AN NRT EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Carman: No Plan B (Part 1 of 2)
The quintessential Christian artist is brushing cancer aside to continue "Mission 3:16" with a new album and tour.
 


In the kingdom of God, it's not unusual for a gut-wrenching hardship to turn into a glorious triumph. That has been the experience of Christian music pioneer Carman, whose announcement last year that he suffered from incurable cancer set in motion a series of events that now find the singer poised for a brand-new album, a massive tour and an incredible testimony.

After 10 years of not making music, the man known for hits such as "Who's in the House?", "The Champion" and "Radically Saved" was overwhelmed by the response he saw from fans. The outpouring of support caused an old friend--a former attorney and former record label executive--to ask the question: What if Carman made another album?

The cost of going it alone in creating, recording, distributing and touring an album seemed astronomical, but again, Carman would be blown away by the support of his fans. A crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter not only hit the seemingly impossible $200,000 fundraising goal, but blew it out of the water to the tune of more than $538,000--enough to be the second-highest music Kickstarter to date.

Now, reality set in. The fans had spoken, and they wanted new music. After eight months of writing, recording, intense cancer treatment and tour preparations, Carman is hitting the road again. With No Plan B, Carman's reemergence is more reboot than comeback, as he shares some of his most personal music to date.

I caught up with Carman just before the release of No Plan B to talk about the album, his health, the upcoming tour, and the lessons he's learned in this simultaneously challenging and exciting time. (Read Part 2 here.)

Where are you calling from today, Carman?

I'm calling from Summerlin, Nevada. That's home.

I'm excited to talk with you about the new album and the tour and just what you've been through and all that. In brief detail, what have you been up to for 10 years?

I've been doing a lot of speaking and going to churches in a very uncomplicated way, as opposed to doing the concert routine, which is very complicated. It was just a very seasonal thing I was going through. I'd been at it [performing] for a very long time, since '81, so I have about 20 years' worth.

After a while you need to do something different just to be sane, so I wanted to do television, more behind the scenes, and different things. And the music scene has changed and the interest wasn't there on both sides. Seasons change, so you move on. You do other things.
 

Update us on your health situation. How are you feeling? What sort of treatment have you undergone? 

Eight months of chemotherapy and then, of course, you do maintenance after that. It's a certain few things everyday and sometimes you have certain things you have no reaction to, other things you have every reaction to and then you're just trying to figure out how to keep the healing process going and continuing.

It's just like anything else, except it's just a little bit more intense, severe. I don't know how many ways to explain eight months of mayhem. You don't want to hear the story, but it was rough.

How are you feeling today?

I'm feeling OK. I feel pretty good. It takes a while for your body to reassimilate, to readjust, because all this treatment, it affects you on a cellular level, which is a very different ballgame. It's not like having a broken leg. You know what to do to fix it or you know how -- or even having a cold or the flu, anything. It's just stuff where you have reactions to things and your body does things that you just could never even imagine.

Your tastes change. Your appetites change. A lot of your habits change. It's like walking into another atmosphere and your body is trying to adjust to some other way of breathing. 

Are you technically in remission right now as far as the cancer is concerned? What's the status there?

According to the doctors, there is an average of 10 years of remission for this type of cancer, multiple myeloma, after the type of treatment that I got. These guys are pretty effective, the doctors that I went to, and that's why it was eight solid months. Three months is going after the cancer and then the next five months is going after cancer that nobody sees, and that's what makes them so effective. Technically whenever anybody goes through chemo, the cancer is gone and everything else is gone, but the issue is when is it coming back.

Just chemo itself is not going to do it. It's going after the cancer cells that don't show up on any tests, any PET scans or bone biopsies or anything like that. It's funny because I talked to a few people who've been through this with their parents years ago, and I asked them how they're doing and they said they passed away. Typically the people that go through this in the past didn't live. It's a miracle.

They didn't survive at this point in the stage of things, is that what you mean?

They didn't make it past a year once diagnosed. I tried to do the healthy thing, sort of, for maybe about four months I went on a different regimen and program and it didn't help. It just kept getting worse. I wish I had something else to report, but I don't. That's how it was.

