The first Google result that pops up with Matt Redman’s name reads “575 songs by Matt Redman on CCLI Song Select.” When I share this with him, Matt initially brushes off the total with a plausible explanation and a humble chuckle.
“I need to work it out someday – how many songs – ‘cause that sounds like a bit of a high number, but that might be the list. There might be a few things where there’s more than one version of something. I guess I’ve written – I don’t know – hundreds.”
Still, the number is astounding. Matt’s musical reach extends into thousands of churches across the world, and it’s a responsibility he does not bear lightly.
Instead of an opening concert and ensuing relentless touring schedule to promote his 14th career project Let There Be Wonder (as artists usually do with a new release), Matt led a night of worship at to celebrate the launch at International Church of Las Vegas. In fact, the album was recorded live with a crowd of more than 1,000 people at Free Chapel Church in Orange County, California. He gives the sense that he would rather have everyone come along with him for the ride than watch him on a stage from afar.
Throughout our conversation, Matt genuinely comes across as an artist who shares his musical expression of faith not in pursuit of fame or sales, but because he earnestly desires to inspire worship. I asked him about his early start – his first album was released in 1993 when he was just 19 years old – and why songwriting seems to come so naturally to him.
“I was just doing it organically. It was something I loved. The very first time I heard worship, or saw worship happening – that dynamic of the people of God in the presence of God pouring out the praise of God – I found it so compelling and I didn’t really want to lead it. I just wanted to sing some of those songs at home. As a teenager I started playing guitar so that I could sing [the songs]. Then my youth leader found out and pretty much forced me to do worship. At the time I was annoyed and now I’m grateful. But I loved it – the moment I did it – I loved it. Just seeing people talking to God through music and hearing from God through music.
“And then the songwriting piece kicked in. To be honest, I wrote the songs because I needed to. It was my way of processing pain. Some people journal; some people go for a run. But for me, something about sitting down with a guitar and the Bible and pouring out my heart to Jesus was really my best way of having a connection with Him. I had a quite turbulent childhood; I lost my father when I was seven years old. And then there was some abuse that happened in our family and my stepfather went to jail and a few other things going on. Through all of that, to be honest, songwriting was one of the things [that] kept me sane and kept me stable. And so, before I ever thought about leading songs or recording songs, I was already doing it because I needed to.”
The process of how Let There Be Wonder came together follows along with Matt’s passion for seeing people worship. Twelve songs were chosen from among 50 songs, and one theme rose above all – the “name and character and story of Jesus.”
“The lyric is ultimate in a worship song. You know, it has to contain something of who God is and who it is we’re responding to. A lot of the very best of the old hymns do that in a wonderful way – the songs do that in an absolutely beautiful way. It’s really important in this day and age that we don’t have diluted-down, or dumbed-down, or shrunk-down versions of who God is in these songs. You’ve got to aim high and do our best poetically, biblically, congregationally to paint a big picture of who He is.
“The title Let There Be Wonder, for me, that probably says it all because you can admire someone without wonder, you can appreciate – even adore – someone without wonder, but you cannot worship without wonder. For worship to be worship, there has to be a sense of the otherness of God, the mystery of God, the magnificence of who it is we are approaching.
“Sometimes we try and make worship culturally relevant and that’s good in some ways because it makes church welcoming and it makes songs accessible and there’s a lot of good things to be said for that. As long as you remember, essentially, worship is a counter-cultural act. Most of our culture says, ‘put yourself in the center and have everything revolve around you and your happiness.’ And in worship we’re saying, ‘no, you’re going to put these in the center,’ and that’s when everything makes sense.”
The longevity of Matt’s career is not something he considers while writing. As his melodies and lyrics take their place alongside the soulful hymns of our grandparents, he says he is “very aware that anything that is full of solid truth has more chance to standing the test of time.” He offers a way for explaining how he approaches songwriting and even how he teaches other writers.
“It’s like gestation periods in the animal world. It only takes 16 days to make a hamster. And actually, the average litter is six hamsters. But then on the other extreme you’ve got the African elephant where the gestation period is 640 days, but you only get one of them and it takes a crazy amount of time for it to come out. But when it is born, it’s sturdy and can stand up straight away, and it’s gonna last a long time. I always think we need a few more elephant songs in the church and a few less hamster songs.”
So, does he know which of his songs will be hamsters and which will be elephants?
“You honestly never know. I would dearly love if some of them help people worship and even do so a few years from now.”
Matt sounds like he is genuinely surprised by the worldwide popularity of his worship anthems.
“I wasn’t even going to lead [“The Heart of Worship”] even in my own church because I thought it was just my personal thing” until the pastor convinced him to try it out and it “ends up flying around the world.”
Additionally, he was planning to leave off “10,000 Reasons” on the 2012 album that was eventually named after the song, but a producer insisted upon its inclusion. The nearly axed song ended up spending 13 weeks in the number one spot on Billboard’s Christian Song Chart and was certified gold.
On this album, Matt enlisted the help of colleagues who are well-known in their own right as musicians and lyricists. He teamed up with both Jason Ingram, who has worked with Lauren Daigle and Hillsong, and Joel Houston of Hillsong United on the song “King Jesus.” Matt credits both for pushing him to be a better composer.
“[Joel’s] musicality is pretty obvious for anyone to see, but the thing that struck me in the songwriting session was just how strong he is with lyrics, and more than anything his persistence with them…he would just dig and dig…it was a great little team and I really have loved leading this song.”
“King Jesus” and “We Praise You” are up-tempo favorites and will surely hit the set lists of many churches. The hymn-like “Send Me Lord” offers a melodic prayer which MUST be sung (or cried) along with (trust me).
Check out “King Jesus” below, and follow Matt Redman on social media to learn if he’s coming to a venue near you!