In part two of this interview, NewReleaseToday spoke with worship music pioneer and "Revelation Song" writer Jennie Lee Riddle about the label, publishing house, worship group, and songwriting collective People & Songs. For part one, click here.
Talk about Kaden Slay and Charity Gayle. How do you go about creating out of these times but also with these individuals and the things that they're creating? How do you create an album in this kind of format?
Kaden is 19 years old and when I met him, he was 18. He's a young kid, but he's also a pastor's kid so he came with a really good foundation and he knew the word of God, but he had never written a song before. I'm honored to get to be his first co-write, and we started with just his story. I wanted to hear his walk with the Lord and how he came to Jesus, so we pulled that out of him and we wrote the first song on his record, which was "One Thing I've Learned." It's a great record. If you've not gotten it, it is so fantastic. We wrote "One Thing I've Learned," and from there, just a bunch of different little Bible study that pulled out our song. He's got an old soul. He kind of also sounds like an 80-year-old smoker. That's really just his 19-year-old voice. Old soul, loves the Lord, so it was easy to write around a voice like that. Pretty inspiring.
Same with Charity—I've known Charity since 2012 and I've written tons with her when she lived with me in Nashville. That album took multiple years to write because we weren't necessarily working on an album. One of those things where we write until we've got so many songs that we've just got to do one. Why let them sit there? They're kind of priceless treasures to us, so let's go ahead and do it. It was never sit down, let's write a record not from the beginning. It became clear that there was going to be one and it also became clear where the holes were.
When I took Kaden in to record, we recorded 24 songs and this particular album is 10 of those 24. Actually, it was kind of the ones that the engineer was able to get done quickly. We were on a time crunch. I say that also to say that they're kind of the ones that were picked by way of the engineering to get them done, and it became an album of songs of stability, songs of healing to those who are in sorrow, songs of faith. They're all kind of at a resting heart rate tempo and they settle your spirit all the way down as they open up your heart and give room for the Lord to just move in and minister at a really deep level. It's an album unlike any other album I've ever encountered and if I were to pick five to live with for the rest of my life and only five, I think that one would be definitely one of those five.
Charity's is a polar opposite record in that it brings you to a place of celebration like no other record I've ever experienced, and it takes you on a whole journey of a celebration of the Gospel and who Jesus is. Such freedom in that album. We had such a blast recording it. There is a praise break in the middle of it that was not planned—it just happened because that's where Charity lives, inan authentic celebration of the victory of Jesus and His unending power and the beauty of who He is. That was a collision of Charity's choir from Buffalo and Chicago and all the different places came in and then all the People & Songs school where there. There was just this massive bubble collide that resulted in this album that we love so much.
We love that you get so excited about this music. It seems like something you don't see a ton of in Christian music as a whole is a lot of artists championing each other. That's something that we would imagine is culturally very different about what you guys do. What are some other things that you guys intentionally set out to do differently? What are some of the other things in terms of creating, writing, producing, even getting your music out there that is a little bit different?
We do everything in community. I failed to mention that Shawn Carter was who mixed Charity's record and it was a giant task because it was live and it was in a circle and it was in a room in a basement at the bottom of the church. We are genuinely praising God, so the amount of stomping and clapping and shouting and everything was pretty profound. It was a mixing nightmare and Shawn really brought it to life. We do everything in community, we don't compete. Community gives you no place to hide and so it's such a covenant relationship with one another. In marriage, divorce is not something that God has us do. It basically says we do it 'till death do us part, right? So you have two options: live together happy or live together miserable. The principles in the Bible work.
Everything God says to do is based around loving one another. Literally, all of His commands have everything to do with loving one another and it gets to the heart of your flesh and it puts it to death. Then you can live. That's not a theology with us-- that's a reality with us. We take it very seriously, we don't skip steps. You check your flesh at the door. You live for the benefit of others. It's seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added, so all the things that you've seen happen with us have been giant, God-sized, happy accidents that are the byproduct of just simply seeking the kingdom first. We don't chase cuts. Like I told you, our Bible studies are our writing sessions. We just love getting together and then there are these songs that it's like we can't help but record them. We have to record them. We would all have the regret of being eighty years old and not having snapshots of a beautiful time together. To us, recordings are like photographs, if that makes sense.
You've got these two albums out. What's next? What are some things you're excited about right now?
For The Emerging Sound, we have volume one, two, three and four recently came out. Volume three features Josh Sherman and Melanie Tierce, Kevin Jones, Shawn Carter. It's got the whole tribe on it and it's got all of our kids on it. You can see all the videos if you go to our Facebook or our Youtube channel. That album debuted also at number one and stayed up. It just never left the charts since it debuted. It's been in iTunes' Top 200 ever since it came out in July of last year, so it's done really well. There's a song in particular on there, "What Mercy Did For Me," featuring Micah Tyler, Josh Sherman, and Crystal Yates. Then there's this other one called "Amen" that Charity and Stephen and Josh wrote. It has already had a debut at Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is on it. It's so awesome. It's so fantastic. I'm so proud of them.
I think what you're referring to is "Revelation Song," (p.s. I have written other songs, I just want to say that), but "Revelation Song" is the one everybody keeps going back to and loves. What you may not know is that it just entered its twentieth year since it was written. Isn't that crazy? At Turn Up The Lights, all my kids, all People & Songs decided they wanted to do that song. They didn't know it was entering its twentieth year, I really hadn't even remembered it, but they decided that they wanted to do it for the grand finale. I've never pushed that song, and they'll all tell you that, but they decided they wanted to do it. We recorded it at Turn Up The Lights, which happened to be exactly one year after we opened our doors here. Only the Lord could arrange that.
