Chris Tomlin on His No. 1 Year on the Christian Charts: 'I Don't Take It for Granted'
Worship singer/songwriter Chris Tomlin has had a remarkable year. Tomlin is Billboard’s year-end Top Male Christian Artist of 2015 and third overall (behind Hillsong United and MercyMe). He has toured extensively, selling out non-traditional venues for his genre, such as Madison Square Garden, and he continues to set records on the Billboard charts.
2015 has been quite a year; you were Billboard’s No. 1 male Christian artist, and third overall, in addition to receiving so many other accolades. Have you had the chance to stop for a second and take it all in?
I just recently started reflecting on this past year. It’s been a gift to me to see the acceptance and response from my audience. I don’t take it for granted. I just try and stay true to my music and hope the end result is that people ultimately worship the Lord.
Currently on Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart (dated Jan. 2), Adore, the new Christmas album is No. 1, where it has been for five weeks (three in succession), and 2014’s Love Ran Red is No. 5. In fact they’ve both been in the top 10 for eight straight weeks. How does that impact you?
Honestly, I am really floored by the response. My goal is just to write meaningful songs, create a good product, and then hope that people will respond. It means a lot to me that people are moved emotionally and spiritually by my music.
With your faith as strong as it is, are you ever conflicted in talking about your success? How do you manage that?
Of course, it’s strange. When you think about the Gospel, and sharing the message, it’s all about a person’s motive and what’s in your heart. Only God truly knows that. You know, some things burn like straw, and other things last forever. My desire is always for my work to be long-lasting. I just pray for God to give me clear intentions, for the right reasons and essentially doing what he wants. When I play a concert at a place like Madison Square Garden, I’m never over-confident; in fact to the contrary, normally I am actually scared to death. I’m just a guy from a small East Texas town, so I often think how this entire career is something amazing that God has done for me.
Let’s talk about Adore, the Christmas album, what moved you to record this set originally and how did you go about choosing the traditional classics like “Silent Night,” and “What Child is this,” along with the newer material. How did you ultimately decide on how the album would flow between new and old?
I didn’t think that I’d do another Christmas album [the first was 2009’s Glory in the Highest: Christmas Songs of Worship], but I thought more and more about all the traditional, more spiritual Christmas songs and how meaningful they are. I wanted to do a worship album. The classic songs that I decided on have always been so important to me, so essentially we wanted to record worship tracks about the true meaning of Christmas.
Songs like “Winter Wonderland” and “Santa Baby” are fine but they’re not right for me. The story of Christmas -- the birth of Jesus is what I wanted to center on and songs that would convey that powerful story. I recorded the set at Ocean Way studio (in Nashville), a former church. The end result was that the spotlight was not focused on the singer, but rather on the singing. Ironically, the writing process really took several years to come up with the new material, but making the record only took two nights. We did it live with about 300 people on-hand. The results were incredible, all of those voices, and if you listen closely to the quieter parts, you can hear floors creaking and other sounds like that.
“Noel” (Currently No. 5 on Hot Christian Songs), is a song that you co-wrote with your producer Ed Cash and longtime writing partner Matt Redman, and features a strong vocal from Lauren Daigle (Billboard’s Top Female Christian Artist of 2015). Did you have her in mind when you were writing it?
Yes. It’s probably the first song that I have ever written where that happened, but writing this track, I just envisioned Lauren singing it all-along. I’m thankful she agreed to record it. Her vocal on the song is truly stunning.
So, a song like “Noel,” is a new song- you just recently penned it, yet when listening, it sounds familiar, as if it fits in with the classics. Is that something that you were intentionally striving for?
Yes, there’s something ancient about the melodies in that song that gives it a timeless feel. There is a lyric in the chorus; “Come and see what God has done.” Those words sum up the entire project. It’s my favorite line because that’s essentially what I hope that people take from it all. When Lauren performs “Noel” during the live show you can feel the crowd’s emotional response and it’s quite stirring. It’s always the best part of the night.
You’re in the midst of the Adore Christmas tour [with Daigle and Crowder]. How is that going and how are your listeners responding to these songs live?
Well the entire tour consists of nine dates. We were on the road so much this year that it was a challenge to find cities that we hadn’t played yet, but it’s going great and I love playing these Christmas worship songs in front of an audience. The response has been tremendous. Honestly, it’s humbling.
Knowing that you are a family guy and that your wife and two daughters are so important to you, how does that play into your career.
Well, I miss them terribly when I’m away but they normally stay at home while I’m touring. The girls are too young, but I always try and schedule things where I can get home as often as possible. We recently moved to Nashville and we love it.
“Good Good Father” (No. 9 on Hot Christian Songs for the chart dated Jan. 2) and “Noel” became your 22nd and 23rd top 10s respectively. That gives you the all-time lead (Casting Crowns has 22). Congratulations on that career milestone. Had you heard that news yet?
I honestly just became aware this week, a friend of mine had actually sent me the Billboard story. It’s really kind of staggering to be honest. I’m just so appreciative that my songs have been accepted. God put me in a place when worship music was first becoming more main-stream, so there was perfect timing. When my first songs were played on the radio it was just on special shows, mainly Sunday mornings and now they are more widely played. It’s all about timing.
My wife Lauren discovered the song for me and I loved it as soon as she played it for me. Then I found out that I knew one of the guys who wrote it (Pat Barett, who co-wrote the track with Tony Brown), so I called Pat to compliment him on writing such a great song and he ended up playing on my version and singing harmonies. It’s such a great song about God as a father and his love for people.
What are your plans for 2016, and does the success ever put pressure on you to top it next year?
We have a few dates scheduled so far. Worship night in America is a huge thing for us, so we’ll be doing that in major cities including New York again. We’ll also make a record. I don’t think I’ll spend as much time on the road this coming year. But no, I don’t ever think about trying to top any success that I have had.
You recently performed on the Grand Ole Opry for the first time (Dec. 4). What was that experience like?
It was really fun and even better that it was at the Ryman Auditorium, which really made it special. My dad took us there when I was five-years old and now I get to sing on that stage. The great Bill Anderson introduced me and when he began saying my name, the crowd started to respond. He just leaned into me and said “well I hope your songs can live up to that response.” It was such an honor.
Your music seems to transcend demographics in that it’s appreciated by young and old and it reaches people that may not listen to Christian music on a regular basis. As an artist that has to feel good.
I remember going to a Garth Brooks show years ago when he was at his peak. I saw kids and old people singing along with all of his songs and I was just kind of knocked out that he not only had that appeal, but that he also connected to everyone. I hoped that I could have that gift one day, to be able to reach as many people as possible with God’s word.