Interview: Jimmy Needham's latest album 'The Hymns Sessions V1'

Yesterday I had the blessing of interviewing Jimmy Needham: a young, 28-year old Christian, husband, father and someone who just happens to be a singer/songwriter. I say "just happens" because unlike most, the obvious career the Lord chose for Jimmy, is not the one he foresaw for himself.

Jimmy is a graduate of Texas A & M. His plans were to remain at his alma mater and teach Philosophy. But God inspired the heart of Jimmy's loving and supportive father to encourage him with an offer to fund Jimmy's first album, originally titled, "For Freedom" in 2005.

Three months after Jimmy posted songs from this album on MySpace, he received a call from the President of InPop Records who flew to Houston, Texas to meet Jimmy. InPop signed Jimmy with their label and publicly released his debut album, "For Freedom" under the new title, "Speak" in 2006.

It was after these two events, Jimmy realized, "this doesn't happen to everybody". Jimmy adds, "I was really sort of hesitant to get into this career, though I knew I could sing and write music. I knew a career like be on stage, would impact my ego . I tried to avoid this career as long as I could. I'm doing this because God opened so many doors I didn't have to open myself."

With God's provision of unique musical talent, loving and supportive parents and the quick interest of a record label, Jimmy is mindful his life is not His own. Jimmy's life was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ and therefore, he strives to honor God with all he has.

Jimmy will be releasing his seventh, and second, independently labeled album, "The Hymns Sessions V1" on Tuesday, September 10, 2013—exactly eight years (to the day) that his father offered to fund his first record, "For Freedom". How cool is that? God truly is amazing!

Included in Jimmy's "The Hymns Session V1" are the following songs:
  1. Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen) - Musically, this is an ethereal type song that reminds me of the song  "Lament for Gandalf" from "The Lord of the Rings" movie. Jimmy is from a Greek Orthodox background and "Christos Anesti" is one of the Greek hymns he grew up singing at Easter time. When he was a young boy, he had no idea what it meant, but loved singing it anyway. He loves it even more now that he does know what the words mean. Jimmy said, "This is a cool homage to my past."
  2. The Gospel - Is from his first album and is, I'd say like a contemporary pop with a subtle touch of bluegrass type song. I think this is another wonderful way for Jimmy to honor the blessed beginnings of his career from the Lord. My favorite lyrics are, "My sin was black as night. Bless His name. I'm not the same. The Gospel washed me white."
  3. Rock of Ages - Is somewhat of a folk-type song with it's handclapping, tambourine playing percussion-driven music with what Jimmy calls, a "folk-pop vibe". As I listened I envisioned a large gathering of brothers and sisters in Christ in a beautiful field, dancing and rejoicing in God's goodness.
  4. Come Thou Fount - Is done in a very lively and enjoyable, straightforward, four-piece jazz fashion. I really love this one...too. Actually, I absolutely love them all. They all have a different feel to it, but all with the same honor and reverence for God Almighty.
  5. Great Is Thy Faithfulness (featuring Kevin Jones) - This song was simply done with an acoustic guitar and voices gifted by God to lift hearts to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords; just as He is due.
  6. How Great Thou Art (featuring Trip Lee) - Trip Lee rewrote the first two stanzas of this classic hymn to fit it into a hip hop format. This hymn opens with Trip Lee's creative rap, then breaks into a more traditional type tune for the song, and finishes with a more soulful music feel, and a final rap from Trip Lee.
  7. Holy Holy Holy (featuring Shane & Shane) - Is probably the most traditional rendition of the hymn with the beautiful organ music and background singing from Shane & Shane whose voices perfectly compliment Jimmy's unique style.
  8. Joyful Joyful - Has a very enjoyable Motown feel to it and truly makes the listener desire to join in and sing joyful praises to the Lord Jesus Christ! It's difficult to listen to the rendition of this hymn and not dance...if you're alive, that is.
  9. It Is Well - Is very cool! This was recorded live, played in one take, with no vocal tuning and it sounds fantastic! I really love this raw cut. It's truly a well done piece.
  10. It Is Finished - Is a wonderful way to close this album. It's soothing, it's uplifting and finishes with a verse from "Solid Rock". Another wonderful gift to this piece is the talented violinist, who just happens to be Jimmy's precious and beautiful wife, Kelly.

What was the first song you wrote and recorded?

"Dearly Loved". I wrote and recorded that when I was in high school. To my surprise, it ended up being a number one radio single. I have a real desire to preach the Gospel to folks and I love doing that poetically. "Dearly Loved" is sort of an appeal to share the Gospel.

You're clearly gifted by God with musical talent and a unique singing voice. You could be making lots of money and gain more popularity by doing what some Christian artists have done— move to mainstream music. Why not follow suit? Why continue to write and sing about Jesus?

