Meet Mark Schultz
"I was pretty nervous about releasing my first album. Those were songs I had written for specific people in my life. I didn't know if their stories would mean that much to people whom weren't somehow connected to them. What I found though, after the record was released, was that the things I had written about were pretty universal. I can't tell you how many times people have written or come up to me since and said 'Thank you. Your songs express exactly how we feel. They tell our story in a way that we never had the words to say.'"
Even so, the quick and stunning success of the project took everyone by surprise, Mark included. Garnering seven Dove Award nominations and numerous other industry accolades (including #1 Best New Artist and #3 Best Album as ranked by CCM Update, and Christian Song of the Year as picked by American Songwriter Magazine) it became apparent that Mark had tapped into a universal reservoir of emotion and expression. Song after song raced up the charts, securing three #1's-"I Am the Way," "Remember Me" and "He's My Son" (which also landed a #22 spot on the Billboard AC chart)--and thrusting Mark into the headlining spot on two separate tours. Tens of thousands of people experienced for the first time the unique, intimate, and personable atmosphere Mark creates in a concert setting. And those numbers continue to increase dramatically as Mark headlines another tour this year. In short, since the release of his first record just a few short months ago, Mark Schultz's fairly predictable life as a Nashville youth minister has been turned on its head.
"The last year has gone so fast it's been like living five years in the space of one," Mark says. "I'm still trying to make sense out of everything that's happened. The biggest struggle I have now is to balance my time so I can stay plugged in to the important relationships in my life. That's where I grow spiritually and where the inspiration for most of my songs still comes from. I can't let the touring and the media pressures draw me away from there."
Mark Schultz's much-anticipated new sophomore project, Song Cinema, still draws deeply from those relationships. In that way it's almost like a second chapter to his critically acclaimed debut album. Mark teamed up again with producer Monroe Jones (Third Day, Chris Rice, Ginny Owens), Song Cinema carries the same poignant, heartfelt sentiments and the same instantly accessible sound while revealing a bit more maturity and breadth in both music and lyric. Having traveled in Europe for a year since the release of his first record, Mark seems to have absorbed and incorporated some of the diverse artistic and cultural influences he encountered there.
"Song Cinema definitely branches out some from the first project," Mark says. "It's centered in a lot of the same things but it has some added elements that are just a result of traveling and seeing God work all over the world. I knew God was busy in my little corner of the world, but now I've experienced a bigger picture and I know that it's changed me."
The project's first single, "I Have Been There," reflects that expanded perspective through a series of heart-gripping vignettes, revealing the constancy of God's presence even in the most troubled of times, with a soaring melody and big chorus.
"There's no place any of us can go that God hasn't already been," Mark says. "When you're in the deepest, darkest valley of your life, that's the very place that you'll find God waiting for you."Musically, Song Cinema has the heart-rending anthems like "Back In His Arms Again"--a song of hope and invitation Mark wrote for a young man who had strayed from God--to the joyous unpredictable, 70's influenced "Back To You," to the festive, eclectic, African-rooted worship song "We Are Calling You." The rest of the music on Song Cinema likewise defies easy categorization, exploring a diverse soundscape held together mainly by Mark's voice and his unique approach to the lyric.
"I almost never know what I'm going to write about when I sit down at the piano," Mark explains, "I just start playing and lose myself in the music. Then the words start coming on their own. The lesson I learned from the first record was that when something comes from your heart and it was put there by God and you just let it out, it's a great thing. It's real and people can sense that."
The Rachael Lampa duet, "Think Of Me," is just such a song. An emotive and sentimental ballad, "Think Of Me" expresses the heart of a true friendship centered in Christ.
"I wrote it when I had to say goodbye to some friends who were moving away," Mark remembers. "'Think Of Me' was my way of saying 'Goodbye isn't the end of what we've built here. What we share in Christ will continue into eternity.'"
"Time Of My Life" is a love song," Mark explains. "It's about a guy who falls for a girl when they're young and he continues to feel crazy about her even after they've grown old together. I had to sneak into a university music department to write this one because I didn't have a piano and it was only a week before my friend's wedding!"
In other songs that Schultz pens, the stories remain sublimated beneath the surface. That approach is evident in the corporately singable "Faith, Hope and Love" (penned for a graduating class of seniors), the cover of Mr. Mister's 1985 hit "Kyrie Eleison," and the soaring power-pop number "When The Mountains Fall."
"I think people respond the way they do because it's obvious I'm just a normal guy," Mark offers. "I couldn't pull off the pop-star thing if I tried. That's one reason why my music has been able to span generations. Audiences range in age from 8 to 50 and everyone's comfortable. I think people feel like we're in their living room and that it could just as easily be them up there telling their stories on stage as me. In fact, I think they recognize a lot of my stories as true in their own lives too."
Mark's easygoing personality made him a good choice and his relational skills have always mixed well with his songs, creating in his live performances an instant bond between artist and listeners. In fact, in his concerts it's often the stories Mark Schultz tells between his songs that have the greatest impact.
Claiming as his mission statement a desire to create music and stories that inspire people to be more connected with God and with each other, Mark Schultz actively seeks to foster that reality in his own life. The ten tracks on Song Cinema add up to a compelling picture, offering transcendent glimpses of God at work in the everyday fabric of life, and ultimately giving a sense of how it is that Mark manages to keep his feet on the ground even in the midst of his new-found success.
"A lot of people ask me how they can break into music and do what I'm doing," Mark says, "but it's not about that. It's all about where God puts you. I'm happiest just hanging out with the kids in the youth group. There's something humbling about being with people who aren't afraid to duct tape you to your bed on a missions trip. When I have to be on the road, I love going back home to people who love me not because I'm a singer but because they know they can call me at three in the morning to talk about their problems. The next two years for me will not be about how many shows I can do, but about figuring out how I can be an artist and still have a significant impact in the lives of those closest to me. I want those relationships to shape my music, not the other way around."