Today, worship leader and songwriter Greg Sykes releases his debut EP, Reverse, and a radio single of the title track via Integrity Music. Sykes will also be sharing his music, including songs from Reverse, while on the road this spring with 7eventh Time Down and Audio Adrenaline for the "God Is On The Move Tour."
Though Sykes, who is based in St. Catharines, Ontario and Franklin, Tennessee, has been engaged in the Christian music community for several years, Reverse marks his first solo project. He has written with artists including All Sons & Daughters, Paul Baloche, Brenton Brown, Meredith Andrews, Leeland Mooring and Jaci Velasquez among others. And his voice and songs appear on the critically acclaimed Integrity projects Blessed Assurance: The New Hymns of Fanny Crosby, Majesty In A Manger, and I Am N, an album developed in partnership with Voice of the Martyrs to benefit persecuted Christians in Syria and Iraq. His work on I Am N earned him two GMA Canada Covenant Award nominations for Male Vocalist of the Year and Praise & Worship Song of the Year in addition to a previous Covenant Award win for "Faithful" as Inspirational Song of the Year in 2014.
Q: Greg, I have been raving about your songs that appeared on "I Am N" and "Blessed Assurance" for a while now. It's so good to know that you have a new EP "Reverse" coming out soon! Why an EP rather than a full-length album? The EP is so good, I'd wish it was a 10-song album!
Thank you so much! I'm glad you are enjoying the EP. That means a lot to me. These days, the most common way that music is being consumed is one song at a time. With Spotify and Apple Music, etc., there is such an ease to simply streaming the single song you feel like hearing at that moment and it is becoming very uncommon now that a consumer would go purchase a full album of songs to get the single one they're looking for. Especially when they can just stream that one song for free or included in their monthly streaming plan. I will likely do a full album someday but who knows, perhaps releasing two EPs in a one-year period (for example) could be even more intriguing and exciting than releasing one full album every 2 years. Just an idea! No matter how the release plan unfolds and the music industry shifts and changes, I am excited that I have many more songs ready to record and share in the future!
Q: Let's go back to the start, I read in your bio that you came to know Christ first by watching a Michael W. Smith DVD. What was it about Michael W. Smith's performance that moved you?
Yes! Michael's live "Worship" DVD made an impact on me that drastically changed the course of my life. When I was nineteen years old I moved three hours away from home town. One night that first summer out on my own, in a terribly lonely and trouble-filled season of life, I discovered that my Mom had packed Michael's DVD into my suitcase in hopes that I would watch it and be inspired to do music that glorifies God someday.
I decided to put the DVD on and within the first few moments of the first song, "Open The Eyes Of My Heart," I was on my knees in front of the TV absolutely captivated by the song. When Michael got to the song "Above All," the lyric, "Like a rose trampled on the ground, you took the fall, and thought of me above all" hit me like a freight train and I broke down. But it wasn't a cry of shame or sadness, but rather I cried tears of relief, freedom and unexplainable but undeniable love. I felt so loved for the first time in that moment and I finally understood the message of the Gospel: that Jesus, who never sinned, took my sin and allowed himself to be trampled, for me. I was worth dying for.
That night I committed my life to the Lord and prayed, "God, I give you my whole life and heart, even though I'm not sure how. I also want to use music like the guy on the DVD: to help people worship you." The next day, I thought I'd better find a church. So, I did. The very next Sunday, I walked into a church a few blocks away and guess what songs they sang that week? "Open the Eyes of My Heart" and "Above All" (written by Paul Baloche by the way!) and it was the worship pastor's last Sunday! I signed up for the band and I've now led worship in that same church community in St. Catharines, ON for 15 years!
Q: Have you ever met him before face to face?
Yes! I have had the chance to share my story with him and he's been gracious enough to have me come lead worship at his church in Franklin, TN and even go out on the road with him for concert! How ironic that the first church I was ever invited to lead in worship in the U.S was Michael W Smith's church. God is amazing.
Q: I believe you are a worship pastor at a local church. How did you become a worship pastor? And tell us more about your ministry.
You're right. I've been leading worship in my local church community for 15 years! First, as a backup singer and backup worship leader, then as the young adults' worship leader and then eventually becoming worship pastor! I am part time staff at my church & with all the traveling we've been doing this past year or so, I'm leading approximately 25 Sundays a year and more if I can - whenever I'm home I'm usually leading worship! It's one of the greatest blessings in my life.
Q: You also mentioned Paul Baloche as a mentor. We have done a number of interviews with Paul, how did you get to know him? Was he the one who connected you to Integrity Music?
