Steve Bell has a way with words. The award-winning Canadian folk singer is known for some of the most thoughtful lyrics in Christian music, as well as for his come-on-in-and-pull-up-a-chair storytelling on stage. And in this interview, we learned that he's also got a lot to say on the topic of songwriting—specifically, what's wrong with much of today's writing, especially on the modern worship front. Bell wishes the Christian music industry "had more scruples about art," and calls the modern worship trend "one of the low points in the history of music writing." He says many of the songs are "poor work, poor theology, poor poetry, poor melody," and compares much of that music to "crap." And he's just getting started. We recently met with Bell to discuss the craft of songwriting—not just what's wrong, but how to get it right. Hint: It's very hard work.
You grew up in a musical family, right?
Steve Bell Yeah. My mom is a wonderful piano player and singer/songwriter. And my dad is a preacher. We did the typical family ministry thing. We had this family band, and I sang and played, but I didn't write much. When I did write, in high school, it was always really self-indulgent. One day I was looking at my songs and just realized that every one of them was about me. So I decided I wasn't going to write anything until I wrote something that wasn't about me. That started the longest writer's block of my history! It was about ten years before I really turned it around. I didn't really start writing till I was in my 30s.
What triggered that?
Bell I had been playing music in bars, mostly other people's stuff. Then when I quit the bar scene, I went through this really horrible year. Didn't know what to do with my life. I was 31—no ...