Dante Bowe is in the car when he answers the phone. We’re just a few days ahead the release of his debut solo album Circles and he’s a busy man. Busier than the average solo artist dropping a hotly anticipated debut, because Bowe does double duty as a member of Maverick City Music — the red-hot worship collective that has quickly become the most influential church music group in the country.
With Maverick City, Bowe has helped elevate worship music in ways the genre probably hasn’t experienced since the early days of Passion. But he has other ambitions as well. Circles is a mash of genres that feels more attuned to Friday night car rides with friends than Sunday morning services with them. But there are lyrical layers to the party anthems as well. Heady topics that challenge accepted thinking around issues like racism and addiction.
If that sounds like a difficult act for a songwriter to pull off then you don’t know Bowe, who approaches such challenges with both confidence and a sense of responsibility to use his platform with wisdom, courage and skill. He talked to us about the journey he took to find his own voice, his struggle in writing (three) debut albums and the “healthy pressure” of writing music with a message.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
So when did you first get the songwriting bug?
Dante: Dude, it’s crazy. I feel like I’ve always been able to write, but I was dyslexic pretty much until I was 16 years old.
That must have been a huge struggle.
Huge struggle. Hated anything literature, but I was a storyteller. I had a huge imagination growing up. But I guess I had to be maybe 10 years old and it was a rap I wrote for my dad. It was so stupid, but I remember he thought it was great. And so that helped me continue to just write more.
So you felt pretty encouraged to push forward creatively. Your parents weren’t telling you to choose a more realistic career.
One time I was in kindergarten and my teacher gave me a bad grade because I was coloring outside of the lines. And my mom told me, “that’s not a bad thing! You should be able to color outside the lines if you want to.”
I had those kinds of parents that just, they thought it was great that I was doing something creative, it was exciting for them. It gave them something to hope for, you know what I mean?
When did God come into the picture for you?
I was raised in church because of my grandparents and I never really had an altar call moment or whatever. But at 16, I just was in my room, listening to Kierra Sheard and I ended up just weeping, crying out to the Lord. That was my first real encounter with God, where I knew He was real. From that day forward, my life was completely devoted to God.
And then Maverick City?
There was no such thing as Maverick City! It was just a group of friends in a text message!
It was five of us and we were like, “We should come together and write songs.” We all came together in Atlanta at Passion City and that was just a bunch of songs, which became Volume One. But before we put it out, we were like, “We got to name it something.” They used to call Atlanta the Maverick City. So we went with that.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worship band explode the way Maverick has.
The secret sauce to Maverick City is that there’s different kinds of people. It’s different cultures coming together and writing their stories together. Every song is this collaborative effort to communicate. We have an Indian girl. We have a Dominican guy. Black and White.
I mean, it was last year when we found out we were number one in Gospel on Billboard, and number two on Contemporary Christian. Everyone feels like this is their music, because it’s not necessarily pointing to one culture or one thing. This is for everybody. Everyone can find themselves in Maverick City.
And they can sing really, really good. [Laughter]
So why a solo album for you then?
I’ve always said I was a solo artist, although I do collective things with Maverick. So I’ve always thought about my projects and what I want to release as a solo artist. With this specific project, I had two other albums before this that I threw away.
I tossed them, bro. I had a few other albums that I worked super hard on with some amazing producers. But I tossed them. I’ve only released one of those songs, and that was “Be All Right.”
I just felt there was more to say. I wanted to reflect the times more. And I wanted to reflect my culture where I come from also, speaking to the future and talk about the joy and the good stuff.
What do you mean by speak to the times more?
The racial tensions and how it’s felt for me being a Black man in the midst of all of this. Not only that, but being a Black man with influence.
When I say something, different kinds of people listen, so I wanted to enlighten with my music and not just write songs that are “painting the sky with rainbows” stuff. I want people to finish with this album and say, “Man, I feel more aware, and just feel more uplifted.”
Making people more aware of serious issues like racial tension while also helping them feel more uplifted sounds like a tricky balance.
Well, it’s not hard for me, because I’m a deep thinker. I’m not a small talk guy. Me and my friends, we have just deep discussions naturally every day. Every song is going to be that way just because that’s kind of how I operate. That’s how I think, you know what I mean? So yeah, it wasn’t that hard for me. It was just natural. I can see how it would possibly be hard if you’re trying to calculate it, but I wasn’t calculating it. I was just doing it.
Is it hard to convince other people that there’s an audience out there for something that’s as nuanced as this?
It was an inward challenge. My label and my team is so supportive, my family is so supportive. But as far as my fans and people that support me and love me, I mean, I never really tried to convince them. I just give them what I want. I try to give them the truth in my music, because I would want the truth. I try to give them creative ways to say things and new ways to sing things, because that’s what I would want from my favorite artist.
As a songwriter, are you intentional when you sit down in terms of “OK, today I’m going to write a pop song” versus “today, I’m going to write a worship song for church”?
I’m an Enneagram Four. I’m super, super creative. So I don’t do anything calculated, and that’s a problem sometimes. I’ll just write and write and write. And if one comes up that matches those Bethel or Elevation, then I’ll send over my submission. But if there isn’t one, I won’t submit. I’ll just write whatever comes to me. And if a worship song pops up, I’m like, “Oh, this can go on the Bethel record,” or whatever. Or, “This is a Maverick song, it’s just a Maverick.” Some songs, it’s like, “No one’s going to sing this.”
Last question. You’re a Christian who’s writing at a time where there’s a lot of fear, anger and division. You’re a Black man who’s making music at a time when the national conversation about racism has gotten very fraught. You’re writing church music at a time when the subject of the church is in a lot of flux. That seems to me from where I’m sitting, like a lot of pressure.
There is a lot of pressure, but I think it’s a healthy pressure. I don’t feel burdened, but I do feel there’s a weight attached to what I’m doing and what I’m saying. That’s been the journey I’ve been on, because being a man super, super close to his family, my grandmother and grandfather, I know all about their journeys and I know about my great-grandmother’s journeys and stuff like that. And I do feel like there’s an obligation there to tell these stories. This is a part of your lineage, this is your life. If people are buying Dante Bowe music, they need to know about Dante Bowe. That’s who I am.