Interviewed by ~ email@example.com
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Down ~ Mitch McVicker
The project Without Looking Down was released September 2002 with Spindust. Spindust is a recording label founded by Ray Boltz a few years ago and is distributed internationally by Word. I recently had an opportunity to catch up with him on the phone for an audio interview of this project.
What brought you to sign with Spindust Records over other record labels?
Mitch: I'd had just about written off signing with record companies just because they didn't provide enough leeway as far as creative control. They were not really interested in me doing what I was doing. Record companies seem to be interested in the next big thing. And I am not that. Hopefully I am just a thing that is going to be around for a good while doing it persistently and consistently.
Spindust was quite the contrary. They were really supportive of what I was doing. I felt that as a means financially and with some of their contacts, they could really further what I was doing. With them, I'd still be able to go about it in the same way as before when I was independent.
I think it's a good combination of them being really supportive and me being able to continue on as I have in the same way. You know I just recorded this album and handed it to them and they took it from there. They understood what I was trying to do and they were supportive of it. That was the final decision maker.
Twelve songs. Did you have more ready when you made this album?
Mitch: Yeah, I had probably about five other songs that didn't make the cut. There wasn't a huge plethora of songs but we definitely had to whittle it down.
Were any of these twelve songs ready when you were doing Chasing The Horizon, but got pushed forward to this recording.
Mitch: I had only written just one of Without Looking Down songs. The last song Not Holy Just Yet has been ready for a while. I wrote it in the summer of '96. I had decided it wasn't time for it to be recorded when any of the other records came around.
How do you decide the timing of releasing them.
Mitch: I don't really know how the decision is made. It's just based on me, Mark and the guys trying to pick the best songs and what we think is going to work. There were a couple that I thought were going to be on there and there were a couple that made it and I was surprised made it.
Follow-up question; can you share what songs made it and what didn't?
Mitch: Songs that didn't make it that I thought might: If I Could, Boat On The Water. Songs I was surprised to see make it: Stargazer, Turning Tables, Camelsong.
Great musicians, great friends had their hands on this project. Give us your take on Brad Layher, Joe Curet and Jeff Weiss. What it is like having them on the recording as well as supporting the ministry on the road.
Mitch: Well it's great because I just wanted this album to reflect what I do. And there is nothing better then to have exactly what we do on the road translate to the studio.
Brad is one of the hardest workers I know and he wants to do his best. So he is going to bring a ton to the table. All the guys brought so much energy, just wanting to be a part of it. They understand where I am coming from better then anybody that I could bring in to do it. They understand the songs.
Joe is just completely creative with his approach to playing and that brings a whole new life and energy to the songs.
Jeff is a great singer, has a real knack for back-up vocals. His bass was replaced by Mark, simply because Mark is a bass player and Jeff is a guitar player, playing bass with me. A lot of the bass parts are what Jeff was playing when we were recording it.
It was a blessing and a blast and real inspiring to me once it was done to go, you know what, that's us. Just thinking back to 3 1/2 years ago when it was Brad and I traveling around. It was just Brad and me on guitars. Guys that really couldn't play that well 3 1/2 years ago are pulling it off now. It was a moving experience for me.
I noticed you only did the harmonica once and there is no hammered dulcimer. Are you trying to edge away from those sounds?
Mitch: No I'm definitely not trying to get away from harmonica, that's just the way it happened. I didn't even realize there was only one song until it was done. In concert there are a number that have harmonica, it just turned out that these new songs didn't include much. It has never been a conscious decision, but moving away from the hammered dulcimer has just been happening. With Brad being such a good guitar player and with him taking up playing the electric, the songs have evolved to include that aspect. You know there is only so much energy to go around. He is a guitar player, but he was playing the dulcimer because I brought that up when we first started working together 3 1/2 years ago. He does play it beautifully, but things seem to be going in a different direction. Hopefully we are going where the spirit is moving and leading us.
On Mark and Jordan. You've stayed with producer Mark Robertson, and studio engineer Jordan Richter who records and mixes. I kind of feel that this is one of your easiest decisions of this project; you wanted to work with these two guys. Can you again do the same and give us an idea of what it is like working with Mark and Jordan on this project and what they bring to it.
