Song Explanation: You’re There

You’re There
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
– Psalm 139

I am terrible at writing worship songs. Allow me to explain:

Part of my job at Community Covenant Church is evaluating and selecting appropriate music for our worship services, and it’s something I take very seriously. There’s a (dated) saying that goes, “If you want to know what’s important to a person, look at their checkbook.” Well, it’s kind of like that with a church’s theology: if you want to know what they believe, look at their songbook.

Consider these words from Constance Cherry in her book, The Worship Architect:

The persons responsible for song selection are accountable to God for what they ask the community to sing. Selecting music is a holy duty that carries the weight of great spiritual responsibility. The implications for our choices are enormous because…song selection wields tremendous influence on singers…Selecting song texts, then, is one of the most significant things that worship architects do because they are shaping their congregations’ theology (and therefore worldview) by the texts they select. It is an awesome responsibility. (182)

This is a very high standard! If I’m responsible for putting words in the collective mouth of the congregation I serve, then I want to be sure that I’m selecting songs consistent with our theology. The music that’s popular on Christian radio or churned out by mega churches isn’t always a good fit for us. If I’m not careful, I can inadvertently use songs that confuse people or lead them to believe the wrong things about God. I need to be careful, mindful, and most of all, faithful.

Of course, when evaluating a song I’m also mindful of practical concerns: is the song congregationally-friendly? Is it easy to pick up on the melody? Is it in a singable key? What’s the melodic range? Is it in a style or genre that works for my church, and if not, can I adjust it? Does the instrumentation make sense for our team? Is it worth pushing musical boundaries for the sake of good theology? Etcetera, etcetera.

So what does this have to do with You’re There? Well, You’re There is a worship song, and it’s one of the only worship songs I’ve written that I actually like. Most of the time, I overthink it. If I sit down with the goal to write a worship song, I get bogged down asking all of the questions listed above before I write a single note or lyric. What comes out is something clunky, or too heady, or so mind-numbingly simple that it sounds like a poorly written Tomlin knockoff.

So what was the difference this time? I threw my “worship rules” out the window, and, instead, tried to write an honest song that doesn’t suck. Does this mean that my concerns about congregational worship don’t matter? Hardly! But what I realized is that if I’m a follower of Jesus and I care about good theology already, it will naturally be reflected in the songs that I write. Will I always hit a homerun? No, but not every song that I write needs to be sung by my church. I just need to keep trying to write good songs, and once they’re complete I can evaluate them based on the criteria that’s important to me.

I recognize that this entry is more about my philosophy of songwriting, but I figure some of you might appreciate having the curtain drawn back a bit. This is the kind of stuff that worship leaders and songwriters are thinking about all the time!

Fun Fact: You’re There is used as the opening music for the Husker Football Fan Podcast. It’s the kind of thing that happens when one of the co-hosts is in a band 🙂

When I’m surrounded by friends, you’re there
When I’m alone in my bed, you’re there
Through the night and the day
When asleep or awake
I will not be afraid, ‘cause you’re there

Oh, you’re everywhere
And you’ve made my heart your home
Yeah, you’re always there
And I will never be alone

When I’ve figured it out, you’re there
When I’m scared by my doubts, you’re there
When the world’s crashing down
And there’s no one around
Still your mercy abounds, ‘cause you’re there

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

The Perfect Paradox: 10 Years

Ten years ago today, The Perfect Paradox released our self-titled album. Ten years! This is the first record I ever made that I was truly proud of, and I’m still not embarrassed to share it with people today. Sure, our youth and inexperience show through on pretty much every track, but these songs meant a lot to me and they still do. I could play That Edge at a show next week and still mean what I was singing.

The project was recorded in the summer of 2006 at Empty House Studio (otherwise known as Matt Tobias’ basement).  The band was at the height of our short-lived existence – several memories come to mind:

  • Playing the Pella Church youth group overnighter (soggy french toast)
  • John screaming in pain from dry sockets during our show at Pit Crew the day after he had his wisdom teeth removed
  • Driving to York for a show with Sequel to Adam and learning about the “Mugician”
  • Forgetting my guitar when we played at Edge 64
  • Playing with Sleeping at Last and O Lovelle at the Sokol Underground (Ben still owes me the forbidden EP with “Better Off” on it)
  • Having our one legitimate invitation to play on the main stage at Lifelight get rained out (and getting bumped to a muddy tent)

The CD release show for The Perfect Paradox was held on February 9th, 2007 at The Foundry in Benson. Within a matter of months the band would break up, which means that I still have unopened boxes of CDs in my parent’s basement. Nevertheless, I’m incredibly grateful for the time that we had together, and I’m happy to say that I still consider Ben, Cherron, and John my friends.

