Tag Archives: matthew west

Repost: Hitchhiking with Bebo Noroman

16 Mar

Originally published September 21, 2010. 

Because Bebo Norman is my most-loved singer/songwriter, I’m sharing this article again.  It was one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done.  Bebo is gracious, humble, and he uses music and word to cut to my heart.  I’m sad he’s retired.  By the way, don’t bother with any of the links because they’re all dead.  Who wants to start a GoFundMe to buy BeboNorman.com with me?

It was with great anxiety and distress I awaited Bebo Norman’s scheduled phone call the morning after Labor Day.  Normally, I’m not like this, but then again, it’s not every day that I get to interview one of the singer/songwriters who has been so influential in my life.  The phone rang and I said a silent prayer, “Hello?”

“Hi, Amy.  It’s Bebo Norman.” Suddenly, everything was OK.  Disarming me with his quiet charm and easy-going nature, Bebo Norman is by all accounts a gentleman—one of the many reasons the man and his music have become so dear to me since I picked up his first album in 1996 as a mere teenager.

In this, my second interview with Bebo Norman, I decided to let you into our candid, and often, amusing conversation as we talk about our battles with anxiety, Bebo’s life, and of course, his new album, Ocean, releasing on BEC Recordings on September 28.

Amy: So, in celebration of your new album, do you have a favorite ocean?  I mean, there are seven of them.

Bebo: Ah. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Atlantic or the Pacific, but I haven’t spent time in the other oceans.  So I’ve have to go with those.  How ‘bout you?  Do you have a favorite ocean?

Amy: Probably the Atlantic or the Pacific.  I mean, my best friend fell into the Pacific Ocean off a small boat, so I’d have to go with that.  It’s hard to say, it’s like trying to pick a favorite star.

Bebo: I understand.  I’ve never tried to pick a favorite star, but there are so many to choose from.

We chat a bit about sea creatures, including the beauty of humpback whales.  I also learn that Bebo’s been on several cruises to Alaska and that Matthew West lives three blocks away.  I tell him that Matthew West’s new album is really great and he says that he hasn’t heard it.

Bebo: I tend to not be up to date on music.  Isn’t that ridiculous?

Amy: That’s hilarious!  I love that!

Bebo: I have to kind of disappear from music sometimes just to keep my head straight because it’s what I do, it’s my job, and it’s what I love.  I have to have some space.

Amy: Sometimes I get all these new releases and I’m like, “This is all crap and I hate it!” So I have to pop in something good and solid like Bebo Norman or Rich Mullins so I can remember what good music sounds like.

Bebo: I think that’s part of my problem.  I’ve always listened to music because it inspires me and what’s frustrating is that sometimes you listen to music and none of it inspires you, you start to think that no music will inspire you

Amy: I know!  It’s scary because I think, “What if people think my writing is this bad?”

Bebo: That’s part of the insecurity of being a creative person.  Every single songwriter writer, musician, journalist, I know has that same fear or thought.

Amy: Speaking of writing, you said that writing an album is like an extended therapy session.  I’ve been in therapy sessions and they’re very painful sometimes.  So, what is it like for you?

Bebo: It’s very painful, very painful, and it’s very beautiful.  It’s a cathartic process, which is the beauty of writing.  I didn’t start as a songwriter because I had any intention of playing songs for anybody.  When I started writing songs, it was just an extension of me trying to process life.  I found that, for me, whether it was poetry or songs it was the best way I could process things.

I wrote short stories and poetry before I started writing songs, but the combination of music and words is a pretty powerful and sort of inspiring thing.  That’s what caught me the most about songwriting.  I could write a poem or I could hear a piece of music and both of those things would be beautiful, but when they’re together there’s something magical and powerful that happens.

In ways, it’s the only way I really know how to process life.  It forces me to sit down and be quiet, and still and reflective and internal.  The busyness of life, especially these days, with touring and my family, my wife and kids, and my community here in Nashville—sitting down and being quiet—it’s hard to find those days.

Not to mention, if you do struggle with anxiety or those things when you get down and depressed, even when you do have those days where you can sit down and be quiet those struggles can sometimes steal the life out of those moments.  Writing songs is a very grounding thing for me.  That’s the same way therapy is—you’re forced to sit down with your thoughts and expose things that might not otherwise get exposed.

Amy: Some of the things I would talk about in therapy, I would not like to release to the world.  You said that an album is the best 60 minutes out of two years of your life, but still, sometimes it’s painful to hear.

