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Intersection of Life and Faith

Past the Artistic Edges

  • Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 6 Jun
  • COMMENTS
Past the Artistic Edges
Meet the new and improved Chris Rice. When he got started almost ten years go, the then budding singer/songwriting was content part-timing as youth leader and up-and-coming troubadour, daydreaming about heaven and warming the hearts of Christians young and old with his perennial, love-it-or-hate-it favorite "Cartoon Song." But he's done with the narrow limitations of "Christian music," as he's chosen to part ways with the label that first gave him wings and build a new partnership for his new release, Amusing (eb&flo/INO), coming in August. Rice talked to us about this transition, his desire to sing for a different type of crowd, and the funny feeling he gets when writing about romantic love, even when he, admittedly, has never been in it. Why did you decide to leave Rocketown, your home for nearly ten years?Chris Rice The deal was up. I'm kind of a guy who likes to do things differently, and the last record that was part of that deal was Run the Earth, Watch the Sky, which I turned in probably around three years ago. So at that point, when I turned that in, I started thinking, "Do I want to keep doing the same thing, or do I want to make some changes?" All along, I've been convicted and convinced over time that I need to not just do what I do for people who already believe what I believe, but also make sure that I'm using my art and my craft to be salt and light in the world as well. So my mentality all along has been, "I need to find a place and I need to find people that align with really being missional about the music."What do you mean by "missional"?Rice What I've seen happen with Christian music, not to sound negative, but it's really been focused on ourselves, focused on believers. And there's a part of that camp that really feels like if you don't write [music] for Christians and spell out the gospel real clearly, that it's not honoring God. I disagree with that. I believe God has given us the crafts and the gifts, as in any occupation, to be light in the world and not just to ourselves. So I wanted to find a label that really could take that and carry it—and Rocketown has that, they really do—but I just felt that at this point, with that deal being up, I wanted to explore some other options.So I ended up with a new label called eb&flo Records, which my producer Monroe Jones started. And also INO. So we kinda did a partnership with the two labels and INO has already established very deliberately that they can take Christian artists and Christian writers and really make their work available in the general market as well as the CCM market. It's going to be a fun ride. It's going to have some challenges. But I really want to make sure I'm following my heart and connecting with the broader spectrum of people of faith and non-faith.Why wait ten years to do that?Rice Because, honestly, I haven't had freedom to. With the new label situation, it's more, "We're with you on this and we want to do this." And I don't think my last label disagreed with that, but I don't think they were equipped to actually take music to these places. It was limited as to how it could get the music out.Why eb&flo?Rice I think just the mentality of eb&flo is different. Monroe Jones has already worked with Steven Delopoulos and Holly Williams, who is Hank Williams Jr.'s granddaughter. So Monroe has already established a no-boundaries kind of mentality about music. Steven expresses his faith in a lot of his songs. Holly expresses her faith in some of her songs, too. But they're not confined to Christian music or Christian radio. Monroe has already proven that through his efforts that that's really where his heart is.Did Rocketown want you to stay?Rice Yeah, of course. I mean, it was a great relationship, and we had a lot of success there, too. So they really did.You said you wanted to appeal to a broader audience. Do you think that you weren't ready to do that during your Rocketown years?Rice It's always been my intention, when I'm writing, to write songs that would make sense. Even my songs that are more like a hymn, like "Hallelujahs" and "Untitled Hymn." Even those songs that could be used in a Sunday morning service, approach them from a sense of, "I want this to still make sense to an atheist listening outside the door." I've always approached my writing from that standpoint.I've had Christians question why I write the way I do. I wrote a song called "Big Enough," and the chorus says, "God, if you're there, I wish You'd show me / God, if You're there, I need You to know me." I've had Christians approach me and say, "What's wrong with your faith?" "You're trying to spread doubt in people's hearts." "You're saying 'If'." "You need to be more direct." And my response is, "Well, sir, this song is not written for you. This song is written for someone who's wondering if God is there." I want to approach them with music that draws them to think about God, too.As a result of this new mission, your music is a bit more relatable and universal, even romantic at times. Was that purposeful?Rice Absolutely purposeful, for several reasons. I've thought through this so much, and I've talked to so many people about it. But the mentality that we