Hot on the heels of his third studio album (and Centricity Records debut), Let It Fly
, we caught up with singer-songwriter Jonny Diaz
during a recent concert in North Carolina. NRT Staff Writer Caitlin Lassiter asked him about the inspiration behind the album, and his heart for ministry, among other topics.
So Jonny, you just released your new album... How is this album different from any of your previous albums?
Well, my mission has always been the same, and I think it probably always will be as long as I'm doing music. My mission is to entertain, to encourage, and to challenge the listeners. So that hasn't changed, but maybe the approach at recording it has a little bit. I really think that this new sound and new material might have a little more of a maturity to it.
I didn't feel the need to try and make every song a big radio single or have a bunch of big production or make it something that it's not. I tried to record each song differently for what it was and what it was written to be.
That means that some songs are really small sounding and some songs are really big sounding, some songs are quirky and have upright bass, banjo, and things like that, and some songs are straight pop. It's just a little more mature in the sound cause we were able to treat each song differently.
Where did the title, Let It Fly, come from?
So for years, I've been the guy that plays "More Beautiful You." I travel around and I tell everyone that they're perfectly and wonderfully made, and I was struggling to believe that myself. Not necessarily in like a physical appearance way, but in a giftings way. I'm singing to people, telling them that they're perfectly and wonderfully made, but I'm wishing, "man, I wish I was a better singer, I wish I was a better guitar player, I wish I was a better songwriter." I really felt inadequate to have that kind of platform, to be able to share that kind of message--just totally inadequate.
And then it hit me: I started thinking about all the examples in scripture, and it hit me that I am
inadequate. And that's OK, because God has a habit of using inadequate people in extraordinary ways. You have Mary, the mother of our Savior, you have David and Goliath, you have Moses leading the Israelites. There are so many examples where our God uses somebody unexpected and inadequate to do something big.
So Let It Fly
actually comes from the first song which is called "Use Me Too," and it's talking about David and Goliath. It says "he said a prayer / looked to the sky / he wound it up and he let it fly,"
talking about the stone. The stone was a completely inadequate offering to take down a giant and yet God used it in big ways. So with this album, that's kinda how I feel. These songs are totally inadequate, but I'm still saying, "alright God...this is the best I got. You take it and do something big with it."
You talked a bit about it earlier, but how has the way you make music changed since the start of your career?
I think one difference would be not worrying as much about industry success. I never, when I got thrown into the whole industry side of things with radio and everything, I never planned on it. It just kinda happened. So then I started writing songs thinking, "OK, how am I gonna follow up 'More Beautiful You'? What's another No. 1 hit I can have for my career?" Things like that, and those didn't come for years. I haven't had a follow-up to it. I think now, I'm to the point where I'm OK with that and so I'm just writing songs for people as opposed to the industry and worrying about my career, and if God wants to put them number one on the charts, great! If not, then great. I'm OK with that.
What's your approach to writing songs and how has it progressed since you started?
I've really fallen in love with co-writing. Just writing with another person or sometimes two other people and there's a couple reasons. One, living in Nashville, there's just so many gifted songwriters and I would really be a fool not to take advantage of their giftings. And two, it gives me a very specific time to write. Life kind of gets crazy and so if I have on my calendar that Tuesday from 10 'til 2 I'm writing with this person, it actually makes me sit down and write a song. If I don't have another person to write with, I tend to think, "Well, I was gonna write today, but maybe I'll do this instead," and it kind of gets away from me.
What's your favorite song on this record and why?
I would say, probably "Thank God I Got Her." It's a song that's made people smile and I love being able to do that. It seems kind of lighthearted, and it is, but I think there's a little more to it. In the same way that "More Beautiful You" says you should accept yourself because you're perfectly and wonderfully made, "Thank God I Got Her" is my way of saying, "I need to accept my wife the way that she is perfectly and wonderfully made, even though I don't understand her," and also bringing some humor to that as well. I like that.
If you could tour with anybody in Christian music, who would it be?
I haven't toured with Casting Crowns yet. I'd love to do that.
I know your favorite part of touring is meeting new people, but what's the moment in your live set that you look forward to every night?
I think just taking the stage. There's so much work that goes into putting on a concert. All the setup, all the sound checks, all the traveling, just gets you ready, sometimes I only get 20 minutes of music, but that's kinda what it's all for--that moment right when I take the stage to use the gifts that God has given me. That's my good part.
You still feel like the opener?
(Laughs) Yeah, I do. I like that though... It's a little bit of an underdog mentality of like genuinely trying to win over fans that maybe didn't come for me, but hopefully I can make them like my stuff as well.
Let It Fly is your third album with a record label, so what have you learned about the music industry since the start of your career and what do you know now about it that you wish you had known when you started?
I know now that it's tough! I have been so encouraged by people and music--those are things I love about doing this. The industry side of things has been a discouragement if anything. It's tough working in an industry where they literally rank you each week--how successful you are. They put out a radio chart or a sales chart or whatever and it's like, "Oh! I'm way down there..." But what I've learned now is that that really doesn't matter. The size of the audience or the number on a chart has no indication of the worth of what we're doing. So I just try to rest in that.
What's the message you want people to take away from your music?
It's what I said earlier: I want them to be entertained, I want them to be encouraged, and I want them to be challenged in their walk--those three things. If all of my songs do one of those things, I consider it a success.
All the time you get asked to pray for others, but how how can we pray for you?
Just pray for opportunities. Pray that I get asked to go on tours and get invited to churches because I really believe in these songs and I believe in what they're saying, especially these new songs. So I just wanna play them for as many people as possible, so that God would open up big doors, even career wise, that it enables me a chance to share them with people.