By Michael F. Coles - 6/18/2012
When I was having a difficult moment in my life within my family, I was driving along and came across Jason Gray on the radio and his song (Remind me who I am) hit my heart unlike any other song I think ever has. His words touched deep as if he knew what was going on in my life. Although a new album is already out I do believe from when this interview was conducted, I guess it may hold some interest for the readers. No need for a long intro. due to saying it all within the interview. Peace...
The Outcast: Hello, Jason, my name is Michael and I am the editor of The Outcast Metal Web-zine. From time to time (not very many actually) I interview artists/musicians that are not within the Metal genre of the musical realm of things, and I have chosen you as my next non-Metal interview. This past November my wife and I, and my father and I, had a falling out due to reasons that will not be spoken about at this time. I am working on an article that will soon speak of my sorrows and my freedom regarding these past few months, but for now I want to know more about you!!! As God started working in me due to me finally "letting go" and letting Him have control of my life, I was listening to AFR when they played a new song off your new album - A Way to See in the Dark - and I literally started to cry and fell in love with your song - Remind me who I am. I really do not think I've had a song touch me in this way - EVER!!! And in all honesty I do not think a musician or an album has ever touched and helped me in my life the way this album has. Please tell me in depth what influenced you in the writing of this song, what compelled you to write this song, and please tell me how the video came about.
Jason: I write the songs I most need to hear, and this is especially true of this song. In fact, in the video where I'm holding a sign that says "REJECTED", that's very true to the wound in me that bled this song. I have deep rejection issues that can't be fixed by any human being. I can't find enough acceptance to fix that broken place in me. I had a tough childhood, and this is one of the scars I carry. And so the song reflects my coming to terms with that and realizing that only God can heal what's broken in me. The song was also born out of my growing understanding of why we do things we don't want to do, why we become the kind of people we never wanted to be. The bible calls it sin, and I'm inclined to think of it as less of a kind of rebellion and more like a kind of addiction. One of the things that most impresses me about scripture is it's comprehensive, compassionate, and nuanced view of the human heart and how it works. When I read the account of the fall of man in Genesis 3, I see that humanity suffers under a dynamic that scripture calls "the curse". The deep wound of humanity, the bible tells us, is a sense of futility, that no matter what we do it's never enough. That no matter what we do we're never enough--in our work, as a spouse, a parent, even in our walk with the Lord. The great temptation is to always imagine that we're not enough. So we carry around this deep sense of unworthiness, and I believe that we "sin" in the ways we try to prove our worth to ourselves. In self-centered sex, greedy entitlement, rabid consumption, in both the big and subtle ways we try to control each other and strive for dominance. A workaholic works himself to the bone to prove his worth; a person uses pornography to imagine themselves accepted and desirable with no risk of rejection. Another talk's poorly about someone in order to feel better about themselves. Most of the sad things in our lives are a result of our desperate grabs at self-worth. I will destroy my life in the ways I try to prove my worth to myself. But when I recognize that beneath the sad things I do is a longing to be assured of my worth, I better know what to do. I run to Jesus who tells me I'm enough because he says so, that I'm the child he chose to adopt into his family, that I'm his beloved, his bride that he loves with the passion of a groom. "See, I have carved your name in the palm of my hand" He says. Remind Me Who I Am is about realizing that sin is an identity crisis. When I'm secure in God's love for me, it reorients my whole life.
The Outcast: Now that you know this creation of mine is Metal based, how does that make you feel? :)
Jason: I feel honored that you would want to talk to me and that you've taken a shine to my music. My experience is that we gravitate towards music that we feel is true or authentic in some way. That my music would find a good home with you in spite of it not being in your usual genre means a lot to me.
The Outcast: Do you think that Heavy Metal music is the Devils music as so many claim it to be? I have asked both Christian Metal bands and Satanic Metal bands this same question and a lot of the non-Christian Metal bands claim that it is. Or do you feel that it isn't about a genre of music but how one tends to use any musical genre is what it will be? Satanic, Christian, neutral, or other?
