We caught up with Todd Agnew and Rebecca St. James to talk about their collaboration on Our Great God, on Todd’s new album.
What brought you guys together to sing Our Great God from your album Better Questions?
Todd: Well, we’ve been friends for a few years. We toured together with the Newsboys and our friendship has grown since then. We’ve been part of a study group together for the last couple of years too. We’ve read the same books and do accountability. We’ve seen some great friendships blossom from that group.
It’s a record about questioning God and bringing difficult questions to him. I wanted a song about the mystery of God and the vastness and greatness of the Lord. I wanted a worship song to be able to give back to church. This song is by Fernando Ortega and Max Powell. It’s been one of my favorites for five years and we’ve been waiting for someone to record a new version; I just knew it would be a huge song for the church. I was surprised that the new version was going to be mine, that it fit so well into this record.
Rebecca is a friend that walked through the last year-and-a-half of this journey with me, so it was a very natural choice to include her. I’m really honored that she could be part of this project.
Our Great God has an “old hymn” flavor to it. Should we expect more of that on the album?
Todd: It’s a pretty consistent Todd Agnew record, which means it’s pretty much all over the map. [laughs] There’s all kinds of stuff on the record. Hopefully, lyrically, it continues to dig pretty deeply into a lot of different things but, yeah, there’s some pretty hard rock stuff, funk, and even a reggae tune with a rap in the middle of it. [laughs] The whole record is pretty diverse, but hopefully, quality-wise, it’s all digging deep.
Todd, what are you inspired by?
Todd: Not to be clichÃ©, but definitely its Scripture — what lights the fire is what changes my life. Those life changes are usually what lead to songs and, additionally, it’s reading other things — the classics. A big favorite of mine is digging back into C.S. Lewis and all that great stuff.
Last year the books that the group and Rebecca and I were reading — The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, a couple different Brian McLaren books — A lot of these books have opened my eyes. There have been assumptions in my own faith that I’ve routinely accepted, rather than examine. It’s been really challenging.
Tell us more about the project. Where did the title Better Questions come from?
Todd: The title itself comes from the first line of the record, I’ve got better questions than I have answers. Being a Christian musician, you find out pretty quickly that you can write one hit song and everybody suddenly thinks you have the answer to every question in their life. They come up and ask and they send you emails and we get phone calls. Even talking to you guys about marriage. I want to sit them down and say, You understand I’m not married. I know you have a question about marriage but understand I’m not married. I can tell you what Scripture says about something, but I don’t really necessarily know the answer to your question. I realize that I have a lot of those deep questions myself. I’m just another person walking alongside them, asking questions. To be real honest, I wrote a couple of songs, my “closet songs”, I wasn’t planning on sharing them. Then I’d written six of them and then I’d written ten of them and I’d written 12 of them and all of a sudden I realized that God was kind of hanging my closet out for everyone to see. These very personal questions are going to be laid out for everyone. Hopefully, God will use them in their lives.
What are you guys listening to these days?
Rebecca: An album that I’ve really been loving lately is the Leeland album. It’s really, really powerful, very moving. Use of the Saints is one of my favorites on that project. Then Hillsong United. The other day in Canada we were playing a show together and I love their stuff. They’ve got a new song Mighty to Save, another favorite of mine. Then if I just want to kind of turn my brain off and chill it’s the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack — Which Todd loves with a passion.
Todd: My favorite.
Rebecca: What about you, Todd?
Todd: I’ve been listening to Rebecca St. James. The entire collection.
Rebecca: Oh, yeah. Sure. [laughs]
Todd: I listen to a lot of different stuff. A friend of mine was playing My Brightest Diamond, a group out of New York. I asked him about it, turned out that it’s a friend of mine from college that has made some beautiful, beautiful music. I’ve listened to a lot of different stuff lately. I’ve tried to expand my horizons by listening to different styles of music.
What are you guys doing for fun these days when you’re not working?
Todd: Interviews. [laughs] The getting up early is work, but talking to people about what God is doing in our lives, man, it’s just a joy. Just the fact that we get to do that, there is still a great deal of pleasure in that.
Rebecca: I’ve been investing in my little garden at my house. I like to hang with friends, go have coffee; swing dancing is a pastime I love. I just found out recently that Todd knows how to swing dance. I’m going to be dragging him somewhere I’m sure. [laughs]
They do that in Nashville?
Rebecca: Yeah, great fun. Come on, Todd, what do you do for fun?
Todd: I don’t have a lot of time for fun. [laughs]
Rebecca: Come on. [laughs]
Todd: I love sports. I love to play anything, really. You can make up a sport. That’s what my band and me do. We just make up games all the time and just play. We have a great time together.
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