Sketch: Are you crazy? By my count, this is your 4th music project release within the last 365 days. Why the massive work ethic? Are you at all concerned about over saturation?
Heath: Hahaha. I feel like I might be crazy for choosing music as my vocation in the first place but that's about it. The work ethic is simple. Music is my job. Touring, writing, recording, that's my job - no part time hustle. So if I'm not either touring, writing, or recording then I'm essentially committing "time theft" against myself.
I love the process. I'm driven by it. It's exhausting how much it weighs on my mind sometimes, but that love was put there for a great reason.
And over saturation is a concept that doesn't exist in my world. Lil Wayne, Lady Gaga, Chris Brown...huge stars like that are the ones who potentially have to worry about stuff like that, because everyone knows them. So it could lead to audience fatigue, but I'm gaining new fans and listeners every day. I have to keep providing a new product to keep retooling my live show so that I have something new to share the next time I visit. I want new listeners to hear the newest, best version of me and then visit my back catalog. I want my ride-or-die listeners who have been invested for four years to hear my evolution as it's happening.
I think you can only over saturate when you've seeped into all areas of pop culture. I've probably got 50,000 people who've heard of me, probably 10,000 fans who are aware of me, 5,000 who follow most of what I do, and probably 2,500 who follow everything I do. So my job is to expand that.
Sketch: For this album you actually recorded and posted a video explanation of each song. Why did you feel the need to go to that extra effort?
Heath: Because I've learned that I literally can't leave ANYTHING unexplained for a lot of church people. Some people in the church are just waiting for a reason to have an issue with anything an artist says. They feel like they not only need, but intrinsically deserve, to know the nuts, bolts, and inner workings of your every thought as it pertains to your art. And since there's a lot of serious stuff covered on this album I didn't want to even leave a window open for someone in the church to attempt to twist my words or misinterpret my intentions.
95% of people in and out of the church are cool, but the 5% that aren't cool...they really try to make life miserable for everyone else. I'm just a humble dude who was called to share his heart through a few songs. I'm harmless. My heart is to help, but I don't make music for 6-year-olds.
And for a lot of church people, they feel that a Christian must make music that is acceptable for them, their grandparents, and their kids. Go listen to The Wiggles. I don't do that and I don't have a problem with anyone who does, but some people have a problem with artists not doing things their way which is antithetical to art’s purpose in the first place.
And the whole..."But aren't you called to be a Christian before an artist?" debate is weird because I'm called to serve God and God called me to serve Him by following His word and my instinct as an artist. Pastors can speak about Song of Solomon to adults, but they can't do that with 6-year-olds. This is for teenagers, college students, and adults. It's not for children's service and that's fine.
Sketch: To me, Thrift Store Jesus sounds like a pretty even mix of your acoustic and hip hop musical identities. Was that intentional?
Heath: Hah, it would've been all rap or all acoustic if that was where I was being lead. I said that I didn't want it to be a concept album, but I did want it to conceptually sound like an album an artist could've made on one really cold, lonely day. There are only three straight-up acoustic songs, but they are so similar in their content they don't stick out. They weren't done to change the vibe though. They just fit perfectly with what I was trying to talk about and that conceptual balance I think is what makes it such a strong album.
Sketch: The song "It's a Wonderful Life" features Pigeon John and RedCloud - two guys who have been somewhat ostracized from the Christian hip hop community lately. Why did you decide to include them on this project?
Heath: Because they are my friends and I love them. Because they are phenomenal artists. Because they added something to the album and that's what an artist looks for.
RedCloud was the first dude who ever reached out to me - just some punk high school kid who liked rap. RedCloud took me on the road with him and showed me everything. He showed me how to rock shows. He showed me how to be gracious at host homes.
He did real ministry. I’m not talking about showing up at rich churches and rocking for 150 white kids and leaving with a check. I mean...we were in Native American reservations in South Dakota and Montana...places that this country have either forgotten or ignored and he loved on those people in a way I’ve rarely seen. He was there to serve.