Jason: I think only a human being can be Christian or Satanic. Music, language, stories, etc. are what we make of them. There is that passage where Paul talks about eating food sacrificed to idols. He's basically saying that the food is neutral and it's what we make of it. Whether or not we should eat it depends on the effect it has on the people around us. If it causes a weaker believer to stumble, it's not worth it. The same is true of music, of everything really. It's not a sin to have a beer. It may be a sin to have a beer in the presence of a struggling alcoholic. It may be a sin to have a beer if you rely on alcohol to medicate yourself. It may be a sin to not have a beer in some instances. There is a motivation behind everything we do, so we always have to be tuned into that, and asking ourselves why we're doing what we do. Is it for God's glory or our own? It's the motivation of our hearts that spoils or sanctifies (as we are called to be co-sanctifiers with Christ) everything we do. I have a friend who has ADHD and he was telling me once that speed metal relaxes him because it's running at his speed. He said that slower stuff makes him feel anxious and distracted. I thought that was fascinating. But I think part of the appeal of metal music is the raw visceral emotion of it. There is little pretense (or at least not as much pretense as can exist in pop music). It also has an anti-establishment ethos--challenging the status quo. So in many ways I can see how natural it would be for conveying some of the more radical ideals of Christianity. So all art is what we make of it.
The Outcast: I have heard you claim to be a Pop artist. I feel that my definition of Pop must be different than yours, because I do not see you as a Pop artist. Do you really see yourself as a Pop artist? I feel that you are more than that.
Jason: Well, I'm a pop artist I suppose in the way that I approach song-structure and melodies, trying to build hooky choruses that draw people in. I love pop music--there is great pop music out there! I'm not turned on by current top 40 pop music, but music that honors the tradition of great pop music is very appealing to me. I'm a huge Beatles fan--their melodies are unstoppable! Really, I'm into anyone who is clearly taking great effort to craft their songs. I count artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello and Paul Simon as great pop artists, and artists I want to emulate. U2 has talked about not staying in an artistic ghetto, about the virtue of wanting to write songs that have the furthest reach. I think the "pop" music format is a musical language that even the most casual music listener "gets". On my records, I always record songs that are a little more self-indulgent artistically (a song like "Without Running Away" off of A Way To See In The Dark--a song about suicide), but as much as I enjoy writing those songs, I enjoy serving my audience by writing the kind of song that is easier for the average listener to connect to--short verses, big choruses, etc. Truthfully, I'm a fan of almost any kind of music. I find pop music artistically challenging because writing a legitimate pop radio contender with big melodies and hooks that also has depth and some kind of meaning... man, that's the hardest thing to accomplish! So I enjoy that challenge right now.
The Outcast: One of the things that attracted me to you was how honest you were about your lyrics and about yours and humanities faults and weaknesses. Although when I started this publication I was not a Christian, I left older articles, interviews, and reviews for history purposes to show people who I was and who I was becoming. God has used me and my publication to try and reach people out there in a musical scene that pretty much denies and hates anything to do with God. I have played devils advocate and have asked Satanic and Christian bands questions regarding the faith they represent. I feel that in all musical genres, people tend to preach what they say they believe in (but really do not believe in what they say) in order to sell more records. Not to put you on the spot, but have you ever felt that way in your scene being a part of the Christian musical scene?
Jason: Well, not intentionally, but it's so easy to fall into. I have experienced a situation I call lying with the truth. It's kind of like when you open up about a difficulty and someone offers a trite Sunday school answer, or simply says "God is in control." It's true--God is in control! But sometimes people say that kind of thing not because it's true, but because it's an escape hatch so that they don't have to face your pain, or even their own pain. Escapism is anti-Christian. God is always calling us into deeper engagement. I'm always in danger of this, and I know there have been times when I've "lied with the truth." We all do it, of course, if we're honest with ourselves. But it's the people who make a career of it, or who build a mega ministry out of it that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But God is in control, and He loves us all too much to allow that to go on for too long. Sooner or later our pain catches up with us. If we let it, it can make us more gracious and transparent. I have learned to be careful with my honesty from the stage. I used to operate at full disclosure, but if you're not careful you can end up bleeding on your audience and burdening them with knowledge about your brokenness that they really don't need to have. Some of those things are meant to be worked out with your closest friends or your pastor. Of course we don't hide our brokenness to protect ourselves; we do so to protect others. It's helpful for me to think of all that I do as being in service to those God has placed before us. When I think of serving my audience, it gives me clarity on what's good to share, and what may be abusive to share.
