Saturday, February 27, 2016

An Interview with Kip Fox

Besides leading the praise time at church 
on Sunday mornings, Kip creates his own
albums and writes songs for other artists.
Kip Fox is a praise and worship director at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Mesa, AZ. He's a nationally-recognized worship leader and songwriter. I recognized his collection of releases in 2015 as one of the top albums of the year. Kip and his wife, Michelle, are enjoying their sixth year of marriage. Follow Kip on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. Purchase his music on iTunes.

How did you come to know the Lord?

I grew up in the church. I was baptized as an infant and confirmed as a teenager. I would say that I came to know

Jesus through the gospel being preached every Sunday and from a family that taught me about grace. I’d also say I’ve come to know him through relationships and experiences that have challenged absolutely everything I believe.

How did you get plugged in to praise and worship music?

The summer between my Sophomore and Junior year of high school was tough. My family moved from

Northern to Southern California. My whole world was turned upside down. But my music teacher at my new high school had been a part of a church plant and invited me to come sing. I was immersed in modern worship and surrounded by professional musicians. Up until that point, music with a band was something “special," or outside of worship.  It was a massive shift in perspective for me.

Who are your current musical influences?

I’m a big fan of Foy Vance, Andy Gullahorn, Andrew Peterson, Jason Isbell. Basically great folk storytellers. I’m a lyric junkie. At the same time, I love pop music.  It’s not as much in my wheelhouse to write it, but I’m not ashamed to say I rock some Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars.  I find these artists to write great lyrics as well, whether they have songwriter help or not. Not to sound trite, but I feel like every song I hear influences me.

What I appreciate the most about the songs you write is how they reflect your commitment to biblical truth. Could you walk me through the process of how you write a song?

90% of the time what I write comes from my morning reading. I read a collection of things that always includes Scripture. Often times I’ll write a few paragraphs to form my thoughts. As soon as a lyric idea hits, usually a single line, I start writing around it. When I write I have a very strong conviction to get the gospel right. I come from a denomination that is tirelessly passionate about preaching Christ crucified in all things. Every good sermon, to me, culminates in the good news of Jesus dying for my sins. So that has to be conveyed in the songs I write as well.  Every time.

Like you just hinted at, I imagine your Lutheran heritage has at least a slight influence on your use of music. For instance, songs like "Free to Worship" and "This Dust" carry the spirit of the Reformation in making much of God and little of man. Am I right in suggesting that tradition partially fuels your creative efforts?

Absolutely. This Dust” was the first song I wrote when I decided I wanted to really commit to writing worship music.  That song is my most downloaded song to this day, and I’m positive that it’s because of my Lutheran peeps. The first verse of “Free to Worship” may seem harsh to some, but it makes my Lutheran friends smile wide. We have a distinct focus on the weight of our sin, which to some folks is kind of a downer.  But it leads us straight to the truth that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. I would say that focus leads to a greater joy in our Savior. It brings freedom.

Your church is Missouri Synod, right? How does that differ from other sects of Lutheranism?

The differences have to do with doctrinal stances in regards to the interpretation of Scripture, the adherence to a set of writings called the Lutheran Confessions, and the interpretation of what it means to be in Christian fellowship. In the the history of the Lutheran church in America, these issues have caused some splits. I’ve always thought of the Missouri Synod as falling in the middle of the spectrum, which has been a good fit for me.

It seems like your songs are written with the local congregation in mind. 

Always.  My church is certainly, “local.” On average, 125 people spanning every thinkable age group. From the moment I have my first lyric, my melodic choice is immediately made with those people in mind. And I’m always thinking, “Where and when in the service will this fit?"

Do you think that songwriting approach is distinctive in the contemporary Christian music world? 

I would say my approach is distinctive only in that I’m me and no one else is. I think it’s dangerous to point fingers at other writers’ motives. I write with CCM hit writers on a regular basis, and it surprises me how authentic their motives are in contrast to what the narrative might be. I write with a lot of worship leaders and every one of them has a great heart for serving their congregation through song. 

That being said, I do hear songs on Christian radio that frustrate me. But I’m not at all concerned about it. I also hear stuff I absolutely love. People find what they want to find nowadays. Everyone I know is looking for songs with depth and congregational appeal.

How do you find your balance between going after your personal musical ambitions and serving as a staff member in the local church?

Great question. It took me a few years to figure that out, but I’m in a good place now. One of the things that helps is that I don’t have a desire to be a full time touring artist. I like being home with my wife. I’ve cut out all weekend events. Any event I do outside of my church has to do with me being a worship leader and a songwriter. The standard event for me has become 1) spend a day or two teaching about worship and/or songwriting and/or 2) play a concert. This took me awhile to figure out, but it has given me the time and space I need to focus on my church.  This means it takes longer for my music to reach more people, but I’m comfortable with that. I prefer spending time and energy on the people in my church.

It's refreshing to hear that a determined songwriter doesn't view his marriage or the local church as a distraction. How do you stay accountable in regards to that? 

Well I spent several years figuring that out. I’ve come to realize what I personally value the most. I’m much happier spending every night at home with my wife than being on the road. God has given me more than I could have imagined when I first started pursuing songwriting. I try to remind myself of that.

Kip and his wife, Michelle, in the midst of a beautiful Arizona landscape.

Is it your goal to be on national Christian radio?

Yes and no. My goal has always been to spread the good news of God’s grace through my writing.  And to have that happen on a national scale would mean that a large number of people would hear it. The whole reason I’m doing this is because I believe God has called me to this vocation. I believe He wants to use me to let people know how much He loves them. So I want as many people to hear the true gospel as possible. Hearing a song of mine on the radio would no doubt be exciting, but it wouldn’t change what I would do tomorrow.

What does the near future look like for you in regards to songwriting and putting out new music?

The near future looks like releasing a few full production singles this year. Starting with, “Let Me Count the Ways.” Last year I gave people as many acoustic versions of songs as they could handle. I felt I had a lot of songs on the shelf that I wanted to throw out there. Right now I’m focused on writing for my church, identifying the songs that really work, and then letting the rest of the world hear them in a more fully realized form. At the same time I still have songs being picked up and put out by other artists, which I love.

What songs have been picked up by other guys?

“The Silence” by Luminous City, “In Your Name We Rise” by PJ Anderson, “Wrestling the Wind” (and others) by Wes Hampton. Joe Frey, Andrea Hamilton, and Among the Thirsty have used some of my songs as well.

Gotta have one "fun" question – it should be a polarizing one for the sake of stirring up the people reading this. Who are your favorite sports teams? 

NFL: 49ers
NBA: Warriors
MLB: Giants

Since you're from NorCal, I assume you're not just another fair-weather Warriors fan…

I grew up a basketball junkie. It was my life. I used to listen to Warriors games on the radio, and in fact played a game in that arena. So I hope that gives me some credit. But I’ll admit it’s been a tad bit easier to follow them lately.

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