Todd Agnew's powerful voice thundered into the Christian music scene with the song This Fragile Breath, from his Grace Like Rain CD. I had the very enjoyable opportunity to interview Todd during GMA week in Nashville.
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rb: One thing I wanted to talk about, Todd, in the press information, you talked about your background, so I wanted to address that a little bit. I grew up in Canada and we had two reservations nearby where I grew up, so I had some friends from a couple different tribes growing up, so I've always been interested in that aspect.
ta: It's strange because it's kind of an automatic connection with people except it's really not. Because I'm adopted, I didn't grow up in that heritage at all. I was given up for adoption as a baby. I was born and just left at the hospital. I was adopted into an American family, so that's really kinda shaped more who I am, probably much more than being a Native American or Caucasian or any specific race. My identity's probably shaped more by being adopted as part of a specific family.
rb: Did you find the unique connection there in terms of how we're being adopted into the body of Christ and all the terms that are used in the New Testament about that?
ta: Yeah, definitely so. I was one of those fortunate kids that didn't really struggle with being adopted-that's just part of who I was. As I've gotten older, most nights my adoption story is also how I explain the gospel, 'cause it's such a strong parallel. To be a baby that can't earn the love of a parent, can't earn devotion. You have nothing to offer except trouble.
rb: Sleepless nights. I have five kids.
ta: You really have nothing to bargain with, have no ability to do that. And you are made a child out of the love and grace of the parents, not of anything you did. And so for me it's so easy to say, "Well, it's a lot easier for me to understand that I don't have anything to offer God and even what I do have is nothing compared to what He has. And the fact that He makes me his child is because of his love and his grace, and it has nothing to do with me." It's a real strong point for me, it's a really easy way for me to understand that when you're adopted you don't have auditions where you get to try out for your parents and show them what you can do. You can't make them any promises on what you're going to be like.
rb: Can't really project a high school sports prowess as a three-day old.
ta: Right. You can't tell your parents your going to be a singer someday, and be on the radio, you can't tell them you're going to be attractive or smart, or even obedient. In the same way, we come to God and we don't have any auditions for him.
rb: Of course, that comes through in Grace Like Rain, the remake of Amazing Grace. I know a lot of people have really enjoyed that. Was that a song that had a special spot for you or just seemed to kind of fit in with you were doing on the album, or how'd it come about that you worked in the lines from Amazing Grace?
ta: Well, I've always had an affection for the hymns. I'm a firm believer in our heritage as the church. We've seen the last fifteen years as just a lost generation in the culture that don't have a place. We see the suicide rate go up and up. But Christians aren't like that. We're not trying to build our lives out of a pile of sand on the ground. We're getting to be part of a skyscraper and we're just another brick on it. You can look at the beauty and the strength of the art through the building. And so, especially as a musician the hymns are our heritage, as are the creeds and the masses. So, music's a lot different now in the church than it was then and we're seeing a lot of really creative music coming out right now, but not nearly as much depth, not nearly as much teaching. That doesn't make it worse, it's just different, different people, different abilities.
rb: Also, I think that you find the focus in a lot of churches--the deeper theological truths aren't really the focus...
rb: ...and people are less educated in a lot of things.
ta: Yeah, and I understand that we're trying to reach people that are lost, and so you're trying to make it where they can understand it, but we still have to have something that is spurring us on.
rb: Move beyond the milk as some point.
ta: So hymns have always been something focused on, we use them in worship. And a lot of times, it would just be taking a hymn and redoing it on guitar or something, it's the same song. But one day, a friend of mine came in and said "Hey, Todd, I just put a new tune to Amazing Grace." And, of course, my reaction's probably like anybody's...
rb: House of the Rising Sun.
ta: You can't do that. Oh yeah, 'cause they've already had House of the Rising Sun, they've had Peaceful Easy Feeling, Gilligan's Island...
rb: It's a flexible one, isn't it?
