by Todd Wright Band
Today we’re dissecting “Praise God” by Todd Wright band. Todd lives and leads in Tyler, Texas and has served Bethel Bible Church for nine years. He encourages worship leaders to write more songs and to write better songs through his podcast the Average Everyday Worship Leader and he sets a great example for his listeners by regularly writing and releasing music specifically for the Church to sing together.
Todd: So I write a lot of songs every year, mostly for my church. Although I do send them out to friends and publishers and those sort of things. Sometimes if I think the song might have some value to the Church at large. Part of that, for me, has really rested on co-writing. I really try to do a lot of co-writing every year as much as I can. Cowriting is awkward, it’s hard, it’s really not my preferred way to write but I actually find that my songs are better when I do it. It’s kind of the medicine that I know I need to take. So I was doing some co-writing, I wasn’t thinking about a record just yet, and there’s a worship leader friend of mine by the name of Blake Russell
Blake: My name is Blake Russell. I’m the worship pastor at Fredonia Hill Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, TX.
Todd: I had seen for a couple of years following Blake online that a lot of the stuff he said was really lining up theologically with how I think about leading worship. I didn’t really know Blake that well but I thought he seems like a solid guy and it feels like he and I would get along with one another. So I finally reached out and asked if he wanted to do some co-writing.
Blake: Todd called me and said, “Hey man, I’d like to write with you.” Honestly, I was intimidated just because Todd has written so many songs and he’s written so many great songs. I was a little nervous.
Todd: I now live in a place called Tyler, Texas and I’m about an hour away from him. The idea for Praise God was his idea.
Blake: Of course I go up to Tyler and the first thing he asked me is “Whatcha workin on?” And really I was hoping when I walked into the session that he would have something he was working on that I could just throw my two cents on. Didn’t work out that way.
Todd: I kinda like going into co-writes with nothing, that’s kind of fun to me. [I like] the dangerousness of that.
Blake: So I was like, “Really the only thing I’ve got is this four lines here in this chorus.” I taught it to him and he was immediately said, “Hey yeah, let’s work on that.”
Todd: Blake at the time wanted to do something to do with the doxology in a larger way. He was toying with: do I do a whole album based on the doxology? Do I write some stuff? Do I write a study guide? So he had this song and he had the chorus pretty much done but didn’t have any other way to go with it. But it was really his idea. So as he sat down he said, “Man I want to write something that’s sort of a modern version of the doxology. I want to keep the doxology in mind as I’m writing but I also want to make sure that it’s trinitarian I want to make sure it’s corporate.” I was just jazzed at that idea so we really started chasing it based on Blake’s original concept.
Blake: Our church was in this season where we were singing doxology quite often. It’s always been a song that’s really connected with our church and it’s one of my favorite hymns. It’s the combination of the complexity of what’s being said in the song but the simplicity of the fact that it’s just a handful of lyrics. I had kinda wanted to revamp Doxology. We had done a couple of different arrangements and I thought it would be cool to write a tag or a chorus for the hymn Doxology.
[Sample of Traditional Arrangement]
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost
Blake: I just kind of locked onto the themes there in Doxology and really the acknowledgement of the trinity. It’s one of those things that we often acknowledge and teach about from the pulpit in church but we don’t necessarily sing about it that often. There’s only a handful of songs out there: modern or old hymns that really talk about the trinity. So I kind of latched onto that and that’s where I started with doxology and then kind of diving a little bit deeper in that.
Praise God, praise God
Our Creator and King, the Holy One
Praise God, praise God
Praise the Father, the Spirit, the Son
Host: The trinity refers to an idea that is completely unique to orthodox Christianity. The word conveys the idea that there is only one true God but that He is made of three, equal and fully divine persons. These persons are known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.The Father whom we commonly refer to just as God, the Son whom we know is Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit whom we know He sent after His ascension back to heaven. Though this mystery seems logically contradictory the concept is illustrated throughout the New Testament Scriptures and foundational to our understanding of God.
