She has lived in Israel, worked with a fast-rising mainstream singer-songwriter, served her local church week-in and week-out, sought to expose and dismantle human trafficking in the U.S. and raised four children.
Singer-songwriter Lisa Mitts has a kaleidoscope of callings that all center on one thing: revealing the goodness of Jesus in the midst of a challenging world. She's told that story with a number of albums over the years, and her latest expression is her brand-new project produced by Save the City Records' Derek Hoiem. WithWhere I Belong, the Seattle artist is back to share hope, her passion and yes, the latest iterations of her continuously developing God-story.
Lisa shared with me about her history as a musician, her life in Israel (even during wartime), and working with and having deep spiritual conversations with the now-famous Allen Stone.
Tell us how you got your start in music. Did you come from a musical family? When did you know that you were called to make music?
My mom gave me piano lessons when I was six years old. My dad also had an amazing tenor voice--he was part of the Cornell Glee Club and an audition with the Metropolitan Opera years ago. My brothers, sister and I were always in some kind of musical play or performance from our earliest years throughout high school. I also directed a few big summer camp musical plays.
I was a Music Major at the University of Florida but after a year, I realized I did not want to be a professional classical pianist and switched to Journalism and Communications with a B.S. in Broadcast Production and a Minor in Music.
Even with all of that, I never really dreamed I would actually write and make music until many years later when my husband and I moved from Jacksonville, Florida to the greater Seattle area and began a ministry out of our home. We are both Jewish and grew up in the synagogue and had been New Age seekers looking for truth. We didn't come to know Messiah until after we were married and had our first child.
When we met the Lord, it was a powerful real encounter of His love and we dove deep in the waters with Him. Anyway, years later with four kids, we attended a prophetic conference in North Carolina and one of the intercessors gave us a pretty amazing prophetic word, part of which was that he saw me writing and leading worship. Up until that point, I had not done anything like that--not even sung in church. But when we moved here and began One New Man Ministry, I started to hear songs and began to sit back down at the keyboard and write worship songs. God began to bring people from all over this area and it grew quickly; we often would have all night prophetic worship and prayer meetings.
How did you decide to record your first project?
It sounds kind of crazy, but at the height of our ministry growing, back in 2006, we moved to Israel. We had been leading yearly tours for four years and they were very powerful. As Jewish believers, we felt we were to get our Israeli citizenship and eventually move there. But when we went in the summer of 2006, the Second Lebanon War broke out and even with going into bomb shelters when Hamas and Hezbollah were firing rockets, we felt called to stay. So we literally sold everything--our home here in the States, car, furniture, et cetera--and with our four kids, moved there. Our youngest was just five years old.
I look back and think, "Wow, how did we do that?" But God gives His grace; we felt we were really fulfilling what Jesus said regarding leaving all to follow Him. We didn't have a big church supporting us, but God is so faithful. He moved on the hearts of many and it was an amazing walk of faith for the 4 1/2 years we lived there.
What's your relationship been with Allen Stone? That's a pretty amazing connection.
Yes, that is another amazing story! While living in Israel, we would come back to Seattle to minister each summer. I had written several worship songs (including some in Hebrew, too) and I felt this desire to record professionally. Up until then I had recorded four CDs with our worship team, but they were very raw, live recordings without editing/mixing.
Someone on our worship team connected me with Derek Hoiem of Rain On Me Productions. I spoke with Derek and told him I would be visiting that summer of '09. He was going to be gone with his family for the month that I was going to be there, but he told me about this young talented guy named Allen Stone who was working for him and he would do my first semi-professional album, My Heart Burns.
Allen pretty much saved me from a bad situation because I did not have a skilled guitarist for studio recording. He ended up doing all of the guitars including bass, plus he did all of the beat programming for songs without live drums and he even sang background vocals on that first album.
The next year, I had a dozen new songs ready to record, so Allen worked with me again on my Deeper Love album. This time, he did all of the arranging with me, plus all the guitars and BGVs with me, and he brought in a drummer for live drums. To date, that album has been one of my best sellers, especially the title cut.
By the following year, (2011) we had just moved back from Israel. In the spring I met with Allen for lunch and we talked about my story of what happened to me (I was raped at knifepoint by a stranger in my early twenties) and how Jesus saved me in so many ways. My heart was broken for Allen because he had walked with God in his childhood and teenage years, even leading worship at Bible camps and on the mission field with his dad who is a pastor; but when I met him, he was walking away from the Lord, possibly because of stuff he saw in the Church that hurt or was hypocritical.
We would often have long deep talks but I could tell his heart was being pulled into the world. Still, he had such an anointing for simple worship songs with a unique sound. It was his idea to make a third album together where we would write songs expressing my testimony. And so we spent the first 2-3 weeks writing 11-12 songs and then he brought in his own band for the studio recording. It was this album, You Found Me, that was the catalyst of the work we have done over the last 4 1/2 years to help survivors of sex trafficking. One of the songs we wrote in the studio, "Where Has Love Gone?" was made into a gripping, award winning music video about this horrific reality here in the U.S.
