Steven Curtis Chapman wants to be liked. He wants to be appreciated. He wants to make people happy. So when he completed his latest album, Signs of Life, he worried about how others would respond to his new musical direction. After creating several albums in his signature, light-pop style, this latest album was certainly a change.
I met up with Steven during the final stretch of his "Signs of Life" tour. Seated across from him in the lounge of a Holiday Inn, I listen as Steven talks about his change in musical direction. Creatively, he says, the album felt so right. Not too "polished" and slick. A little bluesy. More musically complex. Less commercial. He felt he'd used his God-given gift of creativity in new and fresh ways.
Yet, he tells me, he was also nervous. He couldn't help but wonder if his "old friends" who liked his "old sound" would feel the same way.
"Just before the album came out, I couldn't help but wonder, Will people like it? What if people want their 'old friend' back?"
Yeah, Steven Curtis Chapman has won three Grammy Awards and multiple Christian music Dove Awards. And shortly after I interviewed Steven, he won his fifth "Artist of the Year" award at the Dove ceremonies. At about that same time, his 1994 release, Heaven in the Real World, went platinum (selling one million copies), and Signs of Life went gold (500,000 copies).
Still, Steven struggles with insecurities, and he wrestles with living up to high expectations. He felt it big-time while preparing for the "Signs of Life" tour.
"The expectations were so high," says Steven. "The people who planned the tour wanted to fill big arenas with 15,000 people. There was no way I felt I could fill those arenas!
"I like to be safe. I like having a small place. I don't like to see empty seats."
Bottom line: He didn't want to let anybody down—his management, his record company, his fans, and, yes, himself.
Steven didn't need to worry too much. All arenas may not have been completely full. But crowds of excited fans had been turning out by the thousands. (When the 80-city tour ended, more than 400,000 people had attended his concerts.)
As Steven mulls over his desire to please, he tells me this isn't a new problem. In fact, way back at Concord Elementary School in Paducah, Kentucky, Steven was the kind of kid who just wanted to make everyone happy. He wanted to be known as the friendly guy. The good kid.
"When I got into grade school," says Steven, "I saw things wrong with the way kids treated each other. There was such an in-crowd that left out so many."
Steven was turned off by the so-called rules that declared one kid cool and another kid uncool. Being a 'nice guy' sure wasn't part of being cool.
Steven decided he'd work hard to change the rules. He'd prove to everyone that nice guys can finish first.
So he came up with a plan.
"Each year, the school elected Mr. and Miss Concord," explains Steven. "The honors always went to kids who were part of the in-crowd. It had nothing to do with being nice and friendly. I wanted to change that. I wanted to be Mr. Concord."