Jimmy Needham knows what the phrase “by popular demand” means. After parting ways with his longtime label the 28-year-old Christian artist decided his next project, his sixth overall, would be a D.I.Y. affair produced by himself and financed with fan-generated funding. The finished album, a 10-track mix of well-known hymns and newly-penned ones called “The Hymn Sessions Vol. 1” was meant only as a thank you for those who had paid for its making. But fans quickly started going crazy over the record; Needham had put his soulful voice to use in ways they hadn’t heard before, performing the old hymn “Come Thou Fount” as a swing jazz number, turning “Rock of Ages” into an irresistible pop sing-along and even sharing the mic with rapper (and old friend) Trip Lee on “How Great Thou Art.” The ensuing raves caused Needham to give “The Hymn Sessions Vol. 1” a widespread release and now accolades are rolling in from folks who hadn’t previously heard of him. We asked Needham a few questions about the making of the record, about his faith, and about his plans for the future.
Examiner: You used crowdfunding to help finance the making of “The Hymn Sessions Vol. 1”. Tell me about your experience with Kickstarter.
Jimmy Needham: Kickstarter was a great and helpful tool for us. We not only met our financial goal, but exceeded it by double! It was the only reason that “The Hymns Sessions” even exists, since we had the extra capital to work with. Kickstarter provides a really cool opportunity for folks who really believe in what an artist does to help in a more meaningful way than even buying a record. They help to create the record.
E: You found a producer for the album who worked cheap --- how did you like your first foray into self-production and what did you learn?
JN: My decision to produce was more pragmatic than anything, but I had a blast doing it. I think my biggest lesson in self-producing was how indebted I am to the team I have around me in studio. They are the real creative geniuses. I just try to inspire them in a general direction. This record would not be what it is without their inventive performances.
E: “Great is Thy Faithfulness” is performed with Kevin Jones, and the two of you got ordained together about a year ago. Tell me about being ordained, how your life has changed since and your special fondness for this hymn.
JN: Being ordained was such an honor. It was a privilege to have my church leadership affirm God's calling on my life to be a minister of the gospel. As for "Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” it's absolutely my favorite hymn. I sometimes sing it to myself as I'm spending time with The Lord. What a reminder to us when we fear or are filled with worry that our God is constant and consistently good to us because of the Gospel!
E: Do you do any guest ministering and if so do you top it off with a musical performance after?
JN: I'm very rarely brought in to speak only but love doing it when I can. I kind of do it already when I perform since so much of my show is built around the content I'm sharing.
E: How did the hip hop interpretation of “How Great Thou Art” develop? Your idea or Trip’s, or mutual?
JN: I had the idea initially and invited Trip to be a part of it, but he brought the song to life by writing such an amazing lyric for the verses. It was so fun to marry something as traditional as a hymn with something so current as hip-hop. Now the trick becomes how I perform it live without Trip. Pray for me!
E: Lots of big Christian artists, from Amy Grant to Al Green, have also recorded secular music. Have you ever, or is that something that you’ve considered?
JN: I'm gonna be real artsy right now and say that I reject those categories for understanding these genres. As a Christian, the gospel ought to engage every aspect of my life. So no matter if I say "Jesus" in my song or not, I'm bound to be a Truth teller. I think that there is a Christian way to sing about virtually every theme out there. The real question is rather, would the mainstream music community embrace my art if I gave it to them?
E: You’ve been a professional performer for a long time now and, coming up, you must have had experiences where you were brushed-off, “oh, he’s a Christian artist…” Can you tell me of a particular incident or a particular time when this was rough for you, and what would you say are the most common misperceptions about Christian music?
JN: I honestly haven't gotten much rejection because of the content of my songs. In fact, I've had a lot of really great opportunities with the mainstream music market. I've been able to play for iTunes showcases and the NACA convention. I'm very thankful for that. I think the view of pop Christian music by the world is not a misperception but just a perception. It's true that often our art isn't avant-garde or very cutting edge, that much of it sounds the same, that Christian pop is about five to ten years behind mainstream art. There are certainly outliers who are making great compelling art with musical creativity and lyrical depth, and I'm happy to see more and more folks cropping up every day. But in general I think we in the Christian art community could take a note from Billy Corgan and step up our creative game.
E: It’s a bit subtle but the album title “The Hymn Sessions Vol. 1” indicates that you’re planning at least one more similar release. Can you give me a little preview?
JN: I just wanted to leave this record open ended. It's such a fun and relatively easy process to make a record when you're not writing the songs from scratch. It's also a fun outlet for me to do more corporate worship material when most of what I do is singer/songwriter. I'll probably solicit my fans for song requests next time.
E: As a native Texan, of course you do things BIG! Other than your faith and your music, what is one thing that you always do big?
JN: We love being around people. A few months ago we had nine people living at our house! We want a big family too. We have two girls and are adopting right now. We're on track to have about 150 kids I think!
Purchase Jimmy Needham’s “The Hymn Sessions Vol. 1” at iTunes
Visit the official Jimmy Needham website