Exclusive: 2021 ASCAP Award Winner Cory Asbury Shares The Heart Behind Songwriting

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Among Bethel Music’s world-renowned lineup of songwriters and worship leaders, Cory Asbury has earned a GRAMMY nomination, three GMA Dove Awards and two K-LOVE Fan Awards. He catapulted into the spotlight with his megahit single “Reckless Love,” the title track from his best-selling 2018 Bethel Music debut. “Reckless Love” spent a total of 18 weeks at #1 at Christian radio; has amassed nearly 300 million streams to date; and was named ASCAP’s Christian Music Song of the Year in 2019. Co-penned by Asbury, the single also landed at #4 on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs (2010s) chart, a ranking of the genre’s biggest songs of the past 10 years. Today, Asbury was named the 2021 ASCAP Christian Music Songwriter-Artist of the Year. In this TCB Exclusive, Asbury shares his reaction to this recent ASCAP win, the importance of personal connection in songwriting and expectations for his fall tour.

Congratulations on your win of ASCAP’s Songwriter-Artist of the Year! Can you share your initial reaction to hearing this news!
First of all, thank you! Second of all, I was honestly very surprised. Last year was a wild year for pretty much everyone, and I had completely put it out of my head. And to get a call that I had won, I had to remember what I had done last year. I saw that “The Father’s House” and “Sparrows” were on it, and remembered those were good songs. I was surprised but super fired up!

How does receiving an award, and recognition like this, impact your current and future work?
Obviously, it is really cool to be recognized in any way in the industry, so you always appreciate it. There is a lot of gratefulness that people are seeing the work that you are doing. That is super cool. I think the bottom line is that you have to do what the Lord is asking you to do and do it to the best of your ability. And all the rest is just icing on the cake. This is incredible – I never set out to write these songs to get this award. I just wrote about what God wanted me to and did it to the best of my ability. And if I fall flat on my face and no one cares, so be it. We lucked out with these songs, but we set out to do the best we could, and are just really happy when this comes of it.

Why is it important to you to have that personal connection with songs throughout the creative process? 
It’s got to be that way. If you aren’t personally connected to it, then you may as well not release it, in my opinion. I feel pretty strongly about that. A lot of times, especially in our industry – Christian music industry – it’s almost like we have these test tube songs that are scientifically induced, A+B=C. And if I’m honest with you, I’m a little bothered by that mindset. If you are not connected to the idea of the song, and not connected to that lyric, then why write it and create it. So I feel there needs to be a ton of passion behind what you’re writing and saying.  And I tend to harp on that quite a bit, but the best songs that stand on their own two feet for years are the ones that come from a personal place in their heart. It’s when they experienced something, whether in life or in God, and just have to write something out of it. Those are the questions that stand the test of time. So to answer your question, you got to be connected. Otherwise, you may as well just go home. 

You are featured on some new and upcoming music (We Are Messengers, Bethel Music). What is your impact vision and goal for these projects?
For the We Are Messengers song, Darin hit me up and said he had this song that I would really dig and he would love to have me on it. And at my first listen, I thought it sounded like something I would want to write. So I was immediately interested and like we were just talking about, the lyric is everything. So I was really fired up to join him.

And for the Bethel stuff with ‘Homecoming’, the record, and “Homecoming”, the single as well, those are songs that are written specifically for the church. That’s where I come from – the worship world. And lately, it’s been more difficult for me to write those songs because of the stage of life I’m in. I have four kids – ages 11, 7, 4, and almost 2. And I feel like God is teaching me so much through them all the time that I almost want to write these story-driven, singer/songwriter, country vibe songs. To jump back into the worship world and write songs for the church was enjoyable and fun. I got to write with Gable Price, who is a really great songwriter. He’s young and up-and-coming, but he has a knack for lyrics. And then I got to sing a song called “Reason to Praise” with Naomi Raine from Maverick City Music, who is just an absolute vocal beast. So that was a lot of fun to join up with her. It was so much fun to record that song. I’m excited for the ‘Homecoming’ record – I think it will be good for the church. I think there are some songs on there that are going to expand even the language of the church in terms of worship and telling God that He’s good and holy and beautiful.

You will be heading out on tour again shortly. After the last year and a half, how does it feel to be back doing live music?
It’s exciting! I’ve done a couple of spot dates and festivals during the summer. And it’s incredible to be back with people – singing songs and worship God together. If it was nothing more than that, I think it would be worth it. But it’s going to be nice to be together with people. I’m excited about the tour because of the message I want to bring on these nights. I think it’s going to be a genuinely good time – we are going to laugh and enjoy life together. And it’s a stripped-back, more acoustic-driven atmosphere where the songs can really shine. The lyrics and the words can sit on display rather than ripping electric solos, which those are fun too, but just really letting the songs shine. There are going to be new songs on this tour. Honestly, I think it’s going to be a good night and people are going to leave inspired to love God and love themselves and their friends better.

Is there a moment on tour that you are particularly looking forward to and think will have a large impact to those in attendance?
I mean, I hope the whole night is impactful and incredible, obviously. But there are a few songs that I’m really excited about – a couple new songs that are resonating really deeply with me and where I’m at. Like I said, I have four kids, and my oldest is 11 years now, and he’s my only son. So to see him growing up before my eyes, is one of the most beautiful and tragic things I’ve experienced. It’s really difficult to explain and I’m sure parents who will listen to this to will understand, but man, it’s wild to see your kids growing up. I think I’ve been writing from that place a lot and wanting myself to get back to being a kid. We as adults grow up and think we need to be important and have our desks and our work and that’s what gives us value. And then I remember the words of Jesus when the disciples ask who is the most important in the kingdom and Jesus says “bring all those kids to me – these are the most important to me, and if you don’t become like one of these, you have no place.” That’s a really big statement, so I’ve been endeavoring to get back to being a kid. And whatever that might mean to different listeners, we can explore that, but it’s been a beautiful thing and a lot of the songs are around that idea. So I think there are a couple in particular that are going to be special and really hit home for a lot of people. It’s impossible to pinpoint, but that overall theme is going to be really special for people!

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