ta: Right, right. But he'd rewritten it and I was, "You can't do that, you get in lots of trouble." But he played it for me, I realized there was something special there, so I ended up writing the chorus and doing some arranging in it. When we started using it in worship we realized we had something really special because we going to take one of the foundational pieces of the church and introduce it to a new generation and at the same time, re-introduce it to a generation that had allowed it to become ritual, and just part of their lives and hadn't paid attention to the words and the truth in a long time, now they have and it's just been a real honor to be part of that.
rb: I know a lot of people appreciated that, myself as well, but I think maybe that just doing that maybe broadened your audience to some of the older people that might not have been as interested in some new rock sensation, some new singer. They might have been more dismissive of your ministry, but hearing that, it's like, "Hey, you know, this guy's got something to say that can touch me, too." I think everyone's appreciated that. I think that's had an impact. What are your plans or schedule as far as tours, future projects are you just seeing where Grace Like Rain goes, or have you started writing another one already?
ta: Yeah, the next one's done writing-wise. We're going to actually start recording next month and try to get it done by the end of the summer, maybe get it out by the end of the year.
rb: How'd you evaluate it in terms of changes, growth, differences from the current project?
ta: There's definitely a lot of growth in it, musically. Theologically, there's definitely some growth, and it's a little wider spectrum, theologically than the first one was. The first one was pretty much every song was the same just with a different tune. It was just all about grace.
rb: Which is a great theme.
ta: Oh, it's wonderful.
rb: Musically, where are you going with the new one?
ta: People keep asking me if this is going to be what people are expecting. I keep responding that it depends on what you're expecting. If you're expecting This Fragile Breath over and over, Grace Like Rain over and over, then no, it's not going to be like that. If you listen to the whole album and saw that we used a lot of different musical styles, then yeah, it's going to be like that.
rb: So it's a pretty diverse one also?
ta: Yeah, it should be. There'll be a little more blues and funk influence in this one, that's a thing real close to my heart. Obviously, we'll still play a lot of rock stuff.
rb: Same players?
ta: The people that played in the last album will definitely make appearances on this one. Probably won't be all that, we'll probably use some other people, too.
rb: When do you see that one shipping?
ta: We're hoping to go out in November.
rb: So late fall. What about tours--what do you have going on right now?
ta: We just finished our fourth tour. Right now, we're going to the studio to work on the record, and then in June and July we do camps. We'll do a few festivals this summer. We didn't want to tour. We've got eight camps this summer.
rb: Your tour will support the album when it comes out?
ta: Actually, we'll do some dates in August, but we'll need some of August to make sure the record's getting finished, and then we'll take off in September and do September and October on one tour, then...
rb: Kind of the final Grace Like Rain tour?
ta: Yeah, it'll probably be the transition tour. Here's the end and the beginning because we're really planning on going out west with this one, and we haven't been out there at all so we don't want to totally go new because we haven't gotten to share this record with them yet.
rb: Yeah, I haven't seen your schedule showing up in Denver and I may have missed something--
ta: We haven't gotten west of Texas yet. That was why the real focus of the fall was to get west. So, we're just kind of sharing that with people and telling our promoters, "Hey, call!"
rb: Who were you touring with on this last tour?
ta: Last year it was Barlow Girl and Silers Bald.
rb: Silers Bald--I've enjoyed them. I've never seen them live.
ta: Oh man, they're wonderful live.
rb: The guy from Caedmon's...Josh Moore produced them, didn't he?
ta: Yeah, they're great, great guys. I'm actually supposed to call--they called me 'cause we just built a real sense of community and family. We all really miss each other already. We'll get out in September or October and kind of do the combo finishing up the concert of Grace Like Rain, launching the new one, and then we'll go out in November with the Newsboys and Rebecca St. James.
rb: Were you playing at GMA last year?
ta: Um hmmm.
rb: So was that your first--last year was the break-in?
ta: Yeah, that was kind of the start, was coming in and playing the radio luncheon--that was our first introduction to GMA. We played four showcases last year, and we're back to playing four this year, too.
rb: How do you feel as far as the difference...You know, you come back a year being green, the ministry's starting out, the breakthrough year, the album and everything, and now you're here, kind of a four-tour-seasoned veteran--has that affected your perspective on the whole thing, or do you just kind of feel like you're where God wants you and this is the way things are going, so keep at it?