Instead of inundating you with additional trivia about the band, here’s a collection of photos from 2004-2007:

2004 – One of our earliest performances as “Mike Harvat and the Sleepy Jacks” at the Anchor Inn. The original lineup was me, Cherron on upright, Ben on drums, and Mike on piano. We were going for an organic “folk rock” sound at first, but that started to change when we brought in Ben to play electric.

2004 – Cherron hanging out before an outdoor performance at UNO

2004 – The band after one of our many performances at The Rock

2004 – Ben laying down some licks on the back of my car at Lifelight

2005 – Our second audition for Lifelight. Nothing was grounded, so I couldn’t perform barefoot like I wanted to (I’d be shocked by the microphone otherwise)

2005 – Playing the main stage at Lifelight…at noon. We told everyone we opened for the Newsboys nine hours early. We’re also wearing t-shirts that we got for free because we promised to wear them on stage.

2005 – The first and only “Do It for Marco” show. We briefly sponsored a child through Compassion International, but they lost him. Apparently this was one of John’s first shows with us.

2006 – We thought it would be funny to wear sweaters when we played at UNL. It wasn’t funny.

2006 – Playing the Lutters’ “First Thursdays” event in Sioux City. The stage was like a tiny cave that threw all the sound back at us…thanks to Ben’s cymbals I experienced significant hearing loss that night.

2006 – Playing at Benson Nite next to The Foundry. Our friend Aaron was filling in on bass. I met Danny Sabra that night.

2006 – Recording the album, part one

2006 – Recording the album, part two

2006 – Recording the album, part three

2006 – Recording the album, part four

Our friend Telia created the artwork for the album. The original canvas hangs in my office at work.

Artwork sketch, part one

Art sketch, part two

2007 – Our CD release show at The Foundry

Last but not least, I’ve uploaded the album to Noisetrade, and you can download it for free right here:

If you ever came to a Perfect Paradox show, listened to The Perfect Paradox on Myspace, bought a Perfect Paradox t-shirt or CD, or were in one of the various incarnations of The Perfect Paradox, thank you!

My Favorite Albums of 2016

I don’t know what happened, but 2016 was a year of music releases that I actually liked. Off the top of my head I couldn’t name my “album of the year” for 2015 – I had to go back to last year’s post and discover that it was Gungor’s One Wild Life: Soul (which I still stand by). Other than that, the past few years have been a blur of releases ranging from ok to downright disappointing.

Not so this year! Sure, a lot of folks hated on 2016 for a myriad of reasons, including the passing of the likes of Prince and Leonard Cohen. But when it comes to new music, it’s been a wonderful year for my ears. This post lists my top 5, along with some honorable mentions and a couple of duds.

If you’re so inclined, check out my Spotify playlist of songs that I liked this year.

5. Civilian – You Wouldn’t Believe What Privilege Costs

This was a late and unexpected addition to my musical library for 2016, but I’m so glad I found Civilian. Ryan Alexander and company have self-produced (and almost self-released, until T&N stepped in) a dark, thoughtful, musically intricate album that’s both pleasing to the ears and challenging for the psyche. Since Civilian is (kinda) marketed as a Christian band, I will add a warning that the subject matter and language used on this album is not for children! At the same time,  I praise it for being willing to tackle subjects that are often considered taboo in the church.

Standout Track: “Reasons”

4. Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate

Holy crap this album sounds just like 2004 – in the best way. When telling my friends about Tiny Moving Parts, I’ve described them as a bunch of kids who discovered their dads’ emo records and cut their musical teeth on Relationship of Command. Celebrate was without a doubt my “windows down, volume up” album of the year.

Standout Track: The Whole Album (Seriously though…it’s great from the opening riff. Just listen.)

3. Weezer – White Album

Sometimes being a Weezer fan is like being addicted to cigarettes. I’m not a smoker, but I imagine the experience is similar: it was cool when you were 15, but now it’s miserable and you don’t know how to quit.  You know how every time a band that’s been around forever puts out something new people say things like “I wish they’d go back to what made them good in the first place” or whatever? Well, Weezer actually pulled it off! And not in the, “At least it’s better than their last couple of albums way, but in that it’s a legitimately great album.

