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On the Road Again

  • Thom Granger CCM Magazine
  • 2005 4 Feb
On the Road Again

Jeremy Camp has been a busy man. Touring almost constantly for the past couple years, initially to support the phenomenally successful (six No. 1 singles) debut recording "Stay," then out last spring with the Newsboys/Rebecca St. James “Adoration” tour to follow the release of his "Carried Me: The Worship Project," Camp somehow found the time to have a personal life.

This would be an accomplishment for any artist in the rush of a career blooming as quickly as this one; but for Jeremy Camp, finding new love, marrying and starting a family is downright astonishing, considering the restoration needed to recover from a tragedy that occurred not so very long ago. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

The first question is:  Is this guy driven or what?

Camp laughs at the question, which is further enhanced by the fact that, after flights to meet up couldn’t be arranged, the only way possible to do this interview was by cell phone as he rolled down the road in a car driven by his wife, Adrienne (formerly of The Benjamin Gate), and accompanied by their weeks-old daughter Isabella Rose, toward the next stop on his fall tour.

“You know, I remember back in the Spring of 2003: We had 12 shows in a row, and we were traveling in a van then. I had to go straight into the studio after that, and I thought, ‘Is this all worth it?’ And earlier this year my dad, who has been a great mentor in my life, said, ‘This is a time in your life when you’re not tied down with a child and when your wife is able and willing to travel with you. If you feel led and are able to dig deep these first couple years, then, by all means, do it.’

“The fact is, it has felt right and though I’ve been crazy busy, I’ve been at peace with what seemed to be just getting everything out that was inside me. I look back about two and a half years ago when I went on my first tour (“Festival Con Dios”) and [think about] what my goals and desires were then, compared to my realities now. I never thought my ministry would be thriving as much as it is, let alone have a wife and child.

“My dad came up for the show last night, and we had breakfast together this morning. He said, ‘God is really blessing you. Be grateful for what He’s giving you and enjoy it… but don’t ever take it for granted.’ Believe me, I don’t. Yes, I’ve worked hard; but, ultimately, it’s God putting His hand of blessing on my life and ministry, and it’s very humbling.”

Blessings, indeed. Besides the six-pack of No. 1 songs from "Stay," the album sold remarkably well (almost 325,000 copies); and last year’s Dove Awards saw Camp walk away with both “New Artist of the Year” and “Male Vocalist of the Year” accolades. Not bad for a guy who thought he was going to be a professional football player a decade or so ago.

But time and life have a way of changing plans. And most of Camp’s fans know the story by now — of how Jeremy lost his first wife, Melissa, to cancer in early 2001, the test of his faith that followed and the songs that document that struggle, most of which appear on "Stay."

And one can’t help but think there’s nothing more Jeremy would like to do right now but stay … home, that is, after an all-too brief month off the tour to see his first child born and help Adrienne. But it’s back on the road all too soon, as Camp explains.

“I took a full month off of the tour, and it was amazing. But it was really hard to leave my wife and child and go back out again. I’m with them right now for a couple days, and I can’t believe how much she’s already grown! But I’m very lucky to have a wife who really understands, and when she says, ‘I know that this is what God called you to do,’ I know she means it. Adrienne has lived this lifestyle and even toured with me when she was first pregnant and even though she misses it, she encourages me to do what I feel God calling me to do right now. I’m very grateful for that.

“I shared this Scripture on the night of the Dove Awards from the letter to the Ephesians, where it says that He does exceedingly abundantly above what we can ask or even imagine. That is honestly the way I feel about the past couple years. Where I came from in my life, the hardships that I’ve been through, to look at the faithfulness of God and see that there is hope at the end of these sufferings … it’s Christ and His love. That’s what I can share with other hurting people. The radio success, the album sales, the good reviews, the touring — those are amazing blessings. But what I am most honored by is God giving me this ministry. When I look at all these extra blessings, it just blows me away.”

In discussing how he feels, knowing the platform he has now exceeds not only that of his pastor/father but of what most pastors will reach in their lifetimes, Camp replies thoughtfully, “Yeah, I know. My dad’s church started with about 30 people and stayed that way for years, then grew to about 100 and stayed that way for years and is now at almost 200. But you’re right, for the most part, the ministry is very thankless work. Our church is full of ex-cons, druggies trying to stay clean, real street-level folks. This is why I say I’m humbled because I know where I came from. I remember times when we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from, and there would be a bag of groceries on our steps.

