With the launch of above it all, the LifeWay Worship team had the wonderful opportunity to ask Phillips, Craig & Dean a few questions about their song, Throne of Praise, and the topic of Pastors & Worship Pastors. We are so thankful for the group’s generosity in answering our many, many questions.
1) Your new album, above it all, released in November. What makes this album different from your other albums?
RP: Celebrating 25 years as Phillips, Craig & Dean makes this album special. The longevity that God has allowed us to have on the radio and the fantastic people who have enjoyed our music, all make this album one to celebrate.
SC: More original material. The last several albums have included a number of worship songs covered by other artists. We still have those but there are more originals penned by PCD. I’m really proud of that. We worked harder, wrote more, submitted more. It’s been rewarding to get to sing more of those.
DD: First would be the musical direction provided by our new producer, Seth Mosely. Seth is one of the premier producers in Christian music today and his guidance definitely gave us an edgier musical direction. Secondly, as with a lot of our early albums, PCD did a lot of the writing for this album.
2) As a group, how do you guys go about selecting the songs on your albums?
RP: Each one of us will write songs, submit the songs to the process and then onto the record company. We then gather about 200 songs and work together to eliminate until we end up with the 10 strongest songs.
SC: Arm-wrestling followed by boxing… Seriously, we vote. The producer and A&R from our label weighs in, and hopefully the best songs get cut. Sometimes it’s a little dicey because each of us is protective of his creative contribution, but I think by the time we record, the best songs are on the album.
DD: We start with a pool of songs from a variety of sources and start the winnowing process. The first five songs selected are generally the easiest because certain songs just seem to rise to the top. Unfortunately, the last few songs are always the most difficult in the process. If one of your songs happens to be on the chopping block, you claw, fight, and scratch to keep in as an option. Usually, the tie-breaker comes by arm wrestling for the last few slots. (NOT)
3) Let’s talk Throne of Praise.
What was it about Throne of Praise that said, “We need to record this song”?
SC: Honestly, it was fairly late in the process when James (A&R with Fair Trade) submitted it and basically said, “Please listen again. I think you’ll regret it if you don’t record this.” We did and we’re so thankful. It’s a great lyric and melody. I love the way the chorus rises with the words, “We build you a throne of praise.”Great picture.
What is your prayer for this song?
RP: Musically a song takes your heart into the presence of God. This song describes a place that we all want to go to, which is in the presence of Jesus Christ. The song is anthemic in its message and lifts every believer into His presence.
SC: I think to challenge believers to see their part in worship. Romans 12:1 says we are to “present ourselves”in a way that is worshipful. In other words, worship is both individual and corporate and each worshipper has a role in “building the “Throne of praise”for Jesus.
DD: Throne of Praise had a very singable melody and a great lyric. This is usually a great combination. It also lent itself to some really sweet harmonies. Our prayer is that somehow this song would make it to the playlist of a lot of churches all across this country. There is no greater compliment for us than for churches to add one of the songs we record to what they worship to on Sunday mornings.
4) Favorite Song on the Album:
RP: Voices from the Other Side, written by myself and Matthew West. I was was inspired to write this song while attending the funeral service of Dan’s father. We all tear up almost every time we hear the song.
SC: Hope Has a Name. I enjoyed the writing process on this so much. Travis Ryan and Jennie Riddle (Revelation Song) co-wrote with me, and I’m thrilled with the way the lyric and music came together.
DD: This would be easy for me. Without a doubt, Voices From the Other Side, written by Randy and Matthew West in honor of my father.
5) What does it feel like to bring songs to life — from an album to a concert venue?
RP: It is an amazing journey, which begins with the birthing of a song. An idea that Jesus puts in your heart. The question I ask myself is, “Will anyone want to hear this?” But when I hear the song recorded, played on the radio and then hear an audience sing it along with us, it is an experience that will never get old.
SC: A little vulnerable! Sort of like brushing your teeth in public. You do all this creative work, tucked away, then you bring it out for everyone to listen and judge whether it’s worthy!
DD: Awesome. The energy that comes from the audience back to the stage when you sing a song in concert that they are familiar with is quite remarkable. One such song is Tell Your Heart to Beat Again from our last album. When people hear the back story behind the song and then hear the song live, there is something really remarkable that always happen with that song in particular. On some occasions, it’s as if I can actually see hope coming to a heart, right in the moment.
