Involved in more than 100 records in his career with artists such as Audrey Assad and Sara Groves, Greg LaFollette is a Christian artist known for writing music for the church.
An artist and a spiritual director based in Nashville, Tennessee, LaFollette has made albums centering around important themes of the Christian faith. He has put to song familiar words from the Book of Common Prayer and various psalms from the Bible. On April 3, 2020, LaFollette released his fourth album, “I’ll Wait For You, My Love,” a collection of well-known hymn texts with updated arrangements and production.
Faithfully Magazine spoke with LaFollette by email regarding his work as an artist, spiritual formation, and his new album. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Can you provide a brief bio about who you are and the work you have been doing?
Sure. I’m an artist and spiritual director from Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve worked in the music business since 2005, and I’ve been focused on making music expressly for the church since 2017.
My dad was a race car driver who taught me to have the courage to dream, while my hard-bitten mother instilled in me much diligence and perseverance. These traits have been demonstrated throughout my life, but are also manifested in my art. As I create, I always strive to highlight hope while dignifying the current, decidedly-broken state of things.
Give us a walkthrough of your entry into the Christian music sphere. What brought you to where you are?
I have always been drawn to that magical thing that happens when voices join together and become a new thing. The unifying nature of music, both inside and outside of the church, is decidedly sacred, and has always drawn me closer to God.
I grew up in a Baptist Church in Kansas, so “I’ll Wait For You, My Love,” my new record of modernized hymns, can firstly be attributed to that. (In fact, many of the texts on this record were taken from a hymnal that I stole from that church when I left for college.)
For the majority of my career, I worked in recording studios making albums for other artists. I mostly labored beside a producer named Don Chaffer. He was in one of my favorite bands growing up, Waterdeep. He and his wife taught me a lot about artistry and honesty. Their thoughtful production, poetry-songs, and earnest voices definitely inform my music.
I’d love to hear your “philosophy of music,” especially as it relates to songs being written for the church. Songs from your albums are often shaped by, or taken directly from, Scripture, hymns, and prayers. Why put these words to song for the church?
[A]rt sinks truth deep into our lives. It penetrates our rational thinking and descends to our souls. Adding an emotion and presence-filled expression to a quotidian text can bring new meaning that might’ve otherwise been missed. The stories we bring to the songs we sing can change everything.
First, as I mentioned earlier, music has the mystical ability to bring people together and into accord. And if we could ever use a dose of togetherness, it’s now in the midst of this pandemic. Not only does it unite us here and now, but across the ages. The timeless words found in Scripture, The Book Of Common Prayer, or in our grandparents’ hymnals ground us and connect our stories to those of the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us.
Next, art sinks truth deep into our lives. It penetrates our rational thinking and descends to our souls. Adding an emotion and presence-filled expression to a quotidian text can bring new meaning that might’ve otherwise been missed. The stories we bring to the songs we sing can change everything. So, I breathe fresh life into the words, hoping that things we have read or heard a thousand times may be experienced anew.
Lastly, I have a deep need to express myself. Songwriting is often my process of working out what I am experiencing. For example, my version of the hymn “Softly and Tenderly” was shaped by a pronounced ache for belonging and kindness. As I wrote the song, I dove headlong into the narrative of The Prodigal Son (which I prefer to refer to as The Parable of the Lovesick Father). As I found myself in a place of desolation and abandonment, I longed for shelter, compassion, and the assurance of my Inheritance. I instinctively added Romans 8:33 to the amalgam: “And who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? For there’s now no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ.” “Softly and Tenderly” reminds me that there is a Home to which I can always return and a kind voice that is continually beckoning.
Tell us a bit about what went into your latest album and how it fits with all of your other works. Do you see yourself evolving over time musically, stylistically?
In a lot of ways, “I’ll Wait For You, My Love” is a direct continuation of my previous work. Again I paired melody with pre-existing texts for the use of the Church in congregational worship. This time it’s hymns where in the past it has been psalms or prayers, but the intention and process was much the same.
As for evolution, I doubled down on personal vulnerability on this record. The majority of the songs were born out of a time of suffering and alienation, so, even though the songs are intended for congregational use, there is a substantial part of my unique story written into each one. It is my hope that my veracity will beget honesty in others. I believe that that is the breeding ground for intimacy in relationship and what God desires in worshippers.
Musically, I’m proud to say that there are more people involved in this record than any before it. The album is marked by brilliant singing and musicianship. A lot of my job as the producer was just to sit back and allow the singers and players to bring themselves and do their thing.
As someone who is both a musical artist and a spiritual director, what do you think about the relationship between the two roles? How are spiritual formation and music (or art or culture in general) tied together?
My work as a spiritual director and as an artist is very closely related. I don’t really think of them as separate things. A central responsibility of a worship leader is to attend to, either directly or indirectly, the spiritual formation of his/her people. Thus, it’s crucial to consider the power and influence of what we are singing, since worship is not only expressive but also formative. May we use it rightly and wisely. Lord, have mercy.
I strive to incorporate the tenets of spiritual direction into the songs I write. Truth-telling. Courage to trust. Willingness to receive. Patience. Perspective. Gratitude. Presence. Safe space. I think these principles are critical to biblical worship. For the Lord seeks true worshippers, those who worship in Spirit and in truth, offering their whole selves, for better or for worse, as living sacrifices to God.
As a publication that focuses on issues that impact Christians of color, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the U.S. Christian worship space as it relates to diversity and equity. It’s no secret that much of the U.S. Christian worship space lacks diverse. Is this on your radar at all, and do you see growth toward diversity? Are there musicians/artists that you think are up and coming in this space who you think should be highlighted?
You’re right. There isn’t much diversity in the CCLI Top 100, and I do think that that is an issue. Women and minorities are sorely underrepresented, as are small church expressions of worship. As leaders in the church, we should continually be asking two questions: Where does it hurt? What do you need? Each group of people, each congregation, will answer those questions differently, and I want resources available for them to be cared for specifically. If that is to be accomplished, it will mean that we are choosing our songs from a much more diverse pool of writers.