INTERVIEW: Montell Jordan + Ross King

By February 28, 2014 Interview

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This Month: Montell Jordan + Ross King 

Montell Jordan became a household name in 1995 with his smash R&B single, “This is How We Do It,” resulting in a slew of gold and platinum records and international tours. Two years later, Ross King requested the song be played for his first date dance with the woman who would become his wife. Nearly two decades later the R&B star-turnedworship leader sang one of King’s songs as a benediction to his sermon resulting in a face-to-face cowrite with the independent Texas singer-songwriter and a musical friendship in the making. For this exclusive Full Circle conversation the mutual admirers chat about songwriting, worship music and their respective musical journeys.

Andrew: From a platinum-selling R&Bcelebrity to a worship leader and artist,what prompted the shift in musical andcareer focus? 

Montell: Since I was a child I knew I was called to ministry, I just didn’t answer. My journey to become a worship leader began in the music business as an R&B recording artist. I was doing what I was gifted to do, songwriting, producing and artistry, but not what I was called to do – ministry. I always found myself wanting more than success in

other people’s eyes; I desired to be significant in God’s eyes. This journey has taken more than world travel, performances, triumphs and disappointments, but a lifetime to finally arrive in the place where I am satisfied in what I am called and destined to do. By answering the call to ministry, I am now also able to do what I am gifted to do in music.

 

Andrew: Your recent double-disc release, Shake Heaven, earned you a Top 5Praise & Worship record and Dove Award nomination. How did this record helpyou answer that call?

Montell: Shake Heaven was a great introduction into the CCM music world, and I am honored that my contributions have been recognized in efforts to bring the music from our local ministry at Victory World Church into the national and international worship community. But I have one career. I am in ministry. I have been an artist before, so opportunities to share that career aspiration through Victory World Music and ShakeHeaven are appreciated but not a priority. I see my peers touring throughout the worldand I simply realize my journey has taken me in a reverse direction. They create worship music to take to the world. I took to the world to now create worship music.

Andrew: Ross, you have chartered a successful musical career as anindependent artist, songwriter and worship leader. Where are you now in yourprofessional journey? 

Ross: There’s no short answer to this question, but I’ll do my best! I do several things, all within the “working musician” category. I am a staff songwriter for Simpleville Music/ Fair Trade Records, a part-time worship pastor for Community Church in College Station, TX, a traveling singer-songwriter and worship leader, and occasionally a producer and engineer for various indie projects. I’m blessed to have enough work to keep me busy and pay the bills. And I get to have a nice balance of “mainstream” work in the Nashville CCM world and “indie.”

Andrew: With a dual experience recording your own songs and utilizing a historiccatalog to facilitate corporate response as a worship leader, how do theseseemingly different focuses relate? 

Ross: The most obvious way that they complement each other is when I end up writing and leading worship songs, which I integrate with songs that I didn’t write – hymns and popular worship songs. I’m getting invited to write more with other worship leaders for their churches and their recording projects. That’s something I love because I get a chance to be a small part of what God is doing among other groups and other denominations. Writing performance-based songs gives me a little more creative room. To me, worship music has a set of unwritten rules: it has to be singable, should not be too tough to understand, needs to be memorable and shouldn’t leave a lot of unanswered questions. But with my singer-songwriter/performance music, I can talk about anything without parameters or rules. Those songs are where I speak more bluntly about my struggles and questions. Those songs allow for humor and storytelling. Maybe worship music should have room for that, but in my experience it does not. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just what music needs to be when you have twenty minutes on a Sunday morning to present to a wide variety of people.

Andrew: Montell, you recently wrote with Ross for your latest project. How didyou first connect with him? 

Montell: When I first heard Ross’ song “Clear the Stage” it wrecked me. It is simple, direct, cutting and truthful, everything I was experiencing at the time. After entering ministry, at the conclusion of a message I spoke called, “The Power of Music”, I sang that song. Victory World Music reached out to Ross afterwards to get clearance to post the song along with the message on social media, and Ross and I connected. Since then I have grown to know him as a beautiful person unafraid to explore the mysteries of God through music. And we found our writing styles complement each other.