Standout Track: “King of the World”

2. Relient K – Air for Free

This album was either going to make or break Relient K for me. I know there are a few Collapsible Lung apologists out there, but let’s be honest, it was an objectively terrible album compared to the masterpiece that preceded it. And while Air for Free will forever live in the shadow of Forget and Not Slow Down, it is a proper follow-up. It’s smart, it’s playful, it’s melodic, it’s not over-produced, it’s everything I love about the Matts. Here’s to hoping that we don’t have to wait 7 years for another good album from them again!

Standout Track: “Local Construction” (My song of the year. This song alone is worth the “price of admission” when buying the album.)

1. Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere

TBEITBN objectively destroys every other album on this list – it’s not even close. In 2016, Thrice re-emerged from their hibernation to release the strongest album of their career. And while I’m still partial to 2009’s Beggars, there’s no denying that a hiatus was exactly what Thrice needed. The songwriting is top-notch, the band is as tight as they’ve ever been, and the production complements it well. TBEITBN is an unapologetically loud, socially conscious, politically charged wall of sound capped off by the perfectly gravelly vocals of Dustin Kensrue. Can’t beat it.

Standout Track: “The Long Defeat”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Brian McSweeneyAs the Bluebird – I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for McSweeney’s voice and songwriting sensibilities, so whenever he puts anything out I’m listening. This album was probably made on a fraction of Love Me Down‘s budget, but it’s twice as good. The acoustic, produced-in-the-bedroom approach serves the songs very well.
  • Remedy DriveHope’s Not Giving Up – If you’re a longtime Remedy fan, Hope’s Not Giving Up is a special treat. The band reimagined a bunch of their older songs for this project, and I actually prefer a couple of the new recordings to their originals. If you’re a Zach Attock lifer, be sure to check it out.
  • RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool – Look, Radiohead is never going to make another album like The Bends. Even so, I’ve loved most of their albums…but TKOL was a trainwreck. A Moon Shaped Pool, thankfully, is nothing like it, capturing a cohesive aesthetic and something akin to actual human emotion. If you’re a fan of Kid A, give this one a shot.
  • Joyce ManorCody – This album had the potential to be in my top five, but man these guys are crude. I love the music but I just can’t recommend an album as flippantly licentious as Cody. Nevertheless, “Last You Heard of Me” is a love letter to the grungy slacker rock of the 90’s and it’s constantly on my playlist.


  • House of HeroesColors – Ummm, where do I start? Fans waited way too long for an underwhelming album that received nonexistent support and whose crowdfunding campaign was mishandled. Colors tries to recapture the magic of HOH’s earlier albums with its recurring concept and musical themes, but it never gets there. Whereas Cold Hard Want was the opus of a band that was tired of apologizing for rocking, Colors is an overthought mess. There’s one or two diamonds in the rough, but that’s about it. In spite of it all, “We Make Our Songs” is a great song that made my playlist.
  • Jimmy Eat WorldIntegrity Blues – A lot of folks have praised this album as some kind of comeback, but it’s a hard pass (the baby) for me. There are a couple of almost memorable songs on it, but I can’t remember their names. I don’t think I’ve listened to it since the first couple of weeks after it came out.
  • SwitchfootWhere the Light Shines Through – There’s nothing wrong with this album per se, and I like it more than Fading West, but it’s about what you’d expect from Switchfoot at this point. There are a few standout tracks that I really enjoy, but beyond that it’s not an album I often listen to from start to finish.

Comeback of the Year: John Reuben
You’d think that with the high praise I had for Thrice that they’d be my “comeback of the year,” but you’d be wrong! Back in September, John Reuben surprised everyone and released the completely unexpected single, Old As Religion. It captures an energy and a sense of urgency that wasn’t present on his last couple of records. I’m pulling for a full album in 2017.

So there you have it. If  you actually read this entire article, thank you. And if you disagree with me, that’s ok…there’s plenty of great music to go around 🙂


Song Explanation: Redirection

Redirection Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

2012 was a watershed year for Flight Metaphor, and it started with Redirection. I recorded an acoustic demo of the song in December of the previous year, but … [Continue reading]

Song Explanation: Echoes

Echoes Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. – Isaiah 59:1

Echoes is a simple song of devotion that I wrote in one sitting on January 18th, 2013 (I only remember the date because I originally posted the demo to soundcloud … [Continue reading]