ta: Yeah, probably both of those. It was definitely strange the first day; it took me the first day to just kind of shift gears because I've grown up a lot this year and things have changed so much--they changed on the road. And so, we've just been adapting and learning and growing. But, last time I was here, Rich (Guider) was just begging people to come interview me even though they didn't know who I was just to fill up the schedule. Some of those people did and they were great...but, you come back this year and everybody knows who you are, and I'm actually a part of the community.
rb: Yeah, it's like culture shock almost.
ta: Yeah, it's kind of a strange thing. I've always been kind of the underdog, just naturally, that's kind of my personality, so to come in and actually be a part, was a really strange transition. But, I've been in the pastoral ministry for so long, God has just really moved in my heart that, "Hey, I have you here for a reason and it's to continue to meet people and minister to people. It's not a career thing, you know even GMA week is about people." And so we'll just come in and try to do that and see how He wants to be glorified in our lives here.
rb: Do you have a chance to read? I know it's tiring on the road, and you hear the stories. Someone with you that's got an interest in pastoral things and that and obviously, reading is an important part of growing theologically and learning and studying. Obviously, after a show, even you're wound up you're still tired and it can be hard to focus. Do you find it difficult to find time to do as much studying? I mean, we all find trouble getting as much studying as we would like...
rb: ...but do you find it difficult to get that time to grow spiritually and theologically and studying the Word?
ta: Not really, it's more just a discipline issue, just do it. The advantage I have is that we drive vans for a long period of time, so I can study, but then the advantage I have over most people, is most people have to study and then go to work, or study and then go fix dinner for somebody, or study and then go do this. I can study and then sit in a van for four hours driving and just meditate on what God is teaching me and continue to let it teach me and to mold my thoughts... So that's very helpful in personal growth kind of things. It's been hurtful in that--this year's been hurtful in the creative kinds of thing. It's a total lifestyle change. So while I can study and stuff in the car, you can't really just sit around and play guitar and mess on the piano.
rb: Piano would be tough.
ta: Yeah, that'd be difficult.
rb: Have you heard of Dave Beegle? He's a guitarist from Colorado. He's really good. He plays with guys like Phil Keaggy and that. He just did a tour recently with Eric Johnson.
ta: Oh wow!
rb: But, he said one reason he married his wife is because she had a truck big enough that, when she drove, he could play guitar in the front seat and work on songs. That may be the trick there--find a wife that's got a big truck.
ta: (chuckle) I'll have change some of my stipulations.
rb: Or play a small guitar.
ta: Right, right!
rb: In terms of GMA week, like you said, there's a big transition coming from being the unknown to people probably pestering Rich to get you on the list... Obviously there's always that danger, the ego side of things we all have and it's easy to get comfortable and to get to the point where we kind of enjoy the attention, whatever aspect it is. How do you guard against that kind of thing? Just a matter of prayer and being aware of that potential danger--is that the best you think to avoid it for young artists?
ta: Well, I guess it's different in young artists and in me 'cause I'm not a twenty-two year old kid getting started. For me, God kicked my tail for a long time, and so by the time I got here, I understood very well that this is not about me and anything that happens is not for my glory. So we have really made that a high item on the agenda and make sure that goes where it's supposed to. And one thing we've found that helps us--or helps me, at least--is, I just talk about it all the time.
rb: Keep it in the forefront so it doesn't sneak in the back door.
ta: Yeah, I'm just on the stage and I'll say every night, "Hey, this is not about me. Do not be impressed with me, because you will miss what God has for you tonight." And then the other thing is putting key people around you that aren't afraid of you, that aren't just the "Hey, you're awesome." Because, the industry people can be like that, they can be so encouraging all the time.
rb: People wouldn't be in things like PR unless they had the ability to make people feel good.
ta: Right, right, and that's maybe their gift, but you need to make sure that if that's their gift you have somebody else that can say "Hey, you're being stupid."
:: Randy Brandt ::