Steven Curtis Chapman on Music, Movies, and 'A Week Away' Soundtrack
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Steven Curtis Chapman has forged a remarkable career in contemporary Christian music, one that has spanned nearly 35 years and includes a stunning 59 Dove Awards and 5 Grammys. But one career accolade that has eluded him is acting.
With two of his songs on the just released A Week Away movie soundtrack, Chapman actually makes his acting debut, appearing briefly in the film as a summer camp lifeguard. But he will be the first to tell you that it is the music that matters. In fact, his classic Christian hit songs, “The Great Adventure” and “Dive” serve as centerpieces in the faith-based musical currently available on Netflix.
I recently spoke with Chapman about the lasting impact of his musical contributions to the movie, the vital role Christian summer camps can play in a child’s life, and the powerful messages of God's forgiveness, grace, and love that
In your words, how would you describe the movie A Week Away to someone who you are trying to get to go to the movie?
This is probably a very strange way to say it, but I'll just be completely honest with it. I promise you; it will defy all of your expectations of what a faith-based film about a Christian summer camp might be. When I first heard the idea, and I'm going to be completely honest. I thought, oh yeah, there's no way. This is going to be like cheese on top of cheese. It just can’t possibly be good. I was sure it was going to be sweet and cute. I thought, hey, good on them for trying. But I just thought isn’t any way this is going to really connect with the intended audience, with young people and kids who are going to go. It took a little convincing, honestly, for even me. I knew a couple of my songs were going to be involved and I felt like that's cool.
The way the music was incorporated; it's like High School Musical. You’ve got to give yourself to it. You’ve got to go there. These people are going to burst out in song in the most random places. You need to decide that I'm going to go take that ride. And man, if you can do that, even on the faith side of how the truth is communicated in it, the hope, redemption, forgiveness, community, just people coming alongside in their brokenness, I give it thumbs up all the way around. I really was blown away.
I want to flip things around a little bit. What were your experiences with Christian summer camps growing up? I have to believe they played some sort of role in your life or your children’s summer.
My kids all got to experience summer church camp. And I would say it was an important part of their spiritual formation, and part of their spiritual growth. They would come home with some real things that can only happen when you're in that context where you get to know each other. You kind of let your guard down and you start to allow some trust to be built. You really listen, hear, and grow (in your faith). I think one of the biggest things, even for my kids, was you had to shut off all external kinds of things like cell phones, computers and all of that. So, I am deeply grateful for the impact that summer camps had in my kids' lives. And I was so excited to show “A Week Away” to my grandchildren.
You have not one, but two songs featured in the movie, “Dive” and “The Great Adventure”. When you wrote these songs, did you think they would still be making an impact more than 20 years later?
No. At the time, when you're writing a song, you just think I need to write this song. This song matters to me and this message is important. “The Great Adventure” is an interesting one. I've told the story for many years now because that song is about 27 years now and pushing for 30. How crazy is that? I think it came out in 1992.
Confession. I played it when I was a disc jockey at my college radio station.
There you go. That song has become a staple of sorts for people attending summer camp. It has become a theme song for a lot of kids. Saddle up your horses, grab a stick horse and go riding across that stage. It became this fun, campy song. But where it came from for me was a deep, pretty dark place at the time. I was really struggling. Things were getting busy and my career was going great. But on the home front my personal life wasn’t quite right. I kept questioning myself and asking how do I do this? This is so much more than I imagined. It's all great. It's more than I could have hoped for in terms of opportunities, but the toll it was taking on my family was a lot. My wife's at home with three babies and I'm feeling like am I failing as a husband? Am I failing as a dad? Am I doing any of this right? I was struggling a lot just trying to do it right. I was encouraged by some pastors and brothers, but I was at a point where I was even wondering, do I need to stop doing this? Can I really love my family and really stay connected in the ways that I’m committed to doing? And it was actually some real intense encouragement and soul searching with pastors, friends, and wise counsel people in my life. I really walked out of that room, just feeling like the sun had come, and the walls had gotten knocked down. And it’s just the fact that God's grace had just really encouraged me and ministered to me. God has already taken care of it. Jesus took this on himself. The pressure's off. It's already done when He said, “It is finished.” As far as are you doing enough and doing it right? You need to keep being accountable. You're asking the right questions, but you need to also remember what the grace of God says is true. And I think it was just so profound for me. I walked out of there and the song just came out of that. To think all these years later, that this message is still as true for me as it ever was, and it's still an adventure with scary unknowns, but God reminds me of his Word over and over again. Hey, you've been set free. Trust me, follow me. Let's see where I want to take you today.
