The (ONE)21 Music: Wrath is your third release since 2008. How does your role as Pastor and Worship Leader compliment and feed you as a recording artist and vice versa?
Preson Phillips: I never think of myself as a recording artist as if it were a second job that I had. I am simply a pastor, and the way that I am best able to communicate the gospel to people is through a mixture of preaching and songwriting/leading. If those things spread beyond the walls of the church, so be it.
I don’t think that either one of those things, either the music or the preaching, would be very effective without the other. I need to do both of them. You can say things through lyrics that you could never say in preaching, or even normal conversations, because it would be awkward and cheesy. Music and lyrics are the atmosphere that make those “cheesy” statements acceptable, and even powerful!
ONE21:Your music seems to embody the weightiness of traditional hymns with the excuberance of modern worship music. How did these two styles of “Church” music come together to influence your sound?
Phillips: I didn’t really write like that in the past, but being a pastor means that you have to read a whole lot of really really old theology books. Any student will tell you that when you first start reading those books (polycarp, augustine, brother lawrence, william law, and even calvin and luther) they are really hard to read and its a slow and exhausting process to comprehend what they are saying. But the longer you keep it up, it becomes simple… almost normal. Then you start to appreciatte the way our forefathers wrote and communicated the gospel, and you sit there and say “man, I wish I could write like that and not get laughed at!”.
The lucky thing is, with music I am allowed to do that. I can write as if I was some snobbish Elizabethan playwright… and no one even thinks twice about it. There are much more beautiful ways of saying things than the modern english language allows for. Our speech is too efficient. We get to our point fast, we just want people to get it. Old english was like that. They took their time getting to the point, and they often times circled around it for a while before landing there.
Where we sometimes just say “he came”, people used to say “Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our immanuel”. Same thing, different weight.
ONE21:Your band seems to play a more prominent role on Wrath than on your first two recordings. What is drove the change in sound?
Phillips: This has really taken a turn from solo project into a full on band over the years. I put two LP albums out with no band, and now 3 with a band. We’ve even kicked around the idea of naming the band, but I guess it might a little late for that.
All in all it was almost the exact same group of people that recorded the last 2 records (we added Ryan Payne, who was playing in the band at the time, he played allot of the guitar on “wrath”). We actually recorded almost the whole record in a couple of weeks in December 2010. I think the difference is that we sat on it for almost a year and would regularly go back to it and think about how we could produce it to make it stand on it’s own. I want every record to have its own identity and sound, while still being rooted in the southern folk hymn sound.
The best songs on every record are the ones the band took ownership of and changed, songs like “Grace and Peace” and “Wandering Soul”. We love them, so we play them over and over until they become something else, something bigger than what they were.
I have a pretty solid conviction that you shouldn’t be recording a song you haven’t been playing regularly for at least 6 months, it hasn’t even really been born yet and you are taking it out to people?
Got off topic, sorry.
ONE21: Wrath is not a very popular subject in the modern Church and your music is so exuberant. Where did the title come from?
Phillips: Love is the subject of 99.99% of worship songs, but people never quite think about the fact that you cannot have love without wrath. A man who loves his wife will furiously defend her against other men who are competing for her eye. He will even let himself be killed in an act of love.
If you love someone, you hate and wish wrath on the heads of all who want to destroy what you love wether it be your children or your way of life or your freedom.
“Dealt a traitors fate,
With Roman nails to hold your weight,
Suffering as you died
Stil pleading for afflictors lives”.
I know we see the love in that story, but if we can’t see the wrath in it then it will never have the weight it was meant to.
The pharisees dealt wrath on Jesus for destroying their idols.
Satan leveled wrath against Jesus because he loved himself.
Jesus himself felt the wrath of God so that he could save his own family.
Love is not love where there is no wrath.
ONE21: You create worship music. Can you describe your songwriting process?
Phillips: Most of the time it simply starts with one of 2 things: a phrase, or a small catchy melody in your head. I usually record it in my phone or type it in my evernote box and then I’ll forget about it… usually for almost a year. Once a month or so I open up all my songwriting notes and see if any of them can be expanded or combined or put to different timing. Sometimes I get songs out of em, most of the time I do not. It’s all kind of a regular exercise that I work into my life. If I don’t keep it up, I’ll run out of ideas. Its pretty messy, but It works.
ONE21:As you have played the songs in your Church and around the country, which ones seem to be evoking the most intense reactions?
Phillips: Playing at my church is the most enjoyable situation. There is nothing more joyful than filling a sanctuary with the voices of my brothers and sisters. That pretty much rules. I enjoy hitting the road once in a while, and every summer, but there’s only really been a couple of times when I’ve really been able to deeply connect with a crowd at a show. Honestly, if I’m gonna go out and play I really enjoy playing at secular clubs and bars. We can play the louder and faster stuff, and there is usually a more “music-loving” crowd in those places. I seem to get a better reaction, and I get to have more philosophically meaningful conversations with people who are curious about my beliefs but do not share them.
Thats really what this is all about for me. Meaningful and eternal connections with other eternal beings. If I can bring out a little bit of the eternal in every interaction that I have with people, I believe that God will do the rest. That’s why I write and record, and its why I preach.
Enjoy this live video of “Wandering Soul”, that we filmed at Conerstone Festival in 2011
You can download 4 of the songs off of Wrath through Come&Live! here