That's incredible, really, that you're doing as well as you are and that your doctors have just been blessed and gifted with this knowledge that can help you and help you see this through, this season that God's got for you. 

It's probably safe to say the new album, No Plan B, is your most personal album. The themes probably weren't difficult to come by, I'd imagine, given what you've gone through. Talk about the songwriting there. Did you have songs written over the last 10 years, or was it a pretty recent, quick process as far as penning these songs?

The thing about that is when people aren't buying your records and you're not a recording artist, you have a tendency to stop writing. It's like part of you says, "What am I doing this for? Who's going to hear it?" Nobody is going to hear it. You become Eleanor Rigby. Who was that one guy? Father Mackenzie, writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear.

After a while you lose heart and then you just get out of the mode of interpreting your thoughts into musical form. You don't hear things as melodies and hooks anymore. It's just not part of your life. I had to actually start writing again, but the Lord would have to give me some inspiration because I just didn't think I had anything.
 

I'm sure just putting it into musical form is probably the tricky part.

When the songs start coming, it became easier and easier. Then it became the natural flow. Then it really wasn't something that I was really sweating after that.

Do you feel like, in a sense, you're starting over again as an artist or is it sort of like riding a bike after all this time?

I'm pretty much starting over. As far as what people are listening to and what they're buying, they haven't bought my records in a long, long time, so it's just like I'm a brand new artist coming out and you have to just look at it realistically. The people that did buy my records were from another generation.

So for them to be buying my records again, they might not be really thinking about record buying. It's not in their thoughts because a record buyer is pretty much a younger demographic.
 
You had the second-highest Kickstarter fundraising campaign of all time in terms of recorded music. What did that mean to you to see these people connected to you after all these years?

I didn't know what it meant at first. I thought maybe this is just like a goodbye sort of thing. This is how we say goodbye, so I didn't think about it much until I actually got more involved in it. Then as I got more involved in it and I saw that this was really something that was going to turn into a little bit more than what I thought initially and a tour could come out of it and lots of other things, I thought, "Well, it's going to be hard to do all this stuff because in the back of my mind I'm also thinking I've got to tour this stuff." I've got to take it on the road and I can't take it on the road if I'm not alive.
So how am I going to do this and stay alive? I think that's when I really started to think about going into treatment.

Does your physical reality sort of change how you're going to go about this tour or even your live performances themselves?

No, because no matter how I feel--no matter how bad I feel, no matter how sick I feel or if I have some sort of a relapse or a bad reaction to something or if I'm tired one day--I can always get up and for two hours crank it out and then fall apart afterwards. I've done that before many times.

It's sort of a gamer mentality: Go hard during game time and then the rest will work itself out on either side, right?

I've been on stage. I've done complete concerts with total laryngitis, with absolutely no voice. So I just figured out a way how to do it. I don't know. I don't remember what I did, but I must have done something because I got through it.
 

What has having cancer shown you about God and God's character and your faith that you wouldn't have seen or known any other way?

I wasn't surprised at anything about how or what the Lord did or how He took care of things or how He supplied, because I've seen Him do before and when there was no other way to get something done or no other way to provide, He would come through.

That's not a surprise to me because I lived that way. I did the love offering concerts. Every night I walked on the stage, I had $200,000, $300,000 hanging over my head and had no money to pay for it. Every night for years. I'm not surprised at that. 

That's how I lived, but I am surprised at who came to assist me, because the people that you thought would help you and you thought would rush to you to help you--especially people that I've helped out through the years--didn't. These were people I helped get started in the industry, people I gave really big opportunities to to get started with their ministry, people who were abandoned by everybody in the business and some people I didn't even really know that well just came in. 

I went and bought them suits and clothes and gave them songwriting credits on records that I really didn't have to. I could have done it myself, but I knew it would give them some money in their pocket from royalties, and it would keep them going and keep giving them something to live on.

