Acclaimed singer, songwriter, podcast host and author Rick Lee James has recently released some new music and Louder Than The Music chatted to this talented artist to find out more about his songs, his inspiration, and his thoughts on making music.
For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?
Thank you for asking. I’m a husband, dad, and long time church music minister in Springfield Ohio. I’ve done songwriting and albums with publishers like Lifeway Worship and Old Bear Records. I host a weekly conversation Podcast called Voices In My Head (The Rick Lee James Podcast). I also run the Mister Rogers Twitter account @MisterRogersSay and host Welcome To The Neighborhood: The Mister Rogers Tribute Podcast. In addition to that, travel as much as I can playing music and telling people how much they are loved by God in Christ.
Tell us about your new single 'Shine A Light In The Darkness' and what the inspiration behind it was?
There are a couple of different inspirations behind the song. The chorus leans heavily on the themes of the famous Peace Prayer of St. Francis that asks the Lord to make us instruments of His peace. We are in such divisive times and I believe the church has a great opportunity to be countercultural if we will embody that radical Christ-like grace that church fathers like St. Francis preached.
The verses of the song directly address the problem of disinformation and the way so many Christians are spreading it. Recent research has shown that some circles of evangelicalism have been incubating conspiracy theories and spreading disinformation for years so the verses of SHINE A LIGHT became a call to return to the truth, to stop spreading confusion, to repent, and to be bearers of the light again.
Ultimately the song is a message from Jesus to all of us, myself included, to be what we claim to be. It’s a call all of us to take up our cross and follow Him.
Last month you also released 'You Are My Salvation', what's the story behind that song?
In some way, 2020 was a year of loss for all of us. We can’t fix a person’s loss, we can only sit with them and help them find a way of living with the loss they have experienced. In many ways, that’s the purpose of YOU ARE MY SALVATION. I wrote it in the midst of the pandemic, so it addresses the feelings of being unmoored by uncertainty, feeling broken, fighting losing battles, being overcome by sinful urges, and even coming to life’s final breath (As sadly some in our congregation did in 2020 and 2021). The refrain of the song reminds us that in all of these moments, in every loss, in life and death, Christ is our Salvation. I’m grateful for the response I’ve been receiving from the song. I feel like it has been a helpful way for me to sing out the loss that many of us have experienced through the pandemic while at the same time to acknowledging the hope of Christ in our midst.
What message would you like people to take from your music?
My mission statement is “Hear it. Sing it. Live it.” because in my music I hope that people will hear God’s word, discover faithful ways to pray, sing along with truthful lyrics, and ultimately accept God’s generous invitation.
How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?
I think I’m somewhere between 90’s country and modern worship. I’m a big fan of music with rocking guitar solos so on SHINE A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS I tried to showcase my guitar playing, but when I recorded YOU ARE MY SALVATION, I wrote it almost completely as a traditional piano hymn, so I really push myself to play a variety of styles. I love classic rock songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and John Mellencamp and I think their influence organically shows on my latest single. I also credit Paul Baloche as a real mentor and friend. He is someone who has really pushed me and so many others over the years to craft music in service of the church and that is what I have really tried to do. Paul is a real influence on my writing and my walk with Christ.
If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
What a great question. I would really love to have a chance to write with Steven Curtis Chapman. He was such an influence on me when I was learning to write songs and play guitar and he seems like a genuinely kind and creative person. I think I could learn a lot from him.
How would you define success in your career as an artist?
Another terrific question. Success is really hard to quantify. We usually define it in terms of making a substantial living and having a huge following. If I could keep making a living at what I’m doing that would be great, but I think I’m coming to define success differently these days. We spend our entire lives as artists trying to climb these ladders of success that so often lead us to nowhere. Meanwhile, I think Jesus is climbing down into the lower recesses of our lives, joining us, rescuing us, feasting with us, mourning with us, celebrating with us, and showing us that only the humble will be exalted. Maybe the only true measure of success is delighting in what we are doing, glorifying God with our art, and setting it free for the Divine purpose in the Kingdom. Success might be if someone thinks of Jesus when they hear my music.
What is your favorite album of all time?
That’s a hard question. I really love the Rich Mullins Jesus Record. For today, I’ll go with that one.
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?
My Deliverer - Rich Mullins Ragamuffin Band From The Jesus Record. Seems like a good time to be reminded that my deliverer is coming.
What does the next year hold for you?
I’m planning on putting out some more new singles as the year progresses. As the country keeps opening back up, I also hope it will hold a lot of new tour dates in new places. Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me. I really appreciate it.