Danny Gokey, well known for his mega hit singles “Hope in Front of Me” and “More Than You Think I Am”, brings his own style and flair to a new holiday album, Christmas Is Here. In addition to featuring a few brand new songs, the record is full of holiday classics like “White Christmas,” “Mary Did You Know?,” and “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Each song is unique from past versions because his unparalleled voice and musical style bring such a soulful and powerful flavor to each track. Currently touring alongside Tenth Avenue North, Sidewalk Prophets and Natalie Grant on the K Love Christmas Tour 2015, Danny is bringing holiday cheer to hundreds each night. Amidst a busy Christmas season, Danny took a few minutes to chat with us about holiday traditions, the challenges of recording a Christmas album, and his plans for 2016.
First off, we have to say congratulations and a happy belated birthday to Victoria, who turned 1 this past weekend! I have to ask, you now have a boy and a girl with Daniel and Victoria. Have you had the conversation yet about if there will be more Gokey babies on the way?
Thank you! We are grateful for that. There will be more! We haven’t decided when though. We have our plans, but we submit it to God’s hands. We haven’t decided when to cross that bridge, but we know we want to.
Your fans have been calling for you to record a Christmas album for years. Did you go into this process with a list of songs in your mind that you knew you wanted to record?
In the beginning, I didn’t know. It simply was “alright we are doing a Christmas album.” So we pulled out the marker board and thought “what songs do we like?” We had a bunch of songs and as we started going through the process, some just kind of fell off and others rose to the top.
Writing original Christmas songs has to be a difficult thing to do because there are just so many classics out there. How did you get into the spirit and find inspiration to write the originals on the record?
We knew we wanted 2 originals and 8 classics on the record. What’s funny about it is that to get a good song, you usually have to write a lot of songs, but these ones were written pretty quickly and everyone loved them. When I went to go write “Lift Up Your Eyes,” I didn’t think much of it, but when my manager heard it, he said “this is great!” and I went, “really?” [Laughs]. “You don’t understand what you have here,” my manager said. When we produced it, and I see the way it came out on the album, I think it’s great. It’s the best selling song on my Christmas album right now. The other original is called “Christmas Is Here.” I went on a cruise ship one time right around the holidays with some friends and my wife and I remember these guys were out on the beaches. It’s hot; it’s 85 degrees and we are surrounded by the ocean and palm trees. And these guys on the island and on the cruise ship are all singing Christmas songs with Jamaican drums. Even on the boat there were Christmas decorations and I was thinking, “this is not right.” And when I went to write “Christmas Is Here,” I knew we had to write a song that everyone could relate to. We put a ukulele in it. Whenever you hear a ukulele, you think of an island feel. And the song talks about that, it talks about how everywhere you go, Christmas is here. From the mountains, to the coast, to the valleys, to New York City, Christmas is here!
Were there any songs in particular that you remember as being challenging to record for this new record?
The classic ones like “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.” These classic songs have been done so well. Like Nat King Cole nails those songs. When I was on the show [“American Idol”], we did “Standards Night,” and Randy Jackson said to me, “You could put out a whole album and do really well with standards.” But, standards are not easy to sing. Many of these are standards so to speak in the Christmas world. Whenever I went to go sing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” I spent days recording it. I recorded that song so many times, and we were on a time limit. But we nailed that one. It came out on the album really well, but it took so many takes to do that.
Tweet after tweet that I’ve seen online has raved about your version of “Mary Did You Know” both on the album and live in concert. Did you know that this would be a track that really connects with listeners and why do you think people are being so wowed by your version?
I was doing a worship service for a church in Sacramento a couple years back when they asked me to sing “Mary Did You Know” for Christmas. I was using the church band at the time and it just morphed into this great worshipful moment. We did it for Christmas three years in a row and everytime we did, it got a massive response. Whenever I went into the studio, I let my producer know that it needed to be recorded just like that. It’s not about the singer, it’s about the words. There’s something so special about those words; they are inspired by Heaven of course. The tag on the end, where it starts describing who He is: “the blind will see, the deaf will hear.” It just takes it to a whole other place.
Since we are talking so much about the holidays, can you tell us about some of your favorite Christmas traditions?
We don’t do it anymore because we are all adults now, but there were 6 kids in my family growing up, and we would celebrate with my father’s side of the family first on Christmas Eve. We would have a big massive dinner. Then we would go to my mom’s family that same night, and we would have another Christmas celebration with more food and more presents. Then we would open our presents with my mom and dad on Christmas Day before going to our Aunt’s house and we would spend the whole day there. I miss those days, because we don’t do that anymore and unfortunately some relationships have fallen apart. For example, my mom and dad are divorced now. The dynamics are not the same, so those are memories that I hold on to. The traditions I want to pass on to my children are traditions of family, and not taking it for granted.