“That’s why, for me, it’s so important when I go to minister that I walk in with a mindset of, ‘How can I serve these people? What can we do for you?’ I ask those questions because it’s important to me, and I have that standard for the guys who work for me — that they have the mindset of a servant.”

As the discussion continues, it’s becoming clear that Jeremy takes his music ministry seriously — and calls it as such quite purposefully and without apology.

“I hear the comments that people in music ministry lack professionalism and leave the art behind, but all I can say is this: I work hard on my recordings to make them as good or better than anything out there on the radio. But I know that, ultimately, it’s secondary to the ministry God has given me because if I just do music and don’t live the message behind it, somebody please slap me around and tell me to stop! If you’re going to represent Christ, you are going to have that platform, and you need to be that example.”

So how does a guy go from jock to rock? It’s not exactly your every-day garage band story, that’s for sure. And where did Camp learn to write songs? As Jeremy explains it, in the beginning, there was … Christian rock.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I remember being taken to concerts, and there were Christian bands like Whiteheart, Mylon (LeFevre) & Broken Heart, Rez Band, Undercover, Altar Boys. We’d go to the 'Ichthus Festival' every year, and I loved it. It wasn’t until later, in high school, that I started listening to secular stuff. And then my dad played guitar and wrote songs, so I was around that; and he taught me a few chords on the guitar. He was into sports, too, and sports became a huge part of my life for a long time. But by the time I was 16, I had strayed pretty far from the Lord, and this one day I just sat down and wrote my first song called ‘Set Me Free.’ It wasn’t much, but it came from my heart because I wanted God to set me free from my own sin that was making me miserable. I played it for my dad (though I said I wrote it for my sister), and he encouraged me to write more. Other than that, all I can say is I knew what I liked and knew what I heard in my head and tried to make it happen on my guitar.”

Just sat down and wrote? Uh … OK. There must be something the rest of us hacks are missing. But regardless of how naturally songwriting seems to have come to Camp, there is something almost supernatural about the way his first album and the songs on it connected so quickly and powerfully with Christian music enthusiasts. How does he explain it?

“You know, everyone knows that music is a powerful tool that reaches down into the human soul. When I wrote the songs on "Stay," I was going through the hardest place in my life, and I wrote about it pretty personally. I just wrote from my heart because it was a way for me to express my feelings. The book of Corinthians speaks of … comforting others the way we have been comforted, and I knew that it would connect in that way because everyone has hardships and struggles.

“I know I’m not the best songwriter or the most artful lyricist who has these deep, introspective lyrics or the greatest singer, for that matter. I mean, trust me, to take the stage at the Dove Awards to sing ‘Take My Life’ after Smokie Norful just slammed it out of the ballpark makes you go, ‘Why me, Lord?’ But I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that when I do what I do, I’m doing what God has called me to do. Not everyone is going to like my songs or my voice or my hair — or whatever — but I believe there is a certain set of people God has led me to minister to, and I’m trying to be faithful to do that.

“To be honest with you, what I think is maybe the coolest thing about the success of "Stay" and my music, in general, is that to look at the facts on paper, you could say this shouldn’t have happened. I’m not a trained musician, I’m not on a major label, and many of the songs on "Stay" were ‘harder’ musically than most Christian radio stations play. But what happened, happened, and I believe that it was plainly and simply the hand of God. It’s ironic, but we seem to forget that in this industry we need to get back to the simplicity of our walk with the Lord, the simplicity of the ministry where God called us, the simplicity of serving Him and, from that, watching what God wants to do.”

OK. So what about the hundreds of other Christian musicians who are equally devoted, humble and servant-like, whose albums tank or those who never get to record at all?

“Right. I have friends in another band who’ve done OK, but I don’t know why they haven’t done better. I know their hearts, and they have true hearts. I certainly don’t think I’m more spiritual than them. I know all the stupid mistakes I’ve made more than anyone … except God. I guess it’s just something that God has chosen to do for His purposes. That’s all I know to say. That’s why I say it’s humbling.”

Somehow, amidst everything else, Camp found time to write and record a new album of songs called "Restored," which was released in November. Judging by his initial comments, Camp seems pleased with the recording.

“We put a lot of effort into it. I found some amazing players, and we had incredible engineers and mixers work on it, including Chris Lord-Alge (Madonna, Prince, Tim McGraw), who mixed half the record. I worked with Aaron Sprinkle (Thousand Foot Krutch, Joy Electric, Kutless), who’s an indie legend in the Northwest and, of course, Adam Watts (Avalon, PAX 217) and Andy Dodd (Avalon, Rick Muchow), who are two of the most talented people I’ve ever met. I think we’ve made a total step ‘up’ in production quality this time around. The sound is real big, all of the strings are real, and I’m real happy with it.”

