A while back I got a chance to sit and have a talk with local San Diegan singer-songwriter/worship leader Phil Wickham. This interview was one of much anticipation as I had waited over a few months just to even try and schedule it. Many attempts later, I succedeed. It was a rather interesting interview as it was a phone interview vs. the usual meet and greet I have grown accustomed to. No worries, no challenge too big for this so cal native! One minor setback, cellphone reliability, oh how the wireless companion loves to drop your call in the middle of a deep conversation, haha. Anyhow, I got to catch up with Phil a week before his 2nd major album with INO records dropped, Cannons, available as of October 2nd and also a week before he hit the streets with the David Crowder Band.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, how did you get into music?
I grew up in a very musical home, my parents met in a band called Parable. One of the first Jesus people rock bands in the early 70’s from Southern California. So they traveled around a lot, got married, did that whole thing, and then uh, I came. I kind of grew up as a church kid and having music and the bible as a big part of my life. We moved from Orange County to San Diego when I was about 12 years old and that’s when I picked up the guitar because I had nothing else to do, there was about 7 of them laying around the house. My dad gave me a bunch of the easy worship songs to play, you know the 3-4 chord songs and I just sat in my room and for hours and hours I learned, I learned all the chords. In a couple months I was asked to lead worship for my junior high group, kind of against my will because it freaked me out, I was this pretty shy little kid. So I started doing it and feeling really comfortable and it was really really evident from an early time in my life that the Lord was really using it in people, using it to draw people closer to him. The songs I was writing were playing in my youth group as an 8th grader you know. Even in the main services, people from different churches would sing my songs and it was blowing my mind you know. So I loved writing. I loved playing at an early age.
Your Christian upbringing, was it something that was implied or something you took on later on?
I definitely was a Sunday school kid. I could say all the bible verses that everybody knows. I knew about Jesus, I knew about God. I was a good kid. And I definitely believed in Him. I think from the time I was 3 from the time I could talk on its been a very gradual, just growing experience with the Lord, just getting closer and closer and sometimes stumbling here and stumbling there but relying on His grace and every aspect. I remember specifically when I was 12 sitting in a chapel one day. I went to Christian school at the time and we were having the weekly chapel and we were just about to graduate from 6th grade and go to jr. high. I remember that the guy who was speaking was challenging all of us young kids, saying We're gonna get a lot more freedom after this year, it's gonna get harder and harder. We'll make our own decisions more and more. Just gotta make sure that we are not just Christians cuz we go to, just the typical thing, that we all know about Christians because the parents are and they go to church, but we are called Christians cuz we love Jesus and He is our friend and we have a relationship with Him. I realized for the first time that kind of what it meant to be Christian wasn't about following these rules that my parents or that the bible said. It wasn't about checking off reading a chapter a day or going to church, it was about loving Jesus with your life and knowing Him and being His son, His child, His friend. It was actually May 6th 1998. I went to that chapel guy and said Hey I want to make it official. I want to just know that I am His. But its just been a very gradual thing, I never was some crazy partyer or any of that, never did anything crazy.
Did you ever have any doubts that this was the ministry that He had for you? That maybe you were acting on your will vs. His will...
Yeah, I remember this moment, this time in my life where me and a buddy kind of had this dream of being a mainstream band for ahwile. He kinda had it and he sparked me into it, we started writing for it. A band that could just reach out to the world more and play more mainstream clubs, that kind of thing, and I thougtht thats what I wanted to do. We had wrote a good 6-7 songs for that band, named it and eveyrthing and even started playing around town. There was this mission trip that the church took us on out to this festival in England. I had been feeling a lack of peace in my life, I didnt know why cuz I thought it was such a cool idea you know, go to the world and be a light and stuff. Thats what I said it was all about in my life. It started raining at this festival so about 5000 filled up this tent that fit about 2500, everythings packed and they said Hey until we can get the p.a. in Phil can you go and lead the worship just with your guitar, I'm like yeah sure so I got up on stage and strated singing. Theres 5000 people and just me and a guitar and a little p.a. that was set up so it was kinda hard. A couple people were worshipping, maybe one-fifth about 1000 of the 5000. The rest were kind of muffling around and then all the power goes off and the lights go off and its almost dark so I kinda stopped for a second and everyone got sooo quiet and I just started singing I love you Lord and I lift my voice to worhip You and everyone just started singing out at the top of their lungs, just kind of a surreal experience and at the very end where it says let it be your sweet sweet sound in your ear and right on ear all the power came back on again and the lights shot back on and eveybody cheered and from then for like an hour and a half it was one of those intense amazing worhsip times in my life. At the end of it I put my guitar down and just kinda walked outside in the rain just like Lord, how can I, if what, this is what I need to be doing the rest of my life and the Lord just started revealing my heart to me. Even why I wanted to start that band, it was all just selfish reasons. I just wanted to be able to say "Oh what do you do" "I'm in a band" it was such a prideful thing in my life and the Lord just showed me the blessing He had given on the worship side of things and leaning people out front without trying to find some metaphor to say I love you Jesus but instead just saying I love you Jesus but doing it in a way musically that I loved, that I could understand and then maybe its all fresh and maybe it hasn't been done before. So from then on I just knew, man, I'm called to proclaim Gods glory and to challenge people to respond to His love. It's kind of a long story but thats a specific time I remember.
