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Intersection of Life and Faith

This Changes Everything

  • Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 3 Nov
This Changes Everything
Once a favorite of college students and singer/songwriter types, Bebo Norman has since moved to the big leagues of adult contemporary pop. His platform and his sound are now bigger than ever—something the artist says is a reflection of how much he's grown in the past couple of years. Today is a new day for Norman: he signed a new record deal with BEC, has a new album out, and is experiencing fatherhood for the first time. In this conversation, Norman tells us all about this new lot in life, while relating how he came to grips with anxiety—spurred on by, of all things, his love of singing songs.I looked at the cover of your new album and suddenly thought you were going metal-core on us. In a way, it's a funny subtext for your new deal with Tooth & Nail.Bebo Norman (Laughs) I don't know if I would see it that way! One of the things I love about BEC and Tooth & Nail is there's a certain freedom there to be expressive and creative. It's an environment that sometimes in the music business gets lost and thrown to the side. Once I finished my last record contract, I was talking to a bunch of record labels, and BEC just stood out to me. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of where I started—a more intimate, more creative kind of environment. It allowed me the freedom to go that route a little more.How different is the new recording environment from the corporate machine you were previously a part of?Norman I had a phenomenal experience with my first record contract at Provident. I signed with Essential Records back when it was practically just me, Jars of Clay, and Caedmon's Call. It was just a whole different world there at that time. Since then, it's grown into a much larger label now. [Editor's note: Bebo, Jars, and Caedmon's Call have all since parted with Essential Records.] So the new thing with BEC reminded me of those early days. What it really comes down to for me is having more creative energy and freedom—and not just freedom, but they also really encourage and push you in a certain direction to really stretch yourself. That's something that I've been thankful to be a part of.Over the years, you've gone from playing the college and coffeehouse circuit to doing huge arena tours, and your sound has gotten larger. Has this shift been conscious on your part?Norman That's a good question. My sound has definitely evolved over the years into something bigger than it was when I first started. But I don't think it had to do as much with trying to create a sound for a particular audience. Like "Great Light of the World," that song was big and pop in a lot of ways. We didn't really know that that song was going to reach a larger audience like it did—it kind of became my launching-off point. But I think what really has caused my music to change and grow is that I've changed and grown.You're a seasoned singer/songwriter. Why go the self-titled route with your seventh album? Is there something about yourself as an artist you're coming to grips with?Norman This new record in more ways than one has been about new beginnings and rebirth. I'm still a relatively new husband and a brand-new father, I'm on a new record label, and just emotionally and spiritually over the last two years, I've been rediscovering the simplicity of life. I guess I've come to this place of [letting go of] self-reliance, realizing that our faith is not some accumulation of knowledge or wisdom or life experiences or spiritual accolades, but rather, faith is a simple and desperate clinging to Christ. The past few years have really defined that for me on a personal level, and these new songs speak to that theme in one way or another. Because of that, I've been rediscovering the rebirth and the newness of things through self-discovery.You've recently gone public about your dealings with anxiety. Tell us about that.Norman That's what I mean about stripping away these ideas of self-reliance and self-dependence. The whole struggle with anxiety has really done that for me in the past couple of years. Again, this idea of faith as an accumulation of spiritual accolades, we could be so quick to define our faith by what we've accomplished, instead of by what God has accomplished. The whole struggle with anxiety has really paralyzed me in a lot of ways, but it's one that has reminded me of being made strong in our weakness. It was something that I had a lot of shame in at first, something that I really didn't really admit at first. But once I did, once I confessed to the idea that I'm really not OK here, that I can't figure this out on my own, then God really began to heal it.When did you stop and say, "I need to do something about this"?Norman It's been a long time coming. It's been one of those things that happened randomly and one of those things that I never really knew how to define. Just about a year ago was the first time that I really sat down with a guy I've been receiving counsel from for years and years, and just confessed for the first time: "Listen, I don't know what this is or if it's going away, but it's something that I need to figure out." I confessed that I had no control over it. That was sort of the beginning of the process. So about a year ago was when I began to become healed from it.How bad was the anxiety? How did it manifest itself?Norman For me it manifested itself really sporadically, but mostly in the context of singing songs, which was a great irony. This whole thing that I do, singing and playing songs, has been the