"Hymns Present a Patient Perspective of the Spiritual Life:" An Interview with Greg LaFollette

Greg LaFollette

Greg LaFollette has announced the release of his fourth record of music for the church, 'I'll Wait For You, My Love'.   LaFollette has been involved in more than one hundred records in his career. He has worked with Andrew Peterson, Audrey Assad, Sara Groves, Leslie Jordan of All Sons and Daughters, Robbie Seay Band and many others.

He has been featured in multiple prominent podcasts and published in CCM Magazine, The Rabbit Room, Relevant Magazine, and The Gospel Coalition. His previous records have garnered much attention and have been supported by church partnerships across the US. LaFollette has had multiple placements in international advertising campaigns, and has contributed many songs to others' records.

Known for his vulnerable and veracious vocal approach, simple and effective production, and beautiful melodic sense; his conviction to equip the Church is palpable. We are honored to catch up with him for this exclusive interview: 

Q: Greg, thanks for doing this interview with us. Let's start with yourself: tell us more about yourself and your current ministry.

Thanks for having me! I'm an artist and spiritual director in Nashville, TN. I enjoy hosting parties (I had two Halloween costumes last year and thus had a wardrobe change midway through the festivities!) and I love spending time in art museums. I do my best to enjoy the small and slow things in life, but I'm as caught up in The Tiger King as everyone else.

I consider it my vocation to inspire people toward deeper intimacy with God. Whether it's through hosting songwriting retreats, planning worship services, singing psalms, recording albums, or doing an interview like this; I want to cooperate with God in the spiritual formation of his people.

Q: You have a passion for writing new hymns. How did you first feel the call to write, especially for the church?

After spending most of my career producing music for others, I turned my attention to making records as an artist in 2017. I initially set out to make a singer/songwriter record that would express, and help me sort through, my emotions and the circumstances of the time, but the songs I wrote were persistently Scriptural and congregational. That process yielded Do Not Destroy, which ended up including three Psalm settings, two modernized hymns, and only a scarce few original lyrics. As that record found it's way into the Church and the world, I realized that I had unintentionally happened upon a deeply personal approach to congregational worship that was uncommon and useful. Since then I have almost exclusively made music and created resources expressly with the Church in mind. Most recently, I'll Wait For You, My Love.

All that to say, I don't know if I felt a call. It was more like deciding to walk down the path that life set before me. It wasn't much of a decision actually. I guess I could've stopped or turned down a side street, but I didn't. Maybe that's how calling works sometimes?

Q: What are some of the values of singing hymns?

Well, first, the very act of singing together, regardless of the song, is a sacred ritual. Joining voices is an embodied way to join hearts, which is to say: something happens when we share songs.

As for hymns particularly, they are often nostalgic, evoking sweet memories of grandparents or early experiences of church. I can still remember how I felt as a child watching Len Dawson, a beloved elderly man, stand before the small number of us gathered for evening service, belting out "Blessed Assurance" with his sonorous and failing voice. There is a built-in sense of belonging and peace that accompanies these old, dear songs. They connect us with those who have gone before us and remind us that we are a part of a large and enduring family of faith.

I've found many hymns also offer a patient perspective on spiritual life. Although we live in a society of immediacy, there are some things that still require time in order to grow and mature. Waiting is such an important part of so many stories in Scripture, and it's not hard to see how impatient we've become. With I'll Wait For You, My Love I attempt to honor and dignify the sufferings inherent in everyday life while instilling hope and courage to set our eyes on the day when all things will be made right.

After the thorny pathway/After the storms we meet/After the heart's deep longing/Joy and communion sweet/After the weary conflict/Rest in the savior's arms/Over the silent river/Into the land of song

And to be clear, I'm not an expert at this. I take very little pleasure in being patient, and God knows that I'm not the most forbearing spiritual person. But when I am restless and can't sit still, hymns help me to zoom out and remember that God knows what he is doing.

Q: What do you have to say to those who say that the words of the hymns are too archaic?

I'd ask them to listen for the heart of the song. For me, the rich language and alternate perspectives overshadow the "Thou's" and "Thee's." I hope that I'll Wait For You, My Love inspires people to reapproach these beloved songs with fresh ears and an open mind.

Q: What were some of the highlights for you in making your new record?

The level of musicianship on this record is remarkable. There were plenty of performances that caused me to just laugh out loud because they were so good. That was definitely a highlight. I also got to spend a lot of time working on the record alone, and that was a rewarding time as well. The long process of writing, arranging, recording, singing, and mixing this record was definitely cathartic; and I want to share that healing.

Q: I was listening to your new version of "Softly and Tenderly." Is it difficult to write new music to such a familiar hymn?

Surprisingly, I was only familiar with a few of the songs, so it wasn't a huge hindrance. And with a staple like "Doxology," there's only so much artistic license that can be taken. Regardless, with all the songs I really wanted to breathe fresh life into them. Their poignant, and strikingly relevant, lyrics deserve a place in our modern worship settings.

Q: You also have some wonderful guests on the record, including Alisa Turner, Mission House and Jason Gray. Any interesting stories to share while working with any one of them?

Alisa Turner's music feels very kindred to mine. For years now, she has tackled difficult subjects in song while finding ways to point people to Christ. Of course, her powerful and trustworthy voice was a welcome addition. Little known fact: I worked with Alisa in 2008 on her record, 1007w24th.

Taylor Leonhardt (one half of Mission House) had sung on Songs of Common Prayer (an earlier record of mine based on the 16th century prayerbook), so I looked forward to collaborating with her again. I was excited to get to work with Jess Ray for the first time though! Mission House's music is so earthy and inviting. I knew that I wanted them to join me on "Doxology" early in the creation process.

Jason Gray sang on the song "Jesus Saves." I remember we started the session by sitting down and talking about what had been going on in our lives. We quickly realized that we shared similar stories around suffering, so, when we started to record, it was powerful to move into our common hope as well.

Q: In this age of anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic, what might I'll Wait For You, My Love have to say to us?

I hope these songs will be good company to the lonely, carrying the reminder that we are never alone and God is with us even still. I want the record to bring healing to the brokenhearted and disconsolate. May these melodies be sung over the weary and broken as they are welcomed home, and may truth resound: Jesus saves! Blessed be the name of the Lord. 

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