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RAY OF LIGHT: A CONVERSATION WITH JEFF DEYO
[ by ben forrest ]

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It's generally accepted that delirious? was the group that really sparked the modern worship craze. Songs like "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever" and "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?" injected new life into an old art form and before long many CCM bands turned from simply singing about God to singing to Him. Jeff Deyo, though, was probably the first of their offspring to help make worship a moneymaker. Here are his thoughts on the genre he helped push into the mainstream and where it's going.

cMW: I wanted to ask you first about modern worship music and your place in it. When SONICFLOOd (don't worry, there won't be too many questions about your old band from me) started out, worship was still kind of a niche market, but you guys kind of blew the door open for a lot of the bands that are out there now. Some are saying, however, that modern worship's days might be numbered. What would you do if the market disappeared for that in the next couple of years?

Jeff Deyo: As you mentioned, worship used to be more of a niche market (as far as CCM was concerned). While we've had a few "glorious" years of worship sales in connection with CCM, I don't believe the future hope of worship is tied to CCM's excitement for it or belief in it. The church will always need new songs of worship—we may call the songs being written and styles being used today "modern worship," but I don't believe today's worship is any more modern than the hymns were in the 1800's when most of them were written. I pray that whatever we call new worship of the future—say in the 2200's—it will simply be a fresh expression of God's people who love him dearly and seek him desperately. That part of worship didn't start with SONICFLOOd, nor did it start in this century. Neither will it end any time soon. Yes, sales may fluctuate, but I will just continue to be obedient to God to be poured out for his Kingdom no matter what the "market" does. When many other artists have moved on to the next trend (which is fine) I will be right here writing worship songs, leading worship, mentoring up-and-coming worship leaders, and hopefully challenging the body to go deeper and to better understand what worshiping God is all about.

cMW: Your last album was very much a continuation of the sound that you had when you were with SONICFLOOd, and the philosophy seemed to be similar: take old songs and update them, and throw in some originals as well. What can fans of your first solo album expect in terms of sound and writing philosophy on the new album?

Jeff Deyo and Mac PowellDeyo: As you said, one of the things we did best in SONICFLOOd was to take old songs and make them "new." I did that on Saturate as well, but with only 3 songs instead of 7. On the new album, we decided since so many people had begun doing that same thing, we would set out to give the body of Christ a collection of 13 brand new worship songs with a similar "modern" feel to them. My philosophy for lyrics is to make sure we stay in balance. What I mean is that I try to pattern the overall feel of an album after the overall feel of the Psalms. All the songs can't be happy go lucky, feel good, cookie cutter worship songs. While we did intentionally write some songs that are easy to learn and that are easy to fall into, we also included some songs with deep theological meanings and that make you think, and may even cause those who need to, to repent. My hope is that these songs help people to fall in love with the real God, and not one we've created by attributing only the characteristics to Him that we like.

cMW: As always, you have some relatively big names as collaborators on the new album, but Mac Powell is the one that most people will recognize. Can you tell me a little about how you came to get Mac to collaborate with you?

Deyo: Mac and I have become friends over the years. We first met when I was in Zilch (the band that changed into SONICFLOOd). We always seemed to have a connection and enjoyed being around one another even though we don't see each other often, living in different cities and traveling as much as we do. When I wrote the song "We Come to Your Throne with Weeping," I knew it was the perfect song for Mac to join me on. It just has his feel. So I called him up, we worked through a little industry red tape, and "ta da" it came together. Of course I sent him a copy of the song, and he really got a vision for it. That really helped, and gave him the ambition it took to set aside some time to record in Atlanta. This is a really important song for this record, and I believe, for the body of Christ.

cMW: Mac's band, Third Day, has of course been very successful with their worship music. Are you pleased to see bands that don't traditionally release your kind of music testing the waters of worship, or would you rather see them stick to what they do best and let you do the same?

Deyo: I'm always pleased to see people worship God. I suppose there's always that question of motives running around in everyone's mind, but I'll leave that to God. It says in his word that no matter false motives or true, if the gospel is being preached, that is a good thing. I think the same is true of worship. Whether a band has good motives or simply profit in mind, many people are being genuinely led in worship by the pure grace of God. So, that makes me happy. I am glad that some of the bigger names are beginning to return to their original passions, so that those of who are passionate about leading worship can do so with fewer distractions.

cMW: What about guys like Carman? Even he is releasing worship albums now. Doesn't that kind of get on your nerves?

