Dan MacIntosh interviews Chris Tomlin.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Looking over The Essential Collection, I notice that a lot of the songs are collaborations. Is collaborating with other songwriters your preferred method of writing songs?
Chris Tomlin: Yeah. It has really become that. I love that. Not just anybody, but I have a good group of guys that I really enjoy writing with, and we write a lot of songs together. Guys who really seem to get it. We all have the same heart of writing songs for the church, and really being open-handed and saying, “Lord, take these songs and do whatever you want.” I think it makes the song better, stronger, when you have some really amazing songwriters around you and you’re in it together. There’s strength in it.
Songfacts: One of the times that I saw you perform, Louie Giglio spoke, and I notice that he’s also a frequent collaborator of yours. I know what a great speaker he is, but I don’t really see his musical side. But you do. Tell me a little bit about his musical personality, maybe that side that we don’t see of him.
Chris: He’s got a really great gift when it comes to lyrics. As far as words, that’s his gifting. He has great, inspiring thoughts. As a pastor, as a leader, and a communicator, it’s a great vision. So when he sets out a vision for something, we just run with it in songs. Sometimes he comes and has been throwing a lyric around in his head, or it’ll be in his journal, and that’s how a lot of his songs have come. “I Lift My Hands,” the single from our latest record, is a perfect example, something that came from him and I took it and crafted a song around the idea.
Songfacts: Does he come to you with ideas and say, “Chris, I’ve got this great idea for a song and I’ve got some ideas, can you help me complete it?”
Chris: No, it’s usually me saying, “Hey, man, do you have any ideas?” Because he never pushes any ideas along to me. But it’s usually, “Hey, man, anything kind of bubbled up?” And usually there’s something in there. I try to come to him a few times a year.
Songfacts: So he’s your go-to guy, then, in a lot of ways?
Chris: Yeah. Matt Redman, Jason Ingram, Matt Maher, there are some guys that have really, over the last couple of years, I’ve started writing a lot of songs with, and just really enjoy that process with these guys.
Songfacts: Do songs generally come quickly for you?
Chris: They don’t. Every song is a different kind of process. On this latest record, which spans the time of about 12 years, “We Fall Down” was the first song that I published and started finding its way around the churches, and that was a song that came really, really fast. And the song “Forever,” which was an early song of mine, it took – no pun intended – forever to write that song. It was just such a labor of love, really. Others come quicker, but I have a perfectionist mentality, so I always rewrite: I can make the verse better, okay, now I can make the chorus better. I usually don’t just write something and throw it out there. It goes through a lot of different channels for me.
Songfacts: The song “How Great is Our God” is a song that the collection is titled after. Do you remember any stories about writing that song, as far as where the ideas came from and what that experience was like?
Chris: I wrote that song when I was living in Austin, Texas. I remember sitting on my sofa in my little apartment. And Psalm 104, was the psalm I was looking at. It said, “You our lord are very great. You’re clothed with splendor and majesty, wrap yourself with light as with a garment” – through those opening verses and just describing a little bit of God, the glory of majesty, that little chorus came out. I started singing the chorus and, man, I had no idea, I thought the chorus was just a little simple thing and it was. And I had no idea it would become such a song in the church, and a song that finds its way in so many different cultures, different languages. It’s so transferrable, so accessible. I had no idea that it would ever become that.
I remember I had the song, I thought it was finished. I didn’t have a bridge to the song, and I met Ed Cash who produced that record it was on. First time meeting him and talking to him about maybe producing my new record. And I remember he picks his guitar up and and says, “This ‘How Great is Our God’ song, I think it’s pretty good, but it’s not finished.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about? Who do you think you are?” And I remember him grabbing his guitar. I believe it was something about, “What if you do something like this?” And I remember he just started singing, “You’re the name above all names, you are worthy of our praise.” And it’s really good, but when you open up and let somebody else sneak in, it just makes it better. So that’s when we knew it was taking it to another level.