I wouldn't care if every church, Christian, pastor, deacon, and supporter of mine told me they'd never bring me in again if I supported him. I’d still do it because that's what friends do. That’s what Christians do.
I’ve seen the heart of a lot of Christian culture by how they treated that dude. I’ve seen churches love on him in a way that literally broke me down. I’ve also seen some people stand in judgment towards him in a way that is nothing short of grotesque - especially when they have NO basis other than rumor. If they don't want to support his music, that's fine, but people have been harsh.
And I’m in NO way condoning some of the things he's said or done and he knows that, but if I had Mos Def or Talib Kweli on my album people would be stoked. But a Christian dude who is doing his best to figure things out? “No...you can't work with him.”
Throwback video with Pigeon John from Heath's first album
And Pigeon John is the best live performer hip hop has ever seen - all of hip hop. I mean that. We’re not best friends or anything. I don't think I’ve spoken to him in three years because of how busy his schedule got, but i wrote an $18 check for [Pigeon John’s first solo album] ... Is Clueless with money I made working a summer job and I’ve been his biggest fan ever since.
And he's been dragged through the mud as well. I honestly don't know or care to know about the inner workings of his personal life. Unless I hear something straight from him I consider it gossip...which in and of itself is not biblical. So I love him as a person and I pray for him to find peace and happiness. And I love him as an artist so I wanted to work with him again.
I put sintax.the.terrific on the song too. He knew those guys were on the song and he never once said, "Oh man...I'm not sure." He said he'd love to because he wanted to be a part of a good song. And that song says something amazing and it took all four of us to do that.
Sketch: There's some really raw language on this album. I'm not necessarily speaking of curse words (although there appear to be a few that you've muted), but also just in the honest, sometimes less-than-flattering, thoughts and feelings of a man seeking truth.
How scared were you to release some of this publicly? Has its response surprised you in any way?
Heath: The first thing I’d say is there is NO cursing on the album. No muting or anything. My goal was to make harsh edits so there would be a perception of edited cursing at times even when there wasn't. But it was only done when a story was being told through the eyes of someone who would say something less than savory. I recorded this album in a church's studio, so I wouldn't have wanted to do that anyway.
But I knew the language was going to be more honest. I knew it was going to expose a lot of stuff that I was truly feeling. I knew it was going to run the gamut of emotions: doubt, fear, anger, bitterness, despondence, desperation, love, lust, greed, selfishness, AND redemption.
I was more frightened to release this than I could even explain because...when you pray hard about something and you say, "God...I don't want to get in the way. If there's something I shouldn't say...please convict me. If there's something I shouldn't do...please be the business man that I don't know how to be" a lot of people don't realize that this kind of honesty is the WORST move you could make if you're a business man who looks at the church as a way to fund your endeavors. But I’ve never looked at it like that.
There’s a possibility it could put some people off who are believers, but if my motivation was the money and not sharing what was on my heart I’d be squandering this gift. But i was definitely frightened in a way I haven't really expressed.
The response has been so overwhelming. I’ve heard exactly what I was hoping I’d hear from believers, from non believers, from casual listeners and hardcore fans. "Man...I relate to this so much." "Heath, thank you for being brave enough to really be honest. I’m going through the exact same thing as you mentioned in this song or that song." "I can tell this wasn't an easy album for you to make, but thank you for following your heart."
Stuff like that shows me that it's exactly what needed to happen. I’ve heard a ton of people say it's their favorite album of mine. They say it's my best and most mature. I knew from the beginning that it would unfortunately have no place in the world of accessibility, but I knew that I owed it to myself and to the people who are going through tough times to make this album.
Thrift Store Jesus can be streamed and downloaded on a pay-what-you-want-basis (including FREE) at the artist’s Bandamp site.
Listeners can also choose from a variety of financial support options that offer rewards of signed CDs, personalized thank-you videos, and house concerts.