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Wayne Kirkpatrick: Stepping Out of the Shadows

  • 2000 5 May
  • COMMENTS
Wayne Kirkpatrick: Stepping Out of the Shadows
By Bruce Adolph, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}}

Not many of you could pick {{Wayne Kirkpatrick}}'s face out of a police line-up, but you've been humming the catchy pop phrases that he's written for years. He won a Grammy for the 1996 Song of the Year "Change the World" (co-written with Gordon Kennedy and Tommy Simms). In addition, that song plus four others have garnered him BMI Pop Awards (Smitty's "Place in This World" and Amy Grant's "Every Heartbeat," "Good For Me" and "Takes A Little Time"). He's taken home four Dove Awards (Producer of the Year and Song of the Year for "Place in This World," Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year for Amy's "Behind the Eyes" and Inspirational Song of the Year for a Gary Chapman recorded tune "Man After Your Own Heart"). On top of this, he and his pal Gordon Kennedy have co-written ten of the fourteen cuts on the Garth Brooks' Chris Gaines CD. The project is Garth Brooks' alter ego singing a truckload of good r&b/pop-rock tinged tunes. All Garth jokes aside, the album is really well done by all parties involved.

So by now you get the picture that Wayne has been a pretty successful songwriter. Even though you've never really seen his face you can't feel too badly for him as you imagine the royalty checks that are probably flowing in at a more than tolerable level. What is the guy going to do next? Well, he's decided to step out of the supportive background role of songwriter and producer and step into the spotlight solo artist. His new record, "The Maple Room," comes out in May. We believe Wayne has enough credibility for us to want to sit down and get to know him and find out what his own music is all about. I found Wayne to be a friendly person with a unique viewpoint as a songwriter now turned artist.

Christian Musician: Growing up, what influenced your musical style?

Wayne Kirkpatrick: As I was learning to play acoustic guitar I really got into the singer-songwriters like Dan Fogelberg and James Taylor. I actually learned to play guitar listening to John Denver, and then I moved on to others: a lot of progressive folk or California country like Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

CM: So how did you get involved in Christian music?

WK: I became a Christian when I was in elementary school. I grew up in a Christian home and listened to Christian music as well in high school. I was familiar with some of the acts back then like {{Amy Grant}} and Tim Shepherd. When I started writing music, I wrote love songs, you know, that sensitive singer-songwriter stuff. I also wrote songs that were an expression of my faith, things that I believed in on a spiritual level. To me I always thought that as a songwriter I should write how I feel.

When I came to Nashville, which is obviously a hotbed for Christian music, I actually got my first writing job with a non-Christian publishing company called Merit Music. At the same time I was developing a relationship with Blanton & Harrell Management. They managed Amy [Grant] and Michael [W. Smith]. I started developing a relationship with Mike Blanton. He took me into what they were doing, which eventually led into going out on tour with Michael for his first two tours. I played guitar and keyboard and did background vocals. We started writing together on the road. At that time I'd also gotten a couple of songs on her [Amy's] Unguarded record. My first cuts were in Christian music. The first cut I'd ever had was on {{Billy Sprague}}'s first record, and the next two were on Unguarded.

It was really an exciting time for me and it just went from there. Once you get a song on a record, you have a calling card. After that I wrote more with Michael and developed more stuff for Amy's following records.

CM: Did your songwriting career cross over when Amy's career crossed over to do more mainstream stuff?

WK: Actually I think my first crossover song was "Place in this World" [for {{Michael W. Smith}}]. That was my first pop experience. Then Amy's "Every Heartbeat," and "Good For Me." It was Christian music, but it was also pop music, and the lines were being blurred, which to me was great. People were beginning to lose the prejudicial perspective against Christian artists. Amy and Michael both broke through that and sustained something on the pop charts.

CM: How do you approach writing?

WK: I write a lot on the acoustic guitar, and every once in a while I'll sit down at the piano to write. You get a totally different song on the piano than you'll get on the guitar.

CM: Do you have a home studio?

WK: I used to have a studio in my basement, but about three years ago I found a house and put a studio in the back of that house. It's on five acres out in the country, so it's really quiet. I go there to write and record. I have a 24-track Studor 827 and a Trident ADB console. I do my stuff on that. I'm still a two-inch tape guy.

CM: So you haven't gone digital yet?

WK: Not completely. I have an Akai DR-16. It's a 16 track digital hard drive that I lock up to the two-inch. A lot of times I'll do the acoustic guitar or background vocals on that, because you can get in and edit easier than on tape. I have a UPC 3000 drum machine and a Yamaha P300 piano.

CM: Did you record your new project in your studio?

WK: I did everything in that studio, and took it somewhere else to mix. I don't have automation.

CM: What kind of acoustic are you playing now?

WK: I have a few different ones: an Olson, and an old '63 Martin. Actually I think I played the Martin the most on this project. I was introduced to the Olson by {{Phil Keaggy}}. He was doing a session for me on a {{Susan Ashton}} record. Of course anything he plays he makes sound good, but this guitar sounded great. So I asked him about it and he handed it to me. After playing it, I called James Olson and got one.

CM: Your solo project is a mixture of strong pop sensibilities and melancholy. After so many years of being a songwriter and producer, why are you stepping into the spotlight as a solo artist?

