drums and a South African choir.

“I’m pretty much done with the record when he shares this song, just wanting my opinion of it,” says Jeremy. “I thought it sounded like a worldwide anthem and asked to use it for We Cry Out. It feels like a war song, a cry of God’s glory.”

All creation cries out with longing / with wisdom You always answer / Jesus, You are The Way

We Cry Out closes with two new Jeremy Camp originals that, while indeed personal, really are all about God. “King Jesus” sounds like a future pop/worship classic, victoriously proclaiming with a shout of praise and with our voices raised / One day every knee will bow, behold You in Your glory. “Unrestrained” confirms the unassuming artist’s prayer for himself and all souls:

So take this selfish heart of mine / I want to give it all / And melt away everything that’s not of You / I want to know You more, so much deeper than I do / Completely unrestrained

“That’s where I am today—seeking the face of God,” concludes Jeremy. “I feel like I’ve had a growth spurt the past two years in my walk with the Lord, and I think this album reflects that deepening. There’s a purity behind this record that I can’t even describe. But I didn’t write most of it, so I can’t take the credit. And I love that.”

Everyone else is sure to love We Cry Out: The Worship Project as well.

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Nashville-based rock outfit RED comprises Michael Barnes (vocals), Anthony Armstrong (guitar) Randy Armstrong (bass) and Joe Rickard (drums).

Together, its three prior albums -- End of Silence (2006), Innocence & Instinct (2009), and Until We Have Faces (2011) -- have sold nearly 1 million units, garnering two GRAMMY nominations, five GMA Dove Awards, two Top 10 Active Rock singles, three Top 10 Mainstream Rock singles and 10 consecutive No. 1 hits at Christian radio.

Most recently, RED’s Until We Have Faces (Feb. 1, 2011) was the highest national debut at No. 2 on the coveted Billboard Top 200. Additionally, the project topped the following Nielsen SoundScan charts: Current Hard Music, Current Rock Music, Current Alternative, Christian Rock, Current Contemporary Christian Album and Record Label Independent charts. Also its debut week, two of the album’s songs were spotlighted on national TV, with TBS’ “Conan” featuring “Faceless” and NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” highlighting “Not Alone.”

In addition, RED is known for its relentless touring, performing alongside notable rock names such as Hinder, 3 Doors Down, Creed, Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace, Godsmack, Sevendust, Drowing Pool, Flyleaf, Seether, Papa Roach, Buckcherry, Saving Abel, Staind, Third Day, Switchfoot, Skillet and others. Rave reviews for the band’s live shows and albums have been featured in top media outlets including Billboard, USA Today, Modern Drummer Magazine, Rolling Stone and Guitar World.

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Britt Nicole

In penning the eponymous single for her third album Gold, Britt Nicole drew inspiration from some of the deeply devoted fans she’s amassed over the years. “I’d gotten lots of letters telling me, ‘I’m struggling, I’m being bullied, I don’t feel like I fit in,’” says the newest pop singer/songwriter signed to Capitol Records. To reach out to her followers—and send a potent yet joyful message of self-worth to her fans-Britt created the song “Gold,” a slick and shimmering self-empowerment anthem that pairs emotionally charged lyrics with an instantly catchy melody. Now a fan favorite that prompted countless concert-goers to turn up wearing “Gold”-referencing crowns on her recent headlining tour, the song marks a significant next step for Britt and signals her emergence as a pop phenom of uncommon substance and soul.

“When I write songs, I just write whatever’s in my heart,” says Britt, who co-wrote each of the album’s tracks. But while she didn’t intentionally push her Capitol Records album Gold (due out February 26, 2013) into a more pop direction than her sophomore effort The Lost Get Found (a 2009 release that debuted on the Top 100 Billboard Chart), she did realize early on that its highly danceable, hook-laced songs would likely have a broad appeal. “A lot of times I’m writing about what I’m personally going through,” she says, “and if I’m facing these sorts of things, then there’s got to be other people dealing with them too.”

Produced by Britt’s longtime collaborator Dan Muckala along with producers Chris Stevens, David Garcia and Josh Crosby, Gold merges her passionately thoughtful lyrics with infectious beats and soaring melodies. Also showcasing her masterful vocals and remarkable range, Gold has no shortage of songs that match the tender intensity of its title track. The sweeping, slow-building “All This Time,” for instance, recounts Britt’s struggle to overcome the pain of her parents’ divorce, while “Stand” blends high-powered beats with sweetly inspirational lyrics about rediscovering your strength. On “Ready or Not” (an ode to self-expression and “just bringing love to people and not holding back who I am,” according to Britt), sunny acoustic strumming gets elegantly layered over stomping rhythms and in-your-face electro effects. And with its throbbing groove, sleek synth, and celebratory lyrics, “Amazing Life” fast proves to be a dance-pop powerhouse.