Shawn, for whatever reason, decided to mix "Revelation Song" first, so it just happens to be the very first single that People & Songs as a supergroup has ever released, and it happens to be the one year recording of the time we moved in and the grand finale of our very first ever Turn Up The Lights and Make The City Glad projects. And the twentieth year since it was written, featuring all my kids. It's the giant "we are the world" version of this song and I love it. It's my favorite version ever and I don't know if it's because it's super sentimental to me or if it's just as awesome as I think it is, but I think it's both. I just absolutely love it. It's longer than eight minutes. Actually, the melody on that bridge was something that was on the Wake Up The World project that Gateway did years ago and it's something they put together that's stunning, so we incorporated that into this version of it. Melanie Tierce is reading out of Revelation 7 over the top of it, and that's a purposefully chosen passage of scripture. The song was written out of Revelation 4 and Ezekiel 1, but the passage of scripture she's reading is Revelation 7 and it depicts where we're headed. It's just a super timely word and I love it. You need to go listen to it.
So, your role in all this. We would imagine you're still writing songs. You're helping these people, but would you say your role has really been that of someone to raise up this next generation of worship missionaries? What are you seeing your specific calling at this time?
I'm doing literally the exact same thing I've always done. None of it is new to me. I am definitely a songwriter and I've written on the majority of the songs have come out of our whole community. So that's true, but I'm also super administrative. I ran a high school and I'm a creative administrative. I love serving the artists so much and I can't help but train, so I'm kind of a giant mom/administrator/pastor. I don't know, I'm all of the above. The lines are all spaghetti-ish, but you know, according to somebody's book, I guess women's brains work that way. It's a bunch of spaghetti and it's kind of awesome for me. We're organized, but somebody said men's brains are waffles and the women's are spaghetti. I don't know, I keep hearing people say that in some book or something. Anyway, it's true. I kind of operate in a very spaghetti fashion where we're super-integrated, it's super holistic. It's an ecosystem and I've trained everybody. I feel like if I died tomorrow, they'd carry on without me just fine. That's kind of a goal and the hope is I want whatever I do to live and last. If I'm sowing correctly, then what we do has life that will live in perpetuity. That's kind of a kingdom principle, and so I expect that to be the case. I kind of do all of it and like I said, we are a publishing company and a label now. We've always handled our songs publishing-wise, but we're having to grow into a lot really fast, so it's by nature getting far more locked down and organized then it probably would have if we were not running so fast, but God is so fast.
If you could sum it up, what would you say are some of the biggest success stories of People & Songs, fully knowing that definition is not what a lot of people would say is success?
I think the overarching number one success story is, "Wow, look! The Bible works." If you do the things in the Bible, your hearts come alive. You live in peace, love for real happens, your flesh actually dies, which is the thing that causes you pain, and you're held together by something supernatural. The Holy Spirit versus pieces of paper were held together because God's held us together. We don't have to consult the paperwork. If I were to put down anything as the major success story, it's that and it's kudos to God. It's His giant success. He's right. He's the author. He knows how we're made. We just stepped out and tried to take Him at His word and believe Him and do it, and by golly, it's true. Our giant success story, if anything, is we've experimented by taking God at His word and we're reaping the reward of life and life to the full. The other thing is the patience of waiting. If you're going to do anything worthwhile in the Kingdom, it's furiously fast and it's slow as can be all. It's the patience of a farmer. It's a Proverbs 31 woman-- she sees a field and with her earnings, she plants a vineyard. When you decide to step out in the Lord, you're in it for the long haul, and if you quit too early, you'll miss the fruit on the vines. When something decides to turn ripe, one day it's not ripe and then the next day it is. Ripening is so fast and that buying the field, working the field, the sowing the seed, the watering, the weeding in the waiting for life to spring up from the ground and get strong and tall and for buds to appear and fruit to appear. That's slow, takes a lot of patience, takes a lot of faith, takes a lot of work. Don't give up. I believe that the second success story is that we haven't given up. Our eyes have been filled with a vision of what it would be and then now there's the fruit on the vine and it's turning ripe so fast. The next success story, and I think it hasn't been realized yet and I hope that we do it well, is to handle the fruit well, to make sure that it's gathered in a way that brings life and nourishment to everybody and that we do it in time and in season because the harvest is so ripe. It's everywhere--it's not just our songs or the music, it's the lives He's given us to live and the fact that there are people all around us watching this and we get to talk about Him every day and see the life of God move into people, see the Holy Spirit fill them with a brand new power to live above their sin nature. We get to see transformation happening in our sphere of influence, so that's a fruit on the vine that comes because we were faithful to create a garden that displays it. That success story we're still hoping gets written well.
We love that. We think that it's gonna be neat to see the great influence that your testimony as a collective will have on others and giving people courage to take God at His word and step out and risk in Him. Is there anything that we've missed that you definitely want to include?
Our website has everybody's bios. It's www.peopleandsongs.com. All of our chord charts and sheet music, number charts are all there for sale as well as our songs and a few blogs. Mostly you'll be able to read up on everybody and follow up with them on social. Melanie Tierce-- she's the one that made Keith Urban cry on American Idol--has a single out called "One More Step" that I think is one of the most powerful songs I've heard in a very long time. It has the power in it to talk somebody off the ledge. It is so excellent for people who are at their wit's end, struggling with depression or just don't like the way life's turning out right then for them. It's so good. Everybody has their individual artists records out. Brian McCleery has a new record out that's on several lists on Spotify in the top 10. It's a beautiful record. I think the collective that you'd be the most pleased with if you want to meet everybody would be Emerging Sound Volume Four. Everything's on the iTunes store and you can see us on YouTube and on Facebook.
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