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Brandon Lake on Hot Christian Songs Chart-Topper ‘Gratitude,’ Collaborative Movement With Maverick City Music & More

todayFebruary 23, 2023 2

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Thanks to music streaming, television synchs and television music competitions, older songs and album cuts are finding new life more often than ever before. Such was the case recently with singer-songwriter Brandon Lake’s “Gratitude,” which has spent four weeks atop Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart and resides in the top 10 of the Christian Airplay chart.

“Gratitude” was an album cut on Lake’s 2020 album House of Miracles (released via Bethel Music), but it took some time for it to catch on. “Over the past couple of years, more people began gravitating toward it,” Lake tells Billboard. It was featured on the Christmas special for streaming series The Chosen, while The Voice contestant Bodie performed the song during season 22 of the music competition.

“Gratitude,” which he wrote with Benjamin Hastings and Dante Bowe, was released to radio in 2022. The track is a breakthrough solo hit for Lake, who has been a mainstay on Billboard’s Christian charts over the past few years, largely due to his collaborative efforts as part of groups including the Atlanta-based gospel and CCM group Maverick City Music, as well as Elevation Worship, Essential Worship and Bethel Music.

Those collaborations have positioned him at the forefront at a time when nearly a quarter of this week’s Christian Airplay chart are collaborative efforts, while nearly half of the current Hot Gospel Songs chart is comprised of collaborative songs. In addition to “Gratitude,” Lake’s unfiltered, burly vocal is featured on three other songs on the Christian Airplay chart: “Fear Is Not My Future” alongside Chandler Moore and Maverick City Music, “Son of David” with Ryan Ellis and “Greater Still” with Essential Worship.

South Carolina native Lake’s breakthrough as an artist-writer came with his debut album, 2106’s Closer, which caught the attention of fellow artist-writers in Atlanta’s music circles. In 2019 he was a co-writer alongside Tasha Cobbs Leonard on the latter’s “This is a Move,” which won the GMA Dove Award for gospel worship recorded song of the year and scored a nomination for best gospel performance/song at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards. He followed that with House of Miracles, via Bethel Music. Lake also became a household name on Christian radio when he was the featured vocalist on Elevation Worship’s “Graves into Gardens,” which he co-wrote. At the 2021 GMA Dove Awards, the song was named worship recorded song of the year, while Lake was named songwriter of the year.

The prolific and collaborative work of Maverick City Music, alongside vaunted gospel music luminary Kirk Franklin, collected four Grammy wins earlier this month. Last year, Lake also sold out his first headlining tour, the Miracle Nights tour. “It has felt like being strapped to a rocket ship and trying to hold on for dear life, in the best way,” he says.

Lake spoke with Billboard about the essence of collaboration, the genre-bridging work of Maverick City Music and what is ahead for his next project.

How did “Gratitude” come about?

I love to write with different people. At the core, I’m more in love with being a songwriter than anything. I had an opportunity to write with friends in Australia who are part of Hillsong and on this particular day I was writing with Benjamin Hastings at his apartment, overlooking the Sydney Opera House. We got into this conversation about how nothing we can offer God is that impressive to him and how humbling that is and the lyrics started from there.

The craziest thing is, it wasn’t even one of my favorites when we first began recording it. The production just wasn’t moving me at first. I re-recorded it probably four or five times and then just said, ‘Let’s take all the production away. Just put me in front of a microphone with an acoustic and I’m going to sing it as organically as I can.’ The version you hear is basically a one-take of me singing it, and then we put [production] around to support that.

You are a featured vocalist on a few songs on the charts right now. Collaboration seems to be critical for you.

Not to over-spiritualize it, but I think that’s what the Kingdom of God is about. It’s family and working together. And also, collaboration has made me better in so many ways. I can tell I’ve had different influences from vocalists and songwriters I’ve spent time with. But collaboration also changes culture — you look at any top [chart] and it feels like the world is starting to understand on a deeper level what collaboration gives. People love their favorite artists getting together and creating something they couldn’t have created on their own.

