Multiple Grammy award winning artist Michael W. Smith chatted with BREATHEcast about his latest Christmas Album, Michael W. Smith & Friends: The Spirit of Christmas. He opened up the inspiration and ideas behind it and discussed his relationships with the A-list artists featured on the record.
Smith calls this album an "unusual" one because of its compilation style setup. There is what he calls "special artists" featured on almost every song of the holiday album. Smith said, "It' still blows my mind that we actually pulled it off."
"The whole thing was sequenced before we even cut one song," Smith said, "we had a plan so it was unusual for me." The West Virginia native says he is "very grateful and still can't believe" he pulled it off.
When asked about his favorite song on the record, Smith stated, "I think my favorite song on the record is 'Almost There' with Amy [Grant]. I mean there's just something really beautiful about the composition and it's the one song I feel all my friends and colleagues, when you play it for them they breathe a heavy sigh and say 'wow I think it's very moving'."
The legendary singer shared his excitement about working with American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. "Gosh I'm singing with Carrie Underwood, how much better can it get than that?" he said enthused, "I had to bring my A game, what a moment on the record, she's just incredible."
Underwood is known for her jaw dropping talent and Smith echoed that sentiment. "Her first take, we sat in the studio and didn't know what to say," he explained, "It was that good. I think she really enjoyed it."
The album features Vince Gill, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Jennifer Nettles, Bono, Michael McDonald and like mentioned above both Amy Grant and Carrie Underwood. Smith revealed he was familiar with all the artists to some degree.
"I knew all these people," he said, "I've known them for some time. Like some of them I know well, but I didn't know Lady A [Lady Antebellum] so well, I see Hillary all the time in Whole Foods and she'd say 'oh I'ma huge fan'. Or Little Big Town," he continued, "I didn't know them that well but every time I'd see them they'd say 'oh I'm a big fan' so you know there were connections with everybody. The fact that they all signed on and wanted to be a part of it just blows my mind."
Smith's granddaughter Audrey also made a heart-warming feature on the album on the song "Somewhere In My Memory." "I think she was a little scared," he disclosed, "she wasn't really sure if she could do it. She ended up just knocking it out of the park. You get people that want to talk about the Carrie thing and Amy but almost everybody that wants to talk about the record wants to talk about Audrey."
Robert Deaton and Smith produced the album along with help from David Hamilton, who arranged the London Symphony Orchestra.
"Robert Deatin came up with this whole idea, this whole thing was designed before we ever cut one song," Smith noted, "I've never done that on a record in my entire life. Robert came in with a list and I agreed with almost all of it."
Smith however did have creative input as well, writing the musical score for the album's elaborate intro, he also chose a few of the songs he wanted to cover. "I remember he had one other song for Carrie but I said, you know what I'm not sure about, 'Oh Holy Night', you need to play her 'All is Well'," Smith explained then said that Deatin upon hearing it called him back "like crying on the phone and said 'oh my gosh' she's got to cut this song'." The singer also said, "Christmas Time Is Here" was his idea but credited Deatin for everything else.
When writing the opening piece Smith said he had "a movie" in his head "I think it sets the stage for what's about to unfold," he confessed.
The worshiper has had a very successful career in the contemporary Christian market and worship songs have been his forte. Smith unveiled that doing a Christmas album is very different than what he normally does. "It's completely different," he said, "This is a holiday record. I think it a record that's really [has] widespread potential for audience[s]. I don't think you're gonna see people only in the faith based market that's gonna buy this record. I think you got a chance to cover multi genres of people who like all kinds of music, especially country music."
Many Christians shy away from Santa Clause as a theme for Christmas because they say that he can be a distraction from Jesus but not Smith and his family.
"Most people that I know, believers and non-believers believe that Jesus is the reason for the season," the psalmist shared, "I think the intent of the opening of the record, all the fun stuff, is it is a part of our history. Yeah a lot of it is make believe, and we all know about Santa Clause but it does take you back and it does bring up certain feelings that I feel like are not bad. I fell like we've got an opportunity to pull people in from all walks of life."
"I love that there's things that are, what I call make believe; you know? I sing about Santa Clause. We all know the truth about Santa Clause," he said. The singer includes the traditional parts of Christmas on his album because he said they "set those moments when we sort of go back in time and think about when we were kids." His album then at some point makes a the turn after the song "The Spirit of Christmas" and then brings home the real message of Christmas. "All of a sudden your in 'Silent Night' with Little Big Town and then you realize... 'Ouuu this is the reason for the season,'" Smith illustrates.
"Christmas was monumental around our home, we celebrated Christmas like no other and so when I hear 'It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year' that's Andy Williams; it's my favorite Christmas record of all time," Smith declared, adding, "'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' we watched it every year and you cant forget that song, and then 'Home Alone'. Although I was not a kid when 'Home Alone' came out knowing that all my kids who are now grown up and are moms and dads, when they were little we'd all sing 'Somewhere in My Memory' from 'Home Alone' and now Audrey my granddaughter is singing the song, it's sorta like it's done a full circle thing. It's so cool."
Michael W. Smith & Friends: The Spirit of Christmas features the song "Peace" featuring Michael Macdonald which Smith calls a "very honest, reveal yourself Number." "What a vulnerable lyric, Wow, that was probably my favorite song that I sang on the record. [I] was singing peace and then believing it. What a great way to end the album I believe," he said.
"I think there's people that can get saved listening to this record I really believe that. So that's my hope and dream and my prayer and we'll see what happens," he concluded.
To get your copy of Michael W. Smith & Friends: The Spirit of Christmas visit iTunes HERE.