SAWM caught up with Josh Powell and Chris Hofer to chat about the new transMISSION album
What were the challenges of releasing this album during COVID restrictions?
Josh Powell: Early March (2020), things started grinding to a halt. It was tough to get people into the studio. We would usually get groups in to do gang vocals, with lots of people standing around one mic, but we couldn’t do that. We would normally do three or four-part choir parts and we didn’t want to sacrifice that sound, so we had to do things differently. It all took longer. Rather than having the choir stuff done in a day, they had to come in one at a time and it took three or four days for a section. We actually used people recording remotely for some of our gang vocals too.
What are you most excited about for the album?
JP: There is always excitement when we reach the end of the production phase and push it out to people. We have already had good feedback to the song Unfailing God that we released as a single early. We have had some feedback to Chris’s song, Faithful, that uses the Army tune They Need Christ so that is always exciting to hear people’s reactions to it.
For us though, everything we do, we want it to be a resource to enhance corps worship. So, at a corps level we are bringing new songs for people to sing in worship. I’m always excited to see people using these songs in their own setting.
Chris Hofer: For me, as we were writing and arranging, a theme came together of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. In a year where things have been really challenging for a lot of people, to hear the feedback of people saying that, “this is what I really needed to hear” or “this really got me through a tough time today.” Although the album is just out, some people have already reached out so it’s exciting that this can be useful for someone and help them in their journey.
TransMission has always rewritten Army songs and given them a new life. You guys have continued that in this album. Why is that important to transMISSION?
JP: It serves a couple of different purposes. Personally, I love our Salvation Army song book. There is such a richness of theology and we don’t sing about 80% of it due to unfamiliar tunes or groups that can’t play the accompaniment.But the songs that shaped the Salvation Army aren’t getting used. I love the contemporary worship music genre, that’s what I do, and
part of what I love about the history and legacy of transMission is that we try to breathe a new life into some of these older Salvation Army songs. They’re not better, they’re just different. I think God made music that attaches to words to hit people in a different way. Maybe by introducing a new arrangement or melody, it can be new for those who have heard it, but it can also hit a wider demographic.
Josh, you arranged Let the Beauty of Jesus. Why did you choose that song?
JP: I had a corps officer that had been going through General Albert Orsborne’s poetry and Captain Miller showed me Let the Beauty of Jesus, which is a classic. He showed me that there are other stanzas for this song that haven’t been put to music. That got the bug in my ear and then I played with it for a couple of years. It wasn’t actually supposed to be on this album, but we had to cut another song that wasn’t coming together. I mentioned that I had this arrangement and I worked on it with Chris and Jeff, and I am happy with how it has turned out.
Chris, you wrote the arrangement of They Need Christ called Faithful. Why did you choose that song?
CH: Even before the pandemic, 2019 was a personally difficult year at times, with a theme of mental health that was hitting close to home for me. The original song came to my mind and as I looked at the lyrics, they were something that spoke to me. Firstly, how desperately I need Christ and how people around me need Christ. We all need Christ. And with the theme of God’s faithfulness that was coming up with the album, those two things took me down the road of pursuing that song.
This is the first studio album without the founders of transMission (Phil Laegar and Marty Mikles) involved in its production. Josh and Chris, you are the ones really driving the direction and ministry of the group. How has that transition been for you?
JP: I am grateful for the guys who have come before us. Phil and Marty are absolute legends in this genre in The Salvation Army. They have set the groundwork for us and for other great Salvation Army worship groups. And it is intimidating to pick up that mantle, but that is what we did. So, no matter if we are in a studio recording or out on the road as transMission, we are focused on leading people in worship. We want people to focus together on God and that has been and still is the main focus for us.
CH: Obviously, Marty and Phil have been great mentors for us and continue to be. I was under their ministry as a teen and into adulthood. I love their authentic love of Jesus and how they created music out of that authentic love for God. For me, I wanted to replicate that and to continue to create music that comes from that authentic place that supports and creates a space where people can worship God.