constant in my life and the thing that's always come natural to me. But it manifested itself when I was up on stage. It had nothing to do with being afraid of being in front of people; it had everything in the world to do with trying to sing these songs and not feel like I couldn't find the breath to sing it and get light-headed.I never really put my finger on it that it was anxiety. I didn't know what it was. I tried everything in the world to try to fix it—I tried drinking more water, not eating or eating too much before shows, all these different things. And in the long run, I just realized that it was anxiety and it was something that was outside of my control. It didn't happen every time; it was infrequent. But when it happened it was really paralyzing.I can't imagine trying to get through a set while trying to deal with that.Norman Yeah, it became something that really brought me down in a lot of ways to where I just had to eventually say, "OK, God, if you don't want me to play music anymore, if this is what you're trying to tell me, that's great." For the first time, I was willing to lay it all aside if that's what it meant. And right about that time was when I really began to confess it to others around me, began to get help for it, and then it finally began to turn around. It was a long and agonizing battle, for sure.Are things better now?Norman Yeah, they really are. The turnaround has been pretty phenomenal in the last six months or so. And I think I'll always struggle with it on some level—in a lot of ways I look at it as my thorn [in the flesh], the thing that reminds me that I have nothing to boast about except my weakness and Christ's strength.. But it's been dramatically better. It's been something where I've been able to really enjoy playing shows again. I'm real thankful for that!Tell us about the song "Britney." I never in my life expected that name and Bebo Norman to be used in the same sentence.Norman (Laughs) Neither did I, just so you know. That song caught me off guard. It's not one that I was anticipating writing or expecting to write. I was up late one night and couldn't sleep, and I was flipping through the news channels, and landed on this story about Britney Spears. To be completely honest, my first inclination was to keep changing the channels. But for whatever reason, I stuck on this story for a minute or two and realized pretty quickly that it was a heart-wrenching story that was unfolding: She was being taken away in a stretcher to an ambulance to a mental hospital; the whole story involved her kids and a lot of stuff that's hard to watch.That's been in the tabloids for forever. What was it about the story that struck you?Norman There was just this look in her face that the camera captured. I've never really fancied myself as a longtime Britney Spears fan or anything. I hear her music on the radio just like everybody else. But I just think that this look on her face, there was complete brokenness. It really stopped me in my tracks and put me in my place. I realized in that moment for the first time that I was looking at her life less as a tabloid story and more as a real-life story in need of redemption, just like my real-life story is.It was striking because I suddenly saw her and her story through the eyes of Jesus rather than through the eyes of condemnation—something that we as the church are sometimes so quick to do. We're so quick to point the finger and point out people's faults, where they have fallen short, rather than embracing them with the compassion of Christ. We're all responsible for our own choices, but in light of that, [we're] to embrace culture with compassion.So, do you have a favorite Britney song?Norman I don't know, man! The truth is, there are definitely songs of hers that I've enjoyed, but it's sort of always been a guilty pleasure on pop radio. "Toxic" was always one that I really liked.You mentioned new beginnings and the fact that you're a recent father. In which ways has fatherhood affected you at a personal and artistic level?Norman I think the biggest thing is that it removes self from the equation. I think being a father and being a husband is a constant reminder that my life is not about me, but that my life is about serving the people around me. It changes your whole perspective of how you look at life and how you look at playing music and writing songs. I haven't specifically written songs for my son yet, but it's changed everything about my perspective of life, this world, and my faith. My faith is less about me and more about how I serve the people around me. It's changed everything about my perspective. Since my songs are really written through the filter of my faith, it's changed everything about how I write songs.Do you view God any differently because of fatherhood?Norman No question. A lot of those clichés about being a father and about being a husband and seeing God differently, they're clichés for a reason. It shifts everything. Becoming a father, you definitely recognize new capacities for loving something, and you realize how dramatically and deeply our God loves us. Also you recognize a different capacity for being loved. I recognize that in the way that my son loves me, the way my wife loves me, and so it changes the way I realize that God loves me and how I'm called to love other people. It really has changed everything.Click here to read more about Bebo Norman at our site's artist page, where you'll also find a review for his self-titled release. Visit Christianbook.com to listen to song clips and purchase his musicCopyright © Andree Farias subject to licensing agreement with Christian Music Today. Click for reprint information.