It was right as You Found Me was released in the fall of 2011 that Allen was discovered and had his national debut on Conan Live. I had always told him he was going to be famous one day and I remember watching him on that show and I knew that was it. I still pray for Allen to come home to Jesus. It would be amazing to work with him again. With God, truly all things are possible! You just never know!
You're part of a healing community, the New Man Healing Center. Talk about how that works alongside your musical calling.
Our ministry is called One New Man Ministry, and that is what was birthed organically out of our home out of a passion to see revival in our nation with a restoration of prophetic worship as well. But my husband is also a Harvard grad with a master's degree in Integrative Medicine and he practices acupuncture and nutrition at our healing center. He established that here as well as in Israel. He sees patients Monday through Thursday and is also able to pray with those who want prayer. Mostly he is an example of Christ by his incredible ability to listen and be present with people, and then apply his knowledge and skill for healing. We have seen miracles with many people. I work there a couple of days a week.
Israel has been an important part of your spiritual and artistic development. Talk about that.
Yes, I began a lot of my songwriting out of prayer for Israel. My first two albums have both Hebrew and English songs because they were written while we lived there. Since coming back however, a lot of my music has taken the direction of a unique contemporary sound with several different genre influences from rock to bluesy jazz. But it's funny because on the last three albums, which includes my newest about to be released, I always seem to write a rockin' messianic sounding song.
What's your involvement at your local church, and in the local community of creatives in the state of Washington?
I lead worship at our church, and my husband pastors there each week. In addition, we founded a nonprofit for survivors of sex-trafficking called Destiny House Restoration Center. This has been a big part of the focus of my music over the last several years with benefit concerts as well as our involvement with community outreach. We have not raised enough money yet to purchase the home/property and begin our program, but we have done a huge amount of work.
Tell us about your latest album and what you wanted to say on it.
Wow, I am SO excited about this new album! This is the first time I actually worked with Derek Hoiem. Even though I have known Derek for many years now and he introduced me to Allen, I never saw much of him or worked with him until this project. It has been both challenging--especially with equipment problems and unexpected delays--but also very rewarding. Derek is an excellent coach, especially with songwriting; he helped me a lot by pointing out where I needed to change something or make it better. I really appreciate his ability to hear the basics of my songs and then make them sound amazing with the arrangements and production/engineering. He also did the drums on the album!
I also brought in Jeff Coult, who played a couple of gigs with me and is an incredible guitarist! When you hear the guitars on this album, I think you will agree. Jeff also brought fresh ears to the project and added so much wisdom for the arrangements and good suggestions for mixing edits. The three of us had a blast in the studio talking about how the music of the '70s was so amazing; we used some of that to inspire this album. You might find a little "Stairway to Heaven" influence on the song "Psalm 91."
I am proud of this new project, Where I Belong, because it is my first album where I not only did the lead vocals but all of the pianos, organ, synth and even BGVs.
What would you say your calling is as an artist?
I think my calling is to bring the simple love of God and healing to a broken world and so many who have experienced difficult things in life. Because I wasn't raised in church, I don't fall into the typical worship leader category, even though I love to lead worship. I just know how God healed me and delivered me from so much fear, anxiety and pain out of my experience. I want to bring that healing through my music. I have heard from several over the years that listening to my music has brought this kind of healing and I can't explain how it feels when I hear that.
What is your "secret identity" (day job)? How does it feed into what you do as an artist?
I work for both my husband (2 days a week), for Destiny House Restoration Center as Director of Fundraising, and I have 2 teenagers at home. Does that tell you anything? I am a little busy.
When you play music live, what's the scene typically like? I'd imagine worship scenarios. Tell us what your "gigging" is like.
Leading worship is my most typical but that has great variance as I have led at business conventions, marriage conferences, and church services. But I also have done many gigs in coffee houses, wineries, and big concert events. In fact for several years--2011-2014--I probably played just about every coffeehouse here in the greater Seattle area. I had some amazing musicians join me at times as well. So fun! Some of my songs, especially from You Found Me and Songbird are not in the worship genre, so they play well for other kinds of venues.
What gets you excited these days?
Helping others fulfill their dreams, especially encouraging young people to follow their dream and to be thankful in all things. To trust the Lord because one of the gifts of growing older is that you can look back and see how God truly does use all things together for good!
How can people be praying for you?
That my music would finally reach into tens and hundreds of thousands of people and people would be healed. Also for us to raise the funds needed to open Destiny House Restoration Center.
Learn more about Lisa Mitts at her website, and purchase Where I Belong on iTunes.
Marcus Hathcock is the Executive Editor of NewReleaseToday.com, a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader living in Boise. He has released an EP, Songs For Tomorrow, and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.
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