Jason Gray is a songwriter and performer—but perhaps more succinctly, he’s a communicator. His new album, Love Will Have the Final Word, speaks clearly about the ability of love to heal. Jason co-wrote each of the eleven songs on the project with members of an all-star team that includes Josh Wilson and Nichole Nordeman.
He will be joining Natalie Grant, Francesca Battistelli, Chris August, and several other Contemporary Christian music artists in late March as a part of the Bible Tour, which is based on Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s hit miniseries.
Jason Gray CD cover art is usually fun—and often thought-provoking. What sparked the idea that “blossomed” into the cover art for Love Will Have the Final Word (Centricity Music, March 2014)?
Thanks for saying that! I love album artwork and always hope that we can come up with something distinctive. We were kicking around ideas for the shoot with the photographer—and usually I don’t like to be on the front cover, but the sense from the label was that it was time for me to make an appearance on the front of this record—and we were talking about what I’m drawn to visually.
I mentioned that I liked Wes Anderson’s movies and the way he frames his shots with a Spartan kind of simplicity and quirkiness. Then we started talking about images that might convey the gentle, tender strength of hope. I brought up the idea of hands holding together something that is fragile or broken, and suggested a picture of me holding together a broken flower pot with a flower in it. I didn’t really think it was going to work! I thought it might seem maudlin or contrived, but when we got the shots back we all liked it. I hope that it has weight yet is light and hopeful, that it’s poignantly melancholy without being brooding and that it also feels kind of quirky and fun. That’s a lot to ask of a single picture!
Let’s talk about the music. How many of the songs did you write or co-write for this project? Was the title song the foundation song as you began to gather material?
As a singer/songwriter the songs originate with me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to enjoy the co-writing process. I work better and faster with another writer in the room. I was talking to my son about this just last night, who is beginning to write as well. I lack objectivity on my own, so when I’m writing I don’t know if a line is great or awful. It’s helpful to have someone else in the room to help sort all of that out. Writing is also a very reflective and lonely process, so it’s nice to have someone else along for the ride. It usually works like this: I have some germ of an idea, I work on a scrap of melody and lyric and develop a general direction a song might go, then bring that to a friend who helps me flesh out a chorus, verse, and basic structure, and then I take it home and work out the rest of it.
As for a title, I’m always looking for one that sums up the record and is hopefully memorable and evocative. This one had two contenders: “Even This Will Be Made Beautiful”—which I liked but thought was a bit heavy in the way that it presupposes something sad has happened that must be set right—and of course “Love Will Have The Final Word” which I thought was a bit bigger and more definitive. Given that the word “love” is all over this record, it seemed best. It’s also a really good summary of everything I’ve been communicating in my work over the years. And I’m really happy with the way that particular song turned out : -)
The album is upbeat, while still tackling life’s difficulties. Not Right Now and Begin Again are great examples of that. What motivates you to motivate others?
Wow! I’m so glad to hear you say that! I guess I’ve been a little insecure about it, concerned that the record leaned a bit melancholy. I’m glad to hear you describe it as upbeat. That was my hope. I do believe it is a very hopeful group of songs. They’re very serious, but I hope they have a lightness about them, are even playful in places.
As for what motivates my writing, I guess I’m wired to empathize with outsiders, especially those whose suffering has left them feeling alienated from the church or from their community of hope. It’s my desire to create points of entry for them to feel like they can still come inside; there’s a place for them. All of my songs acknowledge brokenness for that reason.
Sometimes I think we can be too flippant with hope, waving it around carelessly and bludgeoning people with it. Hope as a medicine can be lethal if not administered with care. Those in pain often require tender gentleness and humble assurance, whispers of grace to draw them back out of the shadows of the place deep within themselves that they run to hide from the storms of life. If we’re not careful, they may never come back out into open and light filled places, or even if they do they may not bring their heart with them. The loss of a human heart in the world is a terrible waste.
If You Want To Love Someone cuts to the core of Christian love. What was the genesis of that song?