6) Tell us about any “traditions” you have when you’re in the recording studio or on the road?
RP: We eat breakfast together each day we record. We discuss the previous recording session and what went well and what we can improve on. We have supper together as well. It is here that we will laugh about funny moments in the studio, and our favorite memories of past years.
SC: We play this game of tag “you’re it” with the biggest key chain you’ve ever seen. It ends up in your luggage and you have to get rid of it.
7) As Pastors of the local church, what would you like to see more (or less) of when it comes to worship in the church?
RP: I would like to see more intergenerational moments that are intentional cultivated by the worship leader. I enjoy a mix of hymns, Psalms and spiritual songs that touch the hearts of the congregation and mix timeless songs that span generations.
SC: More attention to lyrics. Music is the vehicle for our culture’s theology. I hope we continue to use it for the simple message of grace, but also, challenge our leaders to not be afraid to do a more “chunky” lyric in church worship.
DD: I would love to see more freedom from the clock. As a Pastor, I have to be a clock watcher because of multiple services and because I must be mindful of people’s personal schedules. It would be an incredible thing to have the freedom from the clock and the schedule and just flow with wherever the spirit led. I have seen it in the past and would love to see it again.
8) What is it like to be a Pastor with a Worship Pastor’s heart?
RP: I understand the incredible power of music, and I incorporate music into my messages. I will sing spontaneously a hymn, a favorite song, or any song that may fit the topic I am preaching on.
SC: Love it. It gives me a perspective to listen well to our Worship Pastor (hopefully) and be aware of the important yet sometimes dicey role he has.
DD: From my perspective, I really miss being in the position of worship pastor. Being gifted to be a Psalmist is an incredible thing, and I miss the moments of flowing from one song to another, sometimes even doing something that was unrehearsed. As the Pastor, I try to allow our worship pastor the ability to go where he feels God is leading. Sometimes I miss not being able to be the one calling those shots.
9) What advice can you give Pastors as they work with their Worship Pastor?
RP: I would encourage Pastors to spend quality time with their worship pastor. It is important not to create your service in a vacuum and to share ideas, and share your heart. It is also imperative to ask how I can get better and be open to your worship pastor for new ideas.
SC: Be their ally. Understand that you are still leading worship from wherever you are. If the pastor comes in late (after most of the singing is over, etc…) it communicates something. Be willing to be whatever kind of worshipper you want your church members to be.
10) What would each of you say is one of the biggest challenges for worship pastor’s today?
RP: The pressure to please everyone is great. Everyone has an opinion about music and wants to share that with you. It is a great challenge to be accommodating to ideas, yet at the same time, balancing what God has placed on your heart. A worship pastor needs to understand the congregation, love them well and take them on a musical journey.
SC: Getting people to sing and participate. We’re in a visual, entertainment driven culture that likes to “watch things happen.”
DD: There are so many advantages to being a worship pastor today. There are so many songs and so much material available. On the other hand, the clock dictates so much of what happens in today’s churches. While I understand the dilemma, I think young worship leaders struggle to get in the flow of worship in the allotted time.
11) What do you think Worship would be like without Psalms?
RP: A combination of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is a three-fold cord that is not easily broken.
SC: What patterns would we have? Sola Scriptura.
12) You’ve been in the Christian Music Industry for three decades — tell us about a few of your most memorable moments. Talk us through a few of your most challenging moments.
DD: We were singing in Parkersburg, WV. It was a very large, boisterous crowd that was ready to have some fun. At the end of the second or third song and young lady rushed the stage. I was thinking, “Wow, I’ve never had this happen before.” Then I heard her say in the most unobstrusive way possible, “Your pants are unzipped.”
13) Talk to us about CCM United — what was the highlight of the night for each of you?
SC: Backstage with the Imperials and 4Him. We prayed for each other. It was special to see the generations encouraging one another.
DD: CCM United was one of the most incredible nights I have ever been associated with. The array of talent through the decades of CCM took my breath away. The feeling and camaraderie between the artists was incredible. The humility of those involved, and their general sense of appreciation for those involved, was astounding.