Bebo: I’ve always struggled with laying out things that are personal and intimate.  Now that I’ve got a wife and two boys, there’s a certain level of caution to where I have to consider how what I put out there affects the people around me.

To me, everything I experience is fair game for a song.  I used to really struggle with the fear of laying those things out there.  Maybe I’m just old enough at this point or I’ve just been doing it long enough that now I’m not consumed with the perception might be wrong or right.  It’s more a matter of this is where I am and this is what I’m struggling with and I’m certain there are other people that are dealing with similar things, if not the same thing, and it’s important for these things to be spoken.  As believers, we think we’re not spiritual enough if we struggle with certain things.

Amy: Thank you for sharing that.  There are a lot of songs I want to talk about, but we don’t have time.  Let’s just plunge right into your favorite song, “The Middle,” which is also my favorite song.  I was listening to it last night and I was crying because I was feeling like that song is my life right now.  I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I feel like my life is this middle of not where I was and not there yet.  Or maybe our lives here on planet earth are the middle.  I don’t know.

Bebo: I think you tapped into something there. There’s a reality that our lives in their current state are the middle.  We’re never fully home and our faith is never fully realized until the day Jesus calls us home or comes back.

Here’s the thing, when I say “the middle,” it may not mean the middle of life.  It happened to me when I was in college, and again in my 20’s, and again in my 30’s.  As static as they may feel at times, our lives are always in transition.  I revel in the idea of transition; the real struggle for me is when I’m stuck in between transition.  That’s where this song comes from, like, “Where am I right now in the middle of these things? I don’t feel like I’m moving.”  Like you mentioned a minute ago, you feel stuck and you’re in this place where you’re not quite sure where things are going and where they’ve been.

It’s not a song about being middle-aged.  I feel like we’re always in the state of being in the middle.  When we’re on this earth, we’re always in the middle and we’re always going to be stuck between our flesh and our spirit here.

Amy: You had this goal that you were going to write one blog post a day…what happened?

Bebo: It was way too ambitious a goal, and I knew that!  But those are the only kind of goals I know how to set—one that’s too ambitious

Amy: I told you that in your comments section, not that you listened.

Bebo: I even said in the first blog post that I will mostly likely fail at this and what I mean is that, I will fail at this.  But I really did want to go for it.  I have a dear friend who wrote a new song every day for one year of his life.  He said that 90% of the songs weren’t that special, but it taught him what the day had brought him. That’s kind of what I was hoping for with the whole blog thing.  I can’t just write a blog and say, “I took the kids to school and I slept late.”  There has to be some thought in it.  The reality of the busyness of life at this point; it just wasn’t even possible.  I could have sat down and written it, but it would have been at the expense of the people I love.

Amy: Well, that would have been utterly ridiculous!

Bebo: But it was a lesson learned.  That would be a good entry in and of itself—to talk about how it started taking it away from the people in front of me to appease a group of people I don’t even know, which is the real danger of social networking.  That’s why I failed miserably at it.  Well, that sounds too noble.  Actually there were too many days I didn’t feel about it.

I give Bebo some expert blogging advice, which he recognized from his comments section.  I tell him that he ignored my comments because I’m a “girl.” Then we talk about how guys always think girls want to hit on them.  I tell him that his recent blog, “Idols of Misdirection” was excellent and seemed to go with one of the songs on his new album called “Could You Ever Look at Me.”  Bebo keeps talking, even though I’m keenly aware that he is going to be five minutes late calling his next interviewer.

Amy: One last question—how can we be praying for Bebo Norman?

Bebo: A lot of what I was writing about in that blog post (“Idols of Misdirection”) is probably what I would ask people to pray for me right now, and that is being thankful for the source of the good things in my life.  I’m in a season of struggling with that.  There’s a certain level of distance I feel right now from God, which is odd because I talk about my faith a lot.  It’s not that I doubt the truth of the Gospel because I see it fulfilled as truth every single day.  I feel like it’s robbing me of the beauty of every day.

To catch up with Bebo Norman, visit him online at BeboNorman.com, follow him on Twitter (@bebonorman), and read his blog, which he updates sometimes.

Josh Wilson:: Seeing God’s Hope in Pain

9 Feb

When I first interviewed Josh Wilson several years ago about his debut album, Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup (2008), we formed a special bond between writer and musician, which continues today.  I have made no secret about my appreciation for Josh, as a musician, friend, and fellow human being.  Naturally, that brings a whole new element to an interview, like talking to an old friend about an exciting project.  Essentially that’s what it was like to interview Josh about his latest album, See You.