Blake: Really, verse one came fairly quick if I remember right. We had that written during our first session that day. I remember leaving Tyler[,TX] that day being fairly satisfied with a verse and a chorus and then some bits and pieces of what would become the rest of the song.
Todd: But it took us two and a half hours to get a verse one that we liked that was simple and singable. So that was one session. We went home and said you work on it and I’ll work on it and probably three or four weeks later Blake said, “Hey let’s get together and write again.”
Blake: Between those two meetings we would bounce ideas back and forth. That’s usually our process: emailing different lines or what he calls a “verse blast” where we just pretty much write any line we can think of that might fit in the song and just try to plug it in different places and see what works and what doesn’t work. So we did that and then we kinda polished the song and came up with verse two [during] our second in-person co-writing session.
Todd: We spent another two hours and just got a second verse which was a little frustrating because you always want to finish them. I just hate having ¾ of a song done and Blake was the same way. So we actually were just going to do an instrumental bridge. So that was the plan and we left that second writing session thinking we were done and then Blake came back and said “Hey man, I really feel like we need to sing a bridge because I think this song needs kind of a lyrical fifth gear.” So we could not come up with a bridge and Blake eventually emailed me and he said, “Hey, I have a friend who is a worship leader in Houston this guy named Sky Howard. I want to ask Sky to help write the bridge.”
Sky: My name is Sky Howard and I’m the Music and Worship Associate at Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston, TX.
Blake: Sky and I actually grew up together, he’s from Nacogdoches, TX. We were in a band together when we were younger in college and even earlier. We travelled all over [with that] little worship band. We have a lot of history. Nearly as long as we’ve been playing music we’ve been playing it together.
Sky:We were in each other’s weddings and our families are good friends. Blake texted me or called me and just told me about the song that he and Todd were working on. Blake just said, “Here’s what we have.” They sent me the lyrics and just a scratch recording of it and they said, “we’re having trouble coming up with a bridge.” I just wanted to see if I could help point them in the right direction on that.
Blake: He’s an artist. As much as I’m one of those real organizational personalities he’s one of those art guys . He can really pick out something from nothing.
Sky: I was just trying to think what could move the song along and maybe help enhance it but not feel disconnected from it and not be something that’s going to be too dramatic of a shift. I feel like what’s great about the song is there’s kind of this simplicity to it. Rhythmically, melodically it’s a song that’s pretty easy to catch on to which is what I think makes it great for congregational use. So for the bridge I wanted it to be simple but I wanted there to be a lot in just a couple of lines.
[Sky's Demo Sample]
For all that He has done, for all that He will be
O Triune God we delight in Your glory
The God of Israel, the God who rescues man
O Triune God we delight in Your glory
Blake: The lyrics were almost too “high church.” Now I look back and kind of wish we might of used some of those.
Todd: The lyrics were not a fit. They weren’t bad they just didn’t fit but the melody and the chord structure was exactly right. It kind of had the energy we needed.
Sky: Melodically they used pretty much used everything I sent them and lyrically they tweaked a few things. They altered the second line where they said “O three-in-one we’re alive for your glory” and I loved that little edit that they made on it. That line was really the one for me that stuck out and I said, “I feel like can help tie back into the song.”
Todd: So it was this interesting thing where we had not worried about musical things, we had not worried about melody but Sky actually gave the song a fifth gear, a last thing that gave it some energy. Blake and I by that time had been writing this thing for over a month and we had a lot of lyrics that we still hadn’t been able to put into the song. Sky, thinking a little more musically about it, allowed us to find some stuff to say in the bridge that we feel like really the song benefitted from. So we didn’t worry about music. Music wasn’t that really important to us until the very very end and then when that bridge started happening it was like “Oh wow, this could be really great with a praise band or with a choir!” That chord structure and melody got us really kind of excited.
Blake: Yeah, that bridge is really the response to what the rest of the song is saying. This is really cool and that’s what Todd and I talked about. This bridge could almost stand alone as far as tagging it with other songs. It really is a powerful bridge. Sky did a great job on getting it together
Sky: I didn’t want to do something that would bring undue attention to it. I figured if it served it’s purpose it would make all the other good parts of the verses and the chorus help those things shine too. My hope was that it would edify the entire song.