It was inspired by a quote that a friend tweeted by author Keith Miller:
“The way to love someone is to lightly run your finger over that person’s soul until you find a crack, and then gently pour your love into that crack.”
The danger in writing a song like this is that people might assume that I have more figured out than I actually do. I have not always loved like this and have gotten it wrong more often than I’ve gotten it right. But whenever I’ve been loved like this, it has healed me and changed my life—whether from friends, family, or of course the Lord Himself. The more I allow myself to receive this kind of love, the more able I am to share it. I want to love this way.
When you were here three years ago, we talked about detours, and you said you were likely in the midst of one then. What has God taught you from that time (or through another recent “detour” in your life)?
Haha! I guess I can’t remember the context of what we were talking about. But it calls to mind a quote that I love by G.K. Chesterton:
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”
Yes, I am in the midst of a “detour.” It’s not a course I would seek for myself. It is often painful. And yet I am grateful for how I have found my Dear Companion every step of the journey in ways I would never have known otherwise, and I’m grateful for what the detours make of me. I’m reminded of something Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
You have a busy touring schedule this year. How do you stay spiritually in tune when you’re traveling so much?
Well, that is a challenge for anyone, whether we’re on the road or not, isn’t it? I suppose it’s like exercise, if you’re really serious about it, you find a way. I’m an avid reader, and that helps, especially since I’m most drawn to the kinds of books that engage me in a conversation with the Holy Spirit. But I also have a mentor and close friends who I am in continual conversation with, and that makes up a large part of my devotional/spiritual life.
A few fun questions…
What songwriter to you most admire? (Or, as a songwriter, what song do you most wish you had written?)
My favorite songwriter of all time is Paul Simon. His music touches a very deep place in me, ministers to me. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me curious. Now in his 70s, Simon is very interested in God questions, and few ask them better than he does. In terms of music branded specifically as Christian music, Rich Mullins, Sara Groves, Mark Heard, Jon Foreman, and Andy Gullahorn are giants.
As for the song I most wish I’d written… my favorite song of all time is a called “The Book of Love” and if you haven’t heard it, you must! Peter Gabriel’s version is the best. To me it is one of the holiest songs I’ve ever heard.
If you hadn’t pursued music, what path would you likely have taken in life?
I’m pretty intensely curious about psychology, what makes us tick, why we do what we do, that kind of thing. Scripture reveals a deep understanding of psychology. I think I could’ve been a decent counselor. In fact, I often think that that’s what motivates my song writing.
If you wrote a book, would it most likely be a memoir, a devotional, or a work of fiction?
Good question! Maybe a devotional memoir. I’m thinking pretty hard about that and have had a couple publishers approach me. I am also blessed to have an amazing mentor in my life and have often wondered about trying to write a book based around our conversations. I so want people to benefit from his wisdom the way I have! I would love to write a novel, but that’s a really intimidating prospect to me. I’m not sure that I have that gift.
Thank you, Jason! It’s a pleasure to have you back at DivineDetour.
Thank you so much for having me and caring about my work! I’m grateful
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To learn more about Jason, visit his website or the Centricity Music website. For information about the Bible Tour, logon here.
To purchase Love Will Have the Final Word, logon to:
I love this: “Those in pain often require tender gentleness and humble assurance, whispers of grace to draw them back out of the shadows of the place deep within themselves that they run to hide from the storms of life.” It’s so true! Thanks for a great interview, Kathy and Jason. I enjoyed reading this.
Laura, it’s nice to hear from you! I hope you’re well! Glad you enjoyed the interview. It’s a great CD too!
Kathy, thanks for introducing me to Jason!
Jason, I read this interview during my breakfast at 3:30 AM (crazy work schedule) and want you to know that you started my day off with such a fresh perspective on things. I love the Chesterton & Kubler Ross quotes! I also checked out your website and was touched to hear such clear emotional tones in your singing, bearing your heart.
Elaine, that means you read it about an hour after I posted it (crazy work schedule here too). So glad you enjoyed the interview!