Available February 8, See You (Sparrow) is an amazing project, in which Josh has poured himself heart and soul (read album review).  Working with my one of my favorite producers, Matt Bronleewe, Josh shows maturation in his craft as a singer/songwriter.  But his sincerity and witty personality remain intact.  In fact, at the end of the interview I told Josh that his self-titled album (a mash-up of his two previous albums) is available as a $5 download on Amazon.com.  In true Josh Wilson fashion, he quipped, “Five dollars?  I better go buy that!”

It is these qualities that make Josh Wilson one of my favorite musicians in the music business.  And just one of my favorite people in general.  After that glorious introduction, I now present our interview.

You have a new album coming out Feb. 8 called See You

I’m incredibly excited for people to hear these songs.  I recorded them last August, so I’ve been sitting on them like a Christmas present that I’ve been waiting to give away.  I’m excited to give it away.

Let’s talk about the title track for a minute.  “See You”—that’s a pretty deep song.  I thought it was going to be a nice, little happy song. It’s a hard song to listen to.

I struggled when I wrote it to figure out how to resolve the song because it deals with wanting to see God in the hard times, but not being able to.  The first verse talks about a sick child—a reference to my friends who have a son with a heart condition.  The second verse talks about a divorce.  I had a good buddy go through a divorce this year.  I think those are two kinds of situations when people ask, “Where is God?  If God is really there and He loves us, then why is this happening?”  I have certainly experienced things in life where I can’t see God.  The song says that in the middle of all this, I don’t see You.

I didn’t know how to resolve the song because I didn’t what to leave it there.  The song is followed by an instrumental version of “It Is Well (With My Soul),” which is a response to that song.  But I didn’t want someone to listen to the album and hear the song, but not hear the resolution—the hope that we do have in Christ.  “See You” doesn’t end with a big bowtie around it but it certainly points to the fact that although we don’t see Christ in those moments, we are going to one day.

I sort of like the unresolved tension.

Yeah, as an artist, as a creative element, I do, too.  I like to watch movies with unresolved endings and I like music that sits in the moment.

You know, I was thinking about this album as I was writing the review (which everyone should read), and I’ve been listening to this album from start to finish, from start to finish over and over again.  And you start with “Sing It” and end the album with the “Sing It” reprise.  This album really should be listened to as a whole project.  It’s not a bunch of songs with a few that sound good on radio.  The whole project sort of fits together and the songs flow together.  Was that intentional?

Not when I was writing the songs.  When I picked the songs to go on the album, I did try to find a common thread.  “Sing It” talks about not having enough words, melodies, and chords to capture God, our Creator.  I wanted to put this group of songs in with that song because that sums me up as an artist.

I wrote “3 Minute Song.”  It was kind of the same thing.  The more I write, the more I’m realizing that I’ll never be able to write enough.  I don’t think that’s necessarily the theme that runs through the album, that’s why I chose to call it See You and that’s why “See You” falls dead center in the track listing.

This is the first album that I’m really proud of the order of songs and the flow of music.  Every song is not the same.  It doesn’t all talk about seeing God.  But I think that theme comes in and out.

How much did your producer, Matt Bronleewe, contribute to that?

A great deal.  This is the first time I have recorded a single album with a single producer.  I feel like this album was very cohesive because it was just Matt and me from the very beginning.  Because of that, he was able to help me string things together.  It makes the album a complete thought.

The other thing I love about your music is that you’re really involved with all aspects of creation, like you played 18 different instruments on this album.

Yeah, that was something Matt challenged me to do and it’s something that I’ve done on previous albums.  Besides bass and drums, there’s everything from autoharp to ukulele to accordion, and a hammered dulcimer.

And a glockenspiel, come on!

Haha, yes, a glockenspiel because it’s fun to say!  I was excited to go into the studio and say, “Could you turn up the glockenspiel?”

That’s hilarious!  I get this idea that when you go into the studio or write a song, you’re like this creation genius, like you have all these instruments around you and you start pumping out songs like Bob Dylan.

Well, I wish it was as easy as walking into a place and it all just sort of happens around you.  But the writing process is a slow one for me.  It takes a while.  When we get into the studio, there is a bit of a mad scientist element.  Matt has all these instruments in there and we’d listen to a track, and I’d say, “Let me try this!” There’s a good element of spontaneity in the recording process.  That’s not to say that every idea is a good one, so Matt helped a lot in that process.

