Austin French is an incredible new artist. You may have heard of him before. He's competed on ABC's Rising Star and NBC's The Voice. And, has released multiple songs to Christian radio, like "Freedom Hymn" and Born Again." In 2018, he released his debut full-length album Wide Open. Since then, he's become a renowned Christian artist.
Austin's newest EP, Wake Up Sleeper, features six awesome tracks. This EP is personal to Austin in many ways. He has an incredible story. In my recent interview with him, we talked so much about his life, his family, and his music. So much, in fact, that we're splitting this interview up into two parts. In part one, I talked to Austin about his new drive-in tour with contemporary Christian artist JJ Weeks, his new radio single "Wake Up Sleeper," and more.
First, tell us your story. How did you get started in music?
I grew up as a pastor's kid. My dad was a worship pastor, and my mom was a music teacher. She taught music in our living room growing up, so we didn't go to daycare or anything. My mom had our cribs with her in the living room, as she was teaching piano and giving singing lessons.
Because of this culture, I didn't know that it wasn't normal to sing about everything until I hit second grade. My teachers were like, "You can't keep singing every time you go to the bathroom. It's just weird." I guess you can say that music is in my blood because I was surrounded by it so much.
I was surrounded by the church. I sang in my church almost every Sunday growing up. But, being a Christian was the last thing I ever wanted to be. Our whole family was surrounded by church culture. But, the conversations we had pulling up into the church parking lot was, "Hide the bruises. Hide the scars. Put a smile on your face, because we're at church."
We became the perfect ministry family from the outside looking in. But, on the inside, when we were at home, it felt like World War III. We were taught not to share and talk about our problems. Not show any brokenness. And, as an eight-year-old little boy, I didn't understand why we had to live two different lives. I made a vow when I was eight years old that I would never be a Christian.
Music continued to be a part of my life. And, eventually, it became my refuge when my parents divorced. The church that we were going to asked us not to come back anymore. The church's attitude was, "It's embarrassing that your family was on staff and then your life fell apart. Find another place to go to." So, that's what we did.
My mom had custody of me and my two sisters. She got a job leading worship at a small country church on the outside of a little town in Georgia that I grew up in, called Cordele. This is where I eventually learned who Jesus is—not just what Christianity or cultural Christianity looked like.
When I was in eighth grade, I went to a music camp to learn how to play guitar. Basically, I was just trying to get girls—and it didn't work. John Mayer played guitar, so I wanted to be like him. He was the reason I started playing guitar and went to this music camp.
At the camp, a guy on stage presented the gospel in a way I never heard it before. He said, "Don't judge Jesus on the broken people He came to save, because broken people hurt broken people. But, Jesus wants broken people." I was, for sure, broken and messy from my past. It felt like no one wanted me because I was this broken picture of what a perfect family that fell apart looked like.
I realized that Jesus didn't run away from my brokenness. He wanted my brokenness, and He's the only one who could heal it. So, when I was 13, I gave my life to Jesus and decided right then and there that the music that had become my refuge was now my calling. Instead of it just being the thing that I ran to, it became a way to let people know what's been done for me, and a way to let them know the true purpose and identity of who Jesus is.
Music has always been part of my life, so that's where I turned. I decided to write music for broken people, and that's what I still consider myself to be today. I'm writing honest music for broken people who need a perfect Savior who's not scared of brokenness. That's what I feel like I've committed my life to do, and that's why I do what I do today.
My story is a broken story with a really beautiful redemption ending, and I think everybody can have that. Every story is beautiful, but it's whether people find redemption in the mess or not. I pray that everyone gets a shot at finding that redemption.
You and contemporary Christian artist JJ Weeks are touring again. What has it been like doing the Wake Up Sleeper Drive-In Tour?
It's been great. It's been really exciting to see people again—even if I can only see them from the nose up.
I honestly didn't know how it was going to go at first. There are so many different sides and viewpoints on what we should and shouldn't be doing. But the thing that hasn't changed for me is the thing that we all should still be doing: sharing the gospel. Whatever that looks like, and if we can do it safely, then we're going to do it on this tour. I think that's what we're doing now.
It's been encouraging to watch people show up at our concerts. We're probably in one of the darkest times we've lived through. Bu,t the beautiful thing is that the gospel has prepared us for it. Matthew 5:14 says that Jesus is the light of the world, and He's put that light inside of us. Light works best when it's surrounded by darkness because it makes the most difference.
We've been given an opportunity as Christians to shine the brightest in a world that feels the darkest. Instead of letting fear control us and keep us away from doing that, we're letting the light push back the fear. That's what these nights are about. We're saying, "Let's be safe, let's be healthy, but let's get together while social distancing."
The gospel is big enough to reach us even if it's behind a mask. It's still changing lives, so we're going to share it. It's been cool to watch people come out, and it seems like they're as hungry for that light as we are. It's been really encouraging to watch people be a part of it.
A few months ago you released a new radio single called "Wake Up Sleeper." What's the story behind that song?
"Wake Up Sleeper" is based on my favorite story in the Bible when Jesus interrupts the funeral of a little boy who died. The funeral was headed on the outskirts of town, and Jesus being a spiritual teacher had every right to walk away from it. Touching or coming close to something dead would make him ceremonially unclean and unfit to be a rabbi. But, Jesus has everything upside down, and He's not scared of something unclean or messy. Jesus walks up to this little boy, puts his hand on the coffin, and says "Get up. It's time to breathe again." (Luke 7:11-17)
That story is such a beautiful representation of the gospel and what's been done for all. Jesus wasn't scared of our mess, and He still isn't. He's willing to come up to our coffin called sin, which separates us from God and assures us death separated forever. He takes everything unclean about us upon Himself, touches us, and calls us by name. He says, "Wake up sleeper. Christ will give you life." (Ephesians 5:14)
This song is a reminder to everyone that feels like they're in a hopeless situation that Jesus isn't scared of hopeless situations. He walked up to dead people and He brought them back to life. And, He still does that today. If we let Him, He'll use us to be part of that process.
A lot of Christians stop at, "I'm awake, so this is awesome." We forget that there's a lot of sleepers around us, and there's a lot of people that are headed to their funeral. Maybe God is using us to walk up to someone's coffin and tell them about the One who woke us up.
Therefore, as believers, it's time for us to call out to the sleepers and say, "Let me tell you about Jesus, the Savior of the world who's ready to bring you to life." I pray this song encourages believers and people who've never experienced the gospel. There's a God who still interrupts funerals today.
Stay tuned for part two of this exclusive NRT interview with Austin French.
Grace Chaves is a fan of all things Christian music. She is one of NRT's youngest writers. Homeschooled, Grace loves concerts, Jesus, and songwriting.
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