Mitch: Once again I think they are true artists in the sense that they completely sink themselves into my music and get inside it though it may not be what they would do themselves. Mark brings people to the table who are going to make the songs what they need to be. He hears the parts that need to be there wonderfully. Mark always had a dream to produce records. Now he is doing that and doing it really well.
Jordan has come so far since I first meet him eight years ago. He was player guitar in a rock band and now all of a sudden, he is an in-demand sound engineer in Nashville. He has come a long way, not through schooling, but through gumption and personal effort.
The Title Without Looking Down, how did you end up choosing that?
Mitch: I really didn't know what the title of the record was going to be when I started out. But then it became evident that this was going to be it. 'Without Looking Down' was just a line from one of the songs, Deeper In Love. I am trying to focus on my flight towards God without looking down at my fears and my doubts and my wrongs. I'm focusing on heading towards God and focusing on what Jesus is making me into. Not because I've learned to fly or anything, but simply because I'm carried on the love of God and the winds of mercy.
What are your hopes and aspirations for this project?
Mitch: More then anything, I would like it to touch people and hopefully turn people's attention towards Jesus. And of course you want as many people as possible for that to happen to. I would like it to be well received. But I don't want to be concerned with if the critics like it or not, whoever they are.
That's always nice if that happens, but I really want the body of Christ, the children of God (whether they know that's who they are or not) to like it. That's why I am doing this. I am really not trying to do this to be critically acclaimed, though that's nice.
You just really have to remember that we don't need to seek human approval, we just need to seek the approval of God. People that are hearing the music and are touched by it, are the ones that give me my validity. It's not the industry people or critic people. It is just really humbling when God chooses to move through anything we concoct anyway.
Mitch: You Have Everything happened in the summer of 2001. I was listening to a record while I was on a drive. I was listening to R.E.M's newest record, which was ok. But with one of the songs, when it came around to the chorus, I started singing this chorus melody and they weren't. And I thought, your singing the wrong chorus here, what are you doing here? And it was the first time I had heard it, and so I thought ok, well if your not going to use it then I am. And then the song became You Have Everything. It's the same old thing I talked about before, it's a verse in Malachi, were he says what can I give to you God, and he was basically stumped. I am too, but there is one thing, and that is ourselves.
Mitch: Take The Wheel happened in a hotel room and I think it was the last song I wrote for the record. We had already gone in and rehearsed some of the songs in the studio. We took the weekend off and I came back with a couple more songs. This song just happened while I was watching a football game and my team was getting stomped. At half time, I thought well you know what, I am going to get something out of this game even though my team is loosing. I picked up the guitar and stumbled unto this guitar figure that ended up being Take The Wheel.
Mitch: I Need You Jesus came around December 2000. I ended up writing it over time in sound checks. That's when I started messing around with it. I probably came at it from the fear that I'd taken for granted Jesus' love for me, and Jesus' call for me to love and in my desire to let that love be what motivates me, to do anything. That song really evolved as all four of us played it. It use to be a real slow finger picking kind of song. It still is slow, but the guys came up with this idea to put a real shuffle beat to it.
Mitch: Turning Tables was one of the other songs I made up the last weekend before we went into the studio to record after we had rehearsed up some songs. The idea came from Ray Boltz. We had talked about that we should get together and write some songs. So he goes here, I have this idea, but you do really well with the melody and stuff like that. So take it if you want to use it, and whatever. So I wrote a song. Again I came up with the guitar figure first, the introduction and stuff. I was messing around with it in my room one day and Jeff walks by and goes wow that's cool! I'm glad he said that because I was about ready to cast it aside. But because he said that, I'm easy, all you have to do is say you like it and I'll keep working on it some more. So because he said that, it became a song.
Follow up question on Turning Tables: what is your message in this song. I see different avenues.
Mitch: Yes, it is kind of a three-fold message. Jesus obviously began turning tables out of His holy anger in the temple. That Jesus turns tables in our lives in how we view the world around us. That Jesus has ultimately turned the tables on sin.
Mitch:Stargazer was written on a drive out to North Carolina. I was heading out there to go fishing with the guy who is traveling with us on this tour doing sound, Paul Yodis. I began working on it on the drive and finished it up while we were floating down the river. It came just from a stop to get some coffee at a bookstore. Somewhere in some book I picked up, I saw the phrase stargazer and it just resonated with me. I thought I would write a song about somebody who was looking for the good, finding the good and allowing their attention to be directed back towards the giver of the good. It's the same character I've written about before, in The Lemonade Song and in Not Holy Just Yet. It's the same character, except I put a female pro-noun on this one, just because I didn't want to be singing about some dude.
