ESSAY
The Way My Story Goes: Interview with Singer-Songwriter Jamie Soles
POSTED
March 12, 2019

Jamie Soles is the reason I know my way around a guitar. When my guitar teacher put the sheet music for Eine Kleine Nachtmusick in my fourteen-year-old hands, I balked. He gave me “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” I learned half of it. At home, I ignored my teacher’s instructions and tugged out a plastic-bound book of Bible songs by Jamie Soles. I tried the chords over and over until I could get them to sound like the recording.

Jamie Soles was fun to play and to sing. And he wrote songs about parts of the Bible that I had never heard set to music. “How to Catch a Wife” tells the events of Judges 21 from the Benjamites’ perspective. “Up from Here” draws a line from Joseph to Jesus. “Six Hundred Philistines” features the groans of Dagon-worshippers as they run from Shamgar’s ox goad.

As I grew, Jamie Soles’ music deepened. In 2006, 2008, and 2011, he released albums based entirely around the Psalms. True to form, he embraced the parts of Psalm 3 and Psalm 58 that make nice Christians squirm. “Break the teeth of the wicked,” he sings. “Let him be like a snail that dissolves as he goes. Like a child that is born with no light, may he not see the sun.” In 2015, he releasedHighways to Zion, also based on the Psalms, and tinged with his sorrow over the premature death of his son, Judah. The first words of the first song on the album are: “How truly God His goodness shows…” In life and death, in joy and sorrow, Jamie clings to his Lord. His music shakes with his love.

Yes, I should have practiced my Mozart and Scruggs. Yes, I should have obeyed my teacher. But I will not admit that what I did was childish. Fifteen years later, I still listen to Jamie’s music. I am still awed by it. And, yeah, I still try to imitate the recording.

If you’ve been hunting for solid, rollicking, Bible-based music, for children and adults, look no further. With a little Spotify-playlisting, you can queue up three hundred of Jamie’s songs that will take you through most of Scripture, with extra time spent in the Psalms. Go forth, and listen.

I interviewed Jamie via email about his musical background, his influences, and the impact he hopes his music will have in the world. His answers are below.

What's your musical background? Are you professionally trained? Did you grow up playing in worship bands? 

Jamie: I have had a guitar in my hands for almost all of my living memory. I learned chords when I was six, and my first song I learned how to play was Egg Suckin’ Dog by Johnny Cash. Dad had a few records in those days; Live at Folsom Prison was among them, along with Bobby Bare, Bob Dalrymple, the Kingston Trio, Rolf Harris, and Johnny Horton. The songs from these musicians are so deep in my consciousness that I will probably be singing them when Alzheimer’s has taken everything else.

I grew up singing hymns in the Evangelical Free Church. We sang a lot of drivel, with a number of very good ones thrown in for good measure. I have always been inclined to sing, even when I was a kid, so I got pressed into service to do special music at the church sometimes in those days.

I learned to love the Bible when I was a boy. My dad had a practice, for awhile at least, of requiring his kids to learn a Bible verse before supper. Any verse would do. I searched through the Bible many times, looking for the shortest verse I could find. I think that was where I learned to love Bible names. Some of the verses in Chronicles and Ezra consist of three names, and if I could just pronounce them, I would fulfill my requirements.

I never took formal music lessons as a child. I learned to read music in high school band class, aided by reading a hymnal all those years, and I did take several theory and piano courses when I went to Bible College, but most of my musical learning took place elsewhere, usually at home with guitar in hand. When I was in the presence of somebody who knew things I did not, I would listen, watch their hands closely, then go home and try to duplicate what I saw and heard.

I became a part of a band when I was at Bible College. We called ourselves Damascus Road. We wrote and played Christian Rock. I got involved with a worship team in church for the first time when I was about 21, and I led that team for about 8 years, learning how to write psalm songs, and other Scripture songs. 

You've thanked Peter Leithart, Jim Jordan, et al. in the notes on a couple of your albums. What has been their influence on your music?

Jamie: When I was a younger fellow of 23 or so, I was drawn by the Lord into the Reformed world by reading, among other things, The Reduction Of Christianity, by Peter Leithart and Gary DeMar. I was given a much larger vision of what the Lord intends to accomplish in the world, and gained a whole lot more confidence in the Bible than I had at that time. Peter’s influence began there, but really remained dormant until I had my hands on two of his other books, The Kingdom and The Power and A House For My Name. I have read a bunch of his books since then, and they help me to see the world in a different way, which has influenced the songs I have written. 

