20 September 2017

Interview with Michael W Smith

Michael, it seems to us that most people in America have some link with Ireland. Do you have any Irish ancestry or roots?

“Well I believe I do. I’m sort of in the middle of going through that whole thing with my parents, right now, trying to figure out how far back we can go. It certainly looks like Ireland is in there somewhere, and I plan to figure it all out when I get there.”

Sounds good and hopefully we can help you do that, but for now perhaps you would like to begin by telling us how you got into the music business?

“I started playing piano when I was 5 or 6 years old, and I was always able to play by ear. I was also a big baseball player and really into sport, but the music thing just haunted me because I loved it so much. Then when I was 15, for the first time I didn’t make the ‘All Stars’ at baseball and I thought, music is supposed to be a big part of my life. It felt like a really strong call of God that this was where I was supposed to be. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I certainly felt music was the road for me. So I moved to Nashville, Tennesse, from Covel, West Virginia, where I grew up, in 1978 and I have been there ever since. It all began by writing songs. It started from me writing a few songs for Amy Grant and people recognising that I was not only a song writer but also, potentially, a recording artist, because I was her musical director and opened up her shows in 1982. I made a record that same year which came out in February 1983 and I toured with Amy for 2 years. That really solidified an audience for me and I guess the rest is history.”

What are some of your earliest musical memories be?

“My earliest memory is singing in the choir. In the days of 45’s, I remember going up to the record store and getting a copy of ‘I saw you standing there’ and ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles, and it felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Then buying records by Elton John which was amazing. Everybody thinks Amy Grant and I were the pioneers, and maybe in the 80‘s we had something to do with the pop thing that was going on in Christian music, but Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill, were the pioneers to me. I became a big fan of them and Andrea Crouch was a big influence in my life as well.”

Can you tell us something of your home life

and how you came to faith in the Lord?

“I became a Christian when I was 10 years old and I remember it very well. It was very real to me and not just something I decided to do because my friends did. I was raised in a Christian home where my Mom and Dad were amazing, they were never legalistic. It was a very free home and we went to a Baptist church, but I consider myself non-denominational really. My Mom and Dad are my biggest fans, even to this day. They have stuck by me and believed in me, and if it hadn’t been for them we would not be having this conversation today. My Dad is 80 and my Mom’s 78, and they only live 10 minutes away from where I live. They struggle with the problems that getting old brings, but they have a great attitude and they are blazing a trail to keep going.”

What was the inspiration for you to start writing Christian songs?

“I’m not sure. I believe that all the things that are good in my life, all the creativity etc, is a gift from God. Music feels like I am just hitting in my sweet spot. Whenever I would sit down and place my fingers on the keyboard of the piano, it’s as if something jumped inside of me. I remember hearing a quote from Eric Liddell in Chariots of fire, “When I run, I feel His pleasure”, and it blew me away. I remember sitting in the theatre and thinking: that’s the way I feel when I put my fingers on the piano. I never knew what was going to happen, I’d think I was going to write a certain kind of song and all of a sudden I’d be writing something completely different, for example when I was writing a song called ‘Find a Way’, which was really the first pop single that Amy had, back in 86-87 along with ‘Thy word’, ‘Stay for a while’ and ‘Emmanuel’; they all just sort of came out of the blue. I never knew what was going to come out and it is still that way today. I sat down last year to make a pop record and instead I got a movie score in my head, called ‘Glory’ that’s out now. It’s sort of unpredictable but I kinda like that, because it’s a bit of a mystery and more fun that way.”

How do you manage to be on the road so much and still have a family life?

“Well, I’m not gone as much as people think I am. Even though I seem to be all over the world I’m home more than you would think. For years the key for Deb and I was, be aware of the potential difficulties. When I was embarking on this whole thing, and I was having those long tours with Amy and we had started having children, we realised, the odds of our family staying together are not good if we do the norm and stay on the road half the year, so we chose not to do that. We decided we were going to take sabbaticals and there would be times when we don’t work. I’ve got five children, who are all grown up now, but when they got to be teenagers I just ended up flying home after shows. So for 11 or 12 years there would be many nights when I would, literally, walk off the stage at 10:30pm or 10:45pm, have a car take me straight to the airport and I’d have a plane waiting for me to fly me back. I’d be home for 12:30am or 01:00am. I would be up at 07:00am taking the kids to school the next morning, and I think it paid off. My kids have always known that they are more important to me than my career, and we are a very tight family. We brought them on the road with us a lot during the summer. I think we managed to get a pretty good balance. I’m not sure the ’70 City tour’ with Amy, was the best idea looking back. It was actually over 100 shows, as it was a world tour. I guess it might have been a little much, but we realised that then, and we pulled back a bit. My wife is gold, she is just unbelievable, she stood by my side and really believes there is this ‘call of God’ on my life. She is back there with the family, pushing the wind against my back, because she really believes in what I do and that there is a strategic call on my life not just to America but to the nations. So here we are still together 30 years later.”

If you had the chance to do it all again is there anything you would change?

“Goodness, I’m sure there would be. Maybe I would pull back a little bit on the touring in those early days. I wish I would have been a little less proud of my achievements and thought less of how many records I’d sold. In those early days you so easily become consumed with being recognised, that whole celebrity thing. Things which I am so much better at now. I was so immature in the faith back then, it’s all just part of growing up. I wish I could have speeded up my progress in wisdom and character a little, but this is just part of my story and part of my journey and we all make mistakes. Thank God for His grace that covers it all, and His goodness is so amazing.”

Everyone has their favourite Michael W Smith, but which song do you like best and gives you the most pleasure in performing?

“Everyone wants me to say ‘Friends’ because it has been a very popular song. I love singing it and it’s a really healing song for people, but my favourite is ‘All is well’ which is on my first Christmas album. I’ll never forget the moment I wrote it, and we still do it on all the Christmas tours. There’s just something about that song, that’s really pure, and a spirit about it that’s not like any other song I’ve ever written.”

One last question Michael, how do you understand the nature of worship?

“I just think worship is a lifestyle. I struggle a little bit with the whole worship movement because it’s all, kind of, based on songs that are vertical, and that’s great and I love singing those songs, but worship is so much bigger than that for me. It has to be the whole of life. It must involve how you are loving your wife, or your husband or your kids. Are you oozing goodness toward the people you come in contact with every day? What’s going on the rest of the day when you’re not singing, is it really a beautiful lifestyle of worship 24/7? That’s my interpretation of worship.” Really looking forward to seeing all you guys in Ireland and sharing a stage again with Steve.

Rejoice Always team