6. Nowhere Else
Mitch: Nowhere Else was written on a drive to Illinois to meet up with Tracey Moushon who does a lot of bookings for me now. It would of been late summer/early fall 2001. I don't know what happened with this one, but I started getting this melody rolling around in my heard or maybe it was a rhythm kind of thing. I didn't want to forget it, so I started calling myself and singing it on my voice mail. Then, once you get something going around in your head, you don't want to forget certain parts, because I couldn't sing the whole song on my voice mail. So then the whole drive, I keep singing the whole song over and over again. If someone else would of been in there they would of probably jumped out. I got to Illinois, put the guitar cords behind it. It too has evolved a good bit as we worked on it. I was feeling, that in my drives, I've gone basically everywhere, further than my dreams had permitted me to even venture when I was 15 or whatever. It is amazing but there is so much more. So I have seen it all, but now I want to see you Lord. I've been everywhere, but now I want to be with you Lord.
Mitch: Don't Let Your Heart Be Troubled was actually a song that was inspired because I was real taken by John:14. I was stewing over that for a while. Then in November 2001, we played at a benefit concert for a little girl in North Carolina that had cancer. I wanted to write a song for her, to give her some hope and encouragement. It was inspired by her, but it has taken on a much broader scope now. This is a song that is good for me to hear each night, simple because it is Jesus talking.
Mitch: The Lion Lays Down came about around the same time as I Need You Jesus. I started experimenting more with the falsetto because I was able to do it once again. It had been awhile since I had been able to with my voice recovery and stuff. There was some verse that was read during a church service, I think about the peaceable kingdom and about how the lion lays down. That's basically it, and how there are tons of lions in my life and they often end up attacking me after I've gone down the wrong path and ended up in the corner with the lion. But then there is Jesus so they lay down.
Mitch: Deeper In Love was just a love song to Jesus. That came from one of my favorite verses about how love keeps no record of wrongs. I wanted to write a song about that forever. So that is just the first line. I wrote it late spring 2001. I wanted it to be real mellow and feely. I had been listening to a band called Coldplay for quite awhile and I wanted to give it kind of that feel.
Once again my experimentation with falsetto showed itself with this song. The first time I played it was the day I got done writing it. It was in Indiana, at a little coffee house. It was just me and Jeff and a friend of mine named Kevin Galloway who was helping us out. This song then evolved a good bit. I wrote it in 4/4 and we rehearsed it that way in the studio, and had even done it in concert that way. At the last second, after the second weekend break from recording, I came back to the studio and told the guys ok, we are going to do this song in 6 now. That gives it a completely different feel and take. They were scrambling, trying to figure out what was going to happen with the song. But I thought It would be better in 6.
Mitch: Midnight In Madison was the most evolving song. I had the whole thing done for along time. But the lyrics didn't seem right forever. The chorus didn't jump like I wanted it to. I even played it in concert under whatever song title it had at the time, and people said they really liked that song. But It just wasn't right to me yet. That's what you have to do. Stay at a song and persevere even though you want to get it done. This had probably been sitting there 8 or 9 months, and people were saying that's cool. I was going, no it's not right. It can be something else. You have to just stay at it and hope it is going to become something.
It comes from my fascination to live in Madison Wisconsin, first of all. I had talked about wanting to live in Wisconsin to various people and they were like.. you would fit good in Madison.. I think you would love Madison. I had never been there, but basically I decided I wanted to move there before I had ever been there. Then one time we visited there, and I go great, I know how things never live up to my expectations because this had kind of taking on some kind of Disney World notion for me. But then it ended up being as cool as I thought It might be. It lived up to my expectations, and it was great and everything. But then I was left with the fact that Madison is great, but my sins are still here. My heart is still caving in, my soul isn't rustproof and when it gets rained on it begins to crumble. Though things seem perfect here in Madison, I'm far from perfect but Jesus somehow you make me that way.
