I’m instant messaging with Robbie Seay, the founder and lead singer of Robbie Seay Band. While we’re not close friends, he and I met a few months ago when I was in Houston, visiting Ecclesia, a church started by his brother Chris Seay.
During the Sunday morning service, one of the worship leaders led the congregation in a song called “Shine Your Light.” Now, I’m not one to get overly emotional during praise and worship, but the song made me cry. After the service, I asked the praise leader where he found the song, and he said, “Robbie wrote it. It’s one from his new album.” I’ve been anxiously waiting to receive the album ever since.
Give Yourself Away (EMI) is the band’s second full-length record. Like its debut, this album is primarily an intricate mix of rock, folk and acoustic music combined with worshipful, story-filled lyrics. (And no, I didn’t steal that line out of the latest issue of CCM, though it’s probably there.) But different from their first offering, the words and themes on Give Yourself Away are more transparent, communal and in a way, human.
A few weeks ago, while the rest of the band rehearsed for its upcoming tour, Robbie chomped down some Mexican food and chatted with me about the new record.
Robbie, the title for this album is a statement that those who were raised in church culture will have heard many times before. Was that your point or are you hoping to redefine how to “give yourself away”?
Man, we’ve spent the last few years gutting our understanding of what this whole “following Jesus” thing means. The most recurring theme has been giving of ourselves to those in need, to our neighbors, our families.
In other words, you’re trying to get back to some of the basic teachings of Jesus …
Yes. Matthew, we live in the most powerful and wealthiest land in history. We have such an amazing opportunity to make a difference in the world. This music—the songs—have come from our realization that we need to get off our butts and allow our faith to be bigger than our selfish wealthy Americanized version of Christianity that we had fallen victim to. Most of that came from our community and our relationships; we’re not honest enough people to join such a movement on our own. For us, that was lesson number two, so to speak: We can’t do it alone.
How has “giving yourself away” played out in your relationship with your wife, your kids?
You know, it’s funny; we’ve been talking about this a lot at home. The currency at my house is time; there’s never enough of it to go around. I’ve had to make some really hard decisions that have affected my music and career—because frankly I was hording that currency and spending it on things that furthered my causes and my needs. It’s hard for all of us to figure out what it means to pursue art, music, or whatever your work may be, and yet recognize that family is more valuable than some gig in Kansas City.
Robbie, I know you’ve gotten this question before, so forgive me for asking it again, but do you consider yourself to be a rock band or a worship band or both?
I know the answer is both. Like most musicians who struggle internally with how their music is defined or categorized, I’m joining that theoretical group of artists who long to have their art appreciated first and foremost and allowed to portray the story or message of who we are. But who are we kidding? People of faith are wrestling with how Christian music is defined, and it’s a struggle with us, too. We don’t want to put Jesus on sale, and we don’t want to dilute the clarity of the gospel, either.
One thing I’ve noticed about this album is that you don’t hesitate to mix human story into a song that ultimately is very worshipful. Most worship songs today seem to be big statements about God that get said over and over again. Why is story important to you?
I wanted to write in that direction on this album because people respond immediately to story. Mine. Yours. Whoever’s. There’s a sense of connection with these songs that is taking place before the album is even out—I’ve never experienced that before, and I really think it’s the first time we’ve been honest and open in our writing.
Do you think our human stories can be apart of worship?
I do. In scripture, it always seems to start with a person’s humanity. I mean, how jacked up are the psalmists? Just the biggest losers like you and me. Most of them are caught up in some huge mess where their lives are being threatened if God doesn’t do something amazing and rescue them. I think without telling true stories, we can’t expect to connect with somebody who’s going through hell. We’re pretty much phonies without honesty. And I’ve been there.
A common theme on this album is community. How has your own community at Ecclesia affected you and the making of this album?
I think the album is completely different without the community. The conversations, our friends, the sermons we hear have all shaped the theme and story of this album. And I think the beauty of what we’re hoping to say in the album is that we’re all invited. Now, maybe it looks a little different in your hometown or whatever. But we clearly say: don’t be a Christian hero and try to save the world on your own. God’s not called us to that, but rather to live and serve with others.
Can you tell me the story behind “No One Should Be Left Out”?
This song really came to life when Katrina hit. Our government sucked and abandoned a lot of folks, but the Church went nuts and stepped up to meet the immediate needs of the community without concern for class, race or status. Living in Houston, we were right in the middle of that relief effort, and this song was written around the same time. The song means a lot to me personally after going through that.