Michael Card: 'Bible literacy is at an all time low'
Veteran songwriter, Michael Card is best known for penning classics including El Shaddai and Emmanuel. Tonight he will play the final evening of his 13-date UK tour. We caught up with him to find out more about his 30-year-long career.
CT: You've brought your daughter on this tour to play alongside you. What has that been like?
MC: It's been wonderful. She just recently decided she wants to go into music so I said try being on the road. Here's a chance for you to see what it's like and see how hard it is. But I think it's been a great experience for her.
CT: Are there any differences between touring in the US and here in the UK?
MC: I've been coming here for about 25 years and they aren't radically different. There's probably a bit more literacy in general, I don't think there's a higher Biblical literacy in your country unfortunately. Biblical literacy is at an all time low. But I've enjoyed coming here and more than half of the concerts I've played here are places I've been before with promoters I've worked for years and years. It's a bit like coming home actually.
CT: Do you think Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) is in a good place at the moment?
MC: It was not in a good place for some time but I think it's coming back. Some of the newer writers and newest songs I've heard, there's a return back to more Biblical content, maybe less repetition and that sort of thing. I was critical for the last 10 years but in the last two to four years the newer songs I've heard are pretty encouraging.
CT: Out of the 35 albums you've released, which is your favourite?
MC: My favourite album is one called The Hidden Face of God. It's an album composed of lament. My favourite song of the 430 songs I've written is on that record. It's called Come Lift Up Your Sorrows.
CT: Given how high they were, do you still sing your older songs in their original keys?!
MC: No. I do not! I scratch my head at some of the producers on those early records who let me sing those songs so high! They should have known better than that. That was not my fault, that was their fault. The last several records I've had more of a hand producing. You're not going to hear me sing so ridiculously high.
CT: What have you been working on recently?
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MC: I actually wrote a song today on the bus and I had a bit of a lyric on a legal pad and two or three phrases of a banjo part that I'd come up with and stuck on my iPhone. And I wrote a song that I had been trying to get written for two months. Every one happens differently. Sometimes it's a lyric. Sometimes it's a musical idea. Sometimes it's a burden and you feel the sense of a burden to say something.
The weird thing is it gets more difficult. I've written all these years and it gets harder. Frankly I don't know how much longer I can do it!
CT: What's the song about?
MC: I'm writing an album on the Gospel of John and this will be the introductory song. Normally you'd do 'In the beginning was the Word' but I've already done that. I've already written that song. I've tried to come up with something that's unique.
One of the unique things about John is he presents the life of Jesus as a parable, Jesus says 'I'm the bread' and he feeds 5,000 people. He says 'I'm the light of the world' and he opens the eyes of the man born blind. He says 'I'm the life' and he raises Lazarus from the dead. It's an Irish folk structure and there's only three or four notes in the melody.
It all came together when I was listening to my iPhone and thought maybe the banjo bit will work and I looked at the lyrics I had and it worked and it all came together. That's the fun. Songwriting is not fun but the only thing that is fun is when all the pieces of the puzzle comes together and you find a musical style that matches the mood and the lyrics. I want the music to say the same thing the words say.
CT: You've said before you see yourself primarily as a student of the Bible. How do you continue to stay fresh and have insights you can write about?
MC: Keep freshness? That's the easy part! That's the part I really feel called to. I'm never going to get to the bottom.
I was discipled by a man who was a brilliant Bible scholar He had the Bible literally memorised. I was holding his hand when he died. Shortly before he died he said he'd barely scratched the surface, I know exactly what that feels like. The Bible is uniquely alive, it's a living word. Shakespeare I think you can squeeze Shakespeare dry at some point but the Bible you'll never squeeze it dry.
What I try to do is make the Bible believable and beautiful. Try and communicate my interest and fascination in the gospels and the person of Jesus and get people drawn back into the Bible. I'd love it if people buy my records but the point is that they go home and open the Bible and look in John or whatever and say 'where in the world did he get that from?' That's all I expect.