Co- founders of Bethel Music, Brian & Jenn Johnson just released their latest album, “After All These Years”. The husband and wife duo, parents to 3 children, share their inspiring story of overcoming and finding peace through Brian’s nervous breakdown in After All These Years. Vulnerable, moving and inspiring lyrics, all co-written by the two, are placed along a background of an 80-piece symphony orchestra giving way to a fresh take on worship music. We had the honor and privilege to interview Brian Johnson and ask him questions about their new album as well as questions about leading worship and building strong worship teams.
Bethel Music Interview: Brian Johnson – After All These Years
It has been more than 10 years since Brian & Jenn Johnson released a solo album. Their last solo album was “We Believe” recorded back in 2005. Brian & Jenn Johnson are co-founders of Bethel Music, WorshipU, and have been integral in the production of more than 15 albums that have influenced the culture of worship across the global church. They are committed to raising a healthy family, cultivating community, and fostering unity among worship leaders from around the world. Together they are passionate about raising up worshipers who take hold of their true identity and pursue intimacy with God above all else. Brian and Jenn reside in Redding, California, with their three wonderful children.
Here is what Brian had to say about their latest album, leading worship, and building strong worship teams.
How much would you say your style of worship has changed since your last album?
“I think part of the style thing, is what seems to work, versus what’s our style. I mean I like a bunch of different styles. Back in the day, we did what we could with the musicians we had, and the producers we had. This new album, we don’t even do that sound during worship because it’s like an 80 piece string orchestra. We wanted to do something that felt a bit more devotional and a bit more classic sounding, versus just pads and electric guitars. That’s always the search, but still trying to make it palpable. I would say it’s changed a lot if you’re listening to the albums. They are totally different, you know? The new album is much more devotional with strings. We kinda wanted it to be a heart album.”
Where would you say you draw the most inspiration from your worship songs, aside from the word of God?
“You know it’s interesting. I think we are always trying to put ourselves in either places or positions where we can hear, create like what God is saying and what we are supposed to do. In Jenn’s case, she will get a theme or word from God or have a dream and then she will be on a quest to write that, put that in song form. On this album specifically, is the first time in her life that she will say that she feels like everything she wanted to say got put in song form on an album. Which is awesome, it’s a big deal for her…. Honestly, I think in life, a lot of it feels mundane. But then we have glimpses of the profound, but you don’t get the profound unless you live life and do the normal. We have 3 kids, and we have exactly what happens when you have kids, we have a lot of normal. We live on a farm, we have animals everywhere, we have nature, we have a big life of traveling, of label [Bethel Music], a lot of relational stuff. Through all of that, you find who you are, you find out what you believe in God or what you are supposed to believe in God. I draw a lot of inspiration from the Word, honestly, that’s an obvious. My devotional time has changed since that nervous breakdown I had. My time with God is very regular, early mornings. I think a lot of it is, I pull from the confidence in God and less about what’s my call or what am I supposed to be doing on the earth. Less about that and more about God. I feel like if we can portray who God is in song form, the response will take care of itself. The vastness, the bigness, the all consuming, all the stuff we deal with and focus on in this life is nothing compared to what He has called us to. The eternal or the great beyond, that perspective.”I feel like if we can portray who God is in song form, the response will take care of itself.… Click To Tweet
Bethel Music is known for your raw and spontaneous worship. How would you encourage worship leaders who want that in their church, but maybe their church isn’t used to it?
“I would say… creating even-we call them ‘selah’-moments at the end of the song, where you’re just playing like a two chord progression and then you encourage people to sing out their own song. Like what’s on your heart to sing. What’s your own personal response. Creating little moments, little pockets, it’s not that nothing is going on, but there is just a little template music going on that people can sing or pray or contemplate in those moments. And what happens is, as you do that, people will want that more. They will realize that there is value in that. Starting there or making up a little chorus that’s not on the overhead, it’s just a theme you feel God is saying for the morning and have everyone sing it with you. Those are like the baby steps. And then eventually you create an atmosphere where people want that and are coming for that and used to that. Then they have more grace and they allow you, in a sense, to expand that time and create a moment.”
What would you say are some practical tips to building strong and healthy worship teams?
“Everything we do is team-based team leadership. I’d say, building a strong healthy team,… instead of it being one leader that calls all the shots, there’s gotta be a roundtable… There’s gotta be people that are strong in different things. In our case, I am visionary, I’ve got certain things I am good at, and certain things I’m not good at. And all the problems I’ve run into in my leadership, is trying to do the things I am not good at…. Finding a group of people that are really good at what they do, and then letting them do that; That’s the leadership thing of building team. Making it fun, setting vision so that people want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. The classic leadership book stuff. I think the problems with leadership, you get a leader who is typically someone who is dominant, the loudest voice, the most dominant person. That is a mistake. That person is going to have control issues, and they are leading because they have to be in charge and that is terrible. So I think what needs to happen is there needs to be a group of people. Yeah, there can be a person in charge, of course. There’s gotta be a group of people that are looking at questions, making decisions together, thinking about all the angles. That’s a recipe for success. Every great company has that at the head and that changed everything when we started leading that way.”