It’s the same thing with “Dive”. It was a song that came from a similar situation with God. I really don't want to just observe what's going on. I want to go deep in the good and bad, hard, difficult, all of it. This concept actually came from a sermon my pastor and friend of over 30 years, Scotty Smith preached. I was deeply encouraged and challenged by this idea of life not being a spectator thing. It's not something you set up for. I'm calling you in similar fashion to a great event and something that's going to completely consume you with My glory and for your good if you'll trust me with it. The messages from these songs are still relevant today.
Changing gears, let's talk about a scene from the movie where one of your songs is featured. And in that scene, a certain someone makes an appearance as a really exuberant lifeguard. What was the experience of acting like for you? Was this your debut on the big screen?
(Laughs) That’s hilarious. The invitation was for me to come do a cameo for the film. Honestly, that was the thing. I was sort of like, I don't know. I’m not sure if this movie is going to be any good. And then they showed me a little clip and I thought this is going to be really cool. It's just going to be a lot of fun. I didn't know the story even at that point. I knew a couple of guys involved with the movie who I toured with several years ago. So, I kind of knew a few people involved and they are talented and great guys.
I have done just a handful of little things here and there over the years, acting if you can call it that. I would call it more acting up or acting out. I've done a few little things, but it's always so fun. I think what I love about that medium is just to see creative people. I love making records because you get all these different creative people to work with. You have engineers, producers, sound mix engineers and all the musicians. You get to work with all those guys, and each brings in their own unique kind of giftings to the project, to create this piece of art. It takes kind of a community to make a record and movies are that on steroids.
Well, let me just say, I've never seen anyone play the flotation device air guitar like you did.
(Laughs) I'm pretty good at that. I've spent years rehearsing. It was my moment to finally do my closeup … my moment to shine on lifeguard buoy guitar!
Final question, after people have seen A Week Away and have listened to the soundtrack, from your perspective, what would you like to see audiences get out of the experience? What's your greatest hope for this project?
Well, obviously my wife and I do a tremendous amount of work in the area of adoption and foster care and with kids that don't have families. As I previously mentioned, I didn't even really notice the storyline and how close to home it was. In many ways, it was hit for me and the work that we do. I think the most poignant moment in the film for me is when the girl (Bailee Madison), goes after the guy (Kevin Quinn), chases him down and says, “Hey, we know the real story and we still want you to be a part of our family. You belong here and you matter.”
And you know, that is the message of the Gospel. That's the hope. All of us are broken, and we need God's forgiveness, God's grace, and God's love. I thought that was really powerfully modeled (in the film). And I love that. As a family who has experienced deep tragedy as well, and the whole story that a lot of loss had fueled a lot of doubt and a lot of anger is an important one. That's the thing that my family knows a lot about. In the lives of a lot of kids who realize that their life is nothing like it should have been or should have turned out, is to take that message head on and say, hey, we can still believe in the midst of that, that God is good and God is doing good things in our story and in our life. He's going through it in the lives of people around us. And we can be those people who can be those agents of change and good in other people's lives. Those are all really powerful messages that make me real hopeful.
Watch a clip of Steven Curtis Chapman's "Dive" from A Week Away:
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