615 Spotlight: Tim Menzies Explains Hiatus, Talks Gospel-Leaning New Album

Tim Menzies, 2014.
Lee Steffen

Tim Menzies

This week, we go in a different direction with the 615 Spotlight. Rather than showcase a brand new artist, we update you on a singer-songwriter so highly respected in Music City that demo versions of songs he's written for big-name artists -- such as Reba McEntire, Mark Chesnutt and Trisha Yearwood -- are just as beloved as the final studio recordings.

After a lengthy recording hiatus, Tim Menzies returns with His Way Of Loving Me, an album that gives listeners a look at his inspirational and Gospel-laden side. His Way Of Loving Me is Menzies' first project since 2002, and he says he hasn't been in a hurry to get back into the studio.

"I've been making a living writing songs for years. It's a great way to make a living. You go home every night, and that's been so wonderful. I've been able to be with my family. That's why I really didn't have the drive to do a new album. In the past couple years, my Christian beliefs and my songwriting began to merge more and more, and in the last year, I felt compelled to record a Christian album," he tells Billboard.

One of the tracks that Menzies is the most proud of on the album is "Lies The Devil Told Me," which he says strikes a chord with many people he's spoken to since the album's release. "Monty Criswell and I wrote that. He is a wonderful writer, and came in with the title. The minute he said it, I thought about the scripture in John 8:44, where Jesus says of the Devil, 'When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is liar and the father of lies.' We've all experienced those moments of believing a lie -- either from ourselves or from another force -- when you get knocked off course. What's knocking you off course is not the truth, but it takes you a while to come back around, so you know what did it was not the truth, but a lie. That led to us writing that song."

Menzies came to Nashville in the early '80s, finding success as a member of Warner Brothers' Bandana on such hits as the harmony-laden "Outside Lookin' In," a top 20 Billboard hit from 1983. But it was as a songwriter that the Virginia native made his mark, first with the Shenandoah hit "Mama Knows" in 1988, which led to his own record deal with Columbia Records -- albeit with one important change.

"I got a record deal through CBS, and the correct spelling on my last name is Menzies. They were concerned about the 'Z.' I have to admit that it is often mispronounced a lot. They just wanted to give me a whole new last name -- and some of the ones they suggested went on to become names for other artists. I wasn't crazy about having a name that had nothing to do with mine, because you want your mama to hear your name on the radio, so I negotiated with them about changing the spelling of my last name. We agreed on Mensy.

"I had the record on CBS, and it was not successful," Menzies acknowledges. "But other artists started to record those songs, and the copyright was under the 'Mensy' spelling. So that name started becoming what I was known by. I got another deal through Giant, and they thought we should keep the spelling just in case there were 11 or 12 people who remembered me."

The new project also contains Menzies' take on a few old-time classics, such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which the singer is emotionally tied to. "When my father died in February of 2013, I sang at his funeral. My mom's pastor asked me if I would sing at church, which was something I hadn't done in years. I had been going to church since 1991, but the songwriting was totally separate from the church. I learned three songs to sing while I was back home. I had sung 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' at a memorial service for Randy Hardison, a drummer friend of mine in Nashville who died. I always loved the song and the simplicity of it. There's no band [on the recording]. I played a guitar, came back and also played a resonator guitar on it. It was kind of a country-blues thing. I love it."

Menzies is currently putting together a team to promote his music in the Gospel field, and is looking to start a tour of churches in the near future, including a Sept. 7 stop at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, TN.


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