Songwriter Interviews

Chris August

by Dan MacIntosh

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Some people of faith just have a nagging feeling they should be writing and singing about that faith. So it is with Chris August. He's had a couple of big hits on Christian radio. In fact, one of his biggest songs, "Starry Night," was written the night he decided to rededicate his life to Christ.

He's had a few bumps and bruises along the way, in some cases literally - a skateboarding accident kept him out of action for a while. He's also worked with some fascinating people, most notably Joe Simpson, Jessica's father.

He sounds content these days, like a man who's found his place in the world, as he talks about his faith and music.
Dan MacIntosh: So why don't we start by talking about the first single off of your latest album, "Center of It." Was there any particular experience that inspired that song?

Chris August: Not really one in particular. It mostly came when I was writing with a guy named Ben Glover, and we were thinking about different songs. I had this kind of thing just on my heart, just how God is there through it all in the beginning, the good and the bad, and in the end and at the start, whatever, he's always there for us. And so we started writing a song about that. And, of course, after I had written and recorded the song, I ended up going through this bad skateboarding accident, hurting my head. I had a brain bleed and brain swelling, got pretty serious and had a rough time for a few months.

It was right when I was finishing up my record I had that accident. And I remember I got back after about a week after the accident, I got back in the studio and was putting final touches on that song. And hearing those lyrics sung back to myself, even though that was myself singing, just kind of reminded me of that. So it ended up creating an experience. It just happened after I had written the song. But it's kind of cool.

Songfacts: Have you gotten back on a skateboard?

Chris: Not yet. That was late April and I haven't been on one since. I probably will at some point, but just not yet.

Songfacts: Are you a pretty good skateboarder? Can you do tricks and things?

Chris: No. I mostly just cruise. I try to steer clear of tricks. I'm not good enough for that. [Laughs]

Songfacts: Well, I think your biggest hit is off your first album, "Starry Night," which is a great song. Did you ever hear the Don McLean song "Starry, Starry Night"? [Actually titled "Vincent"]

Chris: I have now. But I hadn't heard it before. And someone said, "You should listen to that song." I thought, "You're probably right." I was like, "Oh, I think I've heard this. I remember that." Yeah.

Songfacts: Was the song inspired by time that you'd spent out in nature and looking at God's wonders?

Chris: Well, I took astronomy when I was in high school, seeing the stars and how big that is. I mean, it is huge. If you think about it, even our whole galaxy is just tiny in the whole grand scheme of things. And it's crazy to think that the creator of all that cares about us so much and also wants to have this personal relationship with us. To me that's always been mind blowing.

The night that I wrote that song I was rededicating my life and music to Christ. I had been away from church for a while. And so that was where I went with it. For me that's definitely a very special song.

Songfacts: That's interesting. Because now when you perform that song, it probably triggers memories of when you rededicated your life and helps keep you on track, I would imagine.

Chris: Without a doubt. What's funny is the vocals that you hear that are on the radio and are on my album, the vocals on that song, those were recorded the night that I rededicated my life to Christ. I did that in my studio that night at like 2 in the morning when I wrote that song. Those are the original ones.

Songfacts: Oh, my goodness. I'll have to listen to that again and listen for that emotion. That just was coming from your heart.

Chris: And the moment, for sure.

Songfacts: I read some interesting things about you. I didn't realize that you were managed by Joe Simpson, which is Jessica's father, is that right?

Chris: Yes. That is correct.

Songfacts: What kind of a manager was he? What kind of good advice did he give you?

Chris: You know, it's funny. They were so kind to me. I can remember moving to LA and I'd gotten signed with this big record label, Geffen Records, and managed by Joe. And obviously coming from just living outside of Dallas, Texas, that's a little bit different of a culture. He and the whole family were so kind to me. Whatever I needed, they took care of me. It's funny, some of the best advice he gave me actually came a lot later. I had actually left the mainstream ministry, and that's when I got back involved in church, and I wrote "Starry Night." And the next thing you know, I was in the Christian music industry. And they've all been very happy for me.

And I can remember, I was out in LA doing some stuff, and I had lunch with him. This was after "Starry Night" had been on the radio, and after "7 x 70" had been on the radio. And he asked me, he said, "So what's been the hardest thing? Is it everything you thought it would be? Tell me about it." And I told him that sometimes one of the hardest things for me is, sometimes when you talk to people after a show, they tell you something that maybe happened in their lives, or they tell you something that they're going through. And sometimes I struggle because I wish I had all the perfect words to say to people. And I wish that I could tell them, Oh, here it is. But I don't have all those answers for them. And sometimes I wish I did.

And some advice he gave me is at the end of the day sometimes all you can do is pray for people. So tell them you'll pray for them and that you'll be thinking about them, and maybe pray with them. That advice was some of the best advice he's given me. He's a hard worker, and I learned a lot while I was out there.

Songfacts: It's interesting, because I'm a Christian, too. And a lot of times I'm on our prayer team at church. People come forward for response to the messages, and I may not always have the right words for people. But nobody has ever turned down being prayed for. Just lifting them up in prayer. And sometimes we don't have to be the Shell Answer Man. We just need to be somebody that can show people that they care. So that actually is really good advice, I think.

