Singer-songwriter Jimmy Needham, a student at Texas A&M University, has been busy making a name for himself on the independent music circuit for the last two years. Now signed by Inpop records, Needham, 21 has just released his debut album, Speak. Soul Shine's Amy Hagberg recently caught up with him.
SS: What are you studying at Texas A&M?
JN: I'm studying renaissance and medieval history and philosophy.
SS: Why did you choose those particular areas to study?
JN: Well, that's a great question. A&M is not known for its liberal arts department÷ I said to myself, I have no idea what I want to do as a career, I just know that I want to spend 4 years studying something I enjoy and not something that's going to make me a whole lot of money. That knocked the business degrees out because I could care less about business. And that knocked a lot of the math and sciences out and I was left with history and philosophy, two things that I was crazy about in high school÷I've never regretted it, but I know the only thing that awaits me is probably a teaching career. At the end of the day, you've got to be doing something you love. I just couldn't see myself working behind a desk. So I was really grateful when the music thing came up because I was like "Whew!"
SS: A lot of times philosophy is almost anti-Christian. How do you manage that?
JN: I think that might be what I enjoy about it. I'm sitting in these classes and I'm watching these dead white guys from Germany try to come up with theories about the world, about history, about the existence of man, about the problem of evil, and everything in their reasoning makes sense, except that they leave out God. And at the end of their thought processes it's just vacant and it's empty and they come so close. For a lot of people, philosophy causes them to stumble, but it encourages me÷without the Lord nothing makes sense, I mean it's all hogwash. But if you enter God into the equation, then all these things that I've been studying about are no longer useless, they start making sense.
SS: Tell me about your spiritual journey.
JN: I was raised maybe at best in a religious home; I was raised Greek Orthodox but we stopped going to church when I was pretty young÷ I would call myself a believer, but I just didn't have a new heart÷I kind of went through the front end of my life with this kind of Pharisee persona, meanwhile I'm getting into all sorts of sin. I was a pornography addict at the age of 9 and it just progressed from there and kept getting worse÷ I thought I was the only guy in the world that was dealing with this stuff÷ I confessed this to one of my friends, the only guy in my high school that I knew was a Christian. I remember weeping that day, literally as I'm telling him about my disgusting lifestyle÷ He told me about the hope he had in Christ and it sounded really good. When I went home that day, I don't remember praying the sinner's prayer, but I just remember taking all the garbage that I had and just destroying it and kind of putting a stake in the ground that day that my life is committed to the Lord÷ About a year and a half ago or two years ago Christ set me free completely from that.
SS: If you're a guy who's been caught up in pornography, what's your best advice for getting out of it?
JN: I never thought growing up being so consumed with it that there was ever victory in it÷ I couldn't imagine a lifestyle in which I wasn't looking at that stuff, in which I wasn't addicted to pornography÷ But in Christ you are a new creation÷As I just continue to pursue Him and make Him the center of my focus, God's grace allowed me to be liberated from it. And so now, I can say what I never thought I would be saying, which is I'm no longer a pornography addict. I'm no longer bound by that.
SS: I understand you used to do street evangelism at college bars around A&M. Tell me about that.
JN: There's a promenade in back of the bars÷we'd stand out there and as they came out and were hanging out back there we'd just approach them, sometimes with a Gospel tract just to start the conversation, sometimes not. We saw two homeless guys get saved out there. They were like 17; they were on the streets. So we saw them get saved and actually for a while they moved in with some of our guys that were out there with us. We saw some fruit out there. We also saw a lot of resistance.
SS: Can you tell me a story about when your message wasn't very well accepted?
JN: One time we were doing street evangelism outside of this club, a concert venue. We had these novelty Gospel tracts, they were $100 bills but they were probably 2-3 long and a foot tall. They were just oversized like ridiculous things. But they're cool to hand out and people like them. And so we were handing those out and I was speaking to about 10 people and there was this one guy who just really wasn't a fan of me and he and his girlfriend were standing in the back of the crowd and he came over to me as I'm talking÷ and lit the Gospel tract on fire and held it up to me. Meanwhile, every time I mentioned the name Jesus his girlfriend would start screaming as loud as she could to distract the crowd because she didn't want to hear that name apparently. We had fire and screaming, so that was an interesting night.
SS: How did you get started on this journey to singing professionally?
JN: I never wanted to do this actually. I wrote a few songs in the back half of high school, early college and I would play them to my roommates, but actually playing shows or making records, that wasn't my interest. If anything, with my degree I was planning on maybe going into the ministry as a youth pastor or maybe a worship leader at most÷ I'm such a prideful person by nature that I couldn't imagine playing concerts, making albums, going on tour and not getting puffed up in the process÷God had to just lay the smack down on me so to speak. So my roommates in college started telling me, "Why don't you just play a couple shows locally" and so I did, I started playing at coffee houses and stuff around here. And the response was incredible. From the beginning, God had his hand on this thing.
One day my manager, the guy who was kind of helping me figure out what I'm doing, he got a call from the president of Inpop Records and he was interested in flying down from Nashville to Houston to chat with us about signing. I'm driving down the road and Troy, my manager calls me, I want to swerve everywhere I'm freaking out so much. Who thinks they're going to get a call from a record label, a totally legitimate like Nashville-based? It was so unbelievable.
SS: You're a student and now you have this big music career. How do you juggle that?
JN: We can't necessarily tour in a traditional sense because we're in classes all week. My life (and my wife Kelly's) looks a lot like this: we go to class on Friday, we will take our exams, we will leave the class immediately, drive to Houston, hop on a plane, fly to Philadelphia, do a concert, stay the night, come back, go to church Sunday, go back to class Monday and the whole thing starts over the next week. It's been so incredibly intense.
SS: What advice would you give to hopeful young musicians out there?
JN: The advice I give to young guys who are doing music, who are thinking about pursuing a music career is don't do anything÷ Even with your best efforts of trying to get in the right doors, talk to the right people, make the right sound, if God isn't behind it nothing is going to happen. And conversely even if you never play in front of hardly anyone, you don't promote yourself, you don't do the label shopping but God is behind it, you're going to be signed in a week. It doesn't matter. Whatever God wants He does. I was not looking for labels and God just did it. That's cool.
Amy Hammond Hagberg is a frequent contributor to publications around the world. Her first book, How Do You Know He's Real: Celebrity Reflections on True Life Experiences with God (Destiny Image Publishers) was released in April 2006. The first in a planned three-book series, it is a collection of testimonies from well-known athletes, musicians and actors on how they know Christ is real. The second book in the series, How Do You Know He's Real: God Unplugged is geared for teens and young adults and was released in November 2006. She is also the author of My Favorite Christmas (Integrity Publishers), which was also released in November 2006. All can be found on her website: http://www.amyhagberg.com.
Writer: Amy Hammond Hagberg