Early on in my reformed journey I tried reading Jim Jordan’s Through New Eyes, and though I found much fascinating stuff there, I could not make head nor tail of it at the time. I put it aside for ten years or so. Then when I got a computer and got online in the beginning of the 2000s, I was introduced again to him through Biblical Horizons. He made much better sense then. I remember thinking that I had a pretty good grasp on the Bible, then after reading Jim, realizing that I knew next to nothing. His ability to make connections in the text is still astonishing. I have probably learned more about how the Bible works and about how to read the Bible, from Jim Jordan than anyone else. I thank God for both of these men for teaching me how to read the Bible. 

A lot of your music seems specifically aimed at children. Why do you choose to write children's music? (Do you write children's music?)

Jamie: One of the immediate side effects of my discovering that there was actually a future for the world, and that the future belonged to the people of God, was to re-evaluate my thinking on having children. I was a newly married man, and my wife and I had talked about having children before we got married. We both agreed that we should have some, but we both maxxed out at five. But if there really was a future, as I was discovering, and if we really were raising up laborers for the harvest field and not cannon fodder, it should be “the more, the merrier.” We decided to leave off arranging these things as though they were ours to arrange, and to have as many as God would give us.

Thus, we began having kids. Kids who needed to be taught the knowledge of God. Who needed to learn and internalize Bible stories. It occurred to me when my eldest was five that I should try singing some of these Bible stories to my kids. I started, and they stuck amazingly well. We played the songs for our Bible study group, and they loved them. We played them for our church, and they loved them. I began to realize that there was a huge and virtually untapped market for singing Bible stories, and began to write them not just for my own kids, but for yours, too.

The music I make that is specifically aimed at kids is so largely because when you hear the song, you hear some of my kids singing it with me. Kids singing makes kids music, I think. I did write these songs with my kids in mind; they were sort of a template for the rest of you. If the song passed muster in my house, it would go on an album, and the kids would sing it, and you would get it as a kids’ album.

But “Do you write children’s music?” is a good question to ask. I write Bible story songs. To the extent that Bible stories are kids’ stuff, I suppose it could be construed as kids’ music. But I deal with stuff in the Bible that almost nobody has ever even thought of singing. If kids’ music has defined rules about what you can and cannot say, I think I have broken all the rules. My content is definitely not childish. But it should be accessible to children, as it should be accessible to you as an adult. Both you and they need to wrestle faithfully with Saul and the witch of Endor, and hundreds of other such passages.

The albums started becoming thematic as I started learning how to read the Bible from Jim Jordan and Peter Leithart. I have an album on showing forth Christ from Old Testament Bible stories (The Way My Story Goes), an album of exodus-themed songs (Up From Here), an album about memorials in the Bible (Memorials), and album about the prophets (Fun & Prophets), and album with stories that happened at wells (Wells), and others. These are all themes the Bible develops extensively, but they do not show up in systematic theology textbooks.

My kids are older now, the youngest of our eight is almost 15. I have not written many story songs in recent years. I have three albums of them waiting in the wings, though, if you are inclined to pray to God for me that I would get them recorded. And, also, pray that I would be able to write more of them. And that the Lord would raise up an army of songwriters who would write Bible story songs. There are plenty of stories that need to be sung. 

In the past decade, you've put out several albums entirely based on the Psalms. What is important about the Psalms for Christians today? (Also, don't we already have historical settings of the Psalms? Why write new ones?)

Jamie: There are a few small subsets of the church that have maintained the practice of singing Psalms since the time of the Protestant reformation, but the vast majority of the churches have dropped the practice, and most of them so long ago that when you present them with the idea now it sounds like a novelty. We live in a culture that was built on the labors of those who sang Psalms, but we have been at ease for so long that the Psalms sound foreign to us. For the Psalms are the songs of a persecuted people, something most of us in the West have never faced. I think, though, that this era is coming to an end here in the west. Persecution is beginning to arise here. I think that as it does, when it begins again to cost something to be a Christian, that the Psalms will again find a ready acceptance in the churches.

Singing the Psalms together gives the people of God the backbone necessary to stand in the evil day. It is good and wise, if you are a leader in the church, to promote the singing of the Psalms, all of them, in your churches, for these reasons. You will be equipping them to face a persecuting culture. You will be giving them the words to sanctify their suffering, to enable them in the face of grief, to pray for God to destroy his enemies, to stand firm against tyrants in the land and in the church. You will be giving your people the words to sing and pray in the face of abortionists and crony capitalists both, of deep state operatives and anarchists. We need these songs, and we need them now, for these kind of folks are everywhere.

