It was an act of forgiveness that helped Brandon Heath heal a relationship with his estranged father and start on his road to a successful music career.
The Dove Award male vocalist of the year in 2009 and 2010 released his third CD, “Leaving Eden,” this past week with a debut at No. 1 on the iTunes Christian Albums chart and already boasts a No. 1 radio hit with “Your Love,” (Billboard’s National Christian Audience). Heath hits Denver on Feb. 3 at the Denver Coliseum with TobyMac’s Winter Wonder Slam tour.
I had a chance to chat with Heath about his music career, last year’s flood in his hometown of Nashville and his interview with Katie Couric on why people are leaving the church.
Q: Your life has really changed in the last three years since your first CD “Don’t Get Comfortable” in 2006. You won the Dove Award for song of the year in 2010 for “Give Me Eyes” and two male vocalist of the year awards, along with an interview with Katie Couric about the exodus of people leaving the church. So what are the reasons people are leaving?
A: I just finished reading “Hipster Christianity” and a lot of people are put off by that. It has an air of trying too hard. It’s like that guy at the party who is socially awkward. He’s trying too hard. You want to love him, but it’s just not natural. Churches have to get back to the basics and talk about the Word and take care of each other. You don’t need all that smoke and mirrors. Jesus didn’t have technology. He had a donkey. A lot of churches just need to simplify. Just give me Jesus. Just give me Jesus.
Q: Just give me Jesus. That seems to be the theme of your new CD where you simplify and really emphasize your voice.
A: I think from singing everyday for five years my voice has gotten stronger, so we spent a lot more time on vocals. There were some hard vocal times. (Producer) Dan Muckala turned up the knob a bit, but it was worth it. He produced “Give Me Your Eyes” and I said I would never question him again. Dan has taken me to the next level. I put a lot of trust in him.
Q: What is your favorite song on the CD?
A: The last song, “As Long As I’m Here.” I wrote that last year after watching a friend of mine (pilot Terry Virts) go up in the space shuttle for his first mission. It’s intriguing to think about what he’s doing up there, and how God gives us the opportunities to do these things that take us to the brink — how we can push the boundaries. There is this sense of danger but then peace. And my other favorite song is “Stolen.” I was thinking of this dude in New York who was running from the police, but he is innocent. Like that show “The Fugitive.” There’s this passionate cop who is running this guy down. It’s like God is pursuing us, but we keep running. But as soon as we are captured we know this is where we should be, but we keep running.
Q: You grew up in Nashville and still live there. What was it like with the flooding there last year?
A: I was so proud of our town. I don’t know anyone who didn’t help clean up. The damage was extensive, but it wasn’t like this sense of hopelessness. You know, the news reporters got there and showed all the bad, but there was so much good news. You saw all these volunteers, even from out of state, pitching in and ripping out drywall and carpeting. My neighborhood was hit, but we weren’t. We offered up our showers … It was eerie, but encouraging.
Q: You also did a benefit.
A: A few year back Jason Ingram and I did a local benefit to help people hit by a tornado after reading Nehemiah where he asked the king permission to leave the kingdom to help Jerusalem rebuild its city. We thought we should rally the troops and help these people rebuild their community. Faith in action. So with the big flood we thought we would bring it back. (The “Love Your Neighbor” concert raised more that $61,000.)
Q: How has your life changed in the past few years?
A: I have to pinch myself: Is this really my job? I get to really do this? Sometimes I feel… not guilty… but so lucky. I see people who don’t have jobs come out to hear me and that means the world to me. It kinda raises the standard of what is expected of me. But as a Christian artists we don’t get recognized in the grocery story, not like pop stars. So it hasn’t gone to my head.
Q: Were you always a Christian?
A: It wasn’t until I was 16 at a Young Life camp that I accepted Jesus. I was from a divorced family and I was really angry at my dad. That was a big part of my reconciliation was forgiving my dad. I was concentrating on how angry I was, but once we reconciled God started focusing on me and my heart, my family and my relationships. Jesus promises to accept you for who you are but you won’t stay as your are. He will make you more like Jesus. He will show you what you need to change and sometimes it’s hard. My dad and I are in a good spot now. You know, God has given me everything that I have asked, except for that Lamborgini (laughs). Everything that matters, he has given me and I am thankful for that. Once I forgave my father, it started from there. It changed the trajectory of our relationship. You can be devoured by unforgiveness and a spirit of bitterness that can ruin your life. I keep short accounts of people. It’s made my life better.
Q: You’re coming to town with TobyMac. He is a high energy, hip-hop, gyrating show and you are more mellow, singer songwriter type. It seems like a weird juxtaposition.
A: I embrace the difference. People come to see Toby and I don’t want to give them a double helping of meatloaf. I want to be the mash potatoes, no the sweet potatoes – a nice surprise side dish. (chuckles).