Blake:I’ve been studying just how impactful the lyrics are that we sing. I think often times as worship pastors we overlook how these lyrics carry with people throughout the entire week. In many cases it may be the only theology they really catch. They may not actually be paying attention to the sermon on Sunday morning and they may not be doing any discipleship any deeper than that but they do carry these songs with them. So I do want to make sure that as I’m writing, and that’s my approach with Praise God, I’m writing something that’s actually going to have a meaning and is going to teach them something and teach them something about God and point their relationship back towards Him.
Todd: I have this thing and I’ll try not to get too preachy. I really think that you can lead worship one of two ways and really ideally you want to lead it in a balance. Sometimes you see a worship leader or you go to a church service and it’s kind of like going to a cupcake shop. There’s this really great cupcake place in my town that my family like to go and they’re these huge cupcakes and they’re expensive and they’re way too rich and it’s way too much sugar and you can lead worship like that. You can lead worship in a way that says, man, I’m just going to pile on the sugar and the style and the pizzazz and the glitter and the haze machine. You can even do that with spiritual things, like man I can really pour on the goosebumps. You can be a cupcake shop.
Or the other side of that is you can be like a dietician. You could go to your hospital today and you could schedule an appointment with their dietician and their dietician would plan this thing out for you: you gotta eat this food here and don’t eat that and eat this at this time for optimal health. Churches a lot of times will fall into one of those categories. I’m in a church that’s very Bible-focused. We’re a Bible church and we’re very reformed leaning. We’re not liturgical but our services can be like the dietician sometimes: This is what you need, just do it and be healthy. But I’ve lead in other places. My wife came from a church that when she was there was very much the cupcake shop.
When I write songs I want to try to hit both of those things. I want the verses and the chorus of that song to be good, healthy, robust theological truth but I want to icing of that bridge too that’s just big and fun and hits that sort of emotional place. I’m hoping that Praise God will kind of thread that needle.
Sky: The trinity is, at least in Baptist circles which I’m in, we like to talk a lot about Jesus and the Father but the Holy Spirit is like oooooo, we know what happens when that guy gets involved. There’s something I guess that may be provocative about delighting in all of who God is, even in that part of Him that we don’t fully understand and maybe we’re scared of.
Blake: Within that idea of the Trinity just give God complete worship for all that He’s done.
And God has done a lot. He created humanity to be like Him even in this mysterious aspect of tri-unity. As those crafted in the likeness of God we have a deep longing to be an indispensable part of strong, transparent and caring community with other people. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone even before the world was messed up by sin. When we stop to think about the mysteries of God we have not fully unlocked we should marvel that we are able to know anything about Him at all. We should be even more amazed that we can have a deep and meaningful relationship with One so far beyond our understanding.
Todd Wright just released five new songs on his JOY EP. Find it on iTunes and all the other places you listen to music. You will also find all kinds of links related to this episode in the description. Keep up with Todd through his blog at bethelsongs.com and subscribe to his podcast, the Average Everyday Worship Leader.
Blake Russell’s worship band, simply called Fredonia Hill, recently released an EP called Doxology: Hymns of the Trinity which includes another version of Praise God. It’s also available digitally in all your favorite ways.
Thanks to Todd, Blake and Sky for their unending patience and a very special thank you to Ben Russell, Leslie Lockstampfor and Gayle Crissman for their continuing support through such a long break between episodes. Thanks also to Cristiano Rizzotto for his permission to feature his traditional organ performance of the Doxology. VITALS is emotionally supported by Grace Church of Ocala. Visit VTLS.org for full episode transcripts and more information about the show and the music featured here. If you enjoyed this episode visit VTLS.org/support for ideas on how you keep the lights on in the Vitals studio. Financial supporters can listen to all the full, unedited interviews with all three of today’s guests for $1 a month.
[Note: additional background music by Blue Dot Sessions]