Deyo: It sounds like it gets on yours (smile). Again, I'll leave that to God, and just stay focused on what I'm called to do.

cMW: As popular as modern worship has been, there aren't that many songs that are true classics... "God of Wonders" and "The Heart of Worship" come to mind, and delirious? has a few, but there aren't too many others. When you write, do you consciously try to make songs that are timeless, or does that even enter your mind?

Deyo: My main focus is writing songs that will help the body do whatever it takes for them to get closer to God—maybe repentance, maybe rejoicing, maybe shouting, maybe laying on their faces, maybe being still. Of course I hope that my songs will be so inspiring that people around the globe will be able to use them as a help to touch God which will hopefully turn into real fruit in their lives. The thing I must remember is that not all songs that are popular are good or even theologically correct. Just because throngs of people embrace something, does not mean that that thing is something God wants us to embrace. Sometimes God hides the things he loves best to see if people will look for the hidden treasure and to see if they are willing to love what he loves even if it isn't popular. I must keep that in mind and pray all the while that my motives and goal will be to be obedient and not simply popular.

cMW: You have a habit of including "prayer tracks" on your albums. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but is part of your message that prayer is an integral part of worship? If so, why do you think that is?

Deyo: You're not reading too much into it, but the main purpose for my "prayer tracks" is for it to feel a bit more like our live experience. The interludes on LIGHT are a little more like teaching moments than prayers while the prayers were still "designed" to help instil certain truths about worship that will hopefully help the worshiper connect with God. I have realized that one of my spiritual gifts is being a teacher, so I'm trying to continue to be faithful to walk in the calling. I would also say that of all the compliments we've received in my days with Sonic up till now, the one most often received was concerning the interludes. People are really touched by their personal nature. I guess they feel a little closer to us through our talking on the record.

cMW: I know you can't see into the future, but you're one of modern worship's pioneers, so I figure you're about as qualified as anyone to answer this question: Where is worship music going next? Is there anything original left to be done or said within the confines of that genre?

Deyo: Well, I'm certain there is much to be seen that hasn't been seen. But as with everything else, there truly is nothing new under the sun—there is NO THING that is truly original. It all started with God. So, I figure, God is still creating (new stars, new plants, news species of animals—stuff in the ocean we have no idea about, etc.), so if everything starts with him, all we need to do as worship leaders is stay tapped into him and his creativity will flow through us—that's all that ever happens anyway—his creativity flows through us. I think we still have a long way to go in understanding what God's favourite songs are. I think we'd be surprised that his are different from ours. And since there are infinite ways to describe the greatness of God, there will always be "new" ways of telling of his glory!

Jeff Deyo and Mac PowellcMW: The simple nature of worship music—the fact that it's really often meant to be interactive and is probably sometimes best when it's spontaneous, and whatnot—seems to suggest to me that it might be a lot harder to go into the studio to record that type of music than to play it live for a crowd. Am I off base, or is it more fun to play your stuff in front of a crowd than a handful of people in a studio?

Deyo: One of the signature things about SONICFLOOd was that we did a studio worship recording. I think that was something that helped a lot of people who weren't into the whole "poorly recorded live versions of some worship songs" thing (this is much less true now with technology etc). I think it is an awesome challenge to go into the studio close the door on the vocal booth and loose yourself in God. That was again one of the things that made SONICFLOOd special. People always told us that the music had that "thing"—that spiritual quality—the one you can't explain. Even though the music is pre-recorded somewhere else—the Spirit of God seemed to be contained and then poured out as you listened and entered in. I love the idea of that. We will undoubtedly do a live worship recording—much like SONICPRAISe, but I am still a fan of studio worship recordings in general.

cMW: Christmas wasn't long ago. What did Santa bring you?

Deyo: One of the Christmas gifts "Santa" brought my wife and I was the beginnings of a new yard. We moved into our brand new house a year ago. We live on a hillside and didn't have the money to do the grass and the landscaping when we moved in. So, we have found a guy who does excellent work for a reasonable price, and he is doing phase 1 for us this Christmas. Another gift we're expecting this coming year is that of a new baby boy in June 2004. Roman, our first son, was born a year ago and now #2 is on the way! Praise God for the gift of life!!!!

cMW: This is a question totally dissimilar to what we've been talking about so far, but I've always wondered: how does a musician, such as yourself, who's on the road so much of the year, maintain meaningful relationships in a church setting? Do you have a home church, or do you take a pastor with you on the road?

