Music group Selah has produced music for over 20 years – but not without evolving along the way. Among their broad reach, Selah’s albums have furnished worship set lists for churches, first dances for weddings, and songs for personal prayer time (or those times when you’re belting out a high note while vacuuming). Their latest album Firm Foundation delivers what you would expect from this veteran powerhouse group, and more.
One essential aesthetic which keeps Selah’s music on charts and in our earbuds is they are not afraid to try new things and incorporate different sounds. Anchored in foundational and melodic hymns which are forever tied to their musical identity, the trio also crosses boundaries into world music and bluegrass by incorporating influences from each member’s background. Amy Perry is based on the west coast in California, Alan Hall brings the mountain music from Tennessee, and Todd Smith grew up as a missionary kid in Congo. I spoke with Todd recently on the new direction their group is headed.
A change in record labels provided a great opportunity for switching things up a bit for the group. Their relationship with Curb Records ended and they eventually signed with Integrity Music. Todd credits producers Chris Bevins and Brent Milligan with pushing them to discover new sounds. He describes “Always Gonna Be,” “I Belong to Jesus,” and “Yet Not I, but Through Christ in Me” as Americana meets Southern rock. The happy-go-lucky sound of “I Belong to Jesus,” coupled with its lyrics of eternal hope serve as a reminder.
“We always have hope. I mean, when I look back at times where I thought it was the end of the world, and yet I’m still here, you know, God has always brought me through.”
Todd says Amy is growing in her confidence as a songwriter and encouraged her to meet with a veteran songsmith, Thrive Worship’s Corbin Phillips. The result is the hopeful pop melody “The Sound of Love.”
And for the first time, the trio co-wrote a song, “Let the Saints Sing,” along with Michael Farren and Tony Wood. The radio-friendly anthem will be used as a concert opener, proclaiming a word over the gathering and a call for everyone to “sing about who He is.”
“Firm Foundation,” the title track and centerpiece for the album’s message, almost didn’t make the cut. Amy championed the song, but Todd and Alan weren’t convinced – at first.
“[We] didn’t connect with it. We had this meeting, and Amy lives in California, so she can’t always take part in things, but we’d kind of been going back and forth about songs. Alan and I definitely want to pass on that one. So, we had this meeting, I texted her and said, Hey, we picked up these songs, and “Firm Foundation” didn’t make the cut. And she wrote back and she’s like, ‘I disagree.’ and I [responded] ‘it just wasn’t there.’ She wrote back ‘I disagree strongly.’ So, then she sent another version of it. And when I heard that version, she and our A&R guy, Andrew Osenga, really pushed that song. And the second time I heard it, I was like, okay, I get it…and then it ends up being the title track.”
Not only the title track, but also the theme of the album, as the other songs fell into place with the same idea – remembering the firm foundation which belief in Christ offers.
Todd notes that Christians are settling for Instagram-style snippets of truth instead of embracing the whole. It’s easier to take what you want and leave out what doesn’t fit your “own truth.”
“In a day and age where everyone is ‘finding their own truth’ and ‘you just be your own truth’ – what’s real to you? That is such nonsense. It’s a very pretty way to help people kind of go figure out [their] feelings, but your feelings can be so deceptive. If I were to go along with my own ‘truth,’ (which would be what I want to do) it would be incredibly chaotic.
Jesus, when he’s before Pilate and he’s about to be crucified…Pilate [asks] ‘What are you doing here? Who are you?’ And I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically says, ‘I am the truth,’ and Pilate’s like ‘What is truth?’ ‘I am the truth.’ I hope that that song and other songs encourage people to just recommit to who their firm foundation is. Especially in this day and age where there’s just so much noise.”
The song “Benediction” was written to encourage people to maintain peace with one another.
“We live in a day and age where everyone is so angry on social media with people they have no relationships with. And even with people, [on] Next Door app, people can just say some crazy things. I’m like, you do realize you’re going to be at the pool with that person tomorrow. There’s such a need for people to relax and have a sense of humor and be kind and not just say whatever’s on your mind [and] truly pray for peace that only God can give.”
The term “authenticity” is a worn-out marketing buzz word that has permeated Christian music in recent years, and as new generations of listeners seek truth beyond what they are handed by media outlets, it’s doubtful the desire will wane. Selah’s authenticity could be more precisely called genuineness and honesty. Where believers from these generations believe they are seeking authenticity, what really lies at the heart of the quest is the desire for truth. And the truth of the Gospel is what Selah is intent on delivering.
“The big thing is always try and make sure that the lyrics are solid and true. If they line up with scripture, it should connect with people. When we were deciding between “Firm Foundation” and this other song – the lyric was true but there was this one part where you could’ve gone back and forth. [It] was saying ‘praying for a miracle…we’re believing that a miracle is going to happen to you,’ but people could have taken it as ‘we’re guaranteeing a miracle,’ even though hopefully artistically you wouldn’t interpret it that way.”
Every word sung or spoken from their platform, whether in lyrics or in a social media post, is carefully considered.
“There is so much power in music. We need to make sure that what we’re singing is true. Because scripture talks about what you internalize. What you say with your mouth is what you believe in your heart. And if we’re speaking things that are not truth, and people start internalizing that and then singing that, they start believing that and then it can become very relative.”
The members of Selah have a busy year ahead. If you’re unable to attend a concert in-person, Selah livestreams their soundchecks on Facebook live, candid comments and bloopers included. It was during one of these sessions that Alan admitted his ire for the fan favorite “You Raise Me Up.” When I gasped in horror, Todd assured me it wasn’t the song itself, but the innumerable times Alan had performed it over the years. You can catch them on their upcoming Christmas tour, or even join them along with Christian artists Avalon and Ballet Magnificat on a tour of Israel in March 2020.
Todd refers to the wisdom of King Solomon when describing his and Selah’s perspective on the responsibility of their ministry platform and general approach to life:
“Obey God – love and obey God. That is the purpose for you because all these other things are a waste of time if you’re not pursuing them in relationship with Him.”