There’s A Light, the new solo offering from Selah founding member Todd Smith, released August 26 from Curb Records and garnered the #2 position on the Nielsen SoundScan’s Inspirational chart this week. There’s A Light was produced by Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, Crowder) and is Todd's sophomore solo set. Highlights of the project include the title-cut and first single, "There's A Light"; “Jesus Is,” written while Smith’s father was battling Leukemia last year; “Right Where I Belong,” featuring Dove Award-winning singer/songwriter Ellie Holcomb; and “Calling All Fathers,” a deeply personal anthem encouraging dads to embrace their God-given roles with accountability and confidence. There’s A Light also features “Dmitri’s Song (Jesus Is Alive)," a track penned by Smith and Cash recounting the true story of a Russian pastor imprisoned for his faith for 17 years. Todd recently took some time to share with us the stories behind his new music and where he draws his songwriting inspiration.
Congratulations on your release of There's A Light last week! Tell us a little about the type of music you chose to include on this album.
I’ve been influenced by so many different genres of music, so for this album I wanted to represent a variety of styles. I tried not to worry about fitting a formula. That said, there are elements of pop, Americana, rock, 80s – lots of cool synths, big ballads, and even a little dance feel. Yep, I did say dance!
Was there a particular theme you kept coming back to when you were crafting this project?
As I was writing and looking for songs on this album, the words “light” and “hope” started to emerge as larger themes. There’s a popular phrase, “a light at the end of the tunnel,” but we came up with a twist on it for the title-cut and wanted to encourage listeners that “there’s a light at the end of the TROUBLES.” Jesus is the Hope that has gone before us (“Jesus Is”); He says He’ll never leave us and He brings forgiveness. Those words are not empty—they provided encouragement to me when my dad was journeying through cancer last year and when I was struggling to feel I wasn’t measuring up as a father to my children (“Calling All Fathers”). Other important themes on the album include challenging the Church to be relevant to our culture (“We Will Rise”), and staying strong in our faith and praying for others to remain strong as we continually see Christians being murdered by ISIS. Even in these horrific events, God is glorified in persecution (“Dmitri’s Song,” “Jesus Is Alive”).
Is there one song you can identify as most personal to you on this album?
Yes, “Calling All Fathers” is deeply personal to me. I have four girls under 14 and many times I have looked in the mirror and said, “You don’t measure up; you are not leading; you are narcissistic.” The bridge lyric says, “Our sons need to know we see the man deep inside of them. Our daughters need to know that they’re adored. Our wives want to be known and that we’ll be men of our word…” So often as fathers we can be physically present in our homes but we’re not really ‘there’ emotionally or mentally. Our words and communication with our families are vital, so I wrote this song to challenge and encourage myself and other dads.
Is there one song you can identify as the hardest for you to include and/or record on There's A Light?
Sometimes you have to make a hard decision to include a song that doesn’t fit the formula. For this album that was “Song Of Solomon.” This song specifically calls God our Lover and talks about how He pursues us like a prince saving a maiden. Many times I view God through my legalistic mindset. I want to earn His love and approval. This song reminds me that He is for me, how much He loves me, and that He has my best interest at heart.
If there is one message you hope your listeners take away after listening to this album, what would it be?
I hope “Dmitri’s Song (Jesus Is Alive),” resonates with listeners. It’s about a pastor imprisoned for teaching the bible in Russia. Regardless of being tortured and beaten under tremendous suffering, he refused to recant his faith. Every morning he would raise his hands, face the east, and sing a heart song to God. As he sang, the other prisoners cursed and spit at him. Seventeen years later, as he’s being dragged to his execution, those same prisoners raise their hands, face the east, and sing the song he used to sing. The guards were terrified and put him back in his cell. He was then released and eventually his son became the chaplain of that prison. It is a blessing to suffer for the name of Jesus because God is glorified in persecution. The Church is most relevant when it is suffering for the name of Jesus, and the Church grows when it’s being persecuted.
What growth can you see, spiritually and/or musically in There's A Light compared to one of your earlier releases, like Alive?
Well, I would say 'Alive' and 'There’s A Light' are like night and day in how they were made. I was proud of the first solo effort but looking back, it didn’t feel cohesive to me. For 'There’s A Light', I wanted to have a well thought-out approach. I wanted to put my heart and passion into the songs, production, and themes. I wrote about things that mattered to me that I wanted to share with people. Musically, it’s much more diverse than 'Alive'. I suppose the more you work at your craft hopefully the better you get.
There's A Light wasn't your only project that recently released. You are also a member of Selah, which released Greatest Hymns, Vol. 2 in August as well. How was it balancing the release of these two projects on such a close timeline?
I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to make new music with Amy and Allan every year. Working on a solo album at the same time as a new Selah project sure does squeeze the margin on time but it’s so rewarding. When I wasn’t recording my songs, I was in the studio with Selah. I’ve actually been working on six projects this year: 'There’s A Light', 'The InsanityofGodMovie.com', 'The Insanity of God Soundtrack', 'Greatest Hymns, Vol. 2', 'Rose of Bethlehem Deluxe' (out later this fall), and Selah’s all-new album, 'Unbreakable', which releases next year. With all the new music being released you start to wonder if fans think it’s too much, but we’re so honored and blessed by such amazing support from our fans. They’re the best!
What's the biggest difference you've noticed when it comes to producing a solo album compared to a band album with Selah?
I would say the biggest difference is that being part of Selah, I don’t always have to carry the whole song because amazing singers like Amy and Allan are beside me. I feel confident when I’m in the comfort zone of singing with Selah. However, when it’s a solo record, it’s all on me. Sometimes my insecurities rise, but that’s when I lean on people like Ed Cash to help steer the ship. There’s a saying in Nashville that you “play up,” which means you surround yourself with people who are better songwriters and better musicians than you. It’s also important to find a talented producer who has a vision to carry a song farther than you could, and who can understand and execute what you want to communicate.
Which artists are you currently drawing musical inspiration from?
I’ve been listening to a lot of hip/hop lately. I respect the art form and I especially appreciate the honesty. Sometimes we don’t see transparency or vulnerability in Christian music. We’re conditioned to stay positive and there is certainly a need for songs that celebrate hope and are encouraging. However, when people are depressed and full of anxiety, they need songs that are honest about the struggle, to feel someone understands what they’re going through. It’s a hard balance but sometimes we just need to say it like it is and put ourselves out there— vulnerable and transparent. I also love Chris Stapleton’s voice and style and have recently discovered Josh Garrels. I have so much respect for someone who can convey real life truth and biblical principles with such honesty.