How do you, Jenn, and your whole team stay humble throughout all of this? Churches using your worship songs each week, your albums always hitting the top charts of iTunes, and people wanting you to tour all over.
“I know that it’s the team. The only reason we have the success we have is because we’ve put our heads together and we’ve done something together. So it brings the reality that the favor of God is there. It’s nothing deserved necessarily, we didn’t deserve or do stuff to make that happen. So we are very aware of that and we are very aware that it takes all of us to do it. Not one person can take credit, really. People ask me about my leadership, and I might break all the rules of every leadership book, but the truth is I try to stay in my lane and let other people stay in their lane. I’ve got a great best friend who runs the label [Bethel Music] as the CEO. He’s amazing, he’s a genius at what he does. He keeps things going. I don’t lord over him, micromanage him. And I don’t act like I am a businessman, because I am not. I mean, I can do business now, I’ve learned a lot from him, but I listen to him. I ask him, “What kinda decision are we dealing with here?”, and I don’t, as a spiritual leader, try to step over into businessman and be like, “You know, actually what we should do…” You know what I mean?… Confidence in who you are, finding what you are good at, finding out what you are called to do. And be confident in that. Not being threatened when someone comes along that is better in other things… People want to be on a team, where people can admit what they are not good at… I believe everyone has a point of genius. And just figuring out what that is, is the goal. And celebrating someone else’s point of genius when it’s not yours, I think that’s a big one.”
Here is one of our favorite tracks off their new album!
Brian & Jenn share more about the new album, stories behind some of the new songs, and more!
The seasons in our lives are like pages in a story. And with each new chapter, we find the faithfulness of God. In the hustle of daily life, it is vital that we stop and reflect on His goodness and what He is doing. The good. The Bible says “whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…think on these things.” Magnify them.
With hearts filled with gratitude, worship leaders Brian & Jenn Johnson decided it was time to look back on God’s steadfastness throughout their lives. Being in ministry since they were teenagers, After All These Years, is their first solo project in more than a decade. This is their first-ever studio album since releasing their live debut, Undone, in 2001 and their follow-up, We Believe, in 2006. Brian and Jenn have continued to shape the direction of the modern worship movement as worship leaders at Bethel Church in Redding, California, and founders of Bethel Music, a collective that includes highly-regarded singers and songwriters like Jeremy Riddle, Amanda Cook, Steffany Gregzinger, Jonathan David and Melissa Helser, Paul and Hannah McClure, Kalley Heiligenthal, Kristene DiMarco, and many others. Through the years, Bethel Music’s releases have been honored with multiple Dove Awards, and Brian & Jenn’s songs, including “One Thing Remains,“ “Forever,” “No Longer Slaves,” “Love Came Down” and “God I Look To You,” have been carried around the globe.
The couple is largely known for writing anthems that give voice to countless worshippers, yet on After All These Years, they chose to forego big production in favor of a timeless, intimate album. “It’s a devotional album where we’re just reflecting on the faithfulness of God,” Brian explains. “There’s a back-to-basics feel about it that’s very peaceful and inspires the devotional life—devotion to Jesus. It’s not as much about taking over the world as it is about gaining a right perspective again and going back to the purity of what it means to follow Jesus.”
With producer Jason Ingram at the helm of their new album, Brian & Jenn decided to use an 80-piece symphony orchestra as the backdrop for their songs, giving the new tracks a peaceful, dreamlike quality. “It’s moving. When you hear an orchestra, it pulls on the strings of your heart, so that was just something we were drawn to, sonically.” Jenn shared, “We have always loved the concepts of timeless and ageless. We’re not looking to be trendy or cool—just something that’s going to last and has the underlying tones of those classic elements.”
Together with Ingram, beautiful orchestration, transparent lyrics, and intentionally under-produced elements, leaving raw moments, they created an album that’s just that,. “I think with this album, it’s not as much about being wowed by something, but about being honest and raw,” Brian offers. “We purposely, on many occasions, decided to keep things the way they were—even a vocal that’s not perfect.”