The Outcast: I have used my publication as a diary of sorts and have shared with my readers my struggles with my addictions and with my humanity - Sex, DRUGS, Booze, and Metal Man!!! - I feel that a lot of people are closed and have "bottled up" to what they struggle with and tend to cover up a lot of who they are, putting up a front. Is this the concept of your newest release?
Jason: Our story is so very important, and it's what helps connect others to their own stories. The moment you share something and someone else says, "me too!" is a magical and holy moment. Yes, I'm always sharing my story. My songs are very autobiographical. Author Frederick Buechner has said that, "the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all", and believes that if he tells his story as truthfully as he knows how, other people will have that "me too!" experience. So I try to do that. The typical way that I enter a song is by asking, "what am I most afraid of talking about at this moment?" That's usually where I start.
The Outcast: This new release - a way to see in the dark - feels to have a "darker sound" than previous efforts. Would you agree or disagree with my statement?
Jason: Yeah, I think it's more desperate. I'm more desperate. I've been in a very difficult season of my life. I think the songs reflect that. I think it's a hopeful album, but its hope in the shadows. What I was most grateful for about this record was that I felt like it was both my most commercially viable AND artistically personal record. That's a hard combination to balance!
The Outcast: Did you have any issues in the creation of this new album at all with writing block or anything else of the sort?
Jason: Writing is always an excruciating experience for me. I'm not the best writer I know, so I'm aware of my shortcoming and always trying to reach beyond them. I'm tortured. So songs are always being fine tuned until the very last moment. But generally speaking, this was maybe one of my easier records to make. I was more relaxed because I really had most of it all written going into the studio. I was very grateful. I hope that gratitude comes through.
The Outcast: Tell me about your album - All the Lovely losers - Is it a concept album? Did anyone misunderstand or give you any "problems" concerning the title of that album? Why that title?
Jason: Yeah! That was a hard one for some people to swallow. That's why I loved it :-) It was only a concept album in terms of it being representative of what was on my mind at the time. It's very much about grace, especially the grace that reveals itself in our brokenness.
The Outcast: What is your opinion on religion? I have always felt that religion has given God and Jesus Christ a bad name due to mans interpretation and creation of "their religion" and focusing more on their religion than on Christ.
Jason: Well, that's human nature. I've met some lousy Buddhists as well as some very kind Buddhists. Christianity gets a black eye in our culture because of people who misrepresent it, but that's how it's always going to be. I was thinking recently about John Lennon's song "Imagine" and how people rally around the lyric about imagining there's no religion. I understand people's emotional resonance with that, but I think it's quite naive. I'm a fan of Lennon, but he stacked the deck with that lyric. All you have to do is look at Socialism, or leaders like Stalin or Pol-Pot and you see that atheism has produced some of the cruelest men in history. So this is not a Christian or religious dynamic as much as it's a human one. Humans want to control other humans. Me, you, the person reading this; we all want control. Christianity gets ugly when we use it to control others. But all ideologies are vulnerable to this. Christianity actually offers the best cure for all of this, and that is apparent in Jesus and all of those who try their best to follow his lead. Plus, it shouldn't surprise us that Christianity's distinctive is grace--because Christians need so much of it! The fact that Christianity has survived thousands of years of people misrepresenting it is, I believe, one of the great proofs of its authenticity.
The Outcast: A lot of people think that Christianity is about perfection and that one will never make any mistakes once we accept Christ into our lives and that because you are a Christian that your humanity will be taken away. Do you think we open ourselves up for failure or disappointment thinking this way? I've met a lot of people who say they can't be a follower of Christ because they aren't good enough to be followers of Christ.