After wrapping up this K Love Christmas tour, you’ve got a packed February and March with The Rock and Worship Roadshow. Tell us a little bit about what all is on the books for 2016.
I’m very excited! This year was very successful, by the grace of God. But there were some sacrifices that had to be made this year. I had to do a lot of traveling, and the transportation we had didn’t fit my family so I had to travel without them. We have a plan in place for next year. I took most of January off, except for the K Love Cruise that I’m doing. We have a 2 month run on The Rock and Worship Roadshow in February and March. And I just found out from my manager that we have 2 fall offers that are really strong: one is in August and one is in September/October. And then, this Christmas album has done so much better than we thought. We are going to have a deluxe version where we will throw probably 2 or 3 Christmas songs atop of this current record. We have done a bunch of YouTube videos. We just released “O Holy Night” and I have another 6 more videos that will be coming out. 4 of the videos are Christmas and then 2 different videos for January. My plan is to boost up my YouTube page and do a video every week now. But the “O Holy Night” video is taking off. The reason I tell you this is that my manager has said that Christmas can be a really good time of year because people are gravitating towards my music. So next year, he’s already set a pretty big tour, just because sales have been really strong so far.
With you being so busy, how do you stay fresh and energized concert after concert?
Well one of the ways, going back to your last question, is that we are getting a bus in April, and I’m bringing my family with me on the road. Probably not on every run, but at least whenever they want to come, I can bring my kids and my wife. One of the things I also want to do is let my band switch off, because I hate that we have to be away from our families. Maybe every once in a while someone in the band could bring someone on the bus too. That’s how we are going to balance ourselves out, by trying to not interrupt the family flow and by letting our kids know that we are there for them. And another way, is to just stay grounded. That one I’m still trying to figure out. I’m keeping my heart open to the Lord and letting Him invade the areas He needs to invade.
Your sophomore record, Hope In Front Of Me, was released in 2014. The Christmas album came out in 2015. So now the question is, will there be an album in 2016? Have you even started that process yet?
We are already working on the next album! It’s due in June. We will be releasing it in late September or October. We have just started writing. It’s getting a little daunting because I hate being rushed, but we have to keep with the guidelines. It’s a grueling process, because you can’t wait for an idea to hit you; you have to create it. I’ve been asking the Lord, “what are songs in Heaven that you would release?” He’s the author of music and the author of entertainment. I feel like the world has taken entertainment and they have capitalized on it and used it and abused it. I really feel like I want to rise up to the level. I do believe that the church can make the best entertainment and the best music, and I want to tap into that and say “Lord, what are some of the sounds of Heaven that haven’t been released onto Earth?” I guarantee you there is a sound that reaches the world that even the Church probably wouldn’t understand right now. I want to tap into that sound, because we are called to go beyond our 4 walls. With that being said, I’ve been waking up with songs from dreams. I’ve been recording them, and I must say it’s very difficult to record a song at 5am. If you would hear some of my recordings, they would sound terrible and you would think that’s a horrible song, and it might be, but I just love the fact that I’m getting these ideas. I’m going to start writing all these ideas down.
Obviously all the incredible work of Sophia’s Heart Foundation is very important to you. Can you give us on update on what’s going on right now and how people can help
The best way to help is to follow me on social media because I’m talking about it a lot. We’re in a really peculiar situation because we were given the building that we worked out of in Nashville for $10. It’s a 77,000 square foot hospital. By the grace of God, we rehabilitated over 125 homeless families there. It was a beautiful building but it was unfixable in some areas and we ended up having to sell it. We do have an offer on a piece of land right now that we are hoping to close on by the end of this month or in January. It’s 60 acres. We will have a brand new site for families. I’d like to include this time an equestrian program and a garden program. Nashville is growing at an extremely high rate and a lot of people come there to pursue their dreams. A lot of people don’t have a plan b if their dreams don’t work out and a lot of them don’t know what to do. So, we want to be that beacon and that lighthouse. We also do music and arts programs for children. Those programs are going strong in the Milwaukee area. So the Nashville vision is a little under construction right now, but when we find families we put them in hotels at this point. We still have our service teams wrapping around them.
Our sincere thanks to Danny for taking the time to talk with us. Be sure to download “Christmas Is Here” on iTunes today. Click here to purchase tickets for the 2015 K Love Christmas Tour. And, for more information, visit http://www.dannygokey.com.