By Amy Sondova Fresh from Ireland and getting ready to play at a convention in Orlando, Brandon Heath caught up with me on his way to a sound check. “I actually called you 10 minutes late on my schedule,” he sheepishly admits. Such is the busy life of a musician on the precipice of releasing his latest project, What If We (Reunion). Despite his hectic life, Brandon was eager to chat about his sophomore album and social justice.
Since our last interview (read Brandon Heath :: Missional Musician), Brandon moved from Nashville to Houston, accepting the position of worship leader at The Loft. “They just invited me to come. I felt like God was calling me to do it.” He then adds, “It seems very atypical. It just doesn’t seem like the traditional route to go when you’re trying to launch a career, but for some reason, it made sense.” Then again, Brandon’s never been a traditional musician.
He began his career writing songs for artists such as Bebo Norman and Matt Wertz. Recording an album of his own wasn’t on Brandon’s radar. When producer and friend Dan Muckala heard Brandon perform the Dove Award nominated song “Our God Reigns” the first time, he urged Brandon to record his first album, Don’t Get Comfortable. This project launched Brandon into the spotlight with several Dove Award nominations and the prestigious honor of winning “New Artist of the Year.”
Building on the successes of “Don’t Get Comfortable,” Brandon continues to do things that challenge him musically, as evidenced by the album’s first single, “Give Me Your Eyes.” Written after people-watching in an airport, the song is fused with a slight hip-hop sound, a definite departure from Brandon’s easy folk vocals. When asked if fans were jolted by the new sound, Brandon laughs replying, “I knew people would be a little surprised. If you listen to it two or three times, it’s like, OK, I can see Brandon doing this. I had to think about myself doing it actually. I thought, can I do this? Then the more I thought about it, I was like, yeah, I can do this.” Musing a moment, like he often does during the interview, Brandon adds, “It’s good to take risks.”
Risk seems to be a way of life for Brandon, who has traveled to India with his friend and mentor, Bob Goff of Restore International, and to Uganda with Blood:Water Mission. He is also joining Sara Groves, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and Charlie Peacock this fall for the Art*Music*Justice Tour. Talking about our mutual love of Derek Webb’s music, I ask Brandon why people should check out the tour. He quips, “Besides the fact that Derek Webb’s on it, Sandra McCracken, his wife, is on it, too. That’s the other reason you should go.”
After a moment of banter, Brandon explains why he chose to tour with some of his songwriting heroes this fall. “This tour fits me so perfectly. It’s about issues that really are a burden for me to pray for and to ask other people to think about—human trafficking and figuring out how to handle the problem of human slavery in the world. It should not still exist.”
He passionately continues, “It exists because of corrupt governments, poverty, and greed. How do we figure out how to make it go away? I’m ready to see justice happen and to see people healed. This is my way of contributing to the education and hopefully, the actions of others.”
Before hitting the road in September, Brandon will once again travel with Bob Goff to Uganda. Having already visited, Brandon is eager to return. He will be spending time learning about those who reside in huge Internally Displaced Person (IDP, formerly refugee) camps. “They’re supposed to be temporary, but they’re not,” shares Brandon. “The people are literally living on top of one another.” The trip involves investigating ways the government of Uganda and others can help IDP’s move into villages and sustain a living outside of the camps.
Not only does Brandon want to inspire others with social justice through his travels, but he wants to offer hope through songwriting. While traveling, touring, and leading worship, Brandon keeps writing songs. Besides the new hip-hip groove on “What If We,” the album uses rougher guitar sounds and gruffer vocals, inspired by Brandon’s recent Western movie viewing, which is evidenced by his biographical song, “Wait and See”. To achieve this acoustic, Brandon shares, “Little known fact: all of my vocals were recorded in a bathroom—in the bathroom at my producer’s studio.” It’s this sort of innovation that make Muckala one of Nashville’s most sought-after producers. Really.
Besides dishing on bathroom vocals, Brandon also discusses the benefits of international marriage. “If you marry someone from another country, you get dual citizenship… but that’s probably not a good reason to get married.”
The single 30 year-old musician admits that being unmarried can make his travels lonely at times. “There are days when I’m really content doing what I’m doing because I know I’m in a season where God’s got me on the road. Honestly, if I was married, I would want to be home; I wouldn’t want to be gone.”
Using his more signature sound, Brandon conveys his thoughts about solitude in “When I’m Alone.” Yet there are days when he feels the sting of being a bachelor. “On the other hand, you want to share your life with somebody. The other day I had a guy who’s 25 pat me on the back and say, ‘You’ll understand someday.’ It made my skin crawl.”
Just because he’s not married, doesn’t mean that Brandon isn’t a romantic, at least when it comes to writing songs. What If We features a few love songs, including the heart-wrenching, “London.” Brandon explains, “I wrote it with Chad Cates, but it’s really about his experience in London, missing his fiancée.” Then there’s “Listen Up,” a song in which a man comes to the realization that he didn’t hear his beloved’s heart when she was talking about her troubles. “To me, it’s like we [men] end up talking too much. The truth is, we don’t know what to say so we say dumb things that get us in trouble,” says Brandon, explaining the mystery of why men make insensitive remarks to distraught women.
A huge Jars of Clay fan, Brandon was excited to co-write “Sore Eyes” with the band. “They play all the instruments and background vocals; I’m just doing lead vocals.” The song was written about a sassy girl who seemed to be down all the time. “I don’t think she was really sad, but she thought that kind of demeanor worked for her.”
Slightly darker is “Sunrise,” a song inspired by the movie, No Country For Old Men. Brandon even wanted the lyrics and sound to mimic the movie. “The song is about people who stay awake all night and wonder, ‘How long until I die?’ It’s really about fear and being afraid. Sometimes the dark is the scariest time, but light give us a little hope because we can see the situation for what it is.”
It’s this light that Brandon hopes to shine on social justice, fueled by ministry and music as conduits for change. Not just social change, but personal change—both topics on which he is particularly loquacious. Like all good things, our dialogue came to an end, with Brandon rushing off to do a sound check with his band—at least 10 minutes behind schedule.