You've been quoted as saying that when you were younger you were turned off to Christianity because of the hypocrisy involved in it. What did you feel was the most hypocritical thing about Christianity?
When you're young and you see people doing one thing and saying another, it's really obvious to you--or seeing people who are claiming to be [one] way and then doing the exact opposite thing later on somewhere outside of church. And then seeing that that wasn't being confronted by anybody, it seemed to me that that was acceptable behavior to God. I just used that as an excuse, I think, to not serve God and to say, "Well, I don't want to serve a God who is okay with that kind of stuff." That that was basically it. Nothing ultra traumatic or anything happened to me in church.
Do you still feel that way?
No, I don't. I see it, and I see it in me. I will do or say one thing, and do another from time to time. It's that battle, and I understand that now. I understand that there are people who genuinely want to serve God and try to do their best for him, and slip and fall along the way—fall into self-seeking and all those sorts of things.
In your song "Only A Man," you sing, "I grew up singing songs in church with questions in my mind, then turned my back and ran away from God who gave me life...." What questions did you have back then?
That line is more saying I was questioning the whole thing, like -I'm sitting here singing a praise and worship song but I'm really not [there]. That's not what's going on in my heart. I grew up singing songs in church [and] questioning the things I was singing about because of things [that] that were going on around me.
When you sing those same songs now, how do you feel?
Oh, great. I try to feel inspired by them. I love to sing those songs and to worship God at church. I love it. It's awesome. I feel like it's one of the things that's the least I can do for him.
When you were younger, you say you were involved with witchcraft. What kind of experiences did you have?
I ran across this person—a massage therapist—backstage at this one venue where we were playing. These masseuses would give you a 30-second shoulder rub. But then she kind of leaned in and started telling me stuff about [myself]. This was probably when I was like 16 years old. She started telling me stuff that nobody could have known. She basically told me, "I'm a psychic."
At that point in my life, I was searching for something and I thought, "Well, she's got it. This must be the way to go." Everything was so accurate. It wasn't until later [that] I understood that accurate doesn’t mean right.
I fell into a lot of that stuff, and I started trying to practice some of the same stuff myself. I was successful at it to a point. I let a whole lot of things into my life by doing that. And I really feel like operating in that stuff just strengthened the addictions that I already had and sent me down some other dark pathways. But when Jesus delivered me from that stuff, he showed me what it was really like to operate in his spirit and, how that's supposed to be. So I'm really grateful that he set me free of that stuff. I had the wool pulled over my eyes and didn't know it.
Cliff is my wife [then girlfriend] Haylie's father. There was this whole series of events that happened the day that he passed away, and for some reason, God picked that day to touch my life the way he did. Earlier in the night I felt this presence that I never felt, this peace, what I now know was the spirit of God all over me. But I didn't chalk it up to it being him. I didn't know it was God until later, when everything had calmed down. I was sitting with Haylie in [her] backyard and the name "Jesus" just came out of my mouth. Right in the middle of our conversation—and we weren't talking about God or anything. And when I said "Jesus," I just started shaking in my chair. I instantly knew that I had been living, a life opposed to him and that he really was the true living God.
There was a lot of emotion going on at that point because I realized that [even if] you've been totally blaspheming Jesus your whole life, he still loves you and is going to touch your life. He's going to reveal himself to you and forgive you. It was just an amazing thing. I gave my life to him right there that night. After that night, Cliff passed away.
At this point in time, you were struggling with addiction, correct?
What advice do you have for those struggling with addiction now?
Drugs were something that were really fun for me. I loved doing them and, I guess, that's the whole point. That's why you get addicted to them, because they make you feel a way that that is so much better than normal, especially if you're a depressed person and don't feel like you have much to live for. I would tell somebody [struggling with addition] that if you give Jesus a chance to replace those things, he'll give you something that is far more gratifying and satisfying than the best drug on this earth can give you.
I don’t want to compare his spirit to a drug, but it is addicting. It's addicting to be in the presence of God. And it's addicting to be at church and worshiping him, or feeling his presence. It's been my experience anyway.
When do you feel closest to God?
Probably when I'm on my own, by myself, and praying.
What do you usually pray for?
Oh, it usually starts out with "God help me. Help me be better." I just want to try to be the best I can for him after everything he's done for me. I want him to be happy with me. I want him to be satisfied with how I'm looking, or [handling] the things he's given me to look over, and being responsible that way.
Do you have a favorite prayer?
Oh, yeah, It's just basically conversation most of the time. It's different every time.
You've played with so many music legends, such as B.B. King, Stevie Wonder. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received from one of these guys?
It's funny because I don't have any recollection of them giving me any life-changing advice or anything like that. But just being able to play with people like B.B. King and all those great musicians is, in itself, just through osmosis, indirectly influencing. Seeing how they treat people is the biggest thing I learned from B.B. King. It was probably the biggest thing I learned from anybody.
[One time] I saw [singer] Michael McDonald backstage [at a show] and he just struck up a conversation with this local crew guy, whose job was to just load gear in and out of the place. Michael just sat there and talked to him and was interested in what he had to say. It was almost like he was making a friend, and that is so rare. People—celebrities--just do not do that, and seeing things like really helps me to understand what an illusion being well known is, fame and all of that. It is just such an illusion.
I think it's a drug for a lot of people, too. A lot of people wouldn't talk to that crew guy because it would make them feel like they're not famous anymore. But I just love it. I love seeing things like that. It's probably the biggest thing I've learned—to just treat people with respect.
Do you consider playing your guitar a spiritual experience?
Sometimes playing guitar is a spiritual experience, sometimes it's not.
When it's not, is it more a chore?
Sometimes, [but] sometimes you just are not into it and there's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes it's a switch you cannot turn on. It happens or it doesn't. But the times when I really feel like everything is flowing and I can just not think about it and concentrate on focusing it toward worshiping God it's the pinnacle of my day.
So, was playing guitar on your new album more of a spiritual experience for you than playing it back when you were 16 on your earlier albums?
Absolutely. I think I had a lot of spiritual experiences back then, but they weren't experiences with the spirit of God, so I'm really thankful that now I'm able to have communion with his spirit in playing music.
In your song "One Person at a Time," you sing about changing the world. What, in your opinion, is the most important thing we need to change?
I don't know. Probably people. I don't think the world will ever be changed until people are changed. And not to make it sound like I want everybody to conform to what I believe, but if Jesus is the one true living God, then if everybody was serving him, I suppose the world would be a better place. I think that would be the only thing that would do it. I don't see anything else doing it. Maybe that's bleak.
You've obviously enjoyed a lot of success in the mainstream market with your past albums, but this new one is being marketed as Christian. Are you nervous about the repercussions of the album being pushed in a more narrow market?
No, not at all. I hope the album does well in all markets. I hope it's a blessing to all people who hear it. But, if it falls on its face and doesn't do anything, I guess I'll just start over and try another one. It's all I can do.
What is your favorite song off the new album?
It's hard to say; from a message standpoint, probably the song "Thankful." It kind of sums up everything.
If you had to come up with a title for the story of your life, what would it be?
Jonny Lang: Chronicles of a Nerd.