You raised all the money for your first solo record, Closer, which released in 2016. How did your first career breakthrough happen?

I raised the money for the album and had a friend help guide me through the process of producing my own record. I have 23 last names tattooed on my leg, because that was me raising the last $10,000 to be able to pay for the record. I said, “If you give a certain amount of money, I will tattoo your name on my leg.”

You were a co-writer on Tasha Cobbs Leonard’s “This Is a Move,” which earned you your first Grammy nomination.

That was a big breakthrough moment for me, because she didn’t just write the song with me — she took me under her wing and treated me like a little brother. She is an incredible mentor to me.

“Graves Into Gardens” also represented a huge hit for you with Elevation Worship, and you were previously signed with Bethel Music for a few years.

That has been one of the biggest factors in me growing an influential platform, is writing songs with Pastor Steven [Furtick] and [Elevation Worship leader] Chris Brown. God’s done so much through the songs we’ve been writing and continuing to write. Bethel was an absolute blast. Just the culture they carry is so beautiful. And during that season at Bethel, is when I came out with House of Miracles and got connected with one of my songwriting heroes, [Hillsong’s] Brooke Ligertwood and began writing with her.

The Maverick City Music collective has been incredibly, putting out more than a dozen projects since 2020. But more importantly, the group has bridged divisions within the creative communities in Contemporary Christian Music and Gospel Music.

Our founders, [Tribl Records co-founders] Tony Brown and Jonathan Jay, that’s been their heartbeat. Tony Brown co-wrote [the Chris Tomlin hit] “Good, Good Father” and has been in all these writing rooms and has experienced enough in the industry to see those divides. It always felt uncomfortable that the industry was so divided. He said he wrote a song that won urban gospel song of the year and he was like, ‘What does that mean? I just wrote a worship song.’

CCM and gospel, at the heart, are the same thing. It’s just categorized more so by the way we look, and sonically, there are different sounds that have shaped what we call “gospel” or what we call “CCM,” but to limit who can win a category based on little ways we finesse a song, or vocal expressions — and then also by skin color — it’s something that needed to change. Our sound was a blend of what you would categorize as gospel and what you would categorize as CCM. It’s really just about the spirit in the room and it just had this undeniable family component to it.

Our heartbeat is that everyone’s welcome and has a seat at the table. We’re not just inviting gospel writers and not just inviting CCM writers. We’ve had people literally in every area of the industry participate.

How has your work with Maverick City Music impacted you?

Before this movement started to make changes in the world, it changed me. I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, where most of my friends are white. I stepped into this community where I’m more of a minority. I have people I’ve grown up with that have struggled with racism. When you are a child, you hear things said, and I’ve always known that even if it was a joke, it was wrong. But it starts to put things in your head and even though it wasn’t my fault I heard those things as a child, it became my responsibility to rewire my thinking, being transformed by the renewing of your mind.

I watched this community renew my mind, and it became family and it was transforming. I’m proud to be a part of something that is helping facilitate that for hopefully a lot more people, millions of other people.

Your 2022 album, Help! (released via Tribl) also put a spotlight on mental health issues such as anxiety.

I never intended to put out a mental health-focused kind of record, but once I started touring, my anxiety came about through, actually, amazing things happening in my life. I had no idea that the body receives good stress and bad stress the same. I came home from the road and had a breaking point. I learned that if I’m going to be going the pace of a race car and not a minivan, I have to learn to change my tires often or I’m going to crash and burn. I had to learn new tools and rhythms to combat that anxiety, so I started writing songs about what I was feeling. The album started when I realized these songs weren’t just for me.

Are you working on a new record?

Yes, I have a ton of songs and we are figuring out which ones will land on the new album and we are getting into pre-production. We also have some songs on the next Elevation Worship record that are coming out, so collaboration is not slowing down.

Are you looking at collaborations to include on your next album?

Absolutely. Almost every song is collaborative, with who I’m writing with, people from different movements, cities and countries I’ve been writing with. There is definitely a collaborative thread throughout the record.

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