Written in Spring 2007
By Amy Sondova You’d think that most teenagers would be awestruck if one of their youth leaders was a Dove Award-winning, worship artist. But the teens in Jeff Deyo’s youth group think of him as, well, just Jeff. A volunteer youth leader for the past 12 years, the former front man of SonicFlood and internationally known songwriter spends his Wednesday evenings with his church’s youth group—praying with and encouraging teens. Deyo says that his teens help keep him grounded, “It’s not always what you’re looking for because as an artist, you want people to be impressed with you, but it’s good to have people in your life who aren’t that impressed with what you do. Then again, there are plenty who are deeply impressed with Jeff Deyo, his music, and his new album, Unveil. The album is Deyo’s third solo studio project following his live release, Surrender (2005) and his solo albums, Light (2004) and Saturate (2002). However, it was a self-titled debut from a band called SonicFlood that first launched Deyo into the spotlight and started a huge movement within Christian movement: modern worship.
Heralded as one of the pioneers of modern worship, Deyo humbly states, “My hope that modern worship is something that has existed from day one and will always exist. It’s not like we started modern worship in any sense because whatever is of today is modern.” Adding that when the hymns were first written, they were cutting-edge, Deyo only sees himself as making fresh expressions of faith for the current generation. However, Deyo also acknowledges that SonicFlood started something big, “Maybe there’s an awakening we helped stir up, but again it wasn’t something we were necessarily setting out to do. We were passionate for God and it came out in a musical style that we liked and that was SonicFlood.”
Even though Deyo’s been a major influence in the modern worship movement, he’s not as well-known as artists who have taken a cue from him or even covered his songs, like Chris Tomlin and David Crowder. “There are other artists who are extremely successful and there’s a temptation then to go, ‘Okay, that’s what’s working, so let’s do that,” Deyo says. Offering music that is more artistic and technically difficult can also be difficult for worship pastors and worship bands to play and reproduce for their congregations. “There’s this rub in me,” explains Deyo. “I want to create stuff that’s new and different with interesting chordal progressions and stuff that might be a little more challenging musically, but at the same time I don’t want to push people away who don’t have the same technical ability that we do.” For Deyo, it’s always about the worship experience.
Deyo’s passion is evident in Unveil, the end result of over two and a half years of songwriting. “Unveil is about the idea of seeing things the way that God sees them,” Deyo explains. There’s an unveiling process that happens on the journey of believers, an awakening that happens over and over again.” In the same way, this album was “unveiled” song by song, starting with the title track.
Produced by newcomer Josh “The Kurnoll” Deane, Unveil has a different sound than other worship albums on the market. Choosing not to co-produce, Deyo instead decided to go with The Kurnoll, whose work on indie projects offered Unveil a different sound unique to the worship genre. “Even though I think I’m known musically as the rock guy, I think this new record has more of a rock edge than the others. I wanted to get a whole different take on worship with this record,” Deyo says.
Taking a risk by creatively moving music forward instead of playing it safe with formulas, Deyo ushers integrity and artistic talent back into the music scene. “Everything I put my hand to, I want it to be excellent, whether I’m mowing my grass or making music or worshiping God.” It’s not that Deyo has a problem with doing covers of popular songs, considering SonicFlood did seven covers on their debut album, it’s just that there’s nothing new to produce. Plus, Deyo loves the writing process.
Coming before a holy God in worship is serious business and far too many Christians approach God lackadaisically. “There’s another side to God that is holy and is King and deserves reverence. I feel like we need to bring the full expression of who God is to worship,” adamantly states Deyo. Feeling that far too many worship songs focus on self, Deyo intentionally seeks to give God the glory, honor, and praise that are due a King.
And that’s what Unveil is all about: not only the constant unveiling of our faith, but also expressing our faith in reverence, awe, and wonder. One of the album’s songs, “Glory” is a two-fold approach of not only crying out, “Glory to God”, but also asking God to see His glory as the prophet Moses so boldly requested. Deyo says, “Part of writing ‘Glory’ was a desire to say, ‘Man, one day the earth we know—everything we touch and see is going to collide with the spirit world. The sky is really going to crack open and Jesus is going to call us to himself and we’re going to meet Him in the air. That was my heart in writing ‘Glory.’”
Instead of saturating his songs with self-focused lyrics, Deyo instead chooses to focus on the many facets of an infinite God in songs like “Nothing on Earth” and “You are God.” He says, “I believe that if we get a hold of who God really is that’s going to affect how we live. My heart is to show who God is through songs like ‘You are God.’” Citing Psalm 29 as one of the Bible passages that inspired the song, Deyo shares that he wants to talk about some of the big and uncomfortable ways that God is God.
“God doesn’t need our songs and our church attendance; He’s not in need of anything. I want to bring to light as we worship God some of the elements that are not talked about as much. He is a God of holiness—that’s part of what keeps the depth in these lyrics and makes the songs not so me-focused, like poor ol’ me or ‘Whoops! I blew it again, God!'” further articulates the ever-animated Deyo.
It’s not the music with its interesting chordal progressions, rock edge, and depthy lyrics that make Unveil great—it’s also the heart of the man behind the album. Well-spoken, expressive, and amusing, it’s no wonder the teens at Deyo’s youth group love him, whether or not they know he’s famous. However, every so often, one of Deyo’s teens discovers that he is more than just another Nashville songwriter. While laughing heartily Deyo shares, “I had a kid come up to me a couple of years ago, who had known me for three or four years and say, ‘Now I heard your songs are actually on the radio, is that right? I thought it was just here in Nashville, but like, all over the country?’”