Dove Award-winning and Grammy and Stellar Award-nominated Gospel recording artist Jonathan McReynolds recently released his first ever live LP ‘Make Room’ (his fourth overall release) via eOne Music. I caught up with the Chicago native to discuss the project, meaning behind the songs, his artistic growth, musical influences and much more...
Terrance: What prompted you to record your first ever live album Make Room?
Jonathan McReynolds: Fans of the music have always said, man there’s something crazy about the live experience and I definitely do think differently and I approach stuff differently and I’m looser with it, like writing stuff in the moment and so I definitely wanted to capture that. I think even more important than that I think when you come to a live show of mine and the way I write and the way we do the lyrics you hear the audience grumble, you hear them talk, you hear them laugh and respond to the lyrics, so even more than just hearing me I really wanted people to feel and hear themselves and I just think it’s a beautiful experience. Gospel can do it like very few other genres can. Our audience sometimes can be as much part of the music as the singer, so I really think it turned out good and it’s a very energetic album because of the crowd.
Terrance: Talk about your growth as an artist in the past 6 years since your debut album Life Music.
Jonathan McReynolds: When I released Life Music I was like 22 and now I’m 28, so I mean just imagine all the things that came from you between 22 and 28. Different confident, different perspective on life. You’ve been exposed to more and a little less innocence, you know? You’re trying to hold on to the good things and get rid of the bad things. At the end of the day that’s just where I’m at. That’s why when you hear the new record Make Room, it’s all about me kind of growing up. At the end of the day when you get to your late 20’s I think everyone kind of realize, you know what? We’re grown-ups at this point. We can’t take it anymore. We’re no longer kids and we gotta figure out what we’re doing and if we’re going to be about this particular purpose, being a Christian and a good black man or being whatever we have to go harder. We have to be more sure about it and so I think you’ll hear that in my record and you’ll hear that in how I sing, how I write, all of it is a lot more confident and a lot more sure and certain about what I’m doing and who I am.
Terrance: On the Make Room album give me the meaning behind the following three songs starting with the lead single, “Not Lucky, I’m Loved”.
Jonathan McReynolds: I think it was the perfect decision to come as the first single because at the end of the day I’ve been doing a lot and sometimes I think you start shocking yourself out and feeling like it’s all a coincidence and all random. At the end of the day you gotta think about what hold all these random things together? Because there’s good luck, there’s bad luck, but what’s holding it together and making it work? I’ve come to realize it’s the love of God. It’s the fact even when I make mistakes and knock things off track, it’s nobody else who did it but me. What saves me? What keeps it going? What keeps the train moving? That’s the love of God and the commitment he has to my life and everyone’s life, so I wanted to declare one time that I’m not lucky and I don’t need to be because I’m loved.
Jonathan McReynolds: With every record you know there’s always a radio single and then there’s a single fans just kind of make, like they just decide on it. In the past it’s been “No Gray” and “Pressure”, but in this case it’s just really cool to watch people all over the place gravitate to this song and we got R&B and Pop artists doing the “Cycles” challenge on Instagram and so I’m just blessed that people are connecting to that song. At the end of the day I think sometimes we take things as isolated incidents like, I met this girl and she took me down this road and I took her down this road and that just happened one time and didn’t happen again. We don’t realize sometimes that stuff connected and sometimes we find ourselves in cycles, so in this song I’m just asking God to help me end them, help me identify what keeps happening to me and to help me get through them. I think it turned out good man.
Jonathan McReynolds: I think in the black Church community sometimes we keep praying about stuff to get better and we hope that things just happen for us, like it’s raining right now but tomorrow the sun will come up. But sometimes I think we forget our own responsibility to actually do better. You’re broke now but if someone gave you a million dollars right now will you be able to handle that right? And you’re broke now but like you have to be. Could you do something better? Could you work a little harder? Could you save a little more? Could you learn a little more about this or that? You never know. At the end of the day it’s our responsibility to take that off the table and making sure you’re doing the absolute best you can, so better can come for you and you won’t miss it. I was just realizing how much I was doing in life and I wasn’t doing my best. I couldn’t’ve stacked better if I wasn’t actually doing it myself, so that’s just another part of me growing up, another part of me making room and everyday try to do better than I did the day before.
Terrance: Who were your greatest musical influences coming along?
Jonathan McReynolds: Of course there are some people in Gospel that I listen to but honestly being a Church kid I didn’t really know there was that much Gospel music and artistry going on. I didn’t realize The Winans, Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin were all doing their thing, but eventually they all started to influence me, but honestly when it comes to music you hear now, it’s just as much if not more influenced by Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Paul McCartney to India.Arie, John Mayer and a lot of different people really changed the way I looked at songwriting and looked at music.
Terrance: So far what has been the highlight of your career?
Jonathan McReynolds: There’s been a lot of highlights. I mean, my first show in London with the big theatre and a packed house, getting my Grammy nomination and being able to move my mother out of the hood, you know? All of that is very important to me, even now some of the stuff I’m able to do outside of my music career like getting my Master’s. All of that was very important to us growing up and it was stuff we wanted to do whenever we got a shot and so now to have those shots and to be able to make them is a blessing man and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something in life.
Terrance: Overall, what do you hope listeners take away from the Make Room experience?
Jonathan McReynolds: At the end of the day I just hope that they jump in this process I’m in. I’m in the process of doing better and making sure that I don’t just keep God on Sunday. Sometimes I think that a lot of people say, I’m going to do all my Church, Bible and Gospel music stuff on Sunday and then on Monday through Saturday I’mma do whatever I feel like doing, like I’m done with being a Christian after Sunday Morning Service and at the end of the day that’s just not the way it’s supposed to go. Think about it. If you’re only giving God one-seventh of your week then you can only enjoy one-seventh of his joy, his love and his peace. We cry about heartbreak and we don’t always realize how we could have avoided it if we actually had God in our lives and we actually consulted him about our day to day thing. I just want people to jump in the same season I’m in and just try to make more room for God. I know we got a whole bunch of stuff going on. We got career moves and we got relationships and we got social media and all that stuff we spend time doing. Maybe we should kind of move all that stuff over and make sure God has plenty of room in our everyday lives because ultimately he’s going to be the one we’re going to be asking to make room for us. Just make room for him first.
Follow Jonathan McReynolds:
Instagram & Twitter @jonmcreynolds