When Brandon Heath gets time off, the Christian singer-songwriter totally distances himself from his work.
Except for songwriting. Whether on his own or with a group of Nashville-area writers, he’s almost always writing.
But to relax, he likes to go to the once-a-month Nashville Flea Market, where he recently did some shopping for his upcoming tour in support of his new record, Blue Mountain.
“I found an old projector and screen, and I’m trying to figure out how to use them in the show,” he told The Beat.
OK, so maybe he doesn’t quite get totally away from work – although he said he plays music at his church, West End Community Church in Nashville, only once every great while.
Blue Mountain is a departure of sorts for Heath, the two-time Gospel Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year and five-time Grammy Award nominee, known for anthemic pop-rock and thought-provoking modern pop, most notably 2009 GMA Dove Awards Song of the Year Give Me Your Eyes.
“I had a vision that I had worked out in my head,” he explained, one that used mountains not only as a thematic metaphor but also as musical inspiration.
“It was a bit of a hard sell to (his label, Reunion Records), and I know sometimes artists can go off the deep end, but I asked them to trust me, and they went with it,” Heath said.
“I’ve always felt artists need to be true to themselves and God will use it.”
True to himself in this instance meant a record that reflected Heath’s recent interest in Americana music.
“I’d been listening to Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Jakob Dylan’s last record. So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say the style of this record was on purpose.”
Producer Dan Muckala suggested making the record at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, N.C., to cement the Blue Mountain concept.
Set to this music that borrows from roots and Appalachian forms and instrumentation is a collection of songs that, in Heath’s words, invite people in closer.
“Sometimes mountains, when they’re hazy and distant, look blue, but when you get up close they’re brown and green. People can be like that, so the concept was that I had made up this place in my mind called Blue Mountain, and I wanted to bring people closer to the stories of the people that live there.”
As work continued on the record, though, Heath said the characters in the songs had one common thread.
“I was writing songs about farmers, coal miners, even a guy on death row, but I realized those characters were all pieces of me – were saying things that I was saying or wanted to say.”
So perhaps Heath’s Blue Mountain Tour is an invitation to a closer look at the artist himself.
“I’m thankful for fans who are willing to let me take this risk,” Heath said, adding, “I know people are going to want to hear songs they’ve heard on the radio” and that he doesn’t begrudge playing Give Me Your Eyes amid these new songs.
“I’m thankful to still be playing Give Me Your Eyes, because that means people still want to hear it, that it’s still relevant. It’s kind of a ‘career’ song, and I’m still proud of it.”