built into the Christian subculture is, "Mr. Rice, you shouldn't be writing love songs. You should be writing songs about God." Or, "Chris, you can't write a song that clearly doesn't state the gospel or doesn't mention Jesus or God." And when I hear that mentality, I think, "Are we really thinking biblically?" Because if that's the case, then we need to take Song of Solomon out of our Bible, because that book is very romantic. God invented that and God wants to express in a very clear way that that's what he created us for.For someone who would say that your song really has to mention God and present the gospel, I would point them to the parables of Jesus, which many times he would say, "This is for him who has ears to hear." He didn't explain every single one of them. He was declaring universal truth in a very creative way, knowing that the Spirit of God could take that and make it make sense in somebody's heart. With those thoughts in my mind, why have we put an imaginary line around Christian writers and Christian artists and say, "This is what you have to write?" When we do that, we've removed ourselves from the rest of culture and we're leaving it to other people and other writers to define what love's supposed to look like, to define what life is supposed to look like, and the morality of those things.Does that mean we'll be seeing Chris Rice moving into different venues, too?Rice I hope so. It's going to be a challenge because I'm already known as a Christian artist. I'm not forsaking that or turning my back on it. But if my promoter wants me to come into a town to do a concert, and I say to them, "Can we have this in a local high school auditorium rather than a church building?" And I'm not against church buildings. To be able to say, "Even if you don't agree, I really would prefer that that one boundary not be there, just in case there's somebody who wouldn't come to see me if I'm playing at a church, but would go to a high school auditorium or a local theater.Again, I don't feel like I need to defend what I'm doing, but I really want people to understand that the religious people at the time called Jesus "a friend of sinners." They were meaning that as an insult, but Jesus intentionally became a friend of sinners, so that he could seek and save the lost. A lot of us have forgotten that's what we're on this planet for. We have to be involved the lives of broken people, not just in the lives of people who have it together.Are you afraid of what you might encounter in the process?Rice I don't fear any of that. We're taught to fear that, to stay away from it and not let it take us. Personally, I don't enjoy being in a smoky room, honestly. But if I can be in that room playing music to people that makes them stop and think, boy, I'm all for it. There are people who spend all of their energy trying to guard themselves and their kids from those kind of situations. And I do see a need to be smart and wise about where we're connected. But at the same time, if that's to the exclusion of the souls of men, then we're really missing something big of who Jesus was.You mentioned writing songs about love. Since you're not married, where do you get the inspiration from?Rice It's a very human thing. People always ask me, "Have you ever been in love?" I really don't think I have. But… there's so many things that I haven't experienced that I see in humanity, and I can write about those things. These songs express a lot of what I imagine it would be. What I long for. What I'm waiting for. Love is such a common thread and topic, that I don't think I'm exempt from writing about it. A lot of the songs that I write, people go, "What was the experience that caused that song?" And I say, "Well, this isn't autobiographical."Whether it's a love song or a song about losing someone or a song about heaven—people often say, "You really must have been devastated by the loss of someone to write something that deep." And I'm like, "No, I haven't, but I've met so many people who have, that I want to communicate truth to that."You said you're longing for love. Are you still waiting for it? Have you given up hope?Rice A lot of people think I've given up hope. Of course, we all long to be loved and to love. It's built into us. I don't have any clue as to when or how or what the detail is going to be. This is one of the areas in my life where I'm content. But God knows what he's up to, and I really rest in that.Do you believe that one must sit around and wait for that special someone to come, or that one must be proactive about it?Rice I'm not a person who's proactive about it mostly because of my life and my work. But I don't have any big theology about that. That's just my style and the way I am. I have people always trying to set me up with people. People are just way too concerned about what's going on with me in that area. But I'm a content, laid-back, non-stressful person. But I'm also very introverted. There are other people who are passionate about everything, and they're excited about everything, and they're outward and they're proactive and go-getters. And that's legitimate and that's fine, but I'm just a laid-back guy.Visit our artist page to learn more about Chris Rice. His latest album Amusing will be in stores August 23. Visit Christianbook.com to listen to and buy his music.© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.