Michael W Smith: Singing a new hallelujah

|PIC2|Michael W Smith has been in the music business for more than a quarter of a century and has touched millions of people with his God-glorifying songs. But he shows no signs of slowing down. His latest album A New Hallelujah was released late last year to critical acclaim and he follows up this month with the release of the A New Hallelujah DVD on March 17.

Here he talks more about what’s keeping his praise so fresh after all these years.

CT: The message in A New Hallelujah is very refreshing. What’s the thinking behind the song?

MWS: Well, the title was my wife’s idea, which is just incredible, I love the title. It’s about sing to the Lord a new song. Where are the new songs? And being hands and feet – “arise church and reach to the other side”. And “A New Hallelujah” – we’ve got to have more colour. Maybe that’s not an issue in the UK but in America it’s like all white and all black. It’s the most segregated hour of the week. And with the African Children’s Choir, bringing them in was all about coming together. It’s saying let’s sing a new song, go out and change the world.

CT: Do you have a special attachment to Africa?

MWS: When I wrote that song and “When I think of you”, I thought about them. I wrote “When I think of you” for them. I’ve worked with them in the past and love the fact that they are not just a great children’s choir but they are all orphans.

It’s the whole Isaiah 58 thing for me. That is the key chapter in the Old Testament about what we are supposed to do with the downtrodden, the widows, the orphans and the poor.

They are all orphans from Africa and there are problems there. We’ve got Darfur and the Aids epidemic, which is just massive and affects all parts of Africa from north to south. So we’ve got to get busy. We can help solve this thing. For us to stand back and be judgemental and not do a thing, well, God have mercy on us.

CT: You’ve been around a long time!

MWS: Yeah it’s been a great run! I've had a lot of fun!

CT: How do you keep your song new, how do you keep your hallelujah new on a personal level?

MWS: I think great friends. I’m really, really close to my family, to my kids. I’ve got an amazing wife who is extremely godly and will tell me if she doesn’t think I’m doing the right thing. She is just awesome and extremely supportive. And of course my pastor who I’ve walked with for 29 years, I’ve just got people who speak into my life on the spiritual level.

And on the musical level you surround yourself with great thinkers and innovators and creative people and great writers and you listen to great stuff so you just sort of keep yourself at the top of your game. And believe me I’ve made my share of song blunders, songs I wish I’d never written! But it’s all part of growing up and learning and you get better at it. You’re in trouble if you’re not getting better at what you do!

|PIC2|CT: You’ve just been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. What did that feel like, because Christians don’t always find it easy to accept awards and acknowledgement?

MWS: Yeah, I’m just so not into the award thing but on the other hand I am into it because someone has nominated me and so I am grateful for that. I think I can be grateful and not egotistical at all.

But I also think like I am way too young! Even if you get an award like that, I feel like you should be 75 or dead! But they nominated me and they all voted for me and I am thinking: wow, this is so weird. I don’t feel like I deserve it. But I am grateful.

CT: Many Christians turn to your music when they need a spiritual lift. Do you have a “go to” song when things feel difficult?

MWS: I go to a lot of instrumental music because I am a big John Williams fan. John Williams has probably had the biggest influence on my life more than anybody. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Saving Private Ryan, they are just amazing. But if it’s Christian music, it’s probably Leeland because there is nobody like those guys.

There is a real anointing – and I don’t say that word often – but there is a real special anointing on Leeland, propethic to some degree. But Tears of the Saints is one of my favourite songs of all time. And Jack (Leeland’s keyboarder) happens to be my son-in-law. He’s married to my daughter Whitney.

But if it’s not music or a song by Leeland it is just friends I can call when I feel like I am kicking my head above water and can say: guys I think I am struggling. And you’ve got to have that. Because a lot of people, especially guys, want to tough it out and I think that is the wrong thing to do. I have a tender heart and I am not afraid to ask for help.

CT: Are you encouraged that there is a new generation of Christian artists with their own style and message?

MWS: Yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff happening out there. I think there is a lot of mediocre stuff too and a lot of stuff that just sits there and it doesn’t really captivate you. The Leeland stuff captivates me for some reason.

But worship to me is just so much bigger than songs. It is a lifestyle, it is everything. It is the people I come into contact with, the things I do. It is all an act of worship.

CT: You recorded “A New Hallelujah” in front of a massive audience. Is there ever a time when you feel like you can’t go out on stage and lead the crowds in worship? What gets your fire going before you go out on stage?

MWS: I just think that I carry something and I don’t like having to say this but I’ll say it anyway: humility. Because I know it really doesn’t have anything to do with me. I just think of Paul who boasted about his weakness. I just boast about my weakness cos I am so weak and messed up. There are so many messed up things about me! We all are really.

But I know who I am and I carry something and I carry something for the nations and I just need to be responsible with that and I know it’s not me going out there. But if you just posture yourself in this place of humility and you just say: God I just want to be your perfect conduit, just do your thing, and let me be sensitive to what’s going on out there.

I also love to ebb and flow. It’s awesome when I do something completely different from what I thought I was going to do.

But if I am in the fog, then I just go back to the scriptures that remind me of who I am. Every time, that automatically centres you. Cos you can’t base your life on emotions. You’ve got to base it on truth.