Songwriter Interviews

Jason Roy of Building 429

by Dan MacIntosh

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Building 429 is by no means a static structure. Instead, this dynamic band continues to grow and expand with each new smash Christian hit. The group first broke ground with "Glory Defined," which was BMI's Christian song of the Year in 2005. Due to this radio success, the act was awarded New Artist of the Year at the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards.

Building 429 have continued to make a big name for themselves in the Christian music community. With two hit singles in 2011 - "Listen to the Sound" and "Where I Belong" - Building 429 is quickly erecting a sound, and good sounding, structure.

The act's singer and primary songwriter, Jason Roy, draws much of his inspiration not from what's trending on social media and the music charts, but what he witnesses first hand at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he also serves as worship leader. You see, he looks at how God is working in the lives of his local congregation, and takes these very real stories and turns them into the group's songs.

It's with good reason Building 429 songs sound like they're drawn from real life, because they are.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): This is for Songfacts and so we talk about songs. I really like how you work "Amazing Grace" into the song "Listen to the Sound." Can you tell me a little bit about writing that song and how that inspiration came together.

Jason Roy: Yeah. "Listen to the Sound" actually was written, as most of the songs on this record were written, out of my small group, literally just kind of walking through daily life with my own people. I was getting ready to write this record, I ran into some people at church who made major, major mistakes in their lives, but people who, on the outside, seem to have everything together.

To be honest, when you're on the road as much as we were, and busy as much as we are, you don't get to really get into the real details of life. You kind of just get by and say, "God is good. May he bless you and keep you. We'll see you next time." But as a worship pastor, I'm in the middle of real life with real people every single day. So I got into a place where I was with these people, and their marriage began to fall apart. It was because of some sin issues in their lives. I remember getting really mad as one of the pastors going, "Now, what's the deal with this? I don't understand why they would do something that dumb." And my pastor was like, "Jason, you're not that much different from them. One choice takes you just a degree off the straight and narrow path, and before you know it, you're way off and you have no idea how to get back." What occurred to me was that he was right, what I had missed was the fact that it's just one decision that leads to another. And so every single day it's a war to hold into this faith that we desperately need.

So what I really was thinking about more than anything else on "Listen to the Sound" was the fact that all the mistakes that I've made in my lifetime, the beautiful thing was that God, every single time, is always faithful to say, "This is home. This is hope. This is it. Right here in my arms." And to me there is no greater hope in the world than "Amazing Grace," right? I mean, that's the song that, for the rest of time, will be a song that people rest in when everything falls apart. So it really made sense to tie the two things together and that's why "Listen to the Sound" was written the way it was.

Songfacts: Let's talk about, I guess your biggest song is "Glory Defined."

Jason: Well, it was until "Where I Belong" came along. (laughs)

Songfacts: Oh, really?

Jason: Yeah. "Where I Belong" is #1 now for the last 8 weeks in a row. Looks like it's going to be there for about 12.

Songfacts: Well, let's talk about that song, then. What does that song mean to you?

Jason: Well, "Where I Belong," again, was a song written out of the small group. We had a lady in our small group who was fighting cancer, and she looked like she was going to lose the battle. And I mean, we were on our hands and knees praying, because she had two little kids and a husband. We were all watching her start to fade away. She was scared out of her mind in some ways, but also in some ways one of the things that we began to see in her life is that she got to the point where there was no consolation anymore. The truth was that all she cared about anymore, and she said it many times, she said, "Take this whole world, but all I need right now is I need Jesus to be real to me. I need Jesus."

So that's where the chorus came from. "All I know is I'm not home yet, this is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus, because this is not where I belong." Now, the story goes on to end really amazing, as well. She actually has recovered fully and she's in remission and she's a part of my everyday life at church. But her story was really the story I needed to hear, because I finally got to see somebody living out real life-and-death faith. She totally came to the place where all she wanted in life was the love of Jesus. That's it. She just needed to know Jesus was real. And that's where the song came from.

What's cool is when you listen to that song, which is on the radio all the time, you actually hear my church worship team. That's them. There's like a choir and about 50 voices. That's my church worship team.

Songfacts: Is she on there?

Jason: No, she's not on it. She didn't want to sing. (laughs) But the church worship team is on it, and that's really cool, too, because this is the intersection of my life, right? I'm half worship pastor, half lead singer of a band. And both sides converged on the song that now is finally going to get "Glory Defined" off my back.

Songfacts: Oh, come on. Are you half serious when you say that?

Jason: No, no. Not really. I mean, "Glory Defined" - that was just a God song. I mean, God gave that to me. I was a kid. I didn't know what I was writing. I heard a sermon on the glory of God and I didn't understand it. So I went home and started writing out my thoughts on it, and next thing you know I'd written a song about the day we'll finally see glory defined, when we meet God face to face. But it was the only #1 song we've had in the last 10 years, until finally "Where I Belong" comes along. So it's a sweet thing to finally have another one.

Songfacts: What's interesting is, you said with "Glory Defined" it was almost like a research project for you. And now when you talk about the current songs, you don't have to do research. You basically have to just sing about your life and write about your life. So it's got to make it easier in some respects that you're writing as a reflection of what happens in your life at your church.