Paul is the writer of two of the songs Michael recorded on that live DVD I mentioned earlier... and I was so intrigued to see that there were so many writers involved in the songs Michael recorded... so when I discovered that Paul also had his own albums and DVDs and wasn't just a songwriter, I watched and studied everything he released. My worship pastor in Canada actually recommended Paul's Worship Leading Instructional DVD series to me and even let me borrow his whole collection. That same generous pastor (Phil Spoelstra) brought me and some others on our worship team to see Paul in Buffalo, New York shortly after I got involved in the worship team and seeing Paul live inspired me so much!
One night a few years ago, Paul called me and said he'd seen on Facebook that I was recording a worship CD at my church and he just called to pray for me and offered to help in any way he could. I didn't expect that call that night. Since then, he's become my "worship pastor," mentor and big brother. We've written some songs together, toured together and had a ton of laughs together, sometimes so much that our faces hurt! He definitely helped open the door for me at Integrity Music, along with some others in my life who believed in me and were connected to the Integrity family & Christian music community. I'll be forever grateful to him and to all those who have advocated for me, believed in me and who've helped me along the way.
Q: Besides writing songs for yourself, you have also written songs for other artists. What are some of the songs you are most proud of?
My Mom introduced me to Jaci Velasquez when I was younger and I was so inspired by her conviction to sing so passionately and genuinely about her love for God. Getting to write a song with her and her husband was a really sweet privilege. She's recorded it in English and Spanish for her new album that comes out soon. The song is called "Rest" and it's a vulnerable & heartfelt prayer that David Leonard (of All Sons & Daughters) produced for Jaci in such a fun way. Can't wait to buy my Mom a copy!
Q: I really like the song and words behind "Reverse" which is based on the Sermon on the Mount. How did that song come about?
Thank you! for the longest time, I wanted to write a song about the "upside down" Kingdom of God. In fact, I've written several songs in the last couple years that ALMOST said it but they just never felt right. I had spent about a month in Nashville this past summer with my family writing for this new project and I was just about to head back home to Canada and had one last writing appointment. It was with a producer named Riley Friesen and we had never met. Now, often times, writing with a brand new friend can be awkward and just plain difficult. It's essentially like meeting someone for the first time and then immediately sharing your most personal & vulnerable creative ideas... risking making a fool of yourself! But the payoff is so great!
Riley and I talked about the Beatitudes and the way God takes our human logic and constantly flips it around in ways we never thought possible. Within an hour, we had the bones of this song done but it started as a ballad and felt too slow. So, Riley came up with a loop and progression that felt more upbeat and said "Greg, just jump up to the mic and improvise a new chorus melody over this groove." And it just worked! :) Riley is a brilliant producer and when he sent the demo back to me with the post chorus melodic hook and the musical hooks all through the song, I was blown away! I always run my songs by my team at Integrity, often my pastor and always my family and a couple of close friends. The original chorus didn't include the line "Even what the enemy has tried to use against me" and it didn't include "sometimes" before "He works in reverse." The way the chorus was originally written caused a couple of people in my circle to caution that we needed to clear up the intended meaning so that it wasn't confusing to the listener. A few months later, I was talking to my wife about the song and those things clicked. Riley and I reworked the demo with the new chorus and that's where it landed.
Q: You also mentioned in your bio that you went through a time of testing where you almost lost your voice and your marriage was getting rocky. How did that time of testing strengthen your faith? Did that experience help you craft any of the songs on "Reverse"?
About 3 and a half years ago, I lost my voice completely. I couldn't sing and could hardly speak. The throat specialist said he wasn't sure if I'd ever sing again. In that same season, my marriage was on the rocks. My pride didn't want to admit either of these struggles to anyone but I ended up seeking the best speech and vocal therapist I could find and did exactly what the doctor recommended (3 months of silence) and my wife and I got really honest with our pastor, some trusted couples, and we sought out the best marriage counsellor we could.
It wasn't an easy road and it still isn't, but God is so faithful and my wife and I just celebrated our 11-year anniversary and I am singing again! In fact, when I got my voice back, the first song I recorded was the song that helped open the door to getting my publishing and record deal! This season of struggle and difficulty ended up inspiring so many new songs. All five of these songs on my EP are directly related to or written in response to the difficulties I've walked through. Every challenge and every victory has always pointed me back to the unfailing love and incomprehensible grace of the Father and I'll tell of His amazing love for the rest of my life.
Q: How do you wish this new EP would impact the lives of your listeners?
There are so many circumstances we face in life that look like the end and sometimes we look in the mirror and all we can see is our weakness or limitations. The good news is that we can find rest and hope in the fact that God can use those VERY things for our good and for His glory, even when we cannot fully understand. Sometimes, He truly works in reverse. My prayer for this collection of songs is that it would be a reminder to anyone who listens, of the truly gracious, sovereign and trustworthy God we serve and the mysterious and awesome ways He works. There is always hope. God is always working!