I think you had said at some point there’s more of you in this album.

Hmm…I feel as a writer I’m growing and hopefully each song I write is a little more honest.   That’s why I feel like I can write a song like “See You” that deals with doubt because that’s something I struggle with.  Any Christian who’s honest struggles with the same thing.  Each song is about something I’ve been through or a close friend has been through.  I try to stay close to real life stories and build songs from that.

I noticed in the song, “They Just Believe,” which you wrote about your 2009 trip to India, you say, “I believe, help my unbelief.” This is a direct quote from the Gospels.  What does this mean to you?

You know, the funny thing about doubt is that statement.  I do believe, but at the same time I struggle with unbelief.  At the same time, I have to fall back on the promise that Jesus made that He’s with us, that He’s never going to leave us or forsake us.  In the moments that I don’t see God or don’t feel like I can, I have to remember what He’s brought me through.  When you put it all together, it makes the most sense to say, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

That’s my prayer a lot of times.

Absolutely.  Sometimes it’s the most appropriate thing to pray.

As we wrap up, is there anything about this album you think the folks need to know?

I really am proud of this album.  I’m really excited for people to hear it.  I hope they hear honesty and I hope I haven’t skirted any hard issues in these songs. Scripture doesn’t do that; Jesus doesn’t do that; and life certainly doesn’t do that.  We can’t pretend that everything’s always smiley.  While I do deal with a lot of hard things, what I want people to take away is hope.  As Christians, we are equipped to deal with the most difficult things in life because Jesus went through them.  I hope people will take away hope in the middle of pain.

For more Josh Wilson goodness, head over to his website at JoshWilsonMusic.com and hook up with Josh on all your favorite social networks, including Twitter (@joshwilson) and Facebook (facebook.com/joshwilson).  Also, you can see Josh live on the summer festival circuit and this fall he’s touring with music veterans Steven Curtis Chapman and Andrew Peterson.

Ridiculously Low Prices on Great Music!

18 Jul

Everyone likes a deal, right?  I especially keen on deals involving books and music, which is why Amazon’s current Deals of the Day are especially sweet because they’re featuring the music of some of my favorite artists, like Josh Wilson, Matthew West, and Shawn McDonald at ridiculously low prices.  The deals only last for 24 hours, so check the calendar below so you can grab tunes from all your favorite Sparrow recording artists.

7/17-Britt Nicole-Say It-$2.99

7/18-Josh Wilson-Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup-$2.99

7/19-Christy Nockels-Life Light Up-$2.99

7/20-David Crowder*Band-Remedy-$2.99

7/21-Shawn McDonald-Roots-$2.99

7/22-TobyMac-Portable Sounds-$2.99

7/23-Chris Tomlin-Arriving-$2.99

7/24-Matthew West-Something to Say-$2.99

7/25-Steven Curtis Chapman-This Moment (Cinderella Edition)-$4.99

7/26-Amy Grant-Greatest Hits-$4.99

7/27-newboys-Greatest Hits-$4.99

*Remember, music is only available on the date listed above.  But you can always try to snag an early or late deal.*

Take 5 with Mandy Parsons, Owner of Savvy Media Solutions

22 Jun

Mandy Parsons is one of the coolest people in the Christian music industry.  Here’s why—after I chose to return to the world of journalism, specifically in the Christian music market, Mandy was one of the first publicists to help me out.  Because of her, I was able to schedule reviews and interviews with some of the industry’s hottest artists for the youth ministry site I was working with at the time.

Then when I decided to start Backseat Writer, Mandy was incredibly supportive. Not only is she a great publicist to her clients, she takes the time to get to know the press people with whom she works.

One of the best in the business, Mandy’s been working as a publicist for 10 years.  She launched her own independent public relations agency, Savvy Media Solutions, in 2004. Savvy Media provides exposure to both highly visible artists such as newsboys, Matthew West, Superchick, GRITS, and Britt Nicole, and solid record labels like Forefront Records, Credential Recordings, Sparrow Records, Inpop Records, and Revolution Art.  Well-respected and always professional, it only made sense to ask Mandy to “Take 5” with Backseat Writer.

*How did you get your start working in publicity?