Jason: It really is. And I think what happens a lot of time, especially with Christian artists, we go out on the road, and we are a bit detached from the church. I have a pastor friend of mine, he said, "Jason, you need to make sure that the church is an anchor, but not a chain." So that's exactly what it is - church is an anchor for me, not a chain. And that's where all the songs are coming from. I'm 32. I was 22 when I wrote "Glory Defined." There's been a lot of maturation over that time, for sure.

Songfacts: What impact has that song had on people, though? What are some of the reactions that you've gotten from people when they heard "Glory Defined"?

Jason: Reaction continues to be, This is the song of my life. This is my hope. What's funny about it is that "Where I Belong" is getting very similar responses. The difference is that "Where I Belong" for whatever reason, it is reaching a much broader crowd base. I got an e-mail yesterday through my church switchboard, and it was from a guy who said his father was 81 years old and was a huge Gaither Vocal Band fan, and he hated popular Christian music. But he heard "Where I Belong" and it's his favorite song as he's beginning to face declining health. So it's pretty cool.

Songfacts: Were you a fan of Bill Gaither's music growing up?

Jason: Oh, yeah. Man, I grew up Southern Gospel all the way. Yes. Totally.

Songfacts: Did your parents ever pressure you to make Southern Gospel music?

Jason: Oh, yeah. Of course they did. My grandfather still sings Southern Gospel every weekend. He's still out on the road. So you can imagine the pressure that they put on me to be a Southern Gospel pianist. And they were really excited when I decided I was going to play rock & roll.

Songfacts: But I think it's great that you're bridging the gap. Because when I was growing up, there was the contemporary music that the kids listened to, and there was the music that the parents listened to. But music has come to the point now where all ages are listening to a lot of the same music, which is sort of a unifying thing. Do you sense that maybe Christians are becoming more unified by music rather than separated like they used to?

Jason: I really do think so. I know young people who are listening to Southern Gospel and loving it, and I know older people who are really honestly enjoying listening to rock & roll. That's the truth. What's really cool, though, is that people are starting to find the depth in the younger music that they maybe didn't believe was there in the first place. You're also seeing a renaissance of bluegrass and country in the younger generations. You're seeing a renaissance happen of all these different styles of music, and that's what makes it cool.

Songfacts: You said you were brought up with the Southern Gospel. Where did you grow up?

Jason: I grew up out in the middle of nowhere in Texas.

Songfacts: So you were right there in the bible belt.

Jason: That's right, man. The belt went deep.

Songfacts: What do you think is the most southern thing about you?

Jason: Probably just my accent, and the way I love good conversation. I could sit down in a rocking chair and talk for hours. That's the way that I grew up.

Songfacts: You said that you split time between a worship leader, a small group leader, and a band leader. When is it most difficult for you to separate your jobs?

Jason: The hardest part of my job is being a father and a husband. Making sure that in the middle of all that, that doesn't get missed. Making sure that my family doesn't go unnoticed. I'm wired ADD, I'm wired like really work, work, work, never stop working. And that's just the way I am. And God knew I had to be wired that way to be able to pull off all the things that he wants me to do. So the real challenge is being able to turn it off. It's not so much being able to keep it on. I'm perfectly fine working - I probably watch 15 minutes of TV a day.

Songfacts: Good for you. That's actually a good thing.

Jason: Yeah. Totally.

Songfacts: Tell me about what you are working on now, as far as songwriting. Are you planning a follow-up to the last album?

Jason: Oh yeah. I'm in the middle of it right now and what we're doing with these songs is we're writing from an interesting perspective. Most Christian artists write from the perspective of I'm hurt, I'm lost, I'm desperate for a savior. I need you to show up now. All that kind of stuff. Which is cool. That's who we are before Christ intercepts our life. That's exactly who we are before we have a healing. Before we have an interceptor who stands before the father and says, "This one's mine." But this record for us, we really want to write about who we are after the interception of Christ in our lives. We're trying really hard to write about Moses the stutterer becoming the leader of men. We're trying to write about David the little shepherd boy who becomes king. We're trying hard to write about the fact that we are more than conquerors in Christ, and that's really where we are as far as writing this new record. We want to make a triumphant record as opposed to a desperate record on this next one.

Songfacts: Interesting. Can you tell me about one song in particular that you're excited about?

Jason: Yeah. I got a song - and this is not out in public yet. But I've got a song called "Blameless" that I'm working on right now. It says, "I know exactly who I am, all the places that I've been. I was just a mess before it left me broken on the floor. I used to die inside my head with all my pain and my regret, wanted to be someone else who did things right and never fell." And then the chorus twist is just amazing. I mean, the chorus says, "But I'm not who I used to be. I'm blameless. You have made me blameless. Sin has been made nameless. It doesn't matter who I was before, because I am shameless." And that's where we're trying to go with the record right now.

Songfacts: "Sin has been made nameless." I like that.

Jason: Yeah.

Songfacts: It sounds like your ADD is paying off, Jason, because you're making music, and that's exciting.

Jason: Yeah, man. Well, I definitely love it. I mean, God has been good to me and I'm thankful for it, and thankful for the outlets that we have, to be able to come out and share the gospel through the things that I have a passion for. I think music takes lyrics where lyrics cannot go by themselves. You listen to Mozart, you listen to Beethoven, it's emotional. You feel something bigger than you when you're listening. There's not even lyrics on that. That's the power of music. And so I'm so excited about the next record, I can't wait to get it out.

July 9, 2012. Get more at building429.com
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