“Someone told me once that great songs come out of hard times…” Unspoken lead singer Chad Mattson reflects.
He and his bandmates have their new album Reason to prove that testament is true. But there were certainly points when they wished it wasn’t.
Fifteen years into their journey as a band, Unspoken stood with three albums and armfuls of songs—many of which had made big impact in and beyond the church–in their basket of experience. They had toured the country, performed in arenas, written chart-topping hits, connected with fans around the globe, lived out their ministry and shared the Gospel.
Cue the grinding halt.
Because while all of those experiences are full of highlights and joy, they don’t come without a grind, without insecurities, without challenges, doubts, restless nights. The Unspoken crew found themselves facing personal and group trials too heavy to deny. The kind of heavy that leaves you with a lot of questions, the most pressing of which is often "How can I get through this?"
“Leading up to this record has been absolutely the hardest time of my adult life,” Mattson describes of life off the stage. His wife began battling fierce anxiety and depression, and their family was encountering trauma together like they never had before. “I almost left the band,” he says. “We were out on big tours, but while all that’s happening my family is falling apart.”
The band faced their own hardships, such as navigating the ups and downs of the music industry, working on their relationships with one another, and adjusting to changes in the band. So how do you turn trials into songs? You don’t run away. Unspoken faced their challenges. They dealt with the pain by turning to God, even when they didn’t understand or like it. And now, with Reason, they’re being honest about where they’ve been. Vulnerably, honestly, Unspoken is testifying what they found in the thick of the battle–and what listeners will find on this album: Hope.
NRT's Jasmin Patterson had the opportunity to talk with Chad about all of this is an honest conversation that all points back to the reason Unspoken is still making music that impacts millions.
Let us know what Unspoken has been doing between albums!
On the business side, we've switched managers, which has been pretty neat. We've had the opportunity to work with a mainstream manager who is a believer who's managed Nickelback and Colony House. We've switched booking agents to Jeff Roberts Agency. It's been fun. We took some time off to be with family and try to keep our priorities straight, but we've also been running pretty hard with writing for a new record and recording and some touring. It seems like a bit of a new season for us, which is wonderful.
You've said that great songs come out of hard times. What were some of the hard things you and the band have been experiencing leading up to this album and how did it shape the making of the record?
Not only did we change a lot of infrastructure with booking and management and things like that, but we're very relational people. We love the people that we get to work with. So, when seasons come to an end, it can be hard for the relationship part of it. In the last couple of years, we also have been through some personnel changes with the guys in the group. Seeing old friends move on and start different chapters in their life is bittersweet. When you're in a band, in a weird way you're kind of in a marriage. A lot of your life is interconnected. But it's been fun to get to know these new bandmates and also new management teams. It's been fun to dream together.
When you've got all these moving parts and things that are changing it can be hard, like "are you still with us Lord?" On top of that, my family had debilitating anxiety within the four walls of our home and I was on the verge of just coming off the road and trying to do the best thing for my family. When things are so bad in your head, sometimes it can feel kind of hopeless. I haven't felt hopeless since I was an addict 16 years ago. Since I've been saved I've been really optimistic, but there was a little bit of a spirit of hopelessness in our home.
Fast forward more than two years, our situation at home is vastly improved. We're doing well and we're seeing the hand of God all along and through it all. It just built our faith. It really caused us to just go back to the basics of the gospel, and that's where these songs were birthed. Instead of writing great song ideas from great titles we came up with and trying to write songs we think are going to be meaningful to people, we tried to write songs we needed to hear ourselves, from conversations we were having within our families and within our group. So, these are songs for us and our families, but God is so big and we're so closely related as human beings that whatever we're going through is something someone else is going though or is about to go through. We're really excited. This is probably the most personal, vulnerable, intimate, powerful record we've made–and fun and soulful and vibey and all the normal stuff we like to do.
Based on what you've walked through and what God has been doing in you through your difficult times, what advice or encouragement would you have for people going through hard seasons of their own right now?
Stay close to Jesus. Find people who don't just agree with you but really care about you. I had several people calling me and encouraging me and praying for me when I thought it was so bad, they helped me see the light. For me and my wife, we really started digging into who we really are. Not what our circumstances say we are or our culture says we are, but who God says we are. Once we dove into these basic truths in our Christian faith, it gave us the confidence to know that whether we do mess up or don't mess up, the Lord is with us and that God is the only place we can really experience hope. Hope that things are going to get better. Hope that the way I am today is not the way I'm going to be. Also, looking back to the past where God has come through so often, gives us hope for the future when we can't see where He is.