The album’s title song, “Restored,” seems both a declarative anthem of healing (“You have restored me/ From my feeble and broken soul”) and an introspective paradox (“All this time I’ve wandered around/ Searching for the things I’ll never know”). For Camp to make the claim of restoration and healing so soon after his Melissa’s death seems unrealistic, especially in light of how busy he has been the last few years with ministry, music, new marriage and family? For the first time in the interview, the up-until-now fast-talking Camp pauses and takes a breath. “That’s a really cool question, actually,” he says before answering.

“That song was birthed as a result of me taking time out and letting God deal with my heart, and I can honestly tell you that God has healed my heart. It’s hard to explain to people who think, ‘It’s going to take three years or five years to heal.’ It’s between God and me dealing with my heart, and I know what He’s done and given me beyond what I could have ever imagined.

“And I have not suppressed my emotions — believe me. I have many people in my life, who I love and respect, who keep me accountable. They know my heart because I have shared it with them, and I can confidently say that God has restored my life.

“Now, having said that, of course there are going to be times when certain situations will remind me of the pain that I went through during that time; but it’s not an overwhelming thing now where I question God about His love for me — which I did during the worst of it. But I see the hand of God restoring my life today and bringing me new love and life through my wife and new child, and it’s amazing.”

Restoring? That’s not the same as restored. And at the risk of seeming trivial over the usage of the word, one wonders if the same broken-hearted people who resonated with the sentiments of the songs from "Stay" will relate as well to an album that begins with such a sure statement.

Camp takes another breath and explains further. “I can say, ‘You have restored me from my feeble and broken soul’ because that hopeless feeling is gone, and I have been restored from that. I’m not saying, ‘Everything’s fine.’ There will always be challenges in my life.

“And, believe me, I remember when I was down in the depths with my first wife dying and people saying to me, ‘If you just had faith’ and me telling them to get out of my face. I had plenty of faith to believe God could heal Melissa, and so did plenty of others who were praying for her. For some reason, God chose not to heal her, and that’s all I can say about that. So, yes, God has brought me up from those depths and restored me … but the memory of that pain will always be there.”

When asked both what he thinks his fans are looking for at a Camp concert and what he hopes to bring to them, it’s obvious that this is a subject that Jeremy has given plenty of thought.

“I think they are looking for someone to be personal,” he begins. “Someone to talk to them, not at them, both onstage and offstage. I love people, and I hope and pray that comes across.

“On my end, I want my band to be 100 percent top notch, that our production is done well and that we give people their money’s worth from an entertainment standpoint. That goes without saying, I guess; but I really feel strongly about that. Then I want people to come expecting to be touched spiritually, and my goal is to do that and point them to Christ. I have what I call the ‘three Es,’ meaning I want to encourage and comfort those who are going through hard times, I want to exhort those who need to be slapped out of their lethargy and selfishness and then, of course, to evangelize, to bring the good news of the gospel. I think I’m called to minister in all those ways, though not necessarily all at the same time.”

Jeremy Camp is a busy young man, to be sure. But he’s also realistic about the nature of both the music business and the business of ministry. He’s been around both long enough to get the reality checks and knows he won’t be on top of the charts forever. In thinking about long-term goals, his thoughts bring him back to his own roots — not unlike his recent move back to his hometown in Indiana, where he attends the church his father pastors.

“The future? You know, I love the church; and my wife is the same way. Adrienne’s started doing Bible studies with some of the women in the church and working with the youth. I feel like down the road I’m going to be more involved with a local church, either as a youth pastor or working with my dad in some capacity. We just both have a desire to reach out beyond just touring and recording music.

“I want to try and do more for kids than the church typically does. I don’t think I’ve got the magic formula to make ‘em love God or something, but I just think the ongoing challenge to the church for adolescents is to try — with every new generation — to find a way to meet them where they’re at. People always try and change them or tell them where they think they should be, and it never works. How you do that and not compromise the standards Jesus taught will always be a challenge, but I don’t think it’s impossible. I think it starts with just loving them, being there for them and just listening to them and sharing the Word of God with them when they’re ready. The gospel has stayed relevant for 2000 years and thousands of generations. It’s our job to share it, and it’s God’s work from there.”

Photos by Allen Clark & Brandon Dickerson

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