Define success. What does it mean to you?
Putting out records that connect people with the Lord
What is your goal for Cannons?
I've learned a whole lot this past year and a half. Ultimately everything I do is from a worship leader standpoint. Ultimately in the end, I want people to be singing out at the top of their lungs and responding to what has happened in the past hour and fifteen minutes. So I kind of made the record like that. I wanted the beginning of the record to be almost like songs that I could just kinda rock out with a band in any kind of mainstream or church, songs about looking outside of yourself, songs about searching for the greater things, songs about pressing on. It starts with a song called Must I Wait and its just a prayer, saying Lord, cover the distance between you and me. I need you now, I don't want to wait any longer. I want to be with you now. Then I go into a song called After Your Heart which is kind of a proclamation saying, Everybody, you listeners and me let's come together and join this revloution that Jesus started about living selflessly and living a life of sacrifice and being a servant. Lets live for holding nothing back instead of wanting to hold everything close, let's let it all go and just surrender. Then it goes into a song called Desire talking about how the desire inside of me and hopefully inside of the people who are going to be listening to it is outside of myself and I want my desire to be in His presence and reach out for more than me. As it progresses these themes of wanting more and reaching out turn into songs like Cannons which is like the response for wanting more. The song Cannons is about how Gods hand and His fingerprint and His glory is seen in creation and how creation itself acts as a worhsip leader to human race, to mankind. when I look at the mountains or the stars, the creation that he has created, the beauty of it, it makes me want to worship and makes me want to respond to Him. So thats what that songs about, how creation is exploding like cannons. It starts with these songs of just wanting more and Desire and it leads up into Cannons and kind of the turning point where it goes into just completely worship sing-along mode is this song called True Love that I love singing. It's the gospel in a song! This is what Jesus did, He died on the cross for us and now He's alive. So now what are you gonna do with this living breathing God that we have, who wants to be a part of our lives. From then on, its songs like Beautiful which is just praising Him for His beauty. Then Spirit Fall asking Him for Him to come and Home. It was really thought out, this record. The progression of this record and lyrically what I wanted to say in song 1 and song 2 and song 3. So I'm really excited about it! The ultimate goal then is to bring people thru testimony and thru personal experience that everybody can relate to thru these songs and ultimately bring them to a point where at the end of the record they've been able to experience the presence of God and respond to it in a way that they have been able to worship and they have been able to sing-along, they have been able to maybe be intimate with Him, and got close to Him.
Being on the road, has it had an effect on your realtionship with God?
Yeah, I feel it has a lot. Not necessarily negative. Anytime we chose to go make a move to go do something different with our lives that’s out of our comfort zone its going to affect our relationship with God. Its more challenging in some ways. You definitely have to be more diligent, like when you’re on the tour bus, just to remember, "Okay, I gotta find somewhere where I can be by myself, where I can just kinda pray and seek the Lord and be refreshed." I think being on the tour bus and being away it makes me realize that when I go a couple days without spending time with the Lord I definitely feel it, cuz you’re pouring out these songs day to day. Just keep them fresh, keep them sincere. For me, I got to be in communication with the one I’m singing them to. I have to drink from that well and eat from that table that is Gods grace. And when I am, it just makes it so much more fun, it’s a weird way to put it but it does. Your hearts in the right place, your minds in the right place, you just get excited about what the Lords gonna do that night rather than conjure up some kind of emotion. Which is so, like I said before, unsatisfying. So it definitely affects my relationship with God, whether it’s a positive ir negative effect is up to me.
Im so unworthy, but still you love me That lyric from one of your songs stood out to me, how would you explain that to a non-believer?
That song is about how God shows himself to us in the universe. He has created this massive sky and these trillions and trillions of stars. In the bible there's a guy named David who's thinking about all that stuff and he's talking to the Lord, we call it praying. He's just saying, Lord, what in the world, who am I that you even care about me? When I think of all these massive stars and everything that you can do, the power that you have, who am I that you care? And it kind of comes from that point of view, God I see everything around me, I see what you're doing, I see how great you are and I see what you ask me to do, simple things, and I still fall short of those simple things every day that God asks me to do. And it's so amazing that even in our disobedience, and even in the worst things, the most horrible things, or the things that people think can be never forgiven, Gods' love is an infinite love and no matter what you have done or no matter what you will do there is nothing that will take away or add to that love, its already as big as it can ever get and infinite as it can ever get.
It says in the bible that a good man for a righteous man might die and even a great man for a man he never knows but it says while we were yet sinners and didn't even know Christ he died for us. The reason why Jesus died on the cross for our sins, the reason why we hear all this stuff about Him on the cross, Him dying and Him rising again and going thru all that shame on our behalf was just to see us, to be able to be in a relationhsip with Him. Everything that He is is go great and I feel so small and I say Lord, I'm so unworthy to know You and yet still you see time and time again, just with the breath that we are able to breathe and the life that He gives us, that He still loves us no matter what we do. Its kind of simple you know, its just the truth that Christ loves us, that God loves us no matter what. Its so rad to know that! I guess I'd just be simple and kind of use it to tell the gospel to the people.
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Interview By Jen Moreno