There’s something about the passage of time that makes treasured experiences become even more precious. Scriptures that have always had personal impact become cherished lifelines in times of trial. In the past few years, Steven Curtis Chapman has learned a lot about time and its ability to heal, restore and shift perspective. For Steven, viewing the world through a different lens has led to a new season of creativity that finds the veteran singer/songwriter both penning new songs and taking a fresh look at some that have been longtime companions.
On Steven’s 17th album, re:creation, he serves up six new songs, including the debut hit single, “Do Everything” and breathes new life into some of his most memorable and popular songs with re-imagined approaches and all new recordings.
More than 3 years have passed since the Chapmans’ horrific loss when on May 21, 2008 Steven’s youngest daughter, Maria, was killed in a tragic accident. Since then Steven has sensed people waiting to see how he and his family were faring in the wake of the tragedy and what the next step in his musical evolution would be.
“I felt like this was an opportunity for me to tell people that my family and I really do feel like God is recreating some things in us. Last year was so hard with Mary Beth writing her book and our family doing the tour. It was our year to say, ‘okay we’re going to stand on faith and hold onto each other.’ That’s when the full force of the pain started to hit us. But now, in 2011, by God’s grace we really have the sense we are beginning to see the sunrise. As the song says, ‘joy is coming in the morning!’ We feel like morning is really starting to break for us and we’re beginning to sense there is new life starting to sprout. The real morning is still yet to come when we finally get to see Maria again in heaven, but as a family and individually we’re beginning to feel like there’s oxygen coming back into our lungs. My wife talks about it in terms of being in a forest for the last several years; in a very dense, dark forest. It’s only been recently that we started to feel like God is standing on the edge of that forest saying, ‘I want to bring you out of the forest, and your daughter is ahead of you. She's a greater part of your future than she is of your past. And I'm leading you out, I'm leading you into this new place.’ It’s a new beginning for us and I really felt like I wanted to say that.”
This idea of coming through the forest and a new day dawning was part of the reason Chapman chose to record, “Morning Has Broken,” a 1931 hymn that was a pop hit for Cat Stevens in the 70’s. The track became a catalyst that helped define Steven’s new record. “I was driving one day and heard an instrumental version of it and it just reminded me of when I was a kid singing it in church,” the Paducah, KY native recalls. “I heard those lyrics and thought, ‘that’s what is happening with my family.’ Morning has broken and we see that. The very last line of the lyric says, ‘sing with elation, God’s recreation of a new day’ and when I saw that word “recreation,” that was the word I wanted to use to title this album.” The track following "Morning Has Broken" to close out the album is a new and emotional song by Steven entitled, "Sing Hallelujah." “It’s really a celebration of what I believe is a new morning for us as a family,” he says.
Another new recording for re:creation, creates a bit of a bridge from the darker days to the new ground the Chapmans are walking. The poignant anthem “All That’s Left” was inspired by what Steven’s eldest son Caleb said at Maria’s memorial service. “I remember him standing there and we were all just holding onto each other and he said, ‘I see it so clearly right now and I know I’m going to need you all in this room to keep me accountable for this---but all that matters is relationship. All the things that we worry about, all the things that we stress over, all is forgotten in this moment. It’s all about the time that we spent together, and the love that we have for each other and the love that God has for us.’”
“Do Everything” is an upbeat song about serving God in everything we do. “As Christians we have this tendency to want to draw that line down the middle of life and go, ‘okay there’s my spiritual life and then there’s just life-- a job, work and that kind of thing,’ but God is in the details. He’s interested in all of it. Every moment matters and everything we do really should be done as an act of worship.”
Rounding out new tracks from Steven is “Long Way Home.” This quirky song features the unique sound of the ukulele. He describes the engaging song as “God just letting me smile with music again. For awhile there was such a heaviness that music became so deep and so heavy, then I discovered the ukulele and it was like God saying, ‘here play this for a little while. I want you to smile a little bit again with music. I want it to be fun.’ You can’t frown and play a ukulele. There’s just no way. It just makes you smile.”
So, it’s a new chapter of life God’s recreating for the Chapmans. The other aspect to the meaning behind re:creation’s title is the opportunity Chapman has taken to re-imagine and completely re-record such classics as “Live Out Loud,” “For the Sake of the Call,” “The Great Adventure,” “Speechless,” and “Heaven in the Real World.” “I found that all of the songs that I’ve written over the years continue to grow in meaning because they are so rooted in life experience,” Steven shares. "They are all songs about my journey in faith. When Maria went to heaven, many of my songs took on a much, much deeper meaning at that point. I found myself singing these songs with a new passion and even a distinct purpose. I thought I would love to re-invent those and say them in a fresh new way.”
In examining how to best recreate some of the songs that made him the most awarded artist in Christian music history, Steven once again tapped Brent Milligan, whom he worked with on Beauty Will Rise, to co-produce the new project. “Musically I felt Beauty Will Rise went to a new place for me,” Steven explains. “It was a more acoustic, more organic recording, and that was something that I felt was really appropriate for this album as well. I write almost all of my songs with just an acoustic guitar. They begin in that organic and stripped down space, but then you get into the studio and the sounds of the day and the technology of that era influence how the songs get recorded. I thought, ‘Wow, I’d love to redo ‘For The Sake Of The Call’ because that song means something different now.’ It means continuing to live out the call to share our faith in light of all we’ve been through. When I did it originally, it was a big production. The sounds of the drums were real big and there was a lot of reverb and I was thinking, ‘I would love to do that song more the way that I perform it live now.’ The heart behind doing this was asking, how can I take some of those songs that have a new depth to me and reinterpret those, recreate those? Thus the title re:creation.”
When it came to reinventing a classic, Steven admits “The Great Adventure” was a particular challenge. “It was kind of scary because that song is this moment of musical history in my career. The original version was a country rock thing and I started asking myself, ‘How do I do it and capture this adventure that I still believe this journey has been, but it’s way harder than I ever imagined when I wrote this song?’ I didn’t know we were going to go through all this as a family. When I sing that line ‘we’ll go over mountains so high, we’ll go through valley’s so low,’ there’s some new understanding to that, so how do I make it feel still very engaging and epic, but feel like what the adventure feels to me now? Hopefully I captured that. To me, this feels like volume 1 and I could do this for years. I could go back and tell these stories with new music because I really enjoyed doing it, but it was challenging.”
On “Heaven in the Real World,” Steven adds a touch of banjo in his updated version. “Finally after all these years, I got to play banjo on one of my songs,” he says with a laugh. “It was fun. It’s really cool because it has banjo and all these elements of music that I grew up with in Kentucky—bluegrass and folk with these cool alternative rock songs. I was excited to put banjo on one of my songs. In fact, I wanted to put banjo on a bunch of them, but I realized maybe I ought to break people in gently” he says with a smile.
Banjo or not, Steven Curtis Chapman cherishes the chance to continue recording and connecting with the people who have embraced his music over the years. “My relationship with the audience has been so much more than just a musical relationship,” he says. “I feel like they’ve been on the journey with me from the very beginning and that this album is another step in that and a chance for me to say, ‘Friends, you’ve prayed for us and loved us so much. I want you to know it’s okay to laugh with us. We’re still going to cry, but know that we feel like we’re coming into a new season and the sun is coming up.’ It was an important thing for me to try to capture in this album.”