Dove award winning Aaron Shust has become a mainstay in contemporary Christian music 2006 when his hit single "My Savior, My God," became a #1 on 6 different charts. And his Centricity Records debut "This is What We Believe" charter for him his biggest single to date "My Hope is You." Solidifying his status as one of Christian music's stalwart artists is last year's "God of Brilliant Lights."
Aaron Shust has just released his debut Christmas album "Unto Us." Travelling to Czech Republic to record with the Prague Symphony Orchestra for 8 of the 10 songs, they have created a musical masterpiece as if it was made for a Disney Christmas movie.
We are honored to be able to catch up with Aaron Shust for this exclusive Hallels' interview.
Hallels: Congratulations on the release of your new Christmas album "Unto Us." Why did you decide to release a Christmas album?
I've always wanted to make a Christmas Album. It's some of my favorite music because of its intentional and often universal sounds; majestic, holy, celebrative, joyous, etc. I grew up on the big sounds of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant and the ubiquitous orchestral sounds of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby Christmas albums, so I wanted to capture that large sound.
Hallels: What I like about "Unto Us" is that you have chosen not to recycle the old carols. Rather, you were not afraid to include an album full of original Christmas songs. Why did you choose this route of writing your own Christmas songs?
Actually, I used eight Christmas Carols throughout this record. We Three Kings, Angels from the Realms of Glory, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, O Come All Ye Faithful, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Good Christian Men Rejoice and Go Tell it on the Mountain. We even gave a cameo to Handel's Messiah in Unto Us. We used these carols, or portions of these carols, within the new songs to give that sense of familiarity and comfort that is so wonderful during this season of remembrance and celebration. Hopefully, even the new moments feel like Christmas should feel and the lyric is undoubtedly about the Savior's birth, but I wanted strains of the old laced in with the new.
Hallels: On this Christmas album, you have such a rich and glorious sound that even involves the Prague Symphony Orchestra. It really captures the sounds of Christmas so majestically. How long did it take you to plan out the music that accompanied these songs?
David Hamilton arranged, scored and conducted the orchestra and choirs, as well as produced the entire record. He also contributed in the songwriting process on four of the songs. We began working together, quite feverishly, thirteen months before the album was released. I had begun writing the songs about three years ago, with choir and orchestra in mind, but we didn't begin the pre-production process until September 2013. We recorded the band in January 2014 and then traveled to Prague the next month. Choirs were recorded in Nashville, TN in March and April 2014. It's was a long but lovely process.
Hallels: Do you find writing Christmas songs more challenging than the songs you normally write?
I enjoyed the focused theme, knowing exactly what I wanted to write about, the angels' announcement in Gloria, Mary's realization of Jesus being God with us in Sanctuary, Israel's joy at realizing the Messiah had come in Unto Us. It was an exciting time of writing.
Hallels: I really love the song "Bethlehem" where you even embedded lines from the carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem." And in my review of the album, I raved about "Sanctuary." There's just too many great songs. Do you yourself have a favorite or two? And why?
Bethlehem is simply a new melody that I had been humming for years, and one evening I realized that the meter of the lyric from O Little Town of Bethlehem fit perfectly. I usually shy away from reinventing melodies I already adore but I loved the tender pairing of those lyrics with my new melody. I just had to do it, but I paid tribute to the original by ending the song with an English Horn playing that gorgeous melody. I'd say Gloria, Sanctuary and Bethlehem are my favorites because they capture the peace and grandeur quite well, I believe.
Hallels: What does Christmas mean to you personally?
It's two things. It's the emotional Sabbath of the Year, like a Sunday of the Week, even though I lead worship at my local church and the day is often full of church activities, as something happens in my soul on a Sunday afternoon where I can truly rest. Even if December is busy, I find my soul at rest. But more than a season of soul-rest, we get to celebrate God's rescue mission. His infiltration into our world with a master design to save us, and He did so in such beautiful fashion. I love every aspect of the Advent Story.
Hallels: For our readers who would like to purchase "Unto Us" and/or find out more about you, where can they go?