Phil Wickham Brings ‘Praise Party’ to New Album ‘I Believe’: ‘I’m Writing in a Way That Is Everybody’s Story’ – Billboard
Written by GRB on 18/08/2023
Nearly a decade after earning a 10-week No. 1 run atop Billboard’s Christian Airplay chart with “This Is Amazing Grace,” California native and worship leader Phil Wickham has been enjoying a solid run of radio hits over the past few years.
In 2021, he had two multi-week chart toppers, with “House of the Lord” and “Battle Belongs” each spending four weeks at the chart’s pinnacle. This year he returned to the Christian Airplay chart’s pole position for two weeks with “This Is Our God,” from his forthcoming 10th studio album, I Believe, out Friday (Aug. 18 on Fair Trade/Columbia).
He recently made a strong showing when the GMA Dove Awards nominations were announced, earning four nominations including the coveted artist of the year category, as well as a song of the year nod for his role in writing the Casting Crowns hit “Then Christ Came,” and a worship song of the year nod for “This Is Our God.”
“It’s an honor,” says Wickham, who last year picked up two GMA Dove Awards trophies. “It’s just God’s grace. It feels like God taking some loaves and fishes and multiplying it to a place where someone would say, ‘This is worth recognizing,’ which is crazy.”
Wickham has become a standout in a new generation of worship leaders in the Contemporary Christian Music space, though his roots in the genre are familial and deep, as the son of members of the 1970s Christian band Parable.
“There’s a service and a thoughtfulness to the listener in worship music,” he says. “I’m not writing this just to share my story. I’m writing in a way that this is everybody’s story, and to give them a new prayer to sing back to God, this is something for us to do together.”
I Believe finds Wickham delving deeper into songwriting and collaboration, alongside his frequent collaborator Jonathan Smith, who is the sole producer on the entire project — an increasing rarity these days.
“It was such a partnership, from choosing songs to getting hyped about the vision for the album,” Wickham says. “We worked on the album on and off for over a year. He wrote on ‘I Believe,’ ‘Sunday is Coming’ and ‘The Jesus Way. I’m kind of sporadic when it comes to making albums and I want to hear every option before I decide on something, musically, which is a producer’s worst nightmare, in a lot of ways. But I love working with him so much because he’s the same way—he wants all the options in front of him.”
Nearly two years ago, Wickham, Smith and others visited the Charlotte, North Carolina campus of the multi-site megachurch Elevation Church, known for the hit worship ensemble Elevation Worship. Wickham and company met for a two-day writing retreat with fellow singer-songwriter Brandon Lake and Elevation Worship pastor/songwriter Steven Furtick. They made the most of the short duration, writing for over 12 hours each day.
“I don’t think we even left to eat,” he says. Numerous songs on the 14-track album came from those sessions, including “This Is Our God,” “Praise the Lord,” and “Relationship.”
“Steven is a writer on so many songs that have just blanketed church music across the world. He understands how to dig deeper to find new ways of phrasing things. But a lot of the songs end up coming from an initial seed of an idea that I have. I just don’t want to go into a session and be like, ‘Gimme your best ideas.’ Like with ‘The Jesus Way,’ I had all the verses and the chorus and was like, ‘I need a bridge.’”
“The Jesus Way” originated in 2020, as a poem that would come to serve as both reminder and self-challenge to live his life with love, grace and forgiveness. “Jesus met people where they are at. He met the poor, visited with sick people that no one else wanted to be around,” Wickham says. “For years, I thought the poem was just for me, but earlier this year, I just felt like people should hear it.
He was so moved by the song’s challenge that he hesitated to record it. “I was reading the lyrics and realizing how far I was from that being the reality of my life,” Wickham says. “I can be selfish and quick to be impatient with people. I’ll think, ‘God’s been so gracious to me and I’m not showing grace right now.’ I hesitated to record it because it’s like, I know how much I fall short of it. But it was written and it felt right, but it was a three-year process to write that song.”
As collaborative in the recording process as he is the writing room, Wickham features two women performers on the album: Tiffany Hudson on “Psalm 23” and Naomi Raine on “Holy Moment.” “Psalm 23” takes the biblical chapter and sets it to music and melody and originated from a plan for a project that would incorporate as many phrases directly from the Psalms as possible.
“I thought it would be fun to put out a Psalms project, making the music feel non-traditional and more singer-songwriter, moodier. I wrote like four or five Psalms, and the project just didn’t happen.” Wickham later came across some of his old voice memos and realized the song would make a perfect fit for his project, a moment of “beauty, and sincerity and sweetness,” he says, “and I knew Tiffany’s voice would sound perfect.”
His collaboration with Naomi Raine on “Holy Moment” came by way of an inspired moment, after the two musicians had been on the same tour. “I wanted another moment on the album where you hear more than just my voice and I thought if I could have anyone on the album, it would be Naomi,” he says.
He didn’t even have a song written at the time he asked her to record with him, but when they looked at their calendars, by happenstance, they both had the same evening open in Nashville (“It was crazy because neither of us are from Nashville,” said Wickham, who still resides in California).
They set up shop in a studio and a conversation about holiness evolved into singing and Wickham estimates they had the song written within an hour or so. “We had no title for it, we didn’t know what we would end up creating, but it became such a song in itself, a holy moment in the studio, we had to call it ‘Holy Moment.’” Wickham says.
Wickham, who is repped by WME, is incorporating several of the album’s songs while on the road on his recently-launched Summer Worship Nights Tour, co-headlined by Lake, with KB offering direct support. Wickham and Lake met years ago, when a mutual friend recommended Lake’s music to Wickham. The two began co-writing together and formed a fast friendship. They now share the same management home, Breit Group.
“We share a lot of the same team members and we wanted to go on the road together and throw a praise party, with as many people as possible,” Wickham says.