Upon graduating college I moved to Nashville to intern with Atlantic Records in its Christian music division. It was there that I met Melissa Hambrick, the label’s contracted independent publicist, who owned SpinCycle Public Relations. At the time, she needed part-time help with tour press for another client. I worked at my internship during the morning and for SpinCycle in the afternoons. After I completed my internship, SpinCycle hired me on full time. It was there that Melissa took me under her wing for what I would now describe as an apprenticeship. She taught me absolutely everything I needed to know about public relations.

*What are some of the fun perks of your job?

I love getting new music before it releases. Working and interacting with the artists is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job as well.

* What is one misconception that people have about your job that drives you crazy?

A popular misconception among industry circles is that a successful publicity campaign is measured by the number of secured “big hits” (i.e. major network television appearances, high profile newspaper or magazine placements, etc., targeted to mass audiences). I would argue that the most effective campaigns are those that pursue multiple niche markets best served by the artist’s message/product. (side note: a great resource for those seeking to better understand the paradigm shift in present-day marketing and PR is  The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott.)

*Share a crazy on-the-job story (the more chaotic, the better).

Any time I need to get a photo op with someone who is high profile I feel like a stalker. There was one instance when I waited outside Sean Hannity’s tour bus for six hours to get his photo with one of my clients. I literally had 60 seconds from when he left the venue to board the bus to get my shot.

*What’s on your desk at this moment? (Don’t clean it to answer this question!)

Ha, ha. Matthew West’s Something to Say CD and Sarah Reeves’ latest release, Sweet, Sweet Sound, a ton of post-it notes, the Associated Press Stylebook, message book of phone calls I need to return, stack of press clippings and magazines, marketing notes, my “middle- of- the- night- ideas” note pad, a book on web marketing.

Buy Matthew West for $1.99…OK, his album SOMETHING TO SAY.

7 May
I want to make sure that everyone in all the world knows about this great deal.  You can get Matthew West’s best-selling album for just short of $2.  I probably should own this album, but I just bought it for the low, low price of $1.99.  See, sometimes the late bird gets the worm, too. Act fast because this promotion ends today!


Buy online at: http://tinyurl.com/matthewwest

–Courtesy of Mandy the Magnificent at Savvy Media

Review:: It’s Christmas – Mandisa

8 Dec

By Sarah Merkel The artist simply known as Mandisa became a household name as she entered the final rounds of “American Idol’s” fifth season.  After her debut album, fans were craving more and Mandisa decided to expand on her four song EP to produce a new holiday album called It’s Christmas.  Soulful and original, It’s Christmas is a rip roarin’ good time… if you’re into gospel music.

Creativity:: 4 Although this album is comprised of mainly traditional songs, they are performed with a black gospel feel that adds in some great horn parts.  Vocally, Mandisa takes the songs to new heights, even though her vocals don’t seem to reach as high as she would like.

Original Songs:: 7 There are two original songs on this album, “Christmas Day” featuring Michael W. Smith and “Christmas Makes Me Cry” with Matthew West.  Both songs have great lyrics and a warm feel.  The addition of male vocalists adds to the dynamics of this project.

Classic Covers:: 4 Comprised mostly of covers, Mandisa does a nice job on songs like “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” and on Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means to Me”.  However, Mandisa’s renditions of “Little Drummer Boy,” “O Holy Night,” and “Feliz Navidad” are overdone and poorly executed.

Musical Score:: 8 The background music was full and lively, offering the listener the sounds of a Christmas concert.  The horn players on this album did an exceptional job with near-perfect intonation and pitch.

Overall Holly Jolliness:: 6 Fans of the gospel genre will be sure to find themselves in the Christmas spirit after listening to It’s Christmas.

Total Score= 29
.  This is a great stocking stuffer for that hard-to-buy-for-gospel-loving-person on your Christmas list.

Print copy of review.

To read our review guide lines, go here.

You can find It’s Christmas and the rest of our great “12 Days of Christmas Music” reviewed albums in Backseat Writer’s online store, Drive-By Shopping, under the “12 Days of Christmas Music” category!

Sarah Merkel is a social worker specializing in adoptions, even though she though has a degree in music. When she’s not rockin’ out to Guitar Hero or getting into trouble with Amy (Sondova), she’s playing trombone with Grace Notes Gospel Big Band. Sarah has the tedious responsibility of editing Amy’s first drafts, and if Backseat Writer ever makes any money, Sarah will manage the finances. Plus, in the event that Amy becomes incapacitated Sarah will assume site responsibilities, sort of like the vice-president.

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