Nations: An Interview with Michael Watson

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Michael Watson is Ekklesia’s worship pastor and we have been so blessed to have him here! He previously was the frontman for the Christian band, Above the Golden State, with Sparrow Records. ATGS has now become Nations and they have recently released a new worship album self-titled, Nationsand it is amazing! We actually sing a few songs from the album in the Ekklesia gatherings and so many people have commented on how they have been blessed by those songs.

I recently got to talk to Michael about his experience creating this worship album, his background in music, his heart for the nations, and so much more.

How did you get into music in the first place?

My parents both play and teach music for a living. Eventually I grabbed a guitar sitting around the house and asked them to help me out. I think I was 12 at the time.

Writing a worship album sounds like an insanely personal process. What inspired this new album? Why write a worship album? What ties the songs together?

I knew I wanted to record another record. I’d written over 100 songs the past 5 years. A number of them I felt confident were worth being shared.

Over a year ago when I sat down to pick out songs for the new record with Steve Wilson (producer of Above The Golden State), neither of us had any idea what this record would sound like or what it would be called. The further we got into production, it was obvious to us two things: 1. It was a worship record and 2. It didn’t exactly sound like an ATGS record.

A theme that I believe comes through in a number of places is the idea of a the sunrise — light over taking darkness. Another theme seems to be “death to life.” As stated above, neither were intentional but both reflect the sort of things that I’d been thinking about and/or God had been teaching me about through scripture and life experiences.

“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is steadfast and confident! I will sing and make melody. Awake, my glory, my inner self; awake, harp and lyre! I will awake right early, I will awaken the dawn! I will praise and give thanks to You…” Psalm 57:7-8

What song [from Nations] is resonating with you the most right now?

I think about the song “My Side Of Town” and “Middle Of The Fire” a lot. Both involve the heart of God for restoring justice in our lives and those around us, meaning right relationship with God, creation and people. I like the fact that there’s no “fairy-tale” ending to both stories… faith and trust must take action!

I’m currently reading a book by a friend, Ken Wytsma, called Pursuing Justice, which looks at justice in the character of God and its implications for us, the church, in helping restore justice on our street, our city, this nation and around the world. Eugene is a great starting place.

What has God taught you through writing and recording this album?

Practically, and this may seem strange, but I believe God is training me through this experience to write better worship songs. I’ve been able to apply a lot of these things to more recent songs I’ve written. Hopefully we’ll all get to hear those sooner than 2 years from now. Haha! I’m taking donations if anyone is interested? 😉

What are your hopes for this album? How will you measure its success?

Albums can sell a lot and do nothing for the Kingdom of God, so I hope it will further God’s kingdom wherever it is heard. It’s sort of difficult to track that but not impossible. To everyone that owns the album, please share it with anyone you know! You have my permission.

What is it you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?

I really hope people learn more of depth of God’s character, especially in regards to this life. I say this referring not solely to the lyrics… but I desire the music to convey these things as well.

For you, what makes a song a “worship song?”

A “worship song” gives worth to something. It could be about anything, or anyone. The reason I felt this album should be considered a “worship album” is because of the frequency of songs that have lyrics directed as praise towards God. Along with that, there are songs of justice, which according to God is a required element of worship.

Why the name change from Above the Golden State? What does “Nations” mean?

I think it’s twofold — to the nations and from the nations.

God’s message and goal throughout the scriptures is to be in relationship with all people from all nations. From the calling out of Abraham to the sending out of the apostle Paul, we are being sent to the nations! (Gen.12:3, Acts 9:15)
We are telling the world of this God who is love… praising Him among the nations.

The gospel (Jesus is Lord) has in many ways successfully reached the far corners of the earth and continues to do so today. Point in case, here I am 2000 years later on the other side of the world singing and sharing about the love of God… using electric guitars and computers. Ha! So now the message is coming from the nations too (Ps.57:7-11, Matt.28:19, Rev.7:9). Amazing!

How have things changed for you now that you’re a worship pastor?

I feel like my whole life has led to this moment. Every piece from my first job in ministry at Solid Rock in Portland as it was just starting, to Above The Golden State, to getting married and going back to school to finish a degree in Theology. I absolotely love doing what I’m doing. I have less time to write and record, but I think that will change as I go further along in the job. The new songs are definitely piling up.

You can find Michael Watson’s new worship album, Nations, on iTunes. Also if you’ve never heard any of his other stuff, check out Above the Golden State and Strangers & Pilgrims. Follow him on Twitter at @atgs and @Nations_music and like him on Facebook.

Making Christian Music Beautiful Again

Normally, I really hate self-promotion but I’m gonna give a shameless plug to a guest-post I wrote called “Putting the Art Back in ‘How Great Thou Art’” for Trevin Wax’s blog, Kingdom People, which is part of The Gospel Coalition blogging network (If you don’t read his blog, you should!). In it, I write about Christian music and its need to proclaim truth more beautifully:

God loves music. He created it. The problem is that sometimes us Christians act like we hate the art of song. That must be the case, for how else could we justify the mass production of what attempts to pass for “Christian” radio these days?

Much like of our books, a large portion of our music is not beautiful. That is a problem, for it does not properly represent the One we adore.

In contrast, the Bible is full of beautiful songs. Here are four things they have that many of our songs today do not:

Imagery, Depth, A God-Centered Focus, and Awe.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can read the rest of the post here. It was a really great learning experience to be able to write for a crowd who is not familiar with my writing, ideas, or lame jokes. I even got my first negative blog comment ever! Pretty exciting stuff.

Many thanks to Trevin and his willingness to let a green blogger like me on his fabulous site. And thank you to the Creator whose greatest work of art was completed on Calvary.