Steven Curtis Chapman, who’ll perform at the Las Cruces Pan American Center on Thursday, March 23, has been writing songs for three decades. More than 50 of them have hit No. 1 on the Christian radio, and he’s got a couple handfuls of Gospel Music Association awards for best songs and songwriting.
But after 18 studio albums – including his release from earlier this year, “Worship and Believe” – he says he still doesn’t know much about songwriting.
“You always feel like you’re in kindergarten with so much to learn ahead of you,” Chapman said. “For me, with my faith, that’s part of the miracle of experiencing God in our lives. He’s given us the gift of creativity.”
He’s constantly writing songs, even if he’s not sitting with a guitar or at a desk trying to pen some lyrics.
“A lot of times, as soon as I’ve had a thought, a melody will come,” he said.
Many of those thoughts, Chapman said, are immediately sung, played or spoken into the voice messages on his phone.
“It’s napkins, it’s the back of paper menus at restaurants, it’s tearing a page out of the airline magazine and writing something down on it,” Chapman said. “The phone has radically changed that for me. You always have your phone with you. I’ll type in an idea or I’ll sing a melody into it. Sometimes it’s just a snippet. I’ve got thousands of these.”
His songs, Chapman says, are primarily rooted in his life rather than coming from observations or more abstract themes.
“In my view, my best songs, the ones that impact people the most, are from experiences that are my own,” he said
Chapman has also written from observation and made-up stories, like when he was asked to do a song for “The Apostle,” the 1997 Robert Duvall film about a Pentecostal preacher who commits murder.
“There wasn’t a lot I’d have in common with the character Duvall is playing,” Chapman said. “My job was to find where those intersect with my life and my personal experiences that I could relate to.”
Like most songwriters, Chapman constantly tinkers with his compositions, reworking them right up until it’s time to take them into the studio for recording.
“Most of the songs get rewritten five times or 15 times,” Chapman said. “I kind of drive myself – and particularly, my wife – crazy with that.”