Another of the early-on effects of my discovery of reformed theology was to discover the centrality of worship, and the rightness of singing the Psalms in worship. 

I grew up in the failing tail end of the hymnody era in the evangelical churches, and helped to preside over the transition from the hymnbook to the overhead. I had a different reason in mind than most of my contemporaries, though. They were looking down their noses at the hymns because they did not inspire moderns to raise their hands, and they felt that the stuff coming out of the Vineyard movement would serve the church better. I was looking down my nose at the hymns because they were often so far from the biblical Psalms, and was eager to fix that problem by writing songs from the Psalms. The churches with which I was associated would have balked if I had tried to bring in psalmnody from other outside sources, but were happy when a songwriter of their own would write a song that was so full of Bible. I had a whole church full of evangelicals singing lustily, “Your hand will find all your enemies, Your right hand will find those who hate you. You will swallow them up in your wrath, and fire shall devour them! Be exalted, O Lord, in your own strength! We will sing and praise your power!”

It has been my desire for years to write word-for-word songs from the Bible, where one could just open up his Bible and start singing. That seems sensible to me as an ideal, but years and years of pursuing this has not yielded good results. Very few of my songs written in this way are sung by churches. Individuals in their cars, yes. But they are simply too difficult to learn by a congregation or by its musicians. They do not fit onto two pages of music, the most hymn-singers can stand. And as much as we might wish to say that the congregation needs to work harder at it in order to gain that height, almost everybody demurs in favor of something easier.

I have spent many years now with the Book Of Praise of the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Anglo-Genevan psalter. The Genevans were masterpieces of simplicity; you could sing the whole psalm to a tune you could memorize relatively easily. Relatively, says the accomplished musician. :) Genevans are much easier to sing if you remove Goudimel’s harmonizations, but they still have a very medieval feel to the modern ear that hears them. They mostly do not sit right. Some of them certainly do, and I could foresee them again becoming valuable for the churches at large today. But perhaps there is a better approach.

In 2013, Ithink, the Canadian Reformed Churches put out their new and improved version of their psalter. They have had some fellows working for many years on upgrading the poetry to be closer to the text of the psalm, and to making better sense as English poetry. I think they have done a marvelous job. They were working, of course, with the Genevan tunes, so all their poetry is designed to fit those tunes; tunes which do not often sit well on the ear of modern folk. I tried my hand at writing some new tunes to their poetry, and was pleased to find how well it worked. 

I had the honor of visiting one of their lead poets, Mr. William Helder, and to play for him some of my songs. He heartily approved of such usage of his work. I also gained permission from the Committee that holds the copyright for those lyrics to work at building my own tunes to their poetry. Thus, I have been working away at building songs that are musically easy to grasp by moderns, and are using very good English poetry from the Psalms. The results have been well received in my own church, but they know and love me. I am eager to test them out in other churches.

What impact do you hope your music will have in the Christian community, and beyond, in the non-Christian world?

Jamie: I would like for my music to so transform the world that everybody would bow the knee to Jesus and that God would usher in eternity. Perhaps I am reaching too high… :)

If the Christian community were to be inspired by my music to hold the Bible in higher regard, to dig into it and mine it for the treasures it holds, to know it better, to catch the vision of singing it to kids and to God in worship, I suppose that would be a good impact. Right now, many of the evangelicals I know are abandoning ship in the face of the homosexual/gender thing. They do so because they have long since lost confidence in the Bible. They are not able to say, “Thus says the Lord!” because they are unsure that he does so say. Evangelical churches, by and large, have no room for me. I rarely get to do concerts in them, unless they are small and out in the country. My music has been given back to me by large city churches kids’ pastors, saying “We can’t use this kind of stuff.” I think they were severely undermined by those long-sighted unbelieving social scientists who taught them that the world was way older than the Bible says it is, and their faith in the veracity of Scripture went away with their belief in the historicity of Genesis. I spend a lot of time in Genesis. I think I have 38 recorded songs from there. If I can instill in kids’ hearts the firm conviction that this stuff really happened, perhaps that confidence can be restored.

As with anything that faithfully sets forth biblical teaching, it is my hope that the Lord uses my music to bring people to Jesus. It can do so, I am sure, though I have not seen it happen. Jesus can use a donkey to speak to Balaam, Jesus can use me. :)

Christian Leithart lives with his wife and daughter in Birmingham, AL, where he writes and teaches. He likes old books and staring out the window.

Jamie Soles is a Christian singer-songwriter from Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada. His Bible-saturated music has strong appeal for kids, families and basically anyone with ears for the stories and psalms of the Scriptures. You can find his work, HERE.

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