These are the people that I didn't hear anything from. I mean nothing. I was just shocked. If that was me and it was somebody that did that type of stuff for me to get started, I would at least be on the phone talking with them and encouraging them and making them laugh or anything just to help them get through, just anything. But I got no texts, no cards, just nothing. Zero.

That's what shocked me, but here's the other thing that shocked me is the people that did come to help me, to come to my aid, that I had no clue would do anything.

These were people I'd never met before, people that I didn't know how I affected their lives, people that just were willing to do anything, sacrifice anything to just help me get through this. People who donated money because when you go into treatment you're out of work for nine months and you take anybody and you put them out of work for nine months, kill off all their income, income stream for nine solid months, at the end of nine months your life looks a little different than it did before. People were making donations from overseas, people I'd never met. People from Japan. I was shocked.

You've learned a lot about, maybe in a sense, humans and human nature for good or for ill through this process as well.

I'll tell you what I learned is that the Lord sometimes wants to tell you, "Let me choose your friends. Let me choose who your friends and your family are. I'll tell you who's faithful. I'll tell you who you can trust and I'll tell you who you should put your heart into and who will be there for you when you need them and when they're in trouble, you'll be there for them."

I was astonished, then I was hurt because I've been through so much stuff. I couldn't be hurt anymore. That part of me was just so fried that nothing could happen there. I cried too many tears way long before that. The tears were all gone. It wasn't about being hurt. It was just like Lord, what am I supposed to learn from this? 

The Lord showed me who real friends are--even in business, who the real friends are. It was a learning experience. It was somewhat fascinating.
 

I'm sure never easy to go through, but at the end you're probably feeling like it's so valuable. The overriding message of No Plan B, to me as I've listened to it, was this overriding sense of God's goodness and plan and a message really just to trust Him. Is that pretty central to what you're going for there? Talk about that for a minute.

I haven't thought about it. If you say so.

Over and over the message is trust, and you saying it's all going to be OK, and just this sense of overriding peace in His plan. That's what I got out of it anyway. 

It sounds about right. You just write what comes to you. When you haven't written for a long time, you don't have a whole lot to choose from, so whatever comes to you, that's what you write because that's your inspiration for the moment.

It's like when you're writing your first songs again. I don't know where all this is going. I don't know how successful it's going to be. It's hard for me to imagine this is a big comeback. Whenever you try to comeback, people will always say, "Oh man, it's going to be bigger and better than ever!" I'm like, "Are you kidding me? Do you realize who you're talking to?" I mean, I was in stadiums, man. What's bigger than that? Singing to the Atlantic Ocean? 

So I guess the answer is really just being faithful to what God's called you to do. And it sounds like that's what you're undergoing.

Really, that's not really the issue either. I mean that's, you really don't measure it by size. I don't. I've had as big of crowds as anybody has ever had. Just to hear them. I've had seventy thousand people indoors and fifty and sixty lots of times. And not just once, we did lots of stadiums. So it wasn't like I'm not experienced at it, like I don't know what that feels like. 

But it's not necessarily going to mean like you're changing the world. It means you're just doing what you're called to do. That's it. You're called to do it for that moment, and God is giving you favor for that moment. What are you doing with favor while you have it? So that's really the issue. 

Absolutely.

And I look at an artist, a young artist, who's Christian. And if God gives them the favor and blesses them to have the ability to stand before ten, twenty thousand people at [inaudible], while they have that power to influence, what are they doing with that power? What are they saying? What impact are they making? What words are they planting in their spirits? What spirit are they transmitting from the stage? Because that's more important sometimes than even the words. Because words can get lost if the spirit is off. You know, you can say "yeah, the song says this, this, and this" but the spirit of the song was so off you just couldn't hear it, you know.

So you'll be held accountable for what you did with the power once you held it. When you held that power-- it's like being president. Nobody remembers somebody's campaign, how they got to be president, and all the political things they had to do to get there. But they do remember what kind of president you were once you held power. 

(Read Part 2 of this interview here.)


 

Editor-in-Chief Marcus Hathcock has been a newspaper reporter, an editor and a church staff member. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and the worship leader at his home church in the Portland, Ore. area. Follow his journey at www.mheternal.com.

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