Acclaimed singer/songwriter John Mark McMillan is coming to Ouachita for a special acoustic concert on February 11th at 7:30 as part of Christian Focus Week. He is gearing up for the independent release of his fourth studio album titled Borderland on March 4, 2014. This will be the first album released through McMillan’s recently launched record label, Lionhawk Records.
We had a chance to interview John Mark over email recently.
OBU: Who or what has encouraged you in your career, both starting out and developing as an artist?
JMM: I had lots of friends who played music and I grew up around church musicians at my Dad’s church
who showed me guitar chords and taught me classic rock tunes. My parents have always been
supportive. When they realized that I wasn’t going back to college, they gave me my college money to
record my first album. I was supposed to pay them back, but I don’t remember if I ever did. My wife has
always been a huge support and encouragement to me in my career. She sacrificed and took huge risks
for me in the beginning (and still does).
OBU: You’ve talked before about how you grew up in church, but had a hard time connecting with it at
times. What advice do you have for college students who have mostly grown up in church as well, but
are taking more ownership of their faith and maybe struggling themselves to connect with the church?
JMM: Church and relationships are always hard, but life inside a family of people who believe in you and
fight for you is better than another kind of life. Things always get messy with people, but I think that’s
kind of the point. Learning to stick with people even when things are tough builds in us things we can’t
learn any other way. Jesus devoted his life to people and I think we need to learn to love people. So,
real church is hard, but it’s good. And it’s good because it’s hard.
OBU: What should fans expect from your new album, Borderland? How was the process different from
JMM: I think it’s a new sound for us. On the last albums we worked pretty hard to maintain a live band
feel. This go around we wanted to push for something new and that meant trying things that we knew
were going to be pretty challenging to reproduce. There’s no programming or samples really, but we
crafted sounds from mostly real instruments and spent long periods of time building sound designs with
musicians who actually played organic instruments. We did things to create unique sounds without
digital effects, like pump vocals into a 50-foot water tower to create reverb. We tried to ignore any sort
of expectations and our only rules this go around we’re: 1.) Create the sounds our ears want to hear. And
2.) Only record what moves us personally. Besides that, we tried to hold off on our old “tricks” we used
in the past and try new things.
OBU: We have a lot of musicians at Ouachita. What is a lesson you’ve learned through your career that
you think would be good for them to hear about?
JMM: First of all, community is probably the most important. Music by nature is made to be shared. To
grow musically, especially as a career, you have to be around people who love making and sharing
music. Second is discipline. It’s super basic but you need to be good at what you do. There are so
many times that I wished I’d worked harder on my playing and singing when I was young. I feel like I’ve
had to overcome pretty huge obstacles because I was underprepared as a musician.
OBU: When you’re writing a song, how do you balance writing for the church and “singability” with
writing a song to express your own heart?
JMM: I don’t think they have to be separate things. I think when you write different songs, you hear
different instruments which each have their own timbre, texture, strengths and limitations. So I just think
of the people like another instrument or as part of the band. But I also don’t believe people need to sing
every word to truly connect with the music. People can always dance!
OBU: What do you want people to take away from your music?
JMM: I hope people hear a person not unlike themselves, and I hope my songs can give people
language and context for their own internal conversation.
Follow John Mark on Twitter @johnmarkmc