Mary James on Making Music That Lowers People's Defenses & Drawing People to Him

Mary James

Singer and songwriter Mary James has just released her brand new worship album Overflow. The CD was released on February 26, 2017, through CD Baby and all digital outlets. A CD release concert was held on 2/26 at Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, CA in celebration of the release.   

In May 2016, Mary James headed to Griffin, Georgia, to record her 7th studio album with the gifted Jason Hoard. Jason has produced projects for Mac Powell (Third Day), Shane and Shane, The Museum and many others; not to mention his stellar musicianship skills. Jamie O'Neal co-produced vocals and joined Mac Powell to sing on the record's final song "Heavenly Shores." 

Q: Tell us briefly how you came to know Christ?

Would it be wrong to say that I'm still getting to know Him? That is the truth, but to better answer your question, at birth I was given up for adoption to a Pastor and his wife. My adoptive mother struggled with alcoholism and sadly I ended up taking the prodigal route. It's a long story and much contributed to my rebellion from family and the church, but at the end of the day, my will walked me into 34 years of chaos. Life was empty and there was a wealth of wreckage in my trail, but Jesus continued to come after me and I yearned for something new.

A friend invited my family and I to a play and when they gave us the opportunity to say yes to Jesus, I went forward with joy. After clearing the tears, I discovered that my then boyfriend, now husband, and my two children had made the same decision. We came to Christ as a family. Since then, I have been getting to the Lord and I still don't know everything there is to know. Hopefully, one day, He will no longer call me servant, but friend.

Q: How did the Lord lead you to lead worship at The Rock?

After our salvation, we began looking for a church home and loved to go listen to Miles McPherson. The music also grabbed my heart; which is where the country music and worship collided. As a new Christian I was eager to get on the stage and show em' what I could do, but I had to wait, thank goodness. I began serving, first as an usher/greeter, then in the bookstore, I joined the choir, was given a solo, asked to sing on the worship team, and then I started to lead. It was a maturing process. God calls us when He knows we are ready for the next assignment; a lesson I am still learning.

Q: Why did you title it "Overflow?" What is the take home message you want to convey through this record?

Well, first off, thank you. We are excited about this one, maybe because it was a total surprise. I wasn't planning on doing anything new and God cleared the way for us to go to Georgia in May of last year to start recording. Before that, before the songs were even written, a friend asked me what we were writing about. I laughed and said, "I have no idea, but I know they will be an overflow of all God has been doing over the last few years." It stuck. In terms of a listener's takeaway, my desire all along has been honesty and intimacy with Jesus. I prayed that the music would lower defenses and draw people closer to Him.

But outside of that, there is a heavy emphasis on who we are in Christ. Songs like "Take Up Your Cross," "Song of Victory," "Worthy of My All," and "Overflow" are all focused on the supernatural relationship we have with Christ and how that relationship overflows into the world around us. The words "let me," are repeated in different songs, as almost a cry for God to help us be who we need to be in our profoundly broken world.

Q: On this album you got to work with producer Jason Hoard (Shane and Shane, Mac Powell), what did he bring to the album you appreciate?

Utter brilliance, a clear love for God, a heart of worship and world class musicianship. Jason can play almost anything with strings on it, and thus covered most instruments on the project. He works with a lot of well-known Artists and the opportunity to create with Jason was really special, but the great thing about him is that he is humble. He loves well and makes you feel special every moment you are with him.

Q: Country music singer Jamie O'Neal also sang on the record.  How did you get to work with Jamie O'Neal ?

Jamie and I met years ago at a show we did in San Diego called Carols by Candlelight. As a result, Jamie ended up producing my last project "Strong," which was released in 2013. She kindly offered to spend a week Georgia with us, lending her amazing gifts to "Overflow."

Q:  Have you always been a country music fan?

Country music and I have a strange relationship, actually. I was trained classically, but after I took a break from music, I discovered the great voices of Country music, such as Patsy Cline, and started to chase after that dream. Several years of vocal work was required to help me shed my Classical habits. When I got saved, the Country and Contemporary Worship genres intersected and I started writing from that musical perspective. At this point, I listen to very little Country music, I would say I am more of an Americana girl. Most of my time is spent listening to Worship; and I must say that I get pretty excited when Artists lean toward a more rootsy approach. 

Q: What were some of the highlights while you were writing?

Actually, five of the songs are covers: Lion and the Lamb, Heart On My Sleeve, Broken Things, Beautiful Mystery and Love Divine (which is our own Charles Wesley re-make). That leaves us with 8 originals. In terms of highlights, the songwriting process is always amazing to me, especially when it is Triadic. Meaning the process includes you, another writer(s), and the Holy Spirit. I've written quite a few songs over the years with my leader guitar player and friend, Gary Livesay; it is always a highlight to see God enter into the writing process.

I also wrote a few songs with my friend Chris Surdock and one with Jason Hoard. Same thing. As far as standout moments go, there are many. I Surrender, Overflow, Worthy of My All, Heavenly Shores. If I were to pick just one, I would choose I Surrender. We had started the song back in 2013, and by the time I got to Georgia last year, it wasn't finished. Interestingly, everything possible went wrong during my two weeks out there (personal stuff and lots of warfare); I was totally beat down. As a result, God gave me the perfect words and delivery of the song. It is rare for me to cry in the studio, but that one was tough for me to get through.

Q:  What do you feed your own soul so that you can "overflow" with the Lord's praise?

Lots of humility and honesty. From that angle, you hunger and understand your need for Him. Then comes the prayer, worship, Bible study, fellowship, etc. 

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