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Steven Curtis Chapman says songwriting still baffles him 

click to enlarge 'Most of the songs get rewritten five times or 15 times,' says the Christian radio hitmaker.
  • 'Most of the songs get rewritten five times or 15 times,' says the Christian radio hitmaker.

After more than 50 No. 1 Christian radio hits, armloads of Gospel Music Association songwriting awards and 18 studio albums — including last year's Worship and Believe — Steven Curtis Chapman claims he still doesn't know much about songwriting.

"You always feel like you're in kindergarten with so much to learn ahead of you — even with the number of years I've done it," Chapman says. "It's creativity, it's crafting something out of the air. 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."

Chapman's songs are always at the heart of his shows, and they'll continue to be the primary draw at this winter's Rock & Worship Roadshow tour.

Chapman says he's constantly writing them, even when he's not sitting with a guitar or at a desk trying to pen some lyrics. When an idea or lyric comes to mind, he says, he'll immediately sing, play or dictate it into the voice messages on his phone. It's a 21st century version of the method he and other songwriters have used for decades, grabbing anything around them to document the song when it comes.

"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," says Chapman of an old-school method he doesn't particularly miss. "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 those."

So, what's more important: melody, lyrics or the song's arrangement?

"The phrase I remember learning early on is that it's the marriage of the melody, the music and the lyric," Chapman says. "The best songs really have a marriage between them — and sometimes that's not the most obvious."

While most of Chapman's songs are rooted in his life, there have been some notable exceptions, 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 says. "But I found connect points. My job was to find where those intersect with my life and my personal experiences that I could relate to. So I wrote a song called 'I Will Not Go Quietly.'"

Like most songwriters, Chapman constantly tinkers with his compositions, reworking them right up until it's time to bring them into the studio for recording.

"Most of the time, I'm second-guessing things right down till I can't do it anymore," he says. "Most of the songs get rewritten five times or 15 times. I've got a song called 'Dive'; it's a fun, jump-up-and-down song. If I played you the first version of it, you'd never recognize it as the same song. I kind of drive myself and, particularly, my wife crazy with that."

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