Whether delivering a soulful ballad or a beat-soaked dance track, Britt strikes a stunning balance between vulnerability and self-assurance all throughout Gold. Not only evidence of her gift for crafting intensely relatable lyrics, that emotional complexity is a testament to her strength and honesty as a songwriter. “I write songs to myself, and it’s always great to see them connect with other people who need to be reminded that worth doesn’t come from having all the right things or from success—it’s about being who you are,” she says.

For Britt, the journey to her own success began as a child growing up in Salisbury, North Carolina singing in the church choir for nearly her entire life. After high school Britt chose to forgo college in favor of dedicating herself to her music full-time. She released a pair of independent records in the two years following high school and then—at age 19—moved to Nashville to further pursue her singing/songwriting career. Soon after arriving in Nashville and showcasing her early collection of pop songs, Britt landed a record deal and ended up releasing her debut album Say It for EMI by the time she was 21.

With her career continuing to flourish over the last few years, Britt has made a point of maintaining a close connection to her beloved supporters. “After shows I always go and hang out with my fans, talk to them and get to know them,” she says. “I try to take as much time as I can with them, people really want to share their stories.” Noting that her fans “know they can be honest with me because I’m honest with them,” Britt points out that those stories also play a key part in helping to shape songs like “Gold.” “A lot of girls come up to me with their heads down, and I can just tell that they’re feeling broken,” she says. “I love that they can come into the show feeling one way, and then leave feeling like there’s hope.”

To foster that feeling of hope on a grander scale, Britt has extended the self-esteem-raising sentiment behind “Gold” to the song’s powerful video. Featuring a cast of characters dealing with issues common among today’s teens (such as eating disorders and self-mutilation), the “Gold” video aims to uplift and inspire. While many have made the connection of “Gold” as an anti-bullying theme, Britt is intent on not focusing on the bullies. “There are probably always going to be people who feel the need to hurt someone else because of their own insecurity,” acknowledges Britt. “But the message of “Gold” is to remind those kids that are struggling that no matter what they have been told they are worth so much more than the words of another. Once you know that, no one can ever steal your shine.” she says of the intent behind “Gold.”

As she reaches an ever-widening audience, Britt aspires to stay focused on creating music that’s both genuine and empowering. “Whether it’s pop or rock or hip-hop, what moves me most is music that’s passionate, real and comes from artists who really believe in what they’re putting out into the world,” says Britt, who is inspired not only by their hit songs but by the authenticity of artists like Adele, Mary J. Blige, Taylor Swift and Coldplay. “And with a song like ‘Gold,’ I’m putting out a message that everyone needs to hear, regardless of where they’re coming from. It’s about knowing that you’re loved, that you’re worth something. It’s a message of hope.”

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Trip Lee

Trip Lee is an author, teacher, hip-hop artist, and thought leader. A pastor-in-training in Washington, D.C., he regularly preaches and teaches at Christian conferences and events, and has performed his music for thousands of listeners around the world.

In his first book, The Good Life, Lee points to the abundant life available only in Christ – a life beyond anything the world can offer. He is currently working on his second book.

As a hip-hop artist, Lee’s music has received critical acclaim, while reaching a large and growing audience. His third album, Between Two Worlds, won a Stellar Award and was nominated for two Dove awards, after debuting in 2010 at #1 on the Christian and Gospel Billboard charts, #5 on the Hip Hop/Rap iTunes chart, and #9 on the Top Albums iTunes chart. Most recently, his 2012 release The Good Life debuted at #18 on the Billboard 200.

Trip’s deepest desire in his writing, teaching, and performing is to declare the goodness and glory of Jesus Christ.

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Faithful To One

Faithful to One is based in Oregon’s scenic Willamette Valley. Tom Norwood, Todd Foster, and Vanessa Foster have been writing and performing together since 2011. All three have been playing and singing most of their lives, with a desire to share not just their love for music, but their passion to bless the Lord and His people through it.

Tom, Todd, and Vanessa come from diverse life and music influences ranging from church hymns to James Brown which, combined, shape their music. Tom plays rhythm guitar, is one of the lead singers, and the primary songwriter. He and his wife Kristi are raising two children. Todd is the drummer, runs sound at Faithful to One concerts, and does the recording and producing of their songs in his home studio. Vanessa, Todd’s wife, shares lead vocals with Tom. Vanessa has been singing since she was eight, but didn’t fully understand God’s calling until she was a young adult. She and Todd are raising four children, the youngest of which has been listening to Faithful to One’s music since before she was born.

In addition to leading their families, God has called them to use their music to glorify Him, and to lead others in worship of our Lord, Jesus Christ. They strive to be faithful to that calling wherever He leads.

Tom, Todd, and Vanessa are excited and blessed to be part of Fish Fest 2014! We look forward to seeing you there.

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