Love Will Have the Final Word cover

 

Jason Gray has emerged as a songwriter of extraordinary depth, with a noteworthy ability to convey deep theological truths in engaging three-and-a-half minute songs. The Minnesota native is steadily drawing legions of fans who recognize his ability to connect with listeners on an emotional level, offering not escape or distraction, but healing and hope. His 2012 release, A Way To See In The Dark, was our Album of the Year and garnered three top-five radio singles, including “Nothing is Wasted”, which hit #1 for nine weeks.

Gray spoke with The Sound Opinion about his newest release, Love Will Have the Final Word.

TSO: Did you make this new album with a particular theme in mind?

I have a friend who says, the songs know what’s going on in you before you do. I’ve discovered that a number of times over the years, but I think I really discovered it with this record. I didn’t even cognitively realize that I was writing a song along a certain theme until about three months after I recorded it. There is a mystical quality in all of this. It’s humbling and a grace to find the medicine you are making for others is also just what the doctor ordered for you as well.

One of the themes that emerged was the idea of shame. I think on the last record I touched on it, but then a lot of the songs off of that album were about fear. Specifically, I noticed that when I would sing “Nothing is Wasted”, I would see the audience grab onto that hope and hold onto it. People were hungry to believe that nothing is wasted, but mostly with external circumstances, like if there was a sickness or a divorce or something bad happened, they wanted to believe that even God is in this, it won’t be wasted. But I found that it was harder for people to believe that about their own failure, their own shame, and I thought, man if the Gospel’s not true there, then it’s not true anywhere.

TSO: Shame is specifically mentioned in the powerful song “As I Am”.

It’s a retelling of Adam and Eve in the garden. The idea that I absorbed when I was growing up was that when you sin, God withdraws, because He can’t stand to be in the presence of sin. If I had a concert and it didn’t go very well, I would be like, what did I do to make God withdraw from me? But when I read Scripture the story I see instead is, Adam and Eve take the fruit, do the things they aren’t supposed to, and they sin. What happens is they become aware of their vulnerability, their nakedness, and they become ashamed, then they become afraid, then they hide. What does God do? God comes to the garden looking for them, calling their name. He doesn’t withdraw. We are the ones who withdraw out of fear and shame. We are the ones who hide our presence from Him. He doesn’t hide from us; He comes to the garden, looking for us, calling us by name, in order to draw us out of our hiding places and make sacrifices necessary to cover our nakedness and to assure us that there’s a way back home. So, in a number of the songs, I wanted to specifically address hope in the midst of failure. I think it’s hardest for us to have hope in those times. It’s easy easier for us to have hope when something happens to us. But when the bad thing happens inside of us because of our guilt, it’s hard for us to have hope.

TSO: “Not Right Now” is a unique song. You were brave to include the line, “Don’t tell me when I’m grieving that this happened for a reason.” I think Christian music tends to avoid songs that don’t have a nice tidy happy ending, so they avoid reality to a large extent, particularly on radio. But I love that song in that line.

I felt it was important to not resolve that song. That’s what grief feels like. I think that’s going to be the most talked about song on the record, and the one that people appreciate the most. But I think it’s also a scary song for a lot of people. When I play it in concert, it’s kind of like a bomb going off. It goes to a real down moment, and it’s pretty hard to get back up out of there emotionally. People were expecting some kind of hope at the end of it. They want to hear “Good to be Alive”.

On the last record, I had a song about a serious suicidal moment called “Without Running Away”. It was important for me to have that song and “Good to be Alive” on the same record. That’s how I feel about “Not Right Now” and “Laugh Out Loud”. Both of them make the other one more meaningful and believable, and not like, he’s just in love with his depression, or, he must be happy all the time.

TSO: “Laugh Out Loud” certainly is a contrast. What’s different about writing songs with such different emotion?

It’s easy to write sad songs, and it’s fairly easy to write happy songs, but it’s really hard to write songs about joy. Frederick Buechner has talked about the gospel as comedy, and what comedy needs is surprise. A great punch line depends on the element of surprise. You didn’t see it coming. And yet it seems so inevitable when you hear it. There’s something about surprise that catches us off guard and we laugh. In terms of humor, what is more surprising than the grand and holy joke of God loving us, and how he doesn’t treat us according to our sins? The idea is laughter being a spontaneous response of worship.

TSO: You have two producers this time around. How did that come about?

Jason Ingram has produced my last two national releases, and Cason Cooley produced my Christmas record. I had such a great time working with him and I love working with Jason Ingram, so I thought, what if I work with both of them? It was a scary idea to me because I’m kind of a one-producer guy. The Beatles had one producer for their whole career! I like the idea of working with the producer, and we see the vision of an album all the way through, but I couldn’t imagine making a record without both of them in some way. So Ingram did half of it and Cason did the other half. I think you can hear the difference, but they both served their individual songs really well. When I hear the songs back-to-back, I feel like they belong together in a really interesting way. Cason’s mixes have lots and lots of stuff going on – sounds and textures. Ingram’s have a lot of space in them. They complement each other in a cool way

TSO: “With Every Act of Love” has had lots of airplay already. What does the song say about God’s kingdom?

That song was inspired by N. T. Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope”. He challenges us on how we kind of absorbed the idea that this world is not my home, I’m just passing through, that earthly things really don’t matter as much as heavenly spiritual things. That’s a theology of evacuation and abandonment. That’s just not the gospel, which is all about engagement and redemption and restoration. He reminds us that the kingdom will come, but also the kingdom is coming right now, and we are invited to participate in building the kingdom. With every act of love we are allowing the kingdom to come into the little part of the world that we influence, whether we are building a home for the poor, or building a PBJ for our kid. Whether we are clothing those in need, or doing laundry for our family. If we’re doing it as an act of love, then it’s eternal, it lasts forever.

Also, I think it’s interesting to realize that everything we do out of contempt advances a different kind of kingdom. It’s meaningful to me to remember that. I can do what I have to do with love and it’s eternal or I can be counterproductive and do it begrudgingly or with contempt in my heart and that does more harm than good.

TSO: How does the title, “Love Will Have the Final Word”, sum up the album?

I need constant reminding of it. Loss and pain and difficulty and regret, these things don’t get to have the last say over our lives. Love gets to have the last say. There is a finality to love.

I love this quote from Buechner: “The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”