Very excited to share this little interview with Christian musician and worship leader Marc James. I’ve known Marc a while, we actually lived in a shared house together for a few years! I’m very thankful to call this man ‘friend’, I’ve learned so much from the time we’ve spent together. Marc is a ragamuffin who loves Jesus, plain and simple.
We talk about his new album ‘Promise’, which is available here.
If you want a sneak peak, check out this studio clip of his bittersweet song ‘The Blood of Jesus’:
And now on to the interview:
LL: Marc, it’s fair to say we’ve known each other for quite a number of years! The first time we met was at a youth concert in Buckinghamshire in the year 2000. I had just become a Christian a few months before, and as a young metal-head, I was totally inspired by your band (Known as ‘Dust’ at the time). I didn’t know Christians could rock out! Has performing a genre of music not usually associated with Christianity been challenging over the years?
MJ: Hi Luke!! Yes I remember that poorly attended gig;) There have been some challenges along the way, but we were very fortunate to have a Church that understood what God had called us to do and for a while supported us as missionaries, always sent us out prayed for us and blessed us.. The challenges have been more in attempting to bring rock into worship music!
LL: I remember you came and spoke to me and a couple of mates after the gig, which by all accounts had been a bit of a wash out due to bad weather and an unexpectedly small crowd! We were really grateful that you took the time to speak with us. What’s the most interesting encounter you’ve had on the road?
MJ: It was always a value of ours to spend time with people at gigs, and to be honest we had many poorly attended concerts, we would always try and give our best in every situation.
There have been so many it’s hard to pin one down.. there was an amazing time when we played in a school assembly, we used to play a song called “Sister”.. a girl came up to speak to us and told us that the night before she had given God an ultimatum. “God show me that you’re real or I’m going to kill myself.” She had been through some horrendous things and was really at the end of herself. Us turning up and singing a song that mirrored exact circumstances the next morning was, to her, God speaking.
That was pretty incredible..
Can I say at this point that interviewing a performing artist with the initials MJ amuses me a little? Who would you say are your biggest musical influences – both in the mainstream world and in worship music? It’s ok if Michael Jackson isn’t one!
MJ: LL Cool J. Influences would be Bob Marley for his fire and Justice, Dylan for his lyrics, Hendrix because he’s Hendrix, Keith Green, Kevin Prosch, Ben Harper and Pearl Jam.
LL: Nice choices, that would make some super-group! What’s the title of your new Album, and how did you come up with it?
MJ: The album is called Promise. It’s a collection of songs for the church written from the heart and out of a desire to connect people with the truth of the gospel and the love of God.
I started the song “promise” thinking about the promise I made to follow Jesus almost 20 years ago, and by the end of the song I’m focusing on the promises of God. I think that’s one of the big shifts in my thinking recently.. Starting to focus more on God’s work, less on my own frailties.
LL: Would it be fair to say some of the songs have a certain… ‘oldness’ to them (in a good way!), with old school gospel harmonies, lap steel etc – particularly “My Lord, My God”?
MJ: Yeah well that’s what I love.. Since moving to Bedford I’ve met some really great Gospel singers, and managed to coerce them into appearing on the album. Lyrically some of the songs have a Hymn like structure, traversing themes from verse to verse.
LL: ‘Jesus Meet Me’ is one of your more well known songs, I love the lyric “I won’t hide my face, in the tears of my disgrace”. Bono once said that he preferred the honesty of the Blues to the optimism of Gospel music. There is a rawness to your songs which is particularly evident in this album, is this born from your own journey of faith?
MJ: Yeah that song is from bitter experience! It was written during the “Burn” Days when we would meet in the town hall in St Albans and wail our hearts out to God. The other song that is really raw is “the blood of Jesus” it is very confessional and honest, it’s the song that I’ve had most feedback from people on. I think at my core I value honesty so highly, it’s in the music I love and really what I aspire to. Graham Ord and I used to talk about how important it is to music.
LL: ‘Father (sound of rushing waters)’ draws on the rich Christian tradition of addressing God as ”Father”. What does calling God “Father” mean to you?
MJ: The fact that we get to call God Father is such a huge relief to me. I think that since becoming a father myself I understand more how safe our position is in God through Jesus. It’s a Huge statement of Identity and Echoes the Lords Prayer in longing for the Kingdom now!
LL: As a new dad I can certainly relate to that! The songs ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Hallelujah’ got me thinking about the potentially political overtones of calling Jesus ‘King’, is this something you intended? I know that you have been outspokenly critical of our country’s involvement in the arms trade for example?
MJ: To be honest it wasn’t intentional. Although I do believe that to be a voice for the voiceless is a key element to being prophetic as an artist. When you are on the side of the poor you are on the right side! Seeing the injustice in the world was one of the things that made me look for answers and helped me to turn to God. The concept of God righting every wrong and bringing down all evil is something that resonates strongly with me.
There are many great evils going on from the arms trade, to abortion, to the cast system in India, to people trafficking and war… I guess you can’t fight it all, but you can do your bit, understanding that your fight is never against people, but rather ideas and the powers that are behind them. The arts have a powerful role to play in the transference of ideas. So I do believe that music changes the world.
LL: I hope you don’t mind me taking an easy pop here, but the title of the song ‘Blood of Jesus’ might seem odd to those unfamiliar with Christian Theology and tradition. Are you part of some kind of vampire cult? What does the ‘blood of Jesus’ mean to you?
MJ: Ha Yes. I guess it’s a very personal song. About that part of me that still gravitates towards darkness, anger, violence or whatever..at the end of the day some things are just not culturally relevant. We need to know that God isn’t separate from our suffering but fully entered into the whole gambit of human experience. He is with us. I know that I need him.
LL: The last track, ‘All In All’, captures classic Marc James worship song writing to me, it’s a raw and simple song of devotion. What’s the story behind it? What’s the bottom line?
MJ: Thanks! This song is a co write with my mate Brenton Brown.. originally he started writing it in Spanish, and then we switched to English when we realized we couldn’t speak spanish.. (LL: lol) I actually had a really amazing time writing lyrics for this. Like of a flow of consciousness or something, I had a physical sensation of the presence of God resting on my head a massive output of writing and ideas. And then stuff went back and forth between Brenton and I until it was finished! It’s one our Church really love to sing!
LL: I started by recalling a time when I was less bearded and more energetic! What would you say to any aspiring Christian musicians out there?
MJ: I would say, be yourself because there is only one of you. Do what you love, walk the path that God has for you. Don’t be afraid to get off of the beaten track and go where no one else is going. Love the Church. Enjoy performing! Be creative, don’t be harsh on yourself or others, respect people and have time for them. Be different. Be Excellent! Love those who are outsiders and downtrodden.
LL: Marc, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us; and thanks for being you! Keep up the good work.
Marc’s album ‘Promise’ is available now through the link above. So what are you waiting for? Go get it! (Photographs courtesy of Veronica James Photography)