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Chatting with Michael W. Smith - All things Christmas!

By: Matt Niehoff

Tag: Holidays

I recently had the chance to sit down with one of my favorite artists, the one and only Michael W. Smith to discuss his newly released Christmas record The Spirit of Christmas, the subsequent tour, and his upcoming performances on CMA's Country Christmas - airing on ABC Monday, December 1 at 7PM Central.

Michael W. Smith with Carrie Underwood at the CMA Country Christmas Taping
If you haven't given The Spirit of Christmas a listen, do. It's my own personal dream-duet album, featuring cuts with Vince Gill, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Amy Grant, Carrie Underwood, and more. Carrie's take on Michael-penned classic "All Is Well" is life changing, and Lady A/Little Big Town just get to me with their smooth harmonies on "White Christmas" and "Silent Night", respectively. And ya'll: Martina! Goodness gracious. Her and Michael's take on "What Child is This" is gloriously haunting and truly powerful.

Seriously, Michael et al? Thank you. I need to take a moment.

Moving on.

It was wonderful chatting with Mr. Smith about the album, kicking off the holiday season with the utmost style. So here we go.


EN: How long have you been in Nashville?

MWS: "Since 1978. I love it here, I really do. It really has transformed in the last 5 or 6 years. When I moved to Franklin in '88 we thought we were moving to the middle of nowhere. No Cool Springs Mall, and in downtown Nashville - there wasn't much to look at!"

EN: What inspired you to create another Christmas album?

MWS: "I'm a Christmas music fanatic. And honestly, this whole thing was born out of last year's Country Music Christmas special. Robert [Deaton, executive producer] knew I wanted to do another record at some point, he came to me and said, 'I have an idea.' And he spent 30 minutes pitching me this idea. All the artists on this record, he had picked out every one of them."

EN: And how did idea of having Bono on the record happen?

MWS: "[Robert said] 'What do you think about Bono?', and it was just like aw, man. . .it was a hard ask. I knew it was probably going to be impossible to ask him to sing. . .but Robert thought if he recited a poem, or a spoken work, which I thought was a brilliant idea, and thought you know what? He might do that. So I asked him. He e-mailed me back and said, 'Sounds interesting, I'll have to run it up the 'politburo'.'"

[According to Michael, Politburo = Irish for the politics of who's going to allow him to do it [the record]. And clearly, it worked. Bono is a part of The Spirit of Christmas, reciting a piece called "The Darkest Midnight".]

EN: Did Robert pick the songs, too?

MWS: "I changed a few of them. I suggested 'All is Well' for Carrie [Underwood] instead of 'O Holy Night'. I said [to Robert] you need to listen to 'All is Well' - it's my favorite song I've ever written. He listened to it, and said, 'She's gotta do it.' I changed the Vince song, too, and I think we both decided on the Home Alone Song."

[The "Home Alone Song" is "Somewhere In My Memory" - one of my faves on the record]

EN: In addition to "All is Well", is there any new or original material on the record?

MWS: "I composed the very beginning piece ["The Miracle of Christmas"], and a little piece in the middle of "The Spirit of Christmas", and then I wrote the music for "Almost There". "Peace" is a Michael McDonald original that he wrote with Beth Nielson Chapman, and that is an amazing song."

EN: I see you're performing with Carrie Underwood [All is Well] and Little Big Town [Silent Night] on CMA Country Christmas. How is it performing and working with these folks?

MWS: "It's awesome. I'm humbled by the whole thing, really. It's funny you get in with some of these people, Little Big Town was one of them, they all go, 'Oh, Go West Young Man was my favorite record, 'Place in this World' was my favorite song 20 years ago.' It kind of makes you feel a little old, but you know, that means a lot. Carrie said she was a fan, she used to sing my songs in church. It's crazy."

Smith with Little Big Town at the CMA Country Christmas taping
EN: Let's talk holiday season for a moment. What are some of the traditions in the Smith family?

MWS: "Just simple stuff. Everybody opens up one present on Christmas Eve, it's always been a tradition. I think some traditions are meant to break, some are not. All the kids and grandkids come over, and we read The Christmas Story. We do the countdown. We close the doors, do the 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, crank up the Andy Williams Christmas record - my favorite of all time - the doors bust open, we hope that no one gets run over, and open presents. Paper is flying everywhere - it's crazy."

EN: Are there any Nashville-specific activities that you and your family partake in?

MWS: "Sometimes we'll go out to the Opryland Hotel and look at all the lights - it's incredible. There's two things we always do with our kids - one that I think is really important that is we go to a retirement home. We visit people who have been completely forgotten. I remember the first time we did that with our kids - it was a game changer for them. And then, we love to go hop in the car and find out who is completely fanatical about putting up millions of lights in their front yard - it's huge production. We try to find a couple of those."

EN: Congrats to you on being named AFP's Nashville Philanthropist for 2014. You've clearly made an impact in this town - with your Rocketown initiative, and all you do with Compassion. What does that mean to you?

MWS: "It's a little overwhelming. I feel like there's so many people out there that deserve it more than I do. It took my breath away - it was a very emotional. . And it's been a team effort. It's hard to accept an award you feel like you need to share with another 100 or 200 people."

[Side note: 75,000 children have been Sponsored through Smith's music and efforts.]

EN: So, you're hitting the road soon! Tell us a little about your Spirit of Christmas tour.

MWS: "The day after Thanksgiving we're kicking it off in San Diego, and we're playing Nashville Symphony. I love the Nashville Symphony - I've been playing with them for a long long time. . .I used to be nervous playing my hometown, and now it's one of my favorite to play."

EN: Any surprises we can expect out on the road? Anything to look forward to?

MWS: "We're playing some new songs, Rachel Lampa is going to be singing 'All is Well' every night. It's going to be amazing, she's going to knock it out of the park."

--

Michael, you've made an impact on so many lives - and we appreciate everything you do, especially here in Nashville. Thanks for taking the time to sit down and talk with us - and we look forward to seeing you out on the road!

Michael's Spirit of Christmas in Concert will be heading to our gorgeous Nashville Symphony on December 4. Purchase your tickets here.