Jonny Lang burst onto the mainstream music scene in 1996 at the age of 15, capturing critical acclaim and immediate attention from fans while shooting to the top of the Billboard New Artist chart. His mature vocals were reminiscent of singers three times his age, tempered by a falsetto unmatched by many. His skills on the guitar had solidified fans in legendary guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck as he captured the blues world by storm.
And then something happened.
After succumbing to the pressures of drugs and alcohol, Jonny Lang had a spiritual transformation, and his life has changed for the better. "I've been so incredibly blessed," says Jonny. "My wife and I just had our fifth anniversary. I get to do what I love for a living. But it wasn't so long ago that I was spiraling downward in a lot of ways, until God touched my life and set me on the right track. I feel a huge debt to give glory back to Him for everything He has done for me." Jonny's fifth studio album, Turn Around, manages to do just that.
Artistically, it's a brilliant and soul-stirring blend of funk, jazz, pop, blues and country, combined with powerful lyrics which uniquely engages the soul and moves the spirit. It also includes an impressive line-up with Grammy winning producer/songwriters Drew Ramsey and Shannon Sanders (India.Arie, Temptations, and Nicole C. Mullen); drummer Michael Bland (Prince and the New Power Generation); and five-time Grammy Award winners Steven Curtis Chapman (co-writer of "My Love Remains") and Michael McDonald (on the duet "Thankful").
The message of Jonny Lang today is simple—and powerful: To Turn Around, you move ahead.
Hi Jonny and welcome to NRT! We're excited to have the opportunity to interview you, and I know our readers have been looking forward to it as well. On your latest project Turn Around, you have a phenomenal line-up of musicians who collaborated with you. How did you hook-up with them?
I met Steven Curtis Chapman in a pretty strange way, actually. I think my dad went to his concert, and he met him there. They started talking and my dad gave Steven my phone number. I don't believe my dad told me, but then I got a message on my voice mail: "Hey Jonny, I hope this is Jonny? This is Steven Curtis Chapman. . . ." I was like, "No way!" because I loved his music. We met each other, and then over the years we became friends. Writing together was just a result of hanging out.
I've known Michael McDonald for probably five or six years, and I met him through singer/songwriter and producer Tommy Simms. Michael is just an awesome guy! So, we started hanging out and writing together. We wrote a couple of things that are still lurking somewhere, and now that we share the same management that made collaborating together a little easier to do.
How long did it take to write the new album?
The total time writing really wasn't that long. I would say probably in just a few months. It was a lot of trips to Nashville for me. I was going back and forth writing with Drew and Shannon. It was a breeze writing with them; it flowed very smoothly!
Can you tell us what the album title means to you?
It's just about how God turned my life around, and how I made a decision to allow God to do that. I figured the title was definitely relevant, and it made sense!
It sure does! I understand you had a miraculous experience where God set you free from drug and alcohol addiction. When I heard about that it almost blew me away, because I also had a similar experience with God! It's amazing that when we both realized just how much God loved us, and we made a decision to follow Jesus, He completely took away our desire to get high!
Oh, that is awesome! [Laughter] That's so cool!
The song "Only A Man" is about the time when you had a personal encounter with God and He turned your life around. Would you like to share your experience with us and tell us more about that song?
Sure! That song is pretty much autobiographical. It's about the day that God humbled me and showed me that I am only a man. There was a time in my life where I basically lived for myself and satisfied my own will and desires. I felt like I didn't have to answer to God or to anybody for those things. [Then I had an encounter] with God, and His Spirit just knocked me down. He showed me how much He loves me, and it made me want to serve Him. It was at that moment I realized I was not my own—that my life didn't belong to me. My life was to be indebted to do God's work or whatever that might be. Or, at least to be obedient to whatever He would call me to do.
There's a verse in that song where you say:
I grew-up singing songs in church, with questions in my mind
And turned my back and ran away, from God who gave me life
Then one night His presence fell, I wept and shook and then
I fell down and cried "Dear Jesus rescue me again, I understand,
I am only a man."
When you wrote that verse were you referring to the time when God's power touched your life, and He took away your desire to do drugs?
Yeah, absolutely! Although I grew up going to church, I didn't really understand that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus. I thought it had to be through all these other people, and it wasn't powerful to me. So, I started pursuing other things even though I had a deep spiritual hunger that was not being satisfied. I didn't think that satisfaction would come through church. For whatever reason, it was never presented to me like that. So, I started to seek it in other areas. But later on, after I sort of ran my course, I found out otherwise.
At age 25, you've accomplished many things most people only dream of: You topped the Billboard New Artist Chart at age 15; toured with The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Sting; garnered platinum and gold certifications; a Grammy nomination; performed with blues legends Buddy Guy and B.B. King; and you were even named to Newsweek's "Century Club" as one of the 100 Americans expected to be influential in the next millennium! Your list of achievements goes on and on!
Your song, "Anything's Possible," encourages others to fulfill their dreams. What would you say to anybody reading this who wants to become a musician or whatever it is they were created to do?
Even when I was very young my parents really believed in me, and they allowed me to pursue music on a professional level—they allowed me to go after it. If it wasn't for that, I probably would still be in my bedroom practicing guitar. That was the biggest thing for me, and I get the feeling there are so many young people who have the ability, focus and desire to pursue their talents and gifts. I know that it is up to the parents to really nurture that, or they can totally destroy it as well. I would say encouragement from parents is the biggest thing and then not listening to people who say, "Oh, you can't do it!"
What was the craziest thing that ever happened to you on tour?
Probably the most embarrassing situation I've experienced happened on stage when we were opening up for Aerosmith. I believe we were in Minneapolis, and that's pretty much my hometown. It was a huge concert with 20,000 people, and at the time I used to play barefoot. They had some type of plastic or rubber staging, and sometime during the concert a bunch of water spilled. I was performing a guitar solo, and I slipped and I flew five feet in the air and I landed flat on my back. [Laughter] Then my guitar player helped me up. After the concert almost everybody I talked to said, "That was so cool! How did you do that?" At least they thought it was on purpose, because I thought I was dead for a second—it hurt so bad! [Laughter]
What are your tour plans, and will you perform any new material from Turn Around?
We are going to perform a majority, if not all, of the songs when the album comes out. I definitely have the most fun playing live, so I would encourage everybody to come on out and see a show! Make sure you go to www.jonnylang.com and check out my tour schedule.
Before we go, is there any particular song on the album you would like to talk about?...Perhaps, "It's Not Over"?
"It's Not Over!" That sums up what my hope is for the album. In my personal life and in my career, I really want to share with others just how good Jesus is and how much He loves all of us. I also want to share with others how much He wants us to be with Him and to come to the knowledge of the truth. I spent my life around pushy Christians, and it didn't get anywhere with me. I hated Christianity because of that. There was a time in my life when I swore I would never have anything to do with Jesus. The song "It's Not Over," it's a message of hope: If you are one of those people who are at your wits end and you've reached the end of your rope, God will be right there to rescue you. If you give it over to Him you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Angel conducted this interview in September of 2006 for NewReleaseTuesday.com. She loves Christian music and currently lives in Southeastern Florida with her husband. Reproduction of any portion of this interview without written permission is strictly prohibited.