Interview: Jonny & Cheryl Shepherd

Jul 17 2020

Jonny & Cheryl Shepherd, husband and wife worship leaders, have released their new EP 'One Name'. Louder Than The Music caught up with the couple to talk about their first release together, their thoughts on worship music, and how they endeavour to reduce the complexity in church music and make things simpler for the worshipper.

For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you got involved in making music?

Jonny: We’re husband and wife of 20 years serving in Rugby, Warwickshire. We lead worship and write and record worship music together and I also run my own creative services business helping to serve churches and charities with their websites and online content.

I got involved in making music during my teens. The Soul Survivor festivals were a massive influence on my Christian journey and it was there that I felt the call of God on my life, in the area of worship. It was crazy, because I could hardly play the guitar and only knew a few chords, but I knew I was called to lead worship and write songs. From there, I started playing in my youth group and local youth events, learning about songwriting and recording as I went along.

I had some faithful leaders in my life at the time who trusted me and gave me opportunities to lead even when my gifts were very unrefined and without them, I wouldn’t have pushed on to where I am now.

Cheryl: In my day-to-day role, outside of parenting our three children, I run a leadership and management training company.

With regards to worship, I was involved in the worship team from the age of 14, playing the violin. Our worship pastor, Andy Bromley, really encouraged me in my playing and my heart for sung worship. I’ve since had opportunities to lead at various conferences, ladies events and churches.

Being part of the team leading people in worshipping the King of kings just fills my heart. Acknowledging God’s greatness and his power in our worship songs reassures us that God is above all the situations that could distract us from Him.

Tell us about your new EP 'One Name' and what the inspiration behind it was?

Jonny: One Name is a collection of songs we’ve been using in churches for a few years now, and it felt like the right time to bring them together for recording. One theme I constantly come back to in my writing is one of keeping Jesus at the centre, and that’s the heart behind the song ‘There’s Only One Name’ - making sure that everything in life, whether it’s money, our idols and gods, or our pursuit of recognition, is left far behind in our pursuit of keeping Jesus as the focus of our worship.

We’ve both recorded worship projects individually before and finally, for the first time, this is one we’ve released together!

Which is your favourite track on the EP and why?

Cheryl: Definitely ‘You Reign’. Over the past couple of years, it’s not lost its impact in our worship times; in fact, it only seems to become more relevant. It is my prayer to see God reign over the lost, the broken, the government and our families etc. The bridge section of the song fills my heart with faith when I sing it and fills me with compassion, all over again, for the nations.

Jonny: ‘You Reign’ has resonated with so many people where we’ve used it. This was written a couple of years ago but feels like it was written for today. The lyrics speak of God’s sovereignty over the circumstances of nations, economies, sickness, disease and governmental leaders - all of which seem to be apt in our current times of lockdown and the coronavirus. It feels so good to declare these specific things to be under the rule and reign of Christ.

What message would you like people to take from your music?

Jonny: Sometimes, I think we can make things too complicated in church, and I’ve been guilty of that too. I’m intent on coming full circle and making things simple again. I want our music to be about Jesus. I want it to be Biblical. And I want it to be accessible. If people can come away from our songs saying ‘isn’t Jesus amazing’ rather than ‘aren’t Jonny and Cheryl great’ then I think we’ve done our job.

Cheryl: Our worship times are an opportunity to ‘lift our eyes up to the mountain, where our help comes from’. If our worship is Jesus-centred and our focus is on Him, His grace, love and compassion, then our perspective on this earth is adjusted to heaven’s paradigm. It’s all about Jesus!

How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?

Jonny: I’m a huge rock and grunge fan and love all sorts of other eclectic styles, however, I’ve learnt that some of these niche styles aren’t always the best way to faithfully lead a congregation that consists of all ages, cultures and backgrounds in worship. I’m hoping that with pastoral sensitivity, we’re making music that is accessible to lots of people - our aim is to lead people well, not just make cool music. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing Christian bands out there breaking all sorts of moulds musically, and I cheer them on, but I feel the need personally to write and record music that’s ready for churches to use without the fear of needing to be professional musicians or producers at the same time. I used to be that kid with an acoustic guitar, only knowing 4 chords, and if I can write songs for that person to use as well as the big church bands then I think that’s a good place to aim musically or stylistically.

Cheryl: We both listen to and are influenced by different music, Most of the time it depends on my mood! My CD rack when I was younger had, Kylie Minogue, Maria Carey, Shania Twain and Bon Jovi (obviously some people will question my taste in music). These days I mainly just listen to worship music, especially songs that I can dance around the office to when I am by myself obviously!

If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?

Jonny: For worship music? Matt Redman. Any day. He has been so consistent over the years serving the Church with his songs and has been a huge influence on my own writing. He was leading worship at Soul Survivor when I felt that call of God in worship as a teenager and 25+ years later, he’s still writing songs that impact the Church globally. Give me half a day with Matt, and I’m sure we could knock out a cracker!

Cheryl: This is Jonny’s area, he does the songwriting. I think if I was put in a room with a songwriter (other than my husband) I would probably be sweating. However, I would love a coffee with Kari Jobe.

How would you define success in your career as an artist?

Jonny: When I started out I would have said that being able to earn a living from songwriting would have been a goal. Actually now, I just want to serve well and help resource the Church with new songs. I love it when I hear that another church has picked up one of our songs to use. I think success is measured by your faithfulness to God, not by Facebook likes or the album sales.

What is your favourite album of all time?

Cheryl: Would you believe I don’t have one? It isn’t Kylie, I should be so lucky, even though I can still remember most of the lyrics to those songs! I suppose these days we don’t listen to albums like we use to. Plus, since we got married, Jonny has had full control over the music in the house!

Jonny: Just one? Ah man, it depends on the day of the week. I could probably give you a top 10? August & Everything After by Counting Crows. Or Vitalogy by Pearl Jam. I’ve tried to do a list of essential albums for my teenage daughter to listen to and I’ve so far rounded it down to 27 albums. And of course I control the music in the house, I’ve got much better taste than Cheryl!

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?

Jonny: You wanted me to choose one album? And now you just want one song?! Alright, I’m going with the original Cutting Edge recording of Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble? By Delirious? That song had a profound effect on me and it’s prophetic themes deeply moved me in ways I just didn’t understand as a teen when I first heard it. Plus it’s really long, so that gives me extra listening time on the island.

Cheryl: It would have to be Waymaker, knowing God has the power to overcome it all, and I continue to worship Him through it all.

What does the next year hold for you?

Jonny: Well, we’re going to spend some time promoting One Name a little bit, and I’m very involved with my local church helping them keep their services online during lockdown. Other than that, the only answer I can give at the moment, is ‘I don’t know’! As a family, we are seeking a new season and are really looking for God to direct our path at this time. We’ll keep making music, leading worship and serving our local church as faithfully as we can until we hear from God otherwise.

Cheryl: The last 12 months have been quite a journey for us for all sorts of reasons and we are so excited to see what God has in store moving forward. God has gradually been releasing some of our local ties, and we are feeling a favour for something new as a family. We may not know what this next year brings, but we are feeling more ready now than ever to follow where God will take us.

Jonny: What did Bilbo Baggins say? “I think I’m quite ready for another adventure”

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