Song Explanation: 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!

Song Explanation: 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 it wasn’t until we started working on it as a band that things really came together. The result is one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written, and I think it’s the best representation that exists of Flight Metaphor 2.0 (Me, Bill, Cody, and Brad). Bill’s drumming plays off of Brad’s bass line, and they carry the song as Cody’s lead guitar dances on top of everything. What I’m playing on rhythm guitar takes a backseat to what the band is doing, which really isn’t something I could say about our earlier work.

We started playing the song at shows the following spring, and it was incredibly well-received – more so than any new song we’ve ever introduced. We had just started planning for a full-length album, but when people started asking us how they could get ahold of Redirection, we knew it couldn’t wait. We changed our plans and recorded the Redirection EP right away.

Lyrically, Redirection is a snapshot of who I was five years ago. I look back on those days and see a lonely, clingy mess; someone who was unwilling to accept change, someone who kept coming back to the same wells long after they’d run dry. By the grace of God I can sing this song in hindsight, but I think one of the reasons I still enjoy it is because throughout my life I’ve found myself asking God for mini resurrections. The joy of knowing Christ isn’t that I was “saved” only when I first asked Jesus into my heart – his salvation is as real and as necessary for me today as it was over 20 years ago. His Holy Spirit continually works in and on me, redirecting and sanctifying me all the days of my life. I may mess up from time to time, but my hope is in Jesus’ resurrection. The old has gone; the new is here!

BONUS: Listen to and download the original demo of Redirection below.

Where did I go wrong?
I’m off the beaten path once again
I need a redirection
A tiny resurrection in my soul
‘Cause I get so distracted
I find myself attracted to what I
know will never pay off
But still, I always come back to it

Redirect my heart
Resurrect my soul

Give me better vision
Help me see what matters in this life
‘Cause there is no division
Between the so-called sacred and profane
I need to learn to let go
But man, I’m used to holding on so tight
When everything is changing
But you have never left me to myself

And I know that every empty feeling passes
In time you’ll do your healing
And I’ve put my hope in who I know is steadfast

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

Song Explanation: 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 with the title “New Song 20130118” 🙂 ). I had observed that whenever I sit down to write a song, I’m generally drawn to more melancholy themes and lyrics – I blame all the emo and indie music I listened to in high school! This time though, I intentionally chose to write something a little more hopeful.

Sometimes life can feel like a steady progression of disillusionment, but I like to believe that innocence and youthful optimism are still locked away in our souls somewhere – and they’re actually accessible. Echoes is a song about reclaiming that innocence. There are plenty of reasons to be cynical or jaded towards the world, but all of it is conquered by the blood of Jesus. In this world we will have trouble, but take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world! Where, o death, is your sting? With these themes in mind, Echoes acknowledges the pain and struggles of life, but like any good Psalm it ends by proclaiming hope and confidence in what God has promised.

Recording the song was a dream come true. Charlie Lowell of Jars of Clay lent his talents by contributing a subtly tasteful Wurlitzer piano to the piece. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been a hardcore Jars fan for nearly 20 years, so I’ll openly admit that I had tears in my eyes the first time I heard the keyboard track – before it was even added to the mix!

By the way, Charlie has a new project of musical collaborations called Hollow // Hum. If you like the work he did on Echoes, you’ll love what he’s doing now. Click here to check it out.

Somewhere in the corners of my wildest dreams
I hear your whispers and their lingerings
The echoes of your voice still calling me
Return to my first love
Remember what it was

Hope, she calls,
cutting through the noise
of every lie I once believed
Promising a reason
and a purpose for my days
And so I sing

There’s such a loneliness that sticks around
So many things that could have brought me down
But I’m not giving up, I’m not far from
Your saving arm’s reach
This broken heart still beats

(I still hear you; I still hear you, Lord)

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

Song Explanation: Every Hidden Thing

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
– 1 John 1:6

Back in 2013, I originally imagined the new record as a concept album called Light Songs for Heavy Souls, and I wanted each song to take the listener on a journey from darkness to light. Every Hidden Thing would have been a pivotal song where the subject matter of doubt, sin, and shame effectively got “burned away” by a conversion experience.

I’m not quire sure how it happened, but the spaciest, most dynamic song on Flight Metaphor also ended up being the most biblically-inspired. Throughout the entire song, I’m playing around with the biblical metaphors of fire, light, and blood as agents of purification. Two passages of scripture in particular, 1 John 1:5-9 and Zechariah 13 had the most influence on my choice of imagery:

“I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.”
– Zechariah 13:9 (Click here for the full chapter)

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
– 1 John 1:5-9

Musically, I wrote Every Hidden Thing as a love letter to Thrice’s 2009 album, Beggars. I know I’ve mentioned their influence on my songwriting many times before, but if you haven’t listened to this album yet, do it now.

Stuck in between material things
and the unseen
We play in the dark with complete disregard
for the sunrise

Burn it all away
Every hidden thing is set on fire
Step into the light
Expose the underside
And come out clean

Blood washes clean
Flame purifies every misdeed
Walk in the light
As he is in the light

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