Interview with Simon Brading, Sam Cox and Jotham Oakley
7 minutes minute read
With all the remixes of Alive With Worship being released, we wanted to speak to the original musicians behind the song. So we caught up with Simon Brading and Jotham Oakley the writers of Alive With Worship as well as Sam Cox the lead singer on the recording and asked them some questions.
What was the initial inspiration for Alive With Worship?
Jotham Oakley: If you trace it right back to the very start of its inception, I was walking home after work one day and just had an overwhelming urge to write a song. No theme was on my mind and nothing really fuelled that first session other than simply to write something. That happens a lot to me. In fact, the first few demos of me singing the section that became the verses, the lyrics weren't even worship lyrics, they were just vaguely connected poetic words that fitted the syllables. It wasn't until I played it to Simon and Anna that the lyrical focus shifted to something that could be used in worship. We pretty quickly agreed that we could re-work the lyrics and we'd have something we could use in our Sunday meetings. The lyrics fell out quite naturally after that, particularly the chorus.
Do you have a process for writing new songs, or does it differ for each one? For example do you always start with a melody, or does the concept come first?
Simon Brading: Each song is different. Some are inspired by a new track or beat, some from a preach, some through a personal life experience and so on… Personally, my songs are more and more inspired by theme, then a melody will follow.
Jotham Oakley: For me, almost without fail I start with a beat or loop of some sort. I could probably count on one hand how many songs I've written that started with a lyrical theme. That's just how my brain works. If there's some form of structure and a hint at the melody I can write lyrics til the cows come home. But if you asked me to start with the lyrical content, it would be days before the first words appeared on my notepad.
Many of the songs you write are collaborative and are taken on by a larger band and ‘fleshed out’ with a variety of sounds and instruments, what’s it like ‘letting go’ of a song you’ve written, is it difficult giving up that creative direction?
Simon Brading: We have a team of incredibly gifted individuals, with such a diverse mix of styles, backgrounds and interests. No one person has it all. So this process is mostly about playing to people’s strengths. Some people are stronger in arranging, some people are stronger as writers, some people are great at both! ‘Letting go’ isn’t always easy, but it’s about trust - trusting the proven ability and gifting in your team. We work hard together and keep creating until we find the one. It’s a great process.
Jotham Oakley: Yeah the trust thing is massive, once you've got trust in the team then the rest kinda falls naturally over time. Something Jack Wintermeyer's big on (that I think is brilliant) is the concept that 'the best idea wins'. Basically, you have to care more about the quality of the song, than you do about your involvement in it. If somebody else writes the hook melody, or if somebody else writes the killer lyric, you're okay with that because you know the song is thriving and that's the end goal.
Whilst writing songs you must be thinking about how these will be taken by churches and adapted and played for their specific congregation and in their own sound, does that affect the songwriting process at all?
Simon Brading: We want to write songs for the local church and equip worship leaders with fresh, new songs. Some of our songs have been written from our local church in Brighton, then spill out into Newday. Some are written very much with Newday in mind, then spill out into local churches. There are some songs that will only get lead at Newday - as there’s a certain festival vibe you get with 7000 people in a tent that just won’t work on a Sunday morning. However, the local church is totally in heart of our writing.
In the same way that the lyrics and chord sheets are given away so that church worship bands can play these songs, do you see a similarity between that and the way that people are taking these remix stems and creating their own versions of the song? Do you think this will become more important for the future of resourcing the church?
Simon Brading: With the style of music we are writing and leading, resourcing people with the specific sounds and stems will become more important for the future of resourcing the church. The chord charts and lyrics are obviously essential, but helping people recreate in the local church the sounds and tracks you’ve spent hours on is a really good way to serve people.
Sam, listening to these remixes what's it like hearing your voice taken out of it’s initial ‘context’ and surrounded in new sounds, bringing a whole new experience to the song?
Sam Cox: I've so enjoyed hearing all the remixes, particularly because lots of them have utilised the original vocal track to such creative effect, chopping up the syllables, messing around with pitch, and really twisting and contorting the sound of my voice. Very clever stuff!
After hearing how Alive With Worship has been adapted and remixed by all these producers, do you think it could influence any future songwriting at all?
Simon Brading: Yeah, I think it may influence how we lead this song live. There’s a couple of killer chord changes that have stuck with me, which I might start using.
Jotham Oakley: Yeah I'm the same. Even though me and Simon wrote this song, I've never actually led it in a worship time. When I'm preparing to lead worship me and my band spend a lot of time rethinking the instrumentation of existing songs into an Electronic style. I think because I've been living with the song for so long now, I've found it hard to re-arrange it into the style I lead in on Sundays. Some of the chord decisions that the remixes have made are genius though and I think they might finally help me to come up with a version I can lead!
Sam Cox: I'd love to have that option up our sleeves for sure. I agree there have been some fantastic harmonic reimaginings!
What would your advice be to young, aspiring songwriters and musicians?
Simon Brading: Listen diversely. Write regularly. Learn your bible.
Sam Cox: Steward your gift. Virtuosos take on average 10,000 hours of practice before coming close. Don't expect it to happen without the sweat. Same applies to songwriting really. It's a muscle and the best guys are the ones putting in the time to develop it.
Jotham Oakley: When I started, (and to be honest I'm still doing this) I literally found any free time I could and used it to write. Evenings, weekends, free slots in the college timetable, lunch breaks. Anything. If you wanna grow in it, make time for it. Alive With Worship started on my walk home from work. The Rebuild's lead line arrived in my head at 2am after a Ben Lindsay DJ set in New Cross. Don't limit yourself to a 9-5 pursuit.
I'd also say that for me, musicianship and songwriting really inform each other. My main musical background is as a drummer, so I've found that by practising drums I've gained a better sense of rhythm. This in turn helps me write words to my songs because I can easily hear how the phrasing of a melody could be matched with the number of syllables in a potential lyric. And vice versa, the more I write songs, the more I seem to understand dynamics, which of course is massively important to drumming. So practice both, they're mutually beneficial.