For me, it's really not so much a choice. The reality is I'm a songwriter and songwriters write from a place of inspiration...things they're passionate about...things they wrestle with. I'm most captivated by Jesus. When I sit down to write, it's more about what I just got hit by from a sermon at church, or a conversation with a neighbor, etc. I don't feel like I have to stick with a genre, I just write what I'm passionate about...the Gospel.

I noticed your lyrics are theologically sound as opposed to the typical contemporary Christian pop that seems to woo people more to their senses than to Christ and His Word. Why do you go through the trouble of making sure your lyrics are in line with sound doctrine?

I was thinking about that recently. At the end of the day, words matter. This point is made in the Word of God in the epistle of Paul. Paul says to Timothy multiple times to retain to sound doctrine. Reality is, I think that it's important to be fidelitas to the Gospel because the Gospel is news and if we tamper with that news, we're tampering with the key that is the door to God's Kingdom. It's important that we accurately communicate God's righteousness and our sin. I always try to take that seriously.

Folks I've always admired are songwriters who have always had that conviction about them.

My responsibility is just like a pastors—to accurately interrupt text and accurately preach it. It's hard to make truth rhyme, but that's the job of an artist who loves Jesus.

If any, what struggles have you had in pursuing God's calling in your life as a singer/songwriter; externally and internally?

My external struggles highlight my internal struggles. I think in this career and all that it entails, with the inherently competitive nature, has sort of brought to the surface a lot of garbage of personal pride issues. I don't know of a more dangerous profession for a Christian than doing what I'm doing.

My college pastor once told me, "The most dangerous place for a human heart is on stage." And he's right. I feel like every season I'm forced to grapple with a new set of insecurities. When another artist's career blows up I feel insecure, when I do well I deal with my pride. Honestly, I find it fairly taxing to constantly bring myself back to, "Am I promoting the name of Jesus or promoting the name of me?"

I agree with your college pastor. And if we're all honest, whether we're on a real stage like you, or on a virtual stage like me (as a writer), we all struggle with the same insecurities and pride. Unfortunately, I think that's why so many well-meaning Christian writers I personally know have fallen off the path of righteousness by believing their own press and popularity. When challenged with God's Word, they buck up thinking everything they do is biblical because they're doing it, and not because it's found in God's Word. Very heartbreaking.

How do you regain focus when this happens?

I've found lots of solace in meditating on Scripture, and specifically on the life of John the Baptist. In  the beginning of John one, he's the man everyone comes to see. Near the end of John one, he gets to baptize Jesus. By John three, he's telling his disciples that his joy is full and that he must decrease and Christ must increase.

John the Baptist has been a role model for me. When I'm backstage, I remind myself of the same thing, "I must decrease and Christ must increase" whether the auditorium is full or near empty.

The ultimate antidote is to have a really large, robust view of Jesus in your sight. Because the larger He looms, the leveler the playing field becomes. Everyone seems petty and small compared to God's greatness. I just need to remember that He's the man, not me. If we have a large view of God, it helps to sort of put ourselves in the right place. 

Why this hymns album and how did it all come about?

When we decided to make a second record after "Clear the Stage" we were vacillating between making a hymns cover record or Motown cover record. Ultimately, we decided it would be really cool to do a soulful, Motown feel, hymns album.

It's funny because this record was never meant to see the light of day. The whole record came out of the fact that the KickStarter campaign was so successful, I made the hymns record (a year ago) as a "Thank You" gift to the 300 people who supported my "Clear the Stage" project.

I personally called all 300 fans to thank them and when I asked how they were enjoying "Clear the Stage" I was surprised when many said, "Oh, I haven't listened to that yet. I'm still enjoying the hymns record."

Very cool. Is there a verse or passage of Scripture and a word of exhortation you'd like to share with my readers?

Yes, John 6:35. It's a verse I love and has shaped a lot of what I've been doing and has inspired many of the songs in "Clear the Stage". John 6:35 says, "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.'" Jesus came that we might be fully satisfied in Him. Learning to appreciate Him helps me see that He meets my deepest soul hunger. I think it's probably the most essential and vital aspect of who God is for us; that He's not just some deity that's legally freed us from Hell, but that He's an enjoyable being that designed us to enjoy Him forever.

In a time where God's Word is watered-down and many artists and writers try so hard to make the Gospel more palatable to sinful ears and hearts, it's refreshing to know God still has His faithful soldiers out there who are fighting the good fight of faith with whatever resources He's provided them. With Jimmy Needham, it happens to be the power of song lyrics and the stage. Let's pray the Lord protect our brother Jimmy from the lure of stage lights and popularity so he can continue serving the Lord while being mindful of Who's name He represents—Jesus Christ the Lord.

I'm very grateful to God for His gift of truth that continues to prevail in a field that's saturated with sensuality rather than sensibility.