I couldn’t resist: I heard that a singer/songwriter in Atlanta was coming out with an album titled, Faith, the Poor, and Politics. Josh Schicker currently serves as Worship Leader in Mission at North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. He’s also an accomplished musician, recording songs and performing at Eddie’s Attic most recently.
Josh has also appeared with Sixpence None the Richer, Tyrone Wells, Jon McLaughlin, Matt Wertz, Angie Aparo, Linford Detweiler (Over the Rhine), Jars of Clay, and Mozella. Some of Josh’s other accomplishments include: Mpress Records New Arrivals Vol. 4 Compilation CD, Just Plain Folks Award Nominee, NSC Honorable Mention for “No Place Like You”, Wearelistening.com Honorable Mention for “The Other Side”, Blood:Water Mission Christmas Compilation CD 2006, Peacedriven.com Compilation CD 2007, Midwest Music Summit 2006
Faith, the Poor, and Politics is both catchy and contemplative. It’s spiritual but not in-your-face religious; personal, but not isolated from community. Below, you can read his thoughts on the album and other things in the realm of faith, politics, and culture.
James Colten: Why/how did you title your new EP, “Faith, the Poor, and Politics”?
Josh Schicker: The words, "Faith, the Poor and Politics," come directly from the lyrics of the song, "Heaven's Pavement", which is about spiritual pride and how can it keep us and others from experiencing grace. Most of the songs were finished and recorded before I chose it and it was not an easy choice. As the title, it is the best I could do to summarize the themes of the whole project. The songs range from personal reflections on love and commitment to religious zeal and introspection. My wife and I recently moved to Atlanta, GA where I serve at a church in and urban area. These three words have kind of been the theme of the challenges in my personal life as well.
JC: This is your sixth solo release. When did you release your first album? How has your music evolved since then?
JS: My music has been on a journey from being an individual artist to an artist in community. My first solo release was in 2001. It was recorded in the gothic-style chapel at Hope College in Holland, MI with simple instrumentation and a lot of natural reverb. Since then I've recorded a full studio album in Nashville, a live EP and several independent projects I recorded by myself at home. In contrast, this latest project was made possible by volunteered time by nearly everyone involved. I can remember the songs I wrote for that first project being very autobiographical while my newer songs reflect a wider perspective. Things are more meaningful when they represent and involve your community.
JC: What are some of the social justice / political / spiritual issues you thinking about during the song writing process?
JS: There are really two themes I gravitate toward as a writer: reconciliation and telling the truth. As I observe the world it occurs to me that these two subjects are at the heart of many of humanity's conflicts as well as many victories. In the song, "Small Change", I try to reconcile the fact that there are millions of people who do not have access to clean water while I have unlimited access to it here in Atlanta. My response to the call to reconciliation needs to reflect my values both as a Christian and as a human being. I've partnered with a clean water non-profit over the years in an attempt to raise awareness of the problem and funds to help combat it. Just like a drop in the ocean, every conversation can have a ripple effect that has an unknown end result.
JC: You saw The Line. As both an artist and a Christian, what were your initial impressions of the film?
JS: Watching The Line was an eye-opening experience for me. These profiles create a picture of poverty that is often seen but not acknowledged. Sometimes poverty is not across town or in "that neighborhood". Sometimes poverty is next door. While I've known people who have ended up in difficult economic standing due to circumstances beyond their control, I have rarely bothered to get close enough to truly care. The Bible says a lot about money and a lot about the poor. The Line is a great reminder to listen closely to Scripture and to each other and to react appropriately by making a change. The challenge for me is to take that first step toward making a small change in perspective.
JC: Who would you say are your biggest influences? (musically and/or spiritually)
JS: My biggest spiritual influence is my family. I grew up in a family of really kind, supportive Christian people and I really felt I had a good base for my faith from an early age. My grandmother was the church organist for 45 years and my aunt is the current worship leader at the same church. Both of them are significant influences on how my music has been both spiritually rooted and accessible. The best church music is both simple enough for the general public but rich enough to convey at least a little bit of the complexity of grace.
JC: What would you like to tell Christians (either in America or in Atlanta) about serving the poor and thoughtfully engaging in politics?
JS: Whenever I am in front of a gathering of Christians I am reminded that any advice or instruction I offer needs to begin with me. Whether it is a prayer of confession in a service of worship at my church or a set-up for a song at a concert, the words I speak need to be sincere and not just pious nonsense. If I take "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31) seriously, I cannot ignore those in my community in need (the poor) and my power to have an influence on their well-being in society (politics). In other words, I need to recognize my own poverty first and then I can be of help to others.
JC: You've played at Eddie's Attic a number of times. Of all the musicians that have performed on that stage (e.g. Indigo Girls, John Mayer, Justin Bieber, The Civil Wars, et al), who would you most like to collaborate with?
JS: No question: Shawn Mullins. He is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. His songs are about real people and real emotion and I feel that he cares about what he writes about. Back in the late 1990s I once sat outside of a venue he was playing at to hear his set because I couldn't afford a ticket.
James Colten is Assistant to the CEO at Sojourners. Follow him on twitter (@jamescolten). Josh Schicker is an Atlanta-based singer-songwriter with a folk-pop sound. Visit his website for more info: www.joshschicker.com