Michael W. Smith began his musical career playing the keyboard for a musical group called "Higher Ground." While with Higher Ground, he signed his first songwriting contract in 1981. His first solo album, The Michael W. Smith Project, was released just two years later. Since then he's released 24 albums, had 31 No. 1 hit songs, and has sold more than 17 million albums—while winning 3 Grammys, 44 Dove Awards, and raising five kids with his wife, Debbie.
Michael W. Smith hasn't slowed down yet. He talked with TCW about the release of his most recent album, Sovereign, and how he still has more on his to-do list.
This is a new creative chapter for you, after 24 albums and your recent signing with Capitol Christian Music Group. What was your creative inspiration behind your new album, Sovereign?
I knew it was time to make another record, so I was writing all these songs and coming up with some ideas. I switched labels and moved to Capitol, which has been a really great move. This was the next chapter of my life and it was time to record something new. So that's what we did.
What prompted you to name this album Sovereign?
There's a song on the record, "Sovereign Over Us," that's the anchor of the record. It's an amazing song. And I can say it's amazing because I didn't write it. I think it's a song that's going to be around for a very long time.
You collaborate with Kari Jobe in this album, and that makes it really unique in bridging generational gaps. How have you found your music changing and developing as you reach such a broad generational audience?
After you've been doing this as long as I have, I think there comes a point when you have to reinvent. If you just stuck to your same plan every time, I'm not sure the music would be exciting. You have to change it up; you have to change the team from time to time. And for me, I probably made the biggest leap of my life on the creative side when I switched labels. I went to Capital and now I work with producers and writers who I'm old enough to be their dad. And it was a great move on my part. I just don't think I would have gotten the caliber of songs, the caliber of production, if I had just stuck with the same old. And believe me, that's saying nothing against the same old because I've had some very successful records with my old team. I just needed to change it up, and it was a process. It was tedious from time to time, but we stayed at it. We stayed at it and we raised the bar.
There's this song called "Miracle" that was sort of the first song written for the record and we said, "That's the bar. It's got to pass that bar." And so we were very critical of not letting just any song fly by. Then you do it. You don't start out with a theme, but then you sequence the record and put it together and it sounds like it's all thought out. It feels like it was all on a drawing pad. The whole record really holds together. It blows my mind, and at the end of the day I think it's a God thing. I feel like he orchestrated it. He was integral in helping me say no to this and yes to that . . . and miracle after miracle happened.
Some of your children are also musicians. In reaching younger audiences, do your kids and grandkids come more into play here?
Well, my family is the most important thing in my life. I'm a huge family guy. I get to work with a couple of my kids. We've got a film company called Seabourne Pictures—my son Ryan is a great film maker and my other son, Tyler, wrote three movies. But Ryan actually came up with the idea for the lyrical side of the song, "Sky Spills Over." It's my favorite song on the record from an artistic standpoint. They're writing stuff that is current and progressive and poetic. That song lyrically is the most artistic and probably very different from what you find on the rest of the record. And I love it, I absolutely love it. His imagery, what he's saying. It's incredible.
In your earlier years, your wife, Debbie, wrote some of your lyrics. How has this collaboration played into your music and your marriage over the years?
We wrote all those songs for the very first record and that was before we had kids. So Debbie had a lot more time on her hands. And then when the kids started coming she was a little busy. But we've written over the years. We haven't written anything lately but we want to. In the early days, we wrote a bunch of stuff for the church that we were in. She wrote "Friends." Every lyric on the first album was written by her. And "Friends" was a song that I didn't think I was going to have to sing for the rest of my life. But it's a special song for a lot of people. Debbie might be better known for the song "Friends" than for being my wife. And I'm still singing it. I still sing it every night.
And it sounds like you still have quite a bit more on your to-do list.
I have a lot to do. You know there's a part of me that feels like I'm just getting started. I know that's probably pretty hard for you to believe. But I'm energized. I'm passionate. This is my sweet spot. Everyone wants to be hitting their sweet spot, whatever that is. Why would I stop when I'm hitting my sweet spot? So I'm going to stay at it.
Meaghan McGann is a former editorial intern at Today's Christian Woman.