Recently, RELEVANT was thrilled to host singer/songwriter and worship artist Pat Barrett on our podcast. You can listen to our conversation there to hear Barrett’s thoughts on his new album and collaborating with the likes of Dante Bowe, but there was another part of our conversation we wanted to highlight especially. When our senior editor Tyler Huckabee sat down with Barrett, they got to talking about Kanye West’s recent creative output. Though this was before the official release of West’s Donda, Barrett had actually happened upon a rare sighting: a Sunday Service show in the wild. As it turns out, Kanye and the choir he was traveling with set up shop on a pond near Barrett’s Atlanta-area home and performed on Sunday morning in a show that Barrett found deeply moving. He told us a little about his thoughts on Kanye’s recent hard pivot to Christian material and why he’s so inspired by it.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Tyler Huckabee: OK, so Kanye in your neighborhood.
Pat Barrett: So Kanye in our neighborhood. My wife and I moved a year and a half ago, outside of Atlanta. It’s really close to Marvel Studios. I think they filmed some Avengers movies and all that.
There’s a pond being built in connection around that area. So in this pond, Meg and I and our kids started seeing a bunch of people in the water and we’re like, “What is going on?” And what was going on is a stage was being built under the water in the pond. So that on that Sunday, there would be a Sunday Service where the Sunday Service choir would walk out onto the water.
Are you serious?
Dead serious. And the most wild part about it was I saw them building it all week. I saw them rehearsing. Even just rehearsing, the choir sounds unbelievable. They didn’t really tell anybody about it. It was just a spectacle for whoever was there.
That’s what’s so interesting about those Sunday Service things. There’s no marketing campaign. They’re their own marketing campaign.
I think the wildest part about it was that even though I knew what the illusion was, that Sunday morning, it was 7:00 AM and an organ started playing in our neighborhood and the choir walks out onto the water to the middle of the lake and they start to sing. It’s top three most inspiring, provoking…
I think it’s because of all the questions it brought up as well. Not only being inspired.The sun is rising, a choir walking out of the water and singing songs of worship shake-your-chest-cavity loud. And then you look around and you realize no one’s told anyone about this. What is this for?
The questions I started asking after that experience were like, “OK, if I were just to do something for my own creative outlet, is there something that burns in you enough that you’d still do it anyway? Enough to not tell anyone about it?”
I just found that to be a fascinating creative exercise, number one. And above all that, it was amazing to watch. We’re experiencing this guerrilla theater production and then it’s just gone.
Nobody’s walking around with the merch like, “I was there at the Sunday service outside of Atlanta.”
No t-shirt cannons, bro. I would’ve gotten one.
It’s been interesting from our perspective at RELEVANT to watch some of this stuff going around with Kanye West. I feel like nobody in the Church quite knew what to do with him. Here’s this very controversial figure, loved and hated in equal measure — a creative genius, a provocateur, a guy who’s wrestled publicly with his mental health issues and also just with sometimes being, by his own admission, a jerk — and all of a sudden he’s saying to Christians: “I’m making the creative pivot to be on your team now.” Some people were into it. Some people weren’t. A lot were like, “I don’t know what to make of this.”
From your perspective, as somebody who lives there and is very much a part of that worship scene, that genre that he became a part of, what was your take on it?
It actually brings up a memory. I have a memory slamming into my mind. When that album [Jesus Is King] came out, I think I was in Florida. There was a tour date happening then. So I took the day and I went out to this beach-side restaurant. It’s kind of cold at the time. I put my headphones in and I just sat and looked at the water and I listened to the whole album.
And I was shocked by even just the lyrical content. I was like, “OK, there are some things in here that are like high church, inspirational.” There was that.
But then there were really personal, painful, honest songs. What was the line? “What have you been hearing from the Christians? They’ll be the first ones to judge me, make me feel like nobody loves me.”
So when you’re putting out an album and you include that song and you do it anyway? I think that’s a very courageous thing. Anything creative requires courage. I have big question marks of whether or not my own art means something to me if I don’t need to feel courageous to put it out there.
Anyway. I don’t know. I loved it. I watched every interview after that. James Corden, Carpool Karaoke in the plane, did you see that?
Yeah, I remember it.
It’s burned in my mind. I can’t un-see it. It’s a reference point.
Kanye had obviously always been on our radar because he’s always had religious content in the mix. But it became a whole nother stratosphere with Jesus Is King. So we covered it obsessively.
Well, I’m stoked to hear Donda.
Editor’s Note: Which he now can!
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.