Meet Matt Maher, if you don’t already know him. He’s a popular Christian singer/songwriter whose hits include “Lord I Need You” and “Your Grace Is Enough.” Last summer, his face was on Dr. Pepper cans across the country as part of a free song download promotion, but he’s really just a humble man wanting to share God’s great love with the world.
Are you an evangelist or a rock star?
I’m actually trying to be neither. I’m a dedicated follower of Jesus and the Catholic Church. Paul said in the Bible, “Whatever you do, do for the glory of God.” For whatever reason, I’ve been given the ability to write songs, and I’m passionate about my faith.
Did you always love music?
Since infancy I showed an attraction to it. When I was in kindergarten and first grade, my father owned a restaurant with a piano bar. When he got out of the business, my mom talked him into taking on the payment for the baby grand piano. So we had this huge, imposing thing in our house, and at first I played with my GI Joes on it, and then I started hitting the hammers. One day I heard this song. I was so enamored by this piece of music that I had to figure out how to play it. I started playing by ear, and my mom put me in piano lessons for three years. Although I stopped taking in lessons in middle school to play sports because that’s what all the cool kids were doing, I kept playing trombone in concert band. At lunchtime we would jam out to U2 and the Beatles. I started taking music theory in high school—music has always been the thing I loved.
You got your start playing at retreats for Franciscan University of Steubenville. How did you segue into being a contemporary Christian music artist?
In 1995, I went to Arizona. I had been invited back to Church as a 20-year-old and had a conversion experience. After that I got more involved with youth ministry and started playing keyboards. In 1998 I played at Steubie West and was involved in the Steubenville retreats until 2009, when I started out on my own.
What’s your secret to writing a song?
There is inspiration, and there’s perspiration. There’s a moment of having an insight into something—sometimes it’s a lyric; sometimes it’s a phrase; sometimes it’s an idea or a concept. I text ideas or sing or hum a melody into my phone. The process is like being a sculptor with a hammer and chisel. You’re chiseling away at this block of nothing to reveal something else. You get to the end of it and think, So that’s what I was working on! It amazes me all the time. I never want to lose the wonder of the creative process. I love when songs take a left turn and surprise me. I would hate for my music to be so predictable that even the process of writing becomes predictable. That would be really boring.
From your own music, what’s your favorite song?
My favorite song right now would be “Lord, I Need You.” It was written with four other writers, specifically as a song for the Church. It’s something that hits me emotionally as a songwriter, a person, and an artist. Every aspect of who I am resonates with the song. And I think it’s honest. More and more in my life, I don’t feel like I should write from a position of authority, especially songs about the faith. I feel like I should write from a position of mystery. I don’t fully understand this God I’m writing about, but I’m trying to, and thank goodness he gave us the English language and melodies and rhythms to try and do him justice.
What is it like for you as a Catholic in the Christian radio market?
It really hasn’t been an issue. Specifically in Christian radio, the vast majority of people I’ve met have been super supportive. They’re all great people. Most of them come from regular radio; they’ve had a conversion, and they want to be a part of something that’s making a difference in people’s lives. And I think that’s a really great thing.
How can those of us without such a great platform as yours spread the gospel?
Society puts a value on artistic merit; we are a culture of celebrity. Celebrity is not a bad thing, but we need to remember that in the gospel there are no celebrities. We need to create a culture where everyone is celebrated.
What’s your advice to the young people of the world trying to live radically for Christ?
Be yourself. Be who you are. Do what comes on your heart to do for God.
I have a lot of sympathy for youth. They are faced with unprecedented challenges, including pervasive technology and a general mentality in the West of entitlement and narcissism. In the culture today there is an addiction to sentiment and an addiction to self, to narcissism.
I tell young people, “If you’re going to church regularly already, then spend more time with the elderly and less time with your friends. Of course stay close to Jesus in the sacraments, but also find people from a different era of life. Be around them long enough to hear stories of their lives. It will equip you and inspire you to deal with the challenges you face, and it will remind you that you’re not alone. Be wary of the importance we place on social connections via the Internet and try and learn from the Gospels in terms of the importance of real human connections.
“Do yourself a favor now and try and find a way to make meaningful connections with people. Otherwise in 10 years you will be an adult and wonder why you find yourself completely alone. Form real connections with the people around you, with people of faith. Look for a mentor. Look for somebody who’s willing to tell you the truth, no matter how difficult it is to hear sometimes.”
After your face was on Dr. Pepper cans across the U.S., did your life change?
Most people who listen to Christian music know my music but have no idea what I look like. People come to my concerts and say, “Oh! You sang this song and this song? I had no idea!” The attitude is “We know your name; we know your songs,” but there isn’t this facial recognition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It says in the Gospel that Jesus was a man of no reputation. Maybe it’s the same thing—Jesus was identified by the things he said and did, not by his appearance. I really haven’t seen any change since I was on the cans, other than Dr. Pepper started following me on Twitter.
What’s your personal life like?
I’m married to Kristin, and we have two young children. We live in Nashville.