Matt Jackson is an Atlanta-based recording artist and worship leader whose Alabama upbringing is clearly heard in his original mix of modern worship, classic country, southern gospel, and muscle shoals-era soul. His warm Americana gospel sound offers us a glimpse into a modern spiritual rock-and-soul, carrying his sincere tenor over a bedrock of horn sections and pedal steel, passion with a backbeat.
He recently sat down with NewReleaseToday to answer questions about what he's learned
It looks like you've released a LOT of music in 2018 so far! Has it been a busy year? Tell us what you've released!
We did a studio record for Northside Church in early 2017 but it just didn't translate to what we were doing each Sunday morning. Instead of releasing that, we decided to record a live record and ended up releasing a few of the songs off of the studio recordings along with it, which turned into a few singles and the Gospel Hymns EP.
Who is Matt Jackson? Tell us about yourself.
I grew up outside of Birmingham, AL, traveling with my father who was a tent revivalist. Music was a huge part of those revivals and I'm sure still has a large impact on the music I continue to make. I now live in Atlanta with my wife and three kids. My days are consumed with their activities but I know this season will pass in the blink of an eye, so I'm soaking it up while it's here. I try to squeeze in getaways where I can, just focus on unplugging and being creative.
How did you get started in making music?
I was in a church service just about every night from the time I was born, and music was such a large part of those services. I played drums in my dad's revivals starting at 10 years old, so making music is something that's always been with me.
Although you're a worship leader, your music doesn't sound like the typical Sunday morning fare. Talk about your Americana/Classic country sensibilities, and how they match up with your subject matter.
I've never understood the idea that worship music had to have a certain sound. Spiritual music and worship music should come from our guts, not from a few cliche words on top of a boring four-chord progression. Growing up in Alabama and singing old gospel spirituals mixed with pentecostal choruses had a huge influence on the music I make, especially the harmonies and the low down backbeat of the drums. The pedal steel and B3 are two of the most emotional instruments, in my opinion, and I can't get enough of them.
Your music feels nostalgic and classic but it's also modern and fresh at the same time? How do you accomplish that?
I deal with insecurities on a daily basis that what I'm making isn't "cool" enough, but at the end of the day, I just have to roll with what feels right to me. The battle is between making what resonates with my heart and trying to create something that connects with as large an audience as possible. Mostly I just focus on pulling in musicians that I admire and trust to bring something unique to these songs.
How did you connect with Daniel Bashta, and what did it mean to you to work together on a song?
Daniel and I have been close friends for a long time. Our friendship really wasn't around making music together but just the bond of growing up with very similar childhoods. When he was writing "Like a Lion (God's Not Dead)," his band was rehearsing at my house. They were playing it over and over as they were learning it and my wife was going crazy. She made me go down and tell them they couldn't play it again or they had to leave. It's funny the places that song has gone now! Daniel is a super talented and passionate guy, so it's fun anytime we're together.
Name some musical and spiritual heroes of yours.
There's not enough time to list the musical influences, but the classic guys like Tom Petty, Al Green, and Frank Sinatra are in my core. Today's friends like Justin Jarvis, John Mark McMillan, and Daniel Bashta inspire me daily with what they are doing in Christian music.
In an age of processed and overprocessed sounds, you bring some very raw and real, instrument-driven music. What does having a full band like this add to what you're trying to do?
I've come pretty late to the idea of "fixing" things in the computer. I still hate the idea of tuning a vocal--which has become such a normal thing and still blows my mind. I like to sing it until it's right or feels so good that even the mistakes sound good! I love technology but it has the ability to suck the life out of things. The chemistry that happens when a group of people are making music together in that time and place can never be recreated and is what makes it unique and timeless.
What are some risks you've taken as an artist?
I feel like what I've been doing is risky. As a father with 3 kids and a mortgage, I think all the time how it might be easier to cover all the major worship songs, write songs that would be radio friendly, and try to get as many song royalties coming in as possible. But so far, God has continued to take care of us and in this season of life, the congregation at Northside UMC here in Atlanta has been over the top with their support. I've been here 3 years now and we keep growing as people are coming looking for something fresh and inspiring. Atlanta is full of fantastic churches but we are doing something totally different and I'm thrilled to say, the risk has been paying off!
Spiritually speaking, how are you seeing this music affect people?
Over the years I've heard some amazing stories people have shared with me. I've heard of people putting certain songs on as they have learned about a loss, a disease, or some other tragic event and how it brought hope and encouragement that Jesus was with them as they walked through the circumstance. Today, just hearing that people are enjoying listening and knowing that God is going to speak uniquely to them is an amazing thing!
What's your live experience like?
I strive for the thin space where heaven meets earth and our hearts are captured by the awareness of God's presence. Each time is also going to be different based on the musicians I'm using, but we strive for authenticity and originality all while aiming for the best quality we can give. I'm blessed to be surrounded with so many talented musicians.
Tell us the story of one song you write that came out of a watershed moment for you.
I wrote "The Healer" about 10 years ago after hearing a lady share her testimony at my church. I had just finished leading worship so I had kinda checked out a little, but she began to share how she was diagnosed with cancer and was supposed to go in for more testing, but was scared because of what else they might find. As she was sharing, she said God had spoken to her and said: "Do you want the healing or do you want ME?" At that time in my life, I had been dealing with a lot of different things surrounding God feeling distant, but as those words came out of her mouth it felt like a brick was thrown against my chest and I let out a shout! I picked up the tithe envelope and immediately began to write: "I want the Healer, not just the healing, I want the Giver not just the gift, I want the Real thing not just something, I want You, I want You!"
What's something God is teaching you right now?
How to be a good father.
What's your calling as best you can tell?
To be a man of integrity as a father, husband, son, and friend and to use my talents in music to reach hearts and minds with who Christ is and who He says we are.
What's next? How can people be praying for you?
We just want to keep getting better at what we're doing and be good stewards of all that we've been given. We also hope to take things on the road soon, so prayers for logistics and opportunities would be appreciated.
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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