He lives in a city that is known as much for its racial unrest and inner-city violence as it is the place Elvis called home—yet leads worship at one of the largest multicultural churches in the South, where half the congregation is African-American. Jeremy Horn is an enigma. But when you meet him, he looks and sounds just like the guy next door—if the guy next door has a traditional southern drawl. “The best way for me to describe Memphis,” laughs Horn, “is that it's a small town with one million people. I can't go anywhere without seeing someone I know.
It's not the cleanest city and it's seen some tough times. But at the same time, there are real people here. There’s a lot of musicians here who are just interested in making music, not being famous.” Making music is what has preoccupied Horn ever since he was given his first guitar at the age of fifteen. Growing up on the sounds of James Taylor and The Beatles, Horn spent most of his early years emulating the sounds and songwriting styles of the popular culture.
It took him a few years and one wise, older friend to realize there was more to being a songwriter than just sounding like one. “I thought he was taking me to lunch to talk about getting a record deal,” laughed Horn. “Instead, he wanted to help me meet Jesus.” “I used to write songs about social injustices in the world. My friend said, ‘Hey man, why don't you try to give people some hope? You have this talent and this skill, but what are you going to do with it? Are you going to try to find something to say, or just write what everybody else is writing?’” “That kind of progressed into writing songs for Jesus, and that was the process that unknowingly led me to become a worship leader.” That precipitous meeting started Horn on the path of continual discovery—listening to artists both Christian and not—to figure out how to express feelings and concepts that came from within, rather than from the evening news. “I just started hunting around for meaningful artists, somebody like Keith Green.
And I'd think, ‘Wow, this guy's not writing the same old same old trite Christian-ese. He's saying something real.’ Keith was saying something in every single song. It taught me that if you're gonna write something, write something substantial.” Along the way, Jeremy started working at world-renowned Ardent Studios, whose clients have included Led Zeppelin, Dave Matthews, B.B. King, Todd Agnew, Al Green, and DC Talk—to name a few.
Here, he fell in love with the art and process of recording—getting just the right guitar tone, chiseling a song idea down to the best parts. Later, he moved to Ardent’s record label under the mentorship of multi-award-winning songwriter and artist Dana Key, of the pioneering rock band DeGarmo & Key. “Dana taught me about the importance of song selection and what makes a great song great—you’ve got to get in, say what you have to say, and get out.” His job at Ardent often required him to be away from church on Sunday mornings. But a close friend and keyboard player invited him to his church on Wednesdays.
This church was in the early stages of what would become a massive revival. “There were church services almost every night of the week,” said Horn. “There was only one guy leading worship at this church, and he was overloaded. It was a unique situation because there were all these people who wanted to spend all this time worshiping Jesus—and I was suddenly right in the middle of this exciting movement! I was put into a situation where I was playing music and leading worship four or five nights a week.” Horn took the opportunity and ran with it, eventually becoming the full-time worship pastor at the church. Since the revival, it has become one of the most vital Christian communities in Memphis—and the city's largest multicultural church. “When I say we're multicultural, that doesn't mean we have a handful of African-Americans,” said Horn.
“Fifty percent of our church is African-American, and we’ve got a vibrant and growing Latino community as well. Since I’ve gotten into this environment, I wouldn't have it any other way because this is what heaven will be like.” Leading worship in that environment, in a city like Memphis, is a challenge that would test any music minister. And Jeremy says there's no formal training you can go through to get prepared for the job. “It's definitely challenging as a worship leader who loves rock and roll,” admitted Horn, “but I don't try to bring my role as an artist into my role as a worship leader because that's sort of self- serving.
I do some of my own tunes, but I have to look at the whole picture.” “I’ve got twelve year old kids and sixty-five year old women; I've got African-Americans and Latinos; I've got plain old run-of-the-mill thirty-something white folks. I'll even sing a song in Spanish—which is fun because I don't speak Spanish! I’ve just learned how to go with the flow.” The ability to go with the flow was something he had to learn as a recording artist as well. After creating two custom albums on his own and calling all of the shots, his latest album, Atmosphere, was an entirely new ball game. “Atmosphere is really a reflection of who I am as an artist, as well as the music that influences me. I listen to the Beach Boys, Randy Newman and The Beatles; but I also listen to Coldplay and Delirious.
That’s a big pool of influences. So I wanted to get my most talented friends in a room and say, ‘Okay, here’s the song, here’s what’s in my head, can you help me get it out?’” Atmosphere has been in the works for almost a year now, quite a contrast to the creative process of his previous records. “It's just amazing how many people it takes to make a record, and there's no guarantee anyone's going to hear it!” said Horn. “We've put a lot of energy into this, and while I wrote these songs for God, I hope people can connect with them, identify with them, and be encouraged by them.” Atmosphere was executive produced by Grammy and Dove award-winning singer/songwriter Bruce Carroll, who himself leads worship at a thriving Memphis church.
Jeremy has learned from Bruce the discipline of seeing an idea through to the end, of fully exploring a lyric and of being open to ideas from other more experienced musicians. “It's been so great to allow Bruce and (engineer and producer) Kerry Kernan to work with me and not let me just settle. Bruce raised my expectations for what excellence is in a recording and as a songwriter. He's helped me grow as a writer and as a musician. You've gotta trust someone who has worked with the folks he's worked with.
He's recorded with some of the greatest players there is, and many of the finest producers. I'll take his advice on the lyrics to a verse. I'll work harder on a vocal for him.” Because his music is suitable both for the church and for radio, defining his ‘studio sound’ was also a unique challenge. “A lot of people who love worship music buy live records because they love the raw, organic sound of people singing and getting connected with God.
So when making this studio worship record, it was important to me to leave space for God to show up. My main prayer was to capture a little piece of the Holy Spirit on this record.” Jeremy expects God to show up and change the very atmosphere of people’s hearts and lives. The title track to the record reflects this power of God in our lives: Set Your glories on display, Your honor and Your fame await You here Show the wonders of Your ways, the atmosphere is changed when You are near Let miracles and faith collide, that all may know that You are God When signs and wonders overflow, we’ll see and fear and all will know You still do miracles today Atmosphere bridges infectious melodies with a depth of revelation that brings you to your knees one moment, and leaves you dancing before the throne room the next. There are smart pop tunes on the record like ‘First Love’ and ‘Mercy Comes in Like a Flood’ that are laced with electric guitars and big background vocals. There are also piano-driven songs with small, intimate string arrangements like ‘Beautiful’ and ‘All My Hope is in You.’ “The album is broad in content, but it’s really me.
I love many varieties of music—if it’s a great song, it’s a great song. My goal in making the album wasn’t to chase the next big thing. I’ve tried to make a timeless sounding album—one you can listen to ten years from now and say, ‘That sounds great.’ I think the instrumentation and the song choices reflect that.” Jeremy Horn is an interesting guy. He’s most at home with barbecue sauce on his fingers and the humidity north of 80%. He knows that worship music can sometimes be predictable. But with his unique musical background and experience, he’s never accepted the idea that praise music has to fit a certain sound or pattern.
“A great worship song doesn't necessarily have to be ‘corporate.’ It can be a personal statement that brings people along with you. I just think the nature of what a worship song is sort of brings it a bad rap sometimes. If you are writing a song that everyone can sing, you have to be simple at a certain level. But for me, you can't just fall back on simplicity.
You have to lead folks into deeper waters to help them grow.” Like the atmosphere in which we live, Jeremy’s music is sometimes bright, sometimes brooding, and always changing. With the release of Atmosphere, Jeremy wants people to experience God’s ability to move in their lives the way He has moved in his own life. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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