For more than 30 years, NewSong has cultivated not only an impressive discography of hits that have ministered to the Church, but the GRAMMY®-nominated band has also brought us one of Christian music’s biggest success stories—Winter Jam. What started as an avenue 18 years ago for the group to play at neutral venues with a simple donation at the door has turned into a launching pad for new artists and the largest first-quarter tour in the world for the past two years. As creators and hosts of Christian music’s premier multi-artist tour model, NewSong continues to maintain a relevancy that few artists can sustain over the course of three decades.
Now, with the release of their 18th recording, Swallow the Ocean, members Eddie Carswell (vocals, songwriting), Billy Goodwin (lead vocals, guitar), Russ Lee (lead vocals, guitar, songwriting), Matt Butler (lead vocals, keys, cello, songwriting), Jack Pumphrey (drums, vocals), Mark Clay (bass), and Rico Thomas (guitar) continue their legacy with a collection of songs that reflects the influence of fellow Winter Jam headliners, the organizations NewSong partners with to help those in need, and the core principles of evangelism that continue to be the cornerstone of their ministry.
“We have spent our whole lives trying to be artists and musicians who describe God’s love,” says Matt Butler. “So the impetus behind the record is to use music for that purpose—to introduce God to people who don’t know Him.” The initial idea for the album’s title cut stems from the 100-year-old hymn, “The Love of God.” The original songwriter was wrestling with a bout of writer’s block when he was reminded of a story about a man in an insane asylum. When the old man passed away, a powerful, poetic inscription about the infinite love of God was found carved on the wall of his cell. The beautiful words of his poem and the resulting hymn were the inspiration for “Swallow the Ocean.”
“If we were to fill the entire ocean with ink, and if we were to take pens and try to write the love of God across the sky, we would drain the entire ocean dry and still not even come close to touching the surface of God’s greatness and the bigness of His love; that has become the heartbeat of this album,” Butler shares.
For many of the songs on Swallow the Ocean, NewSong recorded the album together in one room, a rarity in today’s digital age. The result was a more cohesive sound and the most artistic offering of the band’s career. “This album has more of a feeling of oneness for us as a band. We really feel like it came together,” says Butler.
“God’s given us songs to write and also sent some great songs our way through friends of ours, and so I pray that it’ll be a project that will encourage the Body,” continues founding member Eddie Carswell. Swallow the Ocean also marks the first time the band worked with producer Seth Mosley (Newsboys, Mark Schultz). “Seth’s like a tsunami of creativity, but he’s bridled and in control with this laidback, gentle spirit,” explains Russ Lee.
In addition to Mosley, the band once again tapped Chris Stevens (TobyMac, Sanctus Real) who produced “The Same God,” the band’s most recent radio hit. “Chris Stevens, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated, under-the-radar producers in music period, because the guy’s just a creative genius and he’s a lot of fun to work with,” raves Lee.
Longtime NewSong friend Paul Mills (Bluetree; Phillips, Craig & Dean) also returned to produce several of the album’s worship tracks. “We work with guys we enjoy being around, but also guys who challenge us and who do things differently than we would, because that’s the only way you ever grow,” Lee continues.
Songs like “All We Need,” “In Jesus’ Name” and “Choose to Love” emphasize NewSong’s intentional commitment to a message of Hope and evangelism, while other selections were born from personal experience. “Could It Be” stems from Matthew 25 and was the result of a recent mission trip the band took with World Vision to El Salvador—sharing a story the members are passionate about. “We feel like if we can’t get to the mission field in Africa or Pakistan or wherever it is, we can bring that mission field to our audience; so that, I think, has become critically important to the ministry of NewSong,” says Lee. “Along with helping kids, a big part of what we do is educate people as to what’s going on outside of their world and their sphere.”
The band also encourages evangelism on a local level by including an extra copy of Swallow the Ocean with every CD purchased, allowing fans an opportunity to give the additional disc away to someone who crosses their path—a struggling friend, the grocery clerk, the mechanic, the hairdresser. “It’s fun to see that happen and realize you’re initiating ministry and partnering with people,” Carswell says. “Hopefully, they’re going to love your music, enjoy it and be encouraged; but they can also be excited and pass it on to someone else, and God will work in that person’s life and encourage them as well.”
Their platform also allows NewSong to influence up-and-coming artists they tour with during Winter Jam each year, making mentorship a significant part of their ministry. “We have a lot of younger artists coming behind us that are trying to figure out how to do this thing, so it becomes critically important that we model and mentor what real, sound ministry looks like,” Lee shares.
Winter Jam continues to be a source of community for artists and music discovery for fans, creating an affordable way for families and youth groups to hear some of the biggest names in Christian music. And the larger-than-life tour is one of NewSong’s enduring accomplishments. “Being involved with Winter Jam is just God’s design for us, and it’s among the reasons we can still be around,” Carswell says. “We have a front row seat to the best concerts every year because of the amazing artists God sends out on Winter Jam,” says Carswell. “I think being around all these folks year after year helps us as well. It keeps us wanting to continue doing something relevant and purposeful, and most importantly to keep serving God through the mission He gave us.”
“We have an opportunity to affect this thing called Christian music way beyond our years, so I look at all those things as opportunities and as part of our calling,” Lee adds. “I believe all of that collectively helps formulate who we are and what we’re writing and what we feel like God wants us to say. I think NewSong’s mission expands as the ministry continues and as God opens new doors of opportunity.”
Swallow the Ocean is yet one more avenue through which NewSong continues to bring the message of Christ to the masses. “Music is just a vehicle to throw out lifelines, share Truth, shine light and bring Hope,” Lee concludes. “The methods have changed; the music has changed; but the Message will never change. It’s still the Hope of the world that everybody needs, and we can’t believe we get to use music as a tool to share that.”