Jason: You've hit the nail on the head. This way of thinking is toxic and is opposed to everything Jesus stands for. If we could be perfect by trying harder, then Jesus wouldn't have needed to die for us. It's ironic that Christians spend so much time trying to look like they don't need Christ. My mentor has told me that I need to become "more acquainted with failure". A person acquainted with failure is a person well acquainted with grace, and grace filled person makes Christ beautiful. It is exactly those of us who can't get our act together that Jesus is most eager to embrace. They are closer to the truth than the one who believes they can, by their efforts, overcome their fundamental brokenness. It's for the sick that the doctor has come! And it's only those who know the depth of their own sickness who are most ready to receive the medicine that will begin to mend their brokenness.
The Outcast: I recently saw you perform live on the Call for Love tour and noticed that you use humor and you joke around a lot. Do you do that to break the boundaries between you and the crowd for your stuttering?
Jason: Absolutely. Humor opens the human heart. It gains you access to deep places. I think that joy and sorrow come from the same place, so if you can help a person laugh, you can also help them cry. Both are healing.
The Outcast: How do you think God uses your stuttering and other peoples faults / weaknesses / tragedies / failures for His glory? You often say that "through our wounds He heals those around us and that God uses our weakness to reveal His grace." How is God's strength perfected in our weakness? Please explain.
Jason: My weakness reveals God's grace, it lets people see what God's grace looks like in a real person's life, in the midst of real issues. When we hide our weaknesses, we also hide the grace of God.
The Outcast: I understand you read a lot and get a lot of ideas for your lyrics from books. One book was The Lord of the Rings. What is your opinion on some Christians saying that if you read or watch those kind of stories that you are committing a sin (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc.)? Do you think or feel one is committing a sin for enjoying those types of stories that have magic, demons, etc. in them?
Jason: It's usually people who haven't read those books who are saying that. They are fearful, and for that reason we should be gracious and kind to them. It's sad that a person's fear will keep them from enjoying such powerful stories that might otherwise enrich them. We can graciously demonstrate our freedom when we enjoy them, and if we can do that without judging them, there is a chance they will catch a whiff of the aroma of Christ and be drawn out from the bondage of their anxious and fearful legalism.
The Outcast: I understand you are a fan of Anne Rice as well. Does this include her past books, or just the ones after she became a Christian? Have you ever met her or know what brought her to accepting Christ?
Jason: Wow, you're digging deep into my book list! I know very little about her, but thoroughly enjoyed her books about Jesus. I find her story fascinating--I have her memoir but haven't had a chance to read it yet. I think she is a young Christian, though. I hear she disavowed the church, and I think that's a shame. I share her frustration with the church, but I think of Augustine who said that he who would have God as their Father must have the church as their mother. It's interesting isn't it? How selective we are with grace. It's easier for us to give grace to certain kinds of wayward people. We can feel proud of how gracious and accepting we are. And yet we offer little grace for certain kinds of church people. Either we believe in grace or we don't, and if we have grace for the prostitute, we must have it for the legalist preacher, too.
The Outcast: Who are your favorite authors and how have they influenced your lyrics?
Jason: Frederick Buechner, Walter Wangerin Jr., Henri Nouwen, C.S. Lewis and more recently N.T. Wright. Buechner has been the biggest influence and his way of seeing the world shows up prominently in my songs. Read his book "Beyond Words" and it might be easy enough to spot his influence.
The Outcast: On your live CD - ....acoustic story time - you cover a Tom Petty song. Is he a big influence on your music? Who are your musical influences and favorite artists?
Jason: You gotta love Petty! He wrote great rock songs--simple, memorable, melodic. My biggest influences as a writer--at least those I uphold as the standard to strive for--are people like Paul Simon, who I regard as the greatest American songwriter. U2 has been an influence, too, in terms of their passion, their broad appeal, and the depth of their truth-telling. There's no BS in their songs, and their always drawing from very deep waters of truth.