Chris: Yeah, definitely.

Songfacts: Is it true that your father built a studio in your home growing up?

Chris: Yeah, sort of. When I was a little kid, he did music, and he had a little studio. And basically he stopped doing music when my parents got divorced - he put it on the back burner. And then the next thing you know the recording equipment was just up in the garage and in the attic, and dust all over it. And when I was a little bit older, along about 15, I found it and got it back out, dusted it off, and of course it was kind of old, but I said, Well, I gotta do what I gotta do.

So I can remember recording on this old sports rack with an old drum machine. I had just gotten a $100 keyboard from Service Merchandise and I had a little $100 guitar from Guitar Center, and I just went to town and started writing songs. I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know how to really play guitar yet, I just taught myself. I just slowly would build up. Then I bought a computer. I was like, maybe I'll step up from the four track, that tape recording. And it's been building up ever since.

Songfacts: Now, what kind of music does your father make, or did?

Chris: Well, he hasn't written a song in quite some time. But back - we're talking, let's see, it was about 1990, about in those days, '89, '88, and it was like a singer/songwriter James Taylor-y kind of music.

Songfacts: Do you think songwriting is hereditary, the skill, the talent?

Chris: I'm sure. It's funny, because my dad always tells me that. He'll say, "I could write the music, but I could never write the lyrics." And he always asks me, "I don't know how you do it, get those lyrics and all that." That's one of my favorite parts. And it's funny, because I think there is a natural talent to it, but it's something that you have to just work and work. I mean, I've written over 1,000 songs at least. To me, the most important thing in what I do is the songwriting. Because I could teach someone how to play guitar, sing, or play piano. But to write the songs that people can relate to, that's a rare thing. And something that can encourage them to live or something greater than themselves, then that's what I hope I can do.

Songfacts: Do you agree with your father, though, that writing the lyrics is the hardest part for you?

Chris: It is for him, and you know, I guess it's about the same for me. I guess the music does come a little bit more right there. But sometimes the lyrics do, as well. Sometimes an entire song will just come to me in 30 minutes. These are songs that are on my album. And sometimes it takes me two months to finish a song all the way.

But, yeah, he wouldn't even really write the lyrics. He'd just let someone else do it. I don't blame him. It's hard work.

Songfacts: It is hard work. When it comes to inspiration for your songs, you mentioned earlier about helping people to live their lives and give them advice. Does that come into your mind when it comes time to write?

Chris: Sometimes I wonder if it should. It never does, just because of the way I like to write. It works out this way because we're all human, we all feel the same emotions, we all go through the same things. Chances are, if I've gone through something, almost everybody else has too. So I just literally write whatever God's putting in my heart, whatever I'm going through, anything. That's what I write about. And it just so happens that when you do that, you write from the honest place.

One thing I've always tried to steer clear of in songs is pointing the finger or preaching at people. I just say, This is what I'm going through. I'm just honest. If I have my doubts in God, I write a song about it. But hey, guess what, it's by faith that I'm going to believe, not because God did a miracle. I know who the healer is, he doesn't have to do it. I believe it.

And so I write a song about it. And then you have people say, 'That's what I'm going through.' And I'm like, man, that's crazy. That's what I've been going through. And so that's kind of where I go about doing it.

Songfacts: You mentioned earlier that you had started out as more of a secular artist and then you moved to Christian music. But I don't really see, in the information I studied, why you made that change. Why did you move from a secular career to more of a Christian career?

Chris: I wasn't necessarily raised in church. When I was about 15, when I started first playing music, that's also when I first started going to church. And the two always tied in. I remember I heard a song called "You Are My All in All," an old Dennis Jernigan song at a church service. And I said, "I've got to learn how to play that." That was the first song I ever learned on piano.

So the two were always tied in. At the same time, I loved Boyz II Men and I was always writing love songs and stuff. But it was while I was in secular music. I can remember I was touring, I was in Philadelphia, and I was skateboarding around and listening to my iPod I had just gotten. I hadn't listened to any Christian music in a couple of years at least, two or three or four years, maybe. And I hadn't been really going to church. I bought the latest Passion CD that has like Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman and David Crowder Band.

It got to a song called "Jesus Paid it All," old hymn that Kristian Stanfill redid. I can remember being in Philadelphia hearing that song, and it just put tears in my eyes, because it reminded me of all the music that I used to make. It reminded me of how passionate I used to feel about going to church and about Christ. And then the next song I heard on that record was a Matt Redman song called "Oh, No, You Never Let Go." And then I just literally said, Well, if that's not a sign, I don't know what is. Because no matter how far we walk away, God is always there. He's everywhere. And even when we're running from him, we're actually running to him, because he's everywhere.

It's pretty crazy. And that's one of the things I'm most grateful for is that character of God, that even when we turn on him, he's there for us. And I can't even imagine... it's hard enough for me to forgive someone who wrongs me once, let alone every day. And so at that moment, I decided, you know what, I'm going to move back to Dallas, Texas, and get back involved in church. I didn't know I was going to be in the Christian music industry. I just wanted to serve at my church and volunteer and run my recording studio. And next thing you know, I wrote "Starry Night," and here I am.

February 1, 2013. Get more at chrisaugustmusic.com.
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