WK: When I first came to Nashville, I thought of myself as a singer-songwriter. But I always thought it would be great to write a song that someone would like well enough to want to record it. So I really started digging in and developed my songwriting craft. A few times I was approached with offers to do a record myself, but I side stepped them, because I wanted to get as good as I could at songwriting. Fortunately people started to record the stuff I was writing, and that led to producing. I really enjoy doing all that. Songwriting will probably always be my first love.

I also wrote songs that were too personal for me to want anyone else to record, so there was always that side of me that wanted to sing my songs myself. It was just a matter of finding the right time to do that. And finally everything came together and made sense to go ahead.

CM: Are you going to tour with this project?

WK: I'll do some, but I don't want the artist aspect to take over my life. I just want it to be an extension of it. I want to do my part for the record company, of course. I'm going to do the "Night in Rocketown" tour. I think that will be fun. As far as opening for someone for a year, I don't think I really want to do that. But I'm not going to close any doors until I've heard all the options. I have a family, and I want to consider them too. I just figure that we'll cross each bridge when we get to it.

CM: The songwriting team of Gordon Kennedy, Tommy Sims and yourself has not only garnered the 1996 Grammy award for "Change The World," but also wrote the lion's share of the music for the Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines project. How did that project come about, and how did the three of you start writing together?

WK: Gordon's brother has known Garth since before he was Garth, so consequently Gordon has known him for a few years. When Garth decided to do this project he was looking for pop stuff-obviously he wasn't going to use country-and he had heard "Change the World" and liked it. So he went to Gordon and asked him if he had anything.

The background for all this is that back in about '91 Gordon and I had gotten together to become a band. So we did a bunch of demos with that mentality. Nothing significant happened with that project at that time, but Garth loved it. A lot of those songs ended up on that record. So the songs for this project were for the most part already written. We did have to write a few for the story line, but not many.

Actually, "Change the World" was the first or second song that all three of us wrote together. Of course after that, we all thought, "Hey, maybe we should write more stuff together!" It's interesting because all three of us come from such different backgrounds, and when you put us all together we come up with something a little different. I came from the James Taylor thing, and was very lyrically minded. Tommy comes from Stevie Wonder and funk, and Gordon is a classic rock kind of guy. But we all love each other's influences.

CM: You've written and produced for Amy Grant for six albums now. Most of your tunes that have "hit it big" have been her upbeat songs. Do you just sit down and decide to write an upbeat song for Amy?

WK: With a lot of the old stuff, my involvement was lyrical. With the exception of the Unguarded project, the music came to her from others: {{Charlie Peacock}}, Keith Thomas. For the next few records following Unguarded, I'd get together with Amy and write lyrics. That's how "Every Heartbeat," "Good For Me" and "Lead Me On" came about. On her last record, I did some producing, and she and I sat down and wrote some music together. It was very enjoyable. It was a much more personal expression for her. I think it was really cathartic at that time in her life.

CM: How do you flip back and forth between singer-songwriter and then put on the producer hat for the same song?

WK: When I'm writing something, I'm producing in my head, too. You're hearing it anyway, so the challenge comes when you try to get what you hear in your head on tape.

CM: Tell us about your new solo project The Maple Room

WK: In a lot of ways it's a very personal expression. For the longest time I've listened to other people sing what I was thinking, and now I get a chance to speak for myself. Some of these songs I've had around for a long time. I'd write something and put it on the shelf, because I knew it was for me, and I didn't want to pitch it to anyone else.

CM: "Hanging by a Thread," which you co-wrote with Gordon Kennedy, is a great song.

WK: That song was written for a movie, which is what it sounds like. We pitched that song to Runaway Bride, for the scene after she leaves him at the altar, and we see Richard Gere wandering the streets of New York. Obviously it didn't make it into the movie. And so I was trying to figure out what to do with it. I didn't know who we could pitch this to, so when we chose music for the album, I decided I wanted to include it.

CM: Tell us about Sell the Cow Music.

WK: That's my publishing company. I used to write for Reunion Music. I had a co-publishing deal with them, so I had to come up with a name. I chose Magic Bean Music. My studio is called The Beanstalk, so I have this whole Jack and the Beanstalk theme going. When I stopped writing for Reunion, I got a publishing deal with Warner Chapel in LA, and I had to come up with another name with a publishing company. I wanted to stay with the theme, and Golden Egg was already taken. I thought of Blood of an Englishman, but decided that maybe that wasn't the best idea, so I settled for Sell the Cow.

CM: Does the name of the album, The Maple Room, have any significance?

WK: In my studio I have an old tavern sign that says The Maple Room. I'm really into historical relics, and they sell a lot of that on ebay. I found this old English pub sign online. So I hung it between two windows in the studio. My studio has a lot of gothic and European influence in it. So the photographer for the album cover took a lot of pictures of the door and the sign, and when we got the pictures back, I thought that we should call the album that, since that's where it all came from. My wife said it sounds like the kind of place that C.S. Lewis and those guys would hang out and debate. Some people say that it makes them think of maple syrup, but that's not what I was going for.

CM: What advice do you have for young singer-songwriters?

WK: If you really want to write, the best thing is to be honest and vulnerable, and write about what you know. Don't be afraid to put your feelings on paper. If you're honest in your writing, the listener picks up on that and has the potential to be moved by what you're saying to them. So I've always thought that it was very important to write from an honest place. You come up with songs with more substance that way.

For more on Wayne and his first solo project, read our Music Channel Cover Story.