Three-time Grammy winner Michael W. Smith says he lost his creative spark in 2016 as he grieved the loss of his father the year before.
“Everything I tried to write in ’16 was just awful,” Smith recalls. But then the dam finally broke. Processing his father’s death and watching the nation struggle with so much division, online bullying, teen suicide, and the drug epidemic brought Smith to a threshing point.
The result was the song “Revolution” from his album A Million Lights. The dam burst. After that, Smith says, “I couldn’t hit record fast enough.”
He released A Million Lights on February 16, 2018. A week later he released a live worship album, Surrounded.
Maina Mwaura, reporting for Facts & Trends, recently sat down with Smith to talk about his latest albums, his calling to music, his longevity in the music business, and his thoughts on worship and justice.
01:25 “This is what I’m made for. We all have a sweet spot to hit in—it can be a lot of different things—mine just happens to be music.
The fact that a three and a half minute song can completely change somebody’s life is astonishing to me. This is my calling, and I’m passionate about it. Even after all these years, I feel like my best work is yet to come.”
Getting past the panic over lack of creativity
8:07 “I remember dry periods of just no creativity and then all of a sudden something shifts. You have an experience or you’ll feed the homeless down under the Jefferson Street Bridge in Nashville, or you have some encounter that was life changing at church or something.
And then all of a sudden you come in two, three days later and you write this amazing melody that sounds fresh. … And then you realize that you panicked for no reason, and I’m here, it comes to creative juices are flowing.”
His latest worship album
11:12 “I love adventure. I love to take risks. I get bored really easy. I don’t want to go back and just try to rehash and do what I’ve always done. I want to try different things and even if I fail, it sure was fun doing it.
Failing is just part of life. I wanted to go to another land I’d never been to before. So, I pushed the envelope—I love to push the envelope.”
His longevity in the music business
15:28 “Well, first and foremost, I think that people still love the music. There’s that part of it. And I love what I do.
I think if I was a worrier and fretted all the time, tried to be number one or tried to be a rock star, I think I would’ve, died a long time ago, maybe not physically, but creatively. And I have fun.”
Singing at Billy Graham’s funeral
20:58 “It was overwhelming. He was a great friend.”
The relationship between worship and justice
4:05 “In the middle of making this pop record, somebody directed me to that passage [Amos 5] again where basically God is saying, ‘I’m tired of your sacrifices—He’s talking to the people—I’m tired of your sacrifices, and I’m tired of your music. Turn it off. I can’t stand it. What I’m looking for is for justice to roll like a waterfall.’
It took my breath away, and it actually threw me against the wall and I thought, God, have I got this whole thing wrong? It made me reevaluate everything that I’m doing.”
4:50 “I realized at that moment that worship and justice go hand in hand. We have to be taking care of the orphans and widows. …
We have to stand up for justice, and we have to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. I’ve always known that. But for some reason it had to marry to worship to me—you can’t separate them.”
22:16 “I think that’s what God talks about most of all. And if we find out the things that really resonate with the heart of God, it’s all about the poor.
All throughout Scripture—the Old Testament, New Testament—it’s all about the poor. I feel like it’s my responsibility to sort of bring that to the attention of all of us—worship leaders and all of us who walk with God. And I’m telling myself, too.
I’m not trying to be superior to anybody else. I’m just saying it has to be on our radar screen.”
23:16 “We’re supposed to rescue people out of their stuff. … It’s just what I’ve got to be about for the rest of my life.”
Smith’s career by the numbers
- 15 million albums sold
- 3 Grammy awards
- 45 Dove Awards
MAINA MWAURA is a video correspondent for Facts & Trends. He is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan, and a graduate of Liberty University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.