Each song serves as a direct reflection on a specific season experienced by the couple, encompassing 20+ years of ministry, marriage and life with their three children. “The songs all came out of situations or themes that have been a part of our life. We wrote the songs in the past couple years, but a lot of them are themes that have been in our spirits and in our lives for a very long time,” Jenn shares. “It was really exciting to make an album that centers around an expression of our history with God versus just what we could sing corporately, which we also love.”
In the midst of the creative process for the album, the couple endured a particularly challenging season as Brian suffered a nervous breakdown. “Life caught up with me,” he admits. “I really had to work through a bunch of stuff—some forgiveness issues, and some difficult conversations I needed to have. Jenn really helped me with that, but I had to let go of a lot of things. I started getting up every morning early and reading the Bible and listening to worship music all day, because I quit everything and rebooted my whole sense of who I am. My devotional life took off, and I started really seeking God. Through all that, step by step, I got better.” Brian was out of commission for over six months. Work on After All These Years came to a halt as he focused on his physical and emotional health. During that time, a demo Ingram had recorded of a song called “Greater Than All Other Names” became an anchor of personal solace for Brian and later a cornerstone track for the new album.
“I listened to that song on repeat every day for six months straight, it really ministered to me.” Brian reveals. Out of all of them, regardless of what happens to that song, that was my lifeline—Jason’s version of him and a piano.”
Following the breakdown, Brian reevaluated facets of both his personal and professional life. He came back to the songs previously begun for After All These Years finishing the tracks with a renewed sense of purpose and passion, noting that after the incident, he really felt like he had something to say through song. “It felt like we did this album because of something instead of for something—instead of for our ministry or recognition or because I had a bunch of songs, and I just needed to do an album. It felt like we did it because of something that God had proven over and over in our lives,” he shares. “The pressure of having to have an album full of new-school, cool production kind of went away, and we just went and did an album that’s honest.”
Featuring co-writes on every single track from Brian & Jenn and stacked with contributions from A-list writers, including: Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin, Matt Maher, Jeremy Riddle, Seth Mosley and Paul McClure, among others, After All These Years radiates the constant character of Christ in the midst of life’s unexpected twists and turns. Songs like “I Won’t Forget” and “Only Jesus” were written in the aftermath of Brian’s breakdown, boasting a vulnerability that’s only forged through fire. “That song’s my testimony,” Brian says of “I Won’t Forget.”
In writing “Only Jesus,” Brian says he hopes listeners discover the victory found in Christ’s death and resurrection. It offers the wisdom he gleaned through writing it: “It costs every ounce of your life to follow after the resurrected Jesus,” he says.
Although some of the songs were written during times of sadness, the tracks convey reverence and hope, breakdown and breakthrough.
With “Mention of Your Name” Jenn recalls the birth of her first child, which required an emotional emergency C-section, only a year-and-a-half into their marriage. “It was our first trauma, really, in our life, and it was this intense moment. I closed my eyes in the hospital bed, and I just said, ‘Jesus. Help.” And He did. “Just the mention of His name, and I had an encounter with Heaven. I felt like liquid Peace run through my body, and I knew that no matter what I had coming, I was going to be fine.”
Jenn wrote “Gravity” after an encounter with God she had during worship as she began to see her earthly circumstances from God’s point of view. “I was overwhelmed with a situation and it was clouding everything in my life. While closing my eyes worshiping on the front row, God lifted me up into space and He said, ‘Look down. Do you even see this problem? No. You don’t even see the earth. This is not what I’m doing. Focus on what I’m doing and what matters eternally.’ I was so caught up in how God was orchestrating the galaxy and reassured that it was going to be OK and He knew exactly what he was doing. I was able to see from heaven’s perspective what mattered in that moment and what matters eternally. I think that’s the invitation for every believer on a daily basis.”
There’s also the prayerful, “Let Me Be Love,” written after Jenn’s encounter with God where she felt so passionate about celebrating diversity and loving people, especially in light of heart breaking racial tensions. She said, “I just wanted to hug people that I didn’t know and say, I’m sorry.” The Lord spoke to me about BEING love, releasing His love and letting Him do what only He could do, sometimes simply by making eye contact and smiling at people.
Every song testifies to the ways Brian & Jenn have seen God at work through both laughter and tears. However, although After All These Years recounts Brian & Jenn’s journey, they want listeners to find their own stories within their narrative.
“I think the album as a whole will really inspire people to hear God and to have that personal relationship with God for themselves.” Jenn offers. “Our prayer is that people have encounters and it makes people hungry to build their relationship with God on a greater level.”
As partners in marriage and ministry, Brian & Jenn desire to know God more themselves, to tell of who He is and what He’s done and to live their lives on earth modeling the Kingdom of Heaven. In looking back, they’ve discovered that with every step and in every season, God is faithful and present, after all these years.