Juno and GMA Covenant Awards-nominated Mike Janzen has released his third album of Psalm interpretations, 'Songs from the Canyon'. Louder Than The Music spoke to Mike about his musical journey and the inspiration for his latest set of songs.
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?
I live in Toronto with my lovely wife Jodi and two girls June and Haddie. Even though I started playing violin at age 4, the music joy meter didn't start rising until Grade 3 when I told my parents I'd like to play the piano. Back in those days piano was king; David Meece, Michael W. Smith, and Keith Green all incorporated classical pieces into their pop songwriting and I was hooked. I would spend hours working on songs in our basement and every time we went to Target I'd be checking out to see which keyboard I could afford next. Although the dream was always to go into music I didn't know whether music would actually be something I could make a living at. After high school I did a few years of bible college and it was there my sister pulled me aside and said, "something special happens when you play the piano" and that began the journey of knowing this was something God had put inside me.
Tell us about your new single 'Took Hold' and what the inspiration behind it was?
A number of years ago I suffered a very serious concussion which left me unable to play music or spend time with my family. During those years the Psalms became a lifeline to me as they gave words to pray and emotions to bring before God when I didn't have enough in the tank to come up with my own. Took Hold comes out of Psalm 18 where it says, "He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters."
The years of recovery were incredibly hard and yet instead of being completely overwhelmed God drew me out of the torrent and kept me safe on solid ground.
My musical background has elements of jazz, funk and pop which you'll hear on this song as well as the outstanding Dee Wilson (Grammy artist)!
That song is taken from your new album - what more can you tell us about the album?
The album is called Songs from the Canyon and it talks about both the canyons of suffering that we have to endure as well as the gorgeous canyons of creation that are all around us. The surprise to me was that in both places God's presence is near.
What message would you like people to take from your music?
I'd say that there is hope around every corner no matter how dark some days are. After going through my injury I have a better understanding of those who struggle through injuries, sickness, depression, and suffering. The biggest thing I've been reminded of is that God is near the broken hearted and crushed in spirit...that we don't have to have things together in our struggles but that God is present and listening.
How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?
Ha ha - great question! I'm a bit of a messed up musician. Classical music was a big influence growing up and I ended up getting my Masters in composing from the University of Toronto. During my years of university I was also in a bunch of pop rock bands and as soon as I graduated from university I ended up playing a ton of jazz. I just love any music that is lyrically thoughtful, musically creative and when people hear my music they often hear that diverse sound.
If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
Hmm...I'd probably say someone like Andrew Peterson because he such a deep lyric writer, interesting melody guy, and probably pretty funny (based on his Slugs and Bugs recordings)
How would you define success in your career as an artist?
It used to be more performance based however now I'd say success would be writing songs that bring hope to people in dark places. A few years ago I released a double album of Psalms that was quite gentle and meditative. As a guy known for his piano chops there wasn't much on the albums in terms of virtuosity that would really stand out. Recently I heard from someone who was struggling through terminal illness and they said that the only music they could listen to in that season was my Psalms Project...for me that was as good as it gets.
What is your favorite album of all time?
There's so many albums that have shaped my musical sensibilities but I'm going to go with Rich Mullins - A litury, a legacy and a ragamuffin band. It was such an epic album and so unique in its songwriting and string arranging...on my new album there are still a number of songs that have that influence lurking in the sonic background.
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?
I love islands and hot weather so I might pick silence over any one song...however I'll go with Dark Night of the Soul by Steve Bell
What does the next year hold for you?
I've got some new Psalms concerts coming up, an original Broadway musical symphony show in Quebec City, and a whole bunch of new material to record and get ready for releasing.