Ross: I’m sure I knew about Montell a long time before he knew about me! [Laughs] I was just telling him that I requested his hit, “This is How We Do It”, at a dance around 1997, where my wife and I had one of our first dates. It was a Christian sorority event and they were playing mostly Christian music. As a kid who loved “secular” R&B growing up, I wasn’t happy with Christian music at a dance. (I’m not saying it was a good thing!) So I asked them to play some Montell Jordan and of course the place went crazy. But a couple of years ago someone emailed me the video of Montell preaching and singing “Clear the Stage”. I was really honored and surprised. My publisher was going to send me to Atlanta to write with a church, so I contacted Montell and said, “We should write.” He was very gracious and open, so we did. We’ve only written one song so far, but it was easy to connect and find a groove. I think we will write a lot more.

Montell: Music brought us together.

Andrew: As a songwriter who are some of your major influences? 

Montell: In my early years, I was mostly influenced by R&B songwriters. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, Curtis Mayfield, Michael Jackson, Prince, Phil Collins, Babyface, The Winans and Commissioned. I currently am inspired by John Legend, Lecrae, Michael W. Smith, Chris Tomlin, The Torwalts, Israel Houghton, Ricardo Sanchez and the young unknown worship leaders and songwriters I am currently mentoring and learning from daily.

Ross: Growing up, I was influenced by the music my parents listened to like Conway Twitty, Don Williams, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell. Those guys were all fantastic songwriters. But like Montell, I was also into pop and R&B. Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, the list goes on forever! I remember becoming aware of writers in the liner notes. I started realizing there were songwriters like Diane Warren and David Foster who weren’t getting famous doing it. They were behind the scenes. And as a lifelong introvert, I was extremely intrigued by that. These days I listen to a ton of worship music from Matt Redman to Paul Baloche, And I still love pop music. So I try to stay aware of everything from Taylor Swift and Katy Perry to Owl City and Coldplay.

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About Montell: Earning a household name for his #1 R&B perennial hit, “This is How We Do It” in the 90’s, followed by a string of gold and platinum albums on Def Jam, Jordan released his first urban worship record, Shake Heaven, last year as a result of his worship pastor role at Atlanta’s Victory World Church. Shake Heaven reached Top 5 on Billboard’s Praise & Worship chart and earned Jordan his first Dove Award nod. Aside from handling worship leader duties at Atlanta’s Victory World Church, Jordan has a starring role in an upcoming Christian based film, “Adopted.” Produced by Fizz City Films and directed by Georgia Tanner, Jordan plays the role of Brian, a man who struggles with alcoholism while desiring to lead those he loves to Christ. For more information visit: www.victoryworldmusic.com. 

About Ross: Having written songs for the likes of Jimmy Needham, Todd Agnew and Heather Williams, independent singer-songwriter Ross King has released nearly adozen records, performed hundreds of concerts and written songs for the likes of Jimmy Needham, Todd Agnew and Heather Williams as a staff writer at Nashville’s Simpleville Music. Most Sunday nights you can find him leading worship for Community Church, a church he helped build from the ground up in College Station, TX. To find out more visit: www.rosskingmusic.com or www.comchurch.com.

About Andrew: Andrew Greer is an acclaimed singer-songwriter, respected music journalist, and co-creator of the innovative Hymns for Hunger Tour with fellow singer-songwriter Cindy Morgan. All Things Bright & Beautiful: Hymns for the Seasons (Lucid Artist), an instrumental collection produced, arranged, and performed by Greer, held the #1 spot on Nielsen Christian SoundScan’s Instrumental chart for 23 consecutive weeks. A 2013 Dove Award nominee, Andrew’s first Christmas record, Angel Band: The Christmas Sessions, releases this fall and features collaborations with music legends Phil Madeira, The McCrary Sisters, Cindy Morgan, and Sandi Patty. For more information, visit: www.andrew-greer.com or www.hymnsforhunger.com