Mitch: Camelsong was started in the summer of 2001 and is another song that started out with a completely different thought behind it. But I wanted to stay with it. I was hoping it would become something. It use to be about the Cany Fork River in Tennessee. This is a river that when your traveling on I40, you cross over it five times in four miles; it's a real windy river. One day we went over it and it had this real beautiful white fog sitting on top of the water. That's were the song started; it was about the Cany Fork River. It soon progressed to camels and how Jesus talks about how it's harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven then for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle. Some people's biggest stumbling block is money and material possessions. Everybody has a biggest stumbling block and it's different for each person. I know that Jesus has made it possible for me to enter the kingdom of heaven despite my biggest stumbling blocks and the same with everybody. So I guess the camel must go squeezing through the eye of the needle because of Jesus.
Mitch: Not Holy Just Yet was a real similar character I had written about before. It actually was the first time I had stumbled onto that character. That was prior to The Lemonade Song and way prior to Stargazer. I wrote that in Ireland when I was over there with Rich doing some concerts in the summer of 96. That song was the first song of mine that Rich ever let me play in concerts. I finished it over there, and he goes wow you should play that tonight. Actually I don't even know if he said it like that, I think it just ended up on the set list. So when I saw it there I went wow, ok I'll do it. It was at a festival over there, and they really liked it.
So I've always been hanging onto the song, knowing it was going to be recorded at some point and just wondering when that was going to be. I do have a lot of attachment to it simply because it's the first song of mine Rich let me do. It's just about a guy who was pressing on, though he didn't have a lot of outward motivation to do so. Even though life got hard, he was hanging onto something he didn't quite understand but something that he knew was there and was hanging onto, love. The love of Jesus is basically beyond our understanding anyway. Trusting to be pulled through this life. Not through his own gumption or doing, but because of grace. That was my first attempt at that whole idea.
A few faith and ministry questions.
Is there a theme or underline tone you want to convey to people about this project.
Mitch: To don't look down. When we are looking down, we are in essence looking within ourselves. We are in essence caught up with ourselves and becoming self centered. We may not be patting ourselves on our back, but we are completely caught up in what scares us, what brings questions to our minds, instead of looking to Jesus.
Jesus over and over and over again talks about letting go of ourselves, "dying" to ourselves. It is not a prevailing message people grab a hold of because the word "dying" isn't very positive. It is positive in the sense, that in letting go of more of ourselves, that makes more room to grab a hold of Jesus. So don't look down at what belongs to us, but rather look towards Jesus.
Do you feel Jesus more these days, maybe affirming you ministry to keep plugging away at it.
Mitch: It's been a struggle, I think so and I want to. But as I do this more and more and the miles rack up, the wrinkles rack up, the bags under my eyes rack up, and you end up running low; but I do. I have to remind myself that Jesus affirmation comes in ways I wouldn't expect it to. God views success differently than I do. One way for me to detect the affirmation of Jesus is through people at concerts telling me how God touched them. The body of Christ does wonders for me.
Would you say you are are more accepting of His grace as you grow or has that always been a given to your soul?
Mitch: I don't know that grace is something we ever become comfortable with. I don't know if I feel more accepting of it or not. God bestows grace whether we accept it or not and I think often it goes unaccepted. It is a life-long process for each one of us to realize that our acceptance of grace doesn't dictate God lavishing it out upon us, which is going to happen so we might as well open ourselves up and get use to it.
What have you learned about life and God as you continue to travel into a deeper relationship with Him.
are never going to be the way I think they are going to be. That
affirmation isn't going to be how I thought it was going to be. That
success isn't going to be how I thought it was going to be. Because
I don't know what that is. Just that we are not the sum of what we
purchase, of what we have, of who we know, of what we achieved or of what
we have obtained. That we are children of God and our call is to
live in the kingdom of God which is opposite of how we view things.
My goal is to each day try and do something that is opposite from my own
nature to try and live in the kingdom of God.
Mitch, I sincerely thank you for the time you shared getting this interview processed. The goal I set, sharing some insight into the project has been accomplished. Getting that insight behind the album adds another dimension to it. Sharing some of your ministry and faith beliefs creates even more thirst for the music. My ultimate prayer is that you will continue to follow God's will. Sharing the music, sharing the lyrics, pointing people towards Jesus.
obtained from mitch for sound/picture files used