The Outcast: Again, many Christians claim that if you are a Christian that you shouldn't listen to secular music. What are your thoughts on this? Do you ever "feel bad" listening to secular music? Would you ever listen to Death Metal? ;)
Jason: All truth is God's truth. I love the truth I experience that crops up where I least expect it. That being said, there are times in my life where I'm too tired or discouraged to wade through untruths. The older I get, the more tuned in my internal lie detector is. Sometimes I just don't like it going off all the time, you know what I mean? But some of the most truthful music I've heard comes from Paul Simon's last two records, where he's pondering death and aging. Vulnerable, beautiful, wise writing on those records. I experience Tom Waits as a truth-teller in his songs. If you've never heard of him, you need to check out "Mule Variations". I think your metal fan base would enjoy him. He sounds like a deranged Louis Armstrong who has had too much bourbon.
The Outcast: You grew up going to bars with your moms band. How did that affect your outlook on humanity and in your music? Any crazy memories from those experiences?
Jason: A few crazy memories of drunk guys peeing off a roof onto our bus, but I was pretty young. I mostly remember loving the music and enjoying the guys in the band. I thought they were cool.
The Outcast: On your recent tour, you showed a video and pushed people to sponsor a child through World Vision. Tell me more about World Vision and have a lot of people sponsored a child from doing this on tour?
Jason: 1000 kids sponsored! It's one of the best things I get to do. We've been to Africa and other parts of the world and have seen the work they do up close and personal. The more I work with them the more grateful I am to be associated with such an amazing organization. They are the rock stars of humanitarian agencies.
The Outcast: A lot of people fear in sponsoring a child because there are those who use God in order to get wealthy and do not even give the money to the poor as they claim that they are doing. What makes World Vision any different than those who have been "busted out" in stealing from people to gain wealth?
Jason: A lot of those stories are what people use to talk themselves out of giving. Most the organizations out there are so accountable that there's no way they could be false and get away with it. Cynicism is one of the things we hide behind so that we don't have to engage our hearts. If anyone ever thinks that kind of thing, they need to do the research. To make that kind of accusation--even if only in their own mind is ungenerous. World Vision is great because of how prominent they are. Because of how high of a profile they have, they are very accountable and on the up and up.
The Outcast: Do you ever feel like a hypocrite?
Jason: Several times an hour every day. It's because I am :-)
The Outcast: Are you a political man at all? What is your opinion on politics? I am pretty much anti-political due to the fact one is either voting for liar A or liar B and I feel that politics are for the devils use!!!
Jason: That's probably too big of a topic to get into. I care about politics to a degree, but I can get pretty cynical about it, too. Again, cynicism is an escape hatch, so I try to resist that and engage as much as I can. But I feel like the Jesus' parable of the prodigal son is pertinent here. Democrats are like the younger wayward brother, while Republicans are like the elder wayward brother. Both are lost. But I am, too. One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn't want the President's job, so I'm happy someone is willing to do it :-)
The Outcast: Do you ever go up to people and witness to them when you are not on stage? Or how would you approach a non-believer of Christ if you are not performing?
Jason: I try to let things happen organically, usually in a relationship. I think our best witness is our example, more than anything we say. Do we love well? Do we listen more than we speak? Do we try to control people? Things like that determine our witness.
The Outcast: Thank you very much for the time and for the opportunity for this interview. Although I am a new fan, I just want to thank you for existing and for making music that reaches my heart and soul. Any closing words?
Jason: I don't think anyone has thanked me for existing! I love it. Thank you for giving my music a good home in your heart. I'm grateful. I think I'll let my closing words be the words of others, a few quote worthy thoughts:
G.K. Chesterton is widely credited with this, that when the London Times invited a number of writers to contribute an essay on the subject of "What's Wrong with the World", Chesterton simply wrote: In response to the question of what's wrong with the world?
This has been credited to Philo of Alexandria: "Be Kind, for everyone you meet is in a great battle."
And when I asked my mentor how he became the wise man that he is, he answered: "Pain."
These are good thoughts to guide the way we see ourselves, others, and receive each day--good or bad.