Deyo: This is one of the most important questions you've asked. Most artists and musicians struggle deeply with this issue which I believe is the key to staying solid and godly while doing relevant and effective ministry. Martha and I have been an active part of our growing church in Nashville, Cornerstone, for 11 years now. Our main accountability comes from the volunteer youth staff and the youth pastor. We have been on the youth staff for about 10 years now, so that every time we're in town, we're at a youth function. We're also very faithful to Cornerstone in our Sunday morning attendance as well as our tithe and our offerings. We make sure that we don't travel too much (road doggin' it) so that we can still maintain a little bit of a normal life where people can speak into our lives in Sunday school and church functions. This is vital for anyone in ministry, and there is no excuse for no having a home church.

cMW: Okay, enough of all of that. Tell me everything my readers and I need to know about the new album.

    Deyo (with the breakdown):
  1. There are 13 brand new original songs (one of the songs, "These Hands" was a song I wrote in 2000 that received some attention on the Max Lucado CD, He Chose the Nails. We included it as a bonus live track as a precursor to a possible live album in 2005). I wrote 10 of them by myself while the other 3 were collaborations with the other band members.
  2. There are 3 duets: "Bless the Lord" (probably the most important song on this record is sung with International worship artist, Rita Springer—she's awesome!) "We Come to Your Throne with Weeping" is sung with Mac Powell, as you mentioned. And "Keep My Heart" is sung with the soulful and anointed voice of Natalie Grant. These are all three important songs to me.
  3. All the music was recorded by my touring band—100%. The only change is that after recording the record our guitarist decided to go another direction, so we now have a new guy. The new guy's name is Charlie Goddard and he is very talented and has a great heart for God!
  4. Here is the band (very important):
    Jeremy McCoy - Bass
    Charlie Goddard - Guitars
    Frederick Williams - Keys, programming, etc.
    Nathaniel Winters - Drums
  5. The song "I Fear You" is a very important song as we discover on the road with worship audiences all over the world what it truly means to be balanced in our worship—or as Psalm 2:11 says it—to fear the Lord and to serve him with trembling and rejoicing.
  6. Musically the album is similar to my other past recordings, but seems to have a bit more of a band feel—maybe a little more earthy, partly because of the influence of the tones used by Fred on the earthly but rootsy and rockin piano parts. There are still lots of guitars and melodic stuff. Every part is designed to laden with hooks, even the bass parts, which are amazing on LIGHT!
  7. "Ray of Light" is a song that took 4 years to develop. I wrote the chorus while we were in the studio recording the first SONICFLOOd CD. I even tried to include it on Saturate, but it just didn't seem ready. Finally, we got it right and it landed as the title cut on this record! "We Come To Your Throne with Weeping" actually only took 15 minutes to write and was written during the drum tracking for LIGHT.
  8. The title LIGHT refers to 2 different things—one being our role as the salt and light of the world—to bring light and life to dark places and corners so that everyone might see the freedom they have in Christ to live and to worship God. The other is referring to Jesus as the one true light that all others may see by. Jesus is the source of our light—in fact we as Christians don't actually have any light of our own—we simply reflect the light of Jesus.
cMW: Just to close things off.. I asked you where worship music is going... but what about you? What's next for Jeff Deyo?

Deyo: By the grace of the Lord, we will continue to write songs that encourage, uplift and challenge the body, with the hopes that the body will, in the light of the presence of God, go into the highways and byways and seek to save that which is lost all around them in their schools, workplaces, neighbourhoods, etc. We are also looking into planning another leg of our mini worship conferences, PURE WORSHIP for the fall of 2004. We would love for those to develop into weekend teaching and worshiping gatherings. We are also developing a relationship with speaker/author, John Bevere to begin doing some larger worship conference together. As I mentioned our next CD is most likely going to be live, so that people can take home that live experience that is so much a signature part of what we do as worship leaders. You can also watch for the worship music from an amazing young worship leader that I am producing and mentoring named Jonathan Lee. All I can say is WOW!
- Ben Forrest
January 2004
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