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Jimmy Needham Talks About His New Release, "Nightlights"
by Cara Fisher
Contributer on 2010-06-07 15:01:00
CMADDICT Contributor Cara Fisher talks with Jimmy Needham about his latest release, "Nightlights"

You just released your third studio album, Nightlights. Was there a particular message that you were trying to get across with this album?

Yeah, absolutely. Every record that I’ve put out has a mega theme to it.“Speak”was addressing issues in the church, and “Not Without Love” was addressing what it looks like to receive the love of God. This one is one of the most powerful themes I’ve addressed. It deals with the question of what does it look like for us as people, for me as an artist to be about promoting Christ in this life. Even at the expense of our own promotion. What does it look like for us to make much of Jesus, without necessarily feeling like we have to make much of ourselves?

It’s something that I wrestle with, just because I’m an artist, and I’m in the business of self-promotion. You get on stage, you’re in the spotlight, you’re making records with your face on it- it’s quite easy to get caught up in the “you” mentality of it all. But really, what I do is about making Christ famous through my music; that’s the goal.

Even us as people, I think we struggle with this. We like the accolades and the praise, and we like to be remembered and known. But the Bible makes it clear, the best thing that we can say at the end of the day is what John the Baptist said, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” So that’s what this record is about.

What’s the meaning behind the title “Nightlights?”

“Nightlights” actually comes from a line in the first song that I wrote for the record, which is “The Reason I Sing.” I’m singing to God at this point in the song and I say, “Compared to You I’m just a nightlight against the blazing sun.” And the idea is, when we see God for who He is- a magnificent, powerful God, this bright blazing sun of glory- if we can see Him properly, we begin to see ourselves in a proper light. And the reality is, we are not as impressively bright as He is. The big bonfire that we thought we were is really just a little flicker. It’s like a nightlight compared to the blazing sun, which is what I wanted to get across with the title.

There’s a cover of the pop classic “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” on the album. Why did you choose to cover this song?

I love this song. And anyone who says they don’t love this song is crazy. It’s a tribute to a couple of my favorite artists and songwriters. The most notable guy who covered it was James Taylor, but the guy who originally recorded it was Marvin Gaye. I just thought it’d be so fun to do a song that I’ve loved listening to all my life.

I think it’s important that we did a song like this on the record because this album is very much an attempt to create a sound that hasn’t been done in Christian music yet- this kind of old-school, almost Motown-feel. A lot of the songs have that kind of flavor. Because of that, I thought it would be super appropriate to do an actual old Motown cover. So that’s exactly what we did, and it was a blast.

Are there any other songs you’d like to cover in the future?

Yeah, there’s pretty much every Stevie Wonder song in the planet I would love to cover. I’m probably gonna keep those decisions pretty close to the chest until we get closer to the next record, but that would be really fun.

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Before I listened to Nightlights, I read that you worked with rap artist TripLee on “Grace Amazing.” And I have to admit, I was unsure of how that would sound, but it actually ended up being my favorite song on the record. What made you decide to work with him?

Me and Trip got connected with each other via myspace years ago. We both just have a deep respect for each other’s music, for each other’s theology, and for each other’s person. We hit it off. We started communicating;he lives in Philly, so we flew him down to Houston. We thought it would so fun to collaborate on a couple songs together. So I had a song idea I wanted to work through and he had a song idea for his record, and so we just started collaborating. The product was “Grace Amazing,” which is a song on my record and “Yours To Own,” which is a song that will be on his record, which comes out in late June.

I love that guy, and I love all of the Reach Records folks- Lecrae, and all those guys. I got to tour with them for a little bit; they’re good people.

The last song on Nightlights is spoken word, just like on your previous album, "Not Without Love". How did you become interested in spoken word?

I don’t really know… the only person that I could maybe attribute that to would be Lauryn Hill. She did a MTV unplugged record years ago that has had such an impact on me. She never necessarily did spoken word, but it felt like that because she had an acoustic guitar and she did a couple rap songs with the acoustic. It just felt really unusual and vibe-y, and I was like,“that’s really cool.” But the way my spoken word stuff came about was I was just journaling one day and wrote this poem- this kind of slam poetry sort of poem.I started reading it aloud and I thought,“this sounds really interesting out loud.” So I practiced it and got it down to a way that I like to perform it. It was kind of toward of the end of the recording process of my very first album and I was like,“this would be really cool to just throw on the end.

It fits with the theme of the record and nobody’s doing this right now, so it could be really cool.”It ended up fitting well, and I decided to make it a staple of what I do now.

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What is the songwriting process like for you?

LONG. I’m not very prolific in my songwriting. What I mean by that is I don’t write a ton of songs that we pick twelve from at the end of the two years and make a record. If I have eighteen months to write a record, I write twelve songs and all of those songs make the record. I’m always carrying around a voice recorder, so I’m constantly getting ideas. I’ll record it on my phone or whatever and start working through some of those lyrics that I feel like God gave me.

It’s an interesting process that changes all the time. Ultimately, I try to be a student of the Scriptures and a student of the world and really try to soak up everything that I see. God begins to shape these ideas like, “this would be a really neat idea for how to communicate what this event made me feel like” or “what this scripture passage communicates to me.”I’ll sit down and just start working on it one day and that will be the beginning of my process.

You support an organization called Gospel for Asia. What is this organization about, and how did you become involved with it?

Gospel For Asia is an organization that I’ve partnered with not on a professional level for very long, but on a personal level for many years, maybe eight or nine years now.

I discovered them when I got a free book online called “Revolution and World Missions” and this book was written by a guy named K.P. Yohannan. It’s a book that tells a story about how he came to know the Lord as an Indian adolescent in India, how God burdened his heart for his people, and how he really wanted to see India and the surrounding nations come to know the Savior that he knew. God just really struck me with the need of the nations.

If you don’t know what Gospel For Asia does, what they do is they are unique in that they raise up native missionaries in the most unreached parts of the world. So Indians share the Gospel with Indians, Tibetans minister to Tibetans-people who know the language, who dress the dress, who eat the food, who understand the culture. And God is doing some tremendous things with them. There’s not so many barriers as there would be if I would go over to a heavily persecuted country, because they just don’t look like me, they look like them.God’s doing some really powerful things.

For $30 a month, I began sponsoring a native missionary. On my fridge, I didn’t have a little cute four-year old girl from Africa, I had a twenty-three year old Indian man with a mustache. And it was really funny, but it’s been so cool. So now, I partner with them professionally and try to get more people to know about what they do. Consequently, if anyone is interested in finding out more about them or getting that book, you can still get it for free, even today.

Just go to, and it will give you an opportunity to order the book for free, and they will mail it to your house free of charge.

Any future plans to tour in support of the album or for a music video?

We are working up tour stuff right now- getting geared up for the fall, what we want that to look like. And I don’t know what it’s gonna look like honestly. But I know that we have a new record, and there’s a lot of excitement and buzz about it. We’re looking forward to getting out there, connecting with some of the fans, and just getting to make Jesus famous at these shows.

As far as music videos, I think it would be so cool to do a “Grace Amazing” music video. I just think that would be a blast. I’m actually going to be in conversation with my management team today about that, so we’ll see what happens.

Thanks for talking with CM Addict today; we appreciate it!

Yeah, you’re welcome. Thanks for the interview!
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