I love the message of "Let It Be Love." One of the lyrics is "no one's gonna hear us if we keep throwing stones." Talk about what God's been teaching you about believers speaking the truth in love and what your message is to the Church through this song?
We didn't write this song against the Church; we wrote it for the Church, which we are a part of. Our culture is just ridden with people who want to win an argument more than love someone where they're at. By all means, I have not figured out how to do this completely, I just know that love always wins. Love is what brought us to salvation. I think of Romans 2 where it says that God's kindness brings repentance. I think we need to understand that people are just looking for people to love them and not judge them, and over time the Spirit draws the heart close to Him. Our job has always been to love people where they're at.
Now, there are some difficult things. Love doesn't always mean that you agree with people, but it does mean that you respect them and pray for them and treat them like a human being. Equally as important as what we believe and why we believe it is how we show it to others. It's a faith that's not only heard but seen. We can't just throw stones at people. We actually have to love people where they're at because we're never going to get them to agree–and that's never the point. The point isn't to get people to agree, the point is to have people's lives changed by the massive, unwavering love of God. The Gospel is beautiful because it joins a wounded world to its wounded Savior. People need to see the resurrected Christ in us and that's going to speak so much louder than our words.
Talk about your musical influences making this album. I especially hear some Gospel influence on songs like "You've Always Been" and "Let It Be Love," and some reggae on "Human Condition." I'd love to know more about that.
Being part of a band is a wonderful thing because not only did Unspoken grow up in different time periods, but also different cultures. It's such a huge benefit to be part of a band because you get all the history and influences from all the members, and that allows us to go some places that we might not be able to go if all of us just grew up in the suburbs. We have guys who grew up on singer-songwriter and love Paul Simon, guys who grew up on Steven Curtis Chapman. And some grew up with Journey and Toto and The Beatles and Ray Charles, and I grew up with 90s Hip Hop and R&B. So, we're pulling from all of that.
On our previous record, my son was listening to Bruno Mars a lot and I brought some of those ideas in on the last record. When we started writing for this record, Sam Smith had just released an album and it was so soulful. There was a lot of choir vocals and the songs were really emotive, so I referenced Sam Smith so much on this record. I also referenced 90s Hip Hop tracks by Naughty by Nature. And you get a few people staring down their nose at you, but it's just the truth. We have a lot of music going in our house from Pop to Worship to old school Hip Hop and current Hip Hop. So what was really resonating with us, those are the things that we chased after.
It's refreshing to hear a Christian artist who functions mostly in that space, but you're willing to pull musical influence from anything that's resonating with you at the time. You don't necessarily hear a lot of artists willing to open up and share that a lot, but there are so many gifted and talented people we can glean from.
Music has a lot to offer us. One of the things I think Christian music doesn't do well is leave songs unanswered. We want to write about a struggle and then answer it every time. Even my tendency is to do that, but we forced ourselves on a few songs to leave it as just being emotional. "This is what this feels like," and we just left it like that. I think that's probably one of the reasons that mainstream doesn't listen to a lot of Christian music because it's so polished and perfect. You need all of it though. You need the hurt and the answer. And every song isn't going to be a complete summary of 66 books in the Bible. Some songs are just about love or just about grace. So we've caught some flack for those things over the years, but we just try to stay true to where the spirit is leading us.
What's next for Unspoken once the album is released? What should we be looking out for?
We're asking the Lord to lead us to where He wants us to be. We have a tour coming up in the fall with Stars Go Dim and Caitie Hurst, so we're headlining that tour. We're in talks about getting on a major tour in the spring–but nothing is solidified yet–and doing some kind of package for a Christmas tour. We're playing festivals this summer. We're going to be hitting the road all sorts of places, but we're going still be [playing] prisons and recovery centers as well.
One of the big things that the Lord has been speaking to us is that one of our main callings in life is to reach out and care for the least of these, and so it's caused us to find out "who are the least of these in our culture, let alone around the world?" The book of James says true religion is caring for the orphans and the widows. So we're really diving into these things and how can our music and Christian music in general impact, not just the radio markets and the people that we reach–which is fantastic and we love that, but to really go searching out what can we do with our music to serve the least of these. So, I think you'll see a lot of stuff coming our way from that as well. We've got some wonderful ideas and we're just waiting for the Lord to bring things together.
NRT contributor Jasmin Patterson is a lifelong fan of Christian music who is passionate about helping others connect with Christ. She lives in Kansas City where she serves in college ministry and runs a blog to help seekers and believers discover and live biblical Christianity.
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