The Simple Hymns series of albums, featuring well-known worship leaders, has been going from strength to strength recently. With the launch of the fourth installment, Louder Than The Music spoke to the man behind the concept, Steve Nicolle, to find out more.
Tell us about your latest release?
The new Simple Hymns album is Songs Of Communion. When you think through all of the times when you are inclined to want to sing a hymn, the act of observing and partaking in Communion would be at the top of the list for me. I have wonderful memories from my youth when I first grasped the importance of observing Communion, and the heart of thankfulness that Communion expresses to our Savior. The hymns both then and now are an important part of that expression both personally and as a church congregation.
Which is you favourite track off the last album?
They have all become very important to me and express a unique perspective lyrically. If I had to pick one, I would pick “The Wonderful Cross.” It’s quite the dichotomy as believers that we grow to love the cross, have it on our walls and around our necks. On one hand, it’s a horrible torture device made to inflict incredible pain over an extended period of time, and very publicly put on display this horrific and cruelest punishment. On the other hand, the cross is where our Savior gladly gave up his life in payment for our sins, to pay the price for us so we may saved. So the cross become a “wonderful” symbol, and this song really brings the truth of this dichotomy. It was written by the very gifted Isaac Watts, and was given a refresh interpretation by Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves and JD Walt.
This is something different, what was the thought behind these releases?
I think there is a real longing and desire in our hearts for connecting to our past. To learn from previous generations how they were able to face such incredible hardships compared to what most of us face, as well as the loss of family members and friends, many of whom died far too young by comparison to today. Even in these desperate circumstances, their faith stood firm. That is certainly what attracts me to the hymns. The hymn writers of the past were gifted wordsmiths. Poetry and prose were a celebrated art form and I just find that in most cases, they expressed truth in a powerful way lyrically. The same could be said of the other art forms such as paintings. There is a reason they are called classics and master painters. We can draw incredible strength and insight from the hymn writers as their songs have withstood the test of time. They are as relevant today as they were 100 years or more ago.
In your opinion, how has the music Industry changed over the years?
I think that the music industry hasn’t just changed, it’s gone through a complete transformation. I’ve been involved in Christian music as a young artist when I was 15 through to today. I really haven’t done anything else. So it’s fair to say I’ve seen a lot of change. It used to be changes of format, from Records, to 8 tracks, to cassettes, then to CD’s. What we see now with the digital format is truly a transformation. At first, it was like the Wild West, full of illegal activities and people who took advantage of the unregulated opportunities and a lot of music creators, writers and artists were really hurt. I do, however, see through streaming platforms how opportunities are opening up on a global level like never before in history. A person in a small village in Africa, or China, or Russia, virtually anywhere on earth, can now stream your music. From a "reaching the world with the Good News" perspective, this presents an unprecedented opportunity. Now, when I read Isaiah 43:18, "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland,” I can’t help but think that digital music streaming is just that, a way to bring the “Good News” where it was previously unavailable, or at the very least, very scarce.
How would you define success in your career?
I have a real heart for artists and songwriters, perhaps because it was such an important part of my life when I was younger. I love being able to help artists create and deliver the songs they have written to have the broadest impact. It is really a trust relationship, and I take the trust they place in me very seriously. When I am able to do that, with whatever success that entails, I feel I have been successful and true to what I believe I have been called to do.
What is your favourite album of all time?
Wow. That’s a really tough question. A lot of different music over the years has impacted me for that particular season, so it would be hard to pick which album and season was the most important. The one that jumped to mind when I first thought about it was Keith Green’s album “Songs For The Shepherd,” which was one that was very important in my early discovery of faith. I was in a band and we opened for Keith Green, and his music was a big part of my spiritual development. U2’s Joshua Tree has also been an album that I've returned to and been inspired by over a few decades. I think I would have one or two albums per decade that really became favorites.
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?
Now you’ve done it! Now it’s one song? One song did actually come to mind, due in part to the setting you have described. It would have to be “It Is Well With My Soul.” The story of how Horatio Spafford wrote the song is heart wrenching and would definitely fit the scenario you describe. We have actually had a fresh interpretation of this song that Ian Cron and Jess Cates have written. Just last month, we were able to have this song recorded by Sir Cliff Richard and Sheila Walsh in Miami. What a thrill it was for me to be in the studio recording one of music’s bestselling artists of all time. Sir Cliff has sold over 300 million albums worldwide, one of the top of all time. Outside of the US he is bigger than Elvis! He loved the song and plans on releasing it on his new album this year and performing it live at his concerts. The duet will be on Sheila Walsh’s new album releasing this March.
What does the next year hold for Simple Hymns?
I can better tell you what this year holds. We will have a Songs Of Easter album releasing next month, followed by a Songs Of Refuge album, Songs Of Faith and Songs Of Christmas albums, with additional albums also in the works. It’s a thrilling time for Simple Hymns!