A Q & A with Travis Greene, the gospel singer spearheading a new wave of worship music

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Travis Greene’s music is more than a platform to praise the lord. He aims to transform the collective conversation about Christianity and move gospel music to the mainstream.

Raised primarily by his choir director mother (his father passed away when he was 5), Greene grew up eating, sleeping and breathing gospel music.

Now, his goal is to invite mainstream music consumers to re-imagine what it means to talk and sing about God.

The three-time Grammy nominee debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart with his  2017 release, Crossover: Live From Music City. The live album’s lead single, “You Waited,” also hit the top spot on the Hot Gospel Songs chart. This year, Greene secured three Billboard Music Award nominations across all Gospel categories for “Top Gospel Artist,” “Top Gospel Song” and “Top Gospel Album” for Crossover: Live From Music City. The 34-year-old singer is also the recipient of seven Stellar Awards, three Dove Awards and a Soul Train Award. His Crossover Live Tour comes to Crescent Ballroom on April 30.

But Greene’s mission extends beyond his music. He is also a pastor, husband and father of two young sons. In 2016, he and his wife, Dr. Jackie Greene, launched Forward City Church in their hometown of Columbia, South Carolina to provide a platform to redefine what it means to be a Christian in contemporary culture. Forward City has a website and app, on which weekly sermons and podcasts are uploaded. Greene’s new wave of gospel even has its own hashtag: #engageculture.

Greene is genuine, articulate and inspirational, qualities that are palpable in and out of the pulpit and on and off the stage. Learn more about his quest to spread authenticity and quell cultural barriers below.

I wanted to congratulate you on all the success on your live album. How do you manage to stay humble and not let all of the hype get to your head?
(Laughs) My mom and my wife. I’m surrounded by people who love people and love God. Just being around those types of people, and then my own love for people and my own love for God, it’s a combination of those. It requires humility. I think I’m going to look back ten years from now like, “Man, that happened?” I never really take in the moment. In the moment, you say, “Oh, my god, there’s 800,000 at this concert.” You can’t really think about it, it’s just, “This is what I get to do, so let’s have fun.”

What do you think it is about your music that is so accessible, specifically for people outside of your immediate audience, those that are in other countries or people who might not identify as Christian?
I think people are always more accepting of anything that’s authentic. For me, I write from a place of experience, sometimes from a place of pain, and others from a place of victory. I think people see that and relate to it, see their own lives and see their own realities in the song, and that’s what makes it work.

Do you ever find it challenging to keep it real in any aspect of your life, as someone who’s always in the spotlight, whether it’s on social media, at the pulpit or on stage?
I would say so. I think there’s certain things that I may wrestle with or deal with that are probably just not smart to post on social media. I have an amazing wife who I can always be 100 with and be open with, who helps me navigate through my own thought process. Sometimes I focus on some lie that I’ve entertained in my mind and she’s like, “Baby, that’s not even close to the truth.” I definitely feel like there are times that I can’t be totally open. Sometimes you walk into a room and you don’t feel like having a concert that night, but you can’t just say, “Hey guys, I’m not feeling it tonight.”

What’s the back story of the title of your album and what does it mean to you personally?
The Crossover album is all about inspiring people to cross over, to leave a place of complacency, of sometimes safety, to a place that requires faith and trust in God, to a place that pushes you forward and closer to your destiny. It’s about leaving a place of bondage and really embracing a life of freedom. Instead of waiting for people who don’t share our same belief to come to the church, we’re going out to them and showing them love where they are.

Do you have any special rituals or routines that you do before or during your show to ensure that you keep that joyous vibe?
I always try to just break away and get a moment. I call it “the calm before the storm,” so I just try to get a moment to breathe, to take in what I’m there for, to really hone in on the audience of one, which is God. Then I do my breathing exercises and my steam treatment for my voice, so I have this whole ritual, and then I do a stretching routine. Then I’m ready to go from there. I take a deep breath and by that time, my adrenaline is rushing and I can’t wait to get out there.

Did you grow up in a musical household and how has music, especially gospel music, affected you throughout your life?
My mother was a choir director my entire life, so it’s just what she did. She was very influential and passionate in teaching people music. Gospel music, in particular, was like oxygen in our home. It was just a part of life; it was always around us, it was unavoidable, so that’s what sparked my passion for it at an early age.

I know that you lost your father at an early age, so were you mostly raised by your mom? How do you think that impacted your path?
My mother was really the only parent I had growing up. My father died when I was 5 and he was great; he was there, but after he died it was just mom. It really affected me specifically with music because music for me was an outlet and an alternative to getting in trouble or getting in the streets or just looking for something to do. I didn’t have to search far; all I needed was a keyboard and some headphones and I would just bang away for hours and hours and hours. It was just something I fell deeply in love with and enjoyed doing and I would spend hours doing it.

Now that you’re raising a family of your own, are you going to encourage your own children to pursue music?
I don’t have to. Those kids, they love it. They love microphones, they love guitars, they love keyboards, they love drums, they love singing; they already have the bug, so I don’t think I have to do much with it.

Tell me about Forward City. On your website, it says you’re a church for “the unchurched and the overchurched.” Can you elaborate on what that means and how #engageculture weaves into that message as well?
Forward City is definitely a church for the unchurched and overchurched, which means those who don’t know anything, those who are far from God, but also for the overchurched, those who are over it, those who have seen it all, you’re looking for something fresh; we have an awesome opportunity to present something fresh, the message being the same, but having our message be fresh and relevant. “Engage culture” is really my mantra; it’s the motto behind everything that I do, through music, church, through entertainment, through it all. Culture is all around us —  the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the art we collect, the philosophies we embrace. Culture is unavoidable; it’s the rhythm of a generation. There are three responses you can have to culture: You can complain about it, you can conform to whatever it is, or you can confront it, and that’s what I’m really trying to encourage people to do in this generation in particular, to confront and engage in the culture around us. It’s one thing to march and to vote and to tweet, but it’s a whole other thing to become the change that you want to see. That’s what I’m trying to do, so that your voice can be respected enough that you’ll be able to penetrate through barriers and to be able to be the one to bring change to whatever arena you’re in, so that’s what #engageculture is.

Would you say that you’re trying to redefine gospel music and Christian culture or just expand on it and bring it to the mainstream?
I don’t want to use the word redefine because I don’t want it to sound pompous or anything, but I would say definitely just bring a fresh wind, a fresh wave to it, bring excitement back, bring joy back because growing up, it was something that I just aspired to be a part of. I think this message and this genre, Christian gospel, should be fun. During the tour, we really put a lot of emphasis on mainstream production because we want people to come. Like on April 30, when we come to your city, we want people to come out and not say, “Man, that was a good gospel concert,” but say, “Man, that was just a great concert.” It’s going to be a lot of fun. I love that city. What’s cool is that every venue we’ve done has been super diverse, we’ve heard crazy stories about miracles and passion being reignited, so we’re glad to come and join what’s already happening there in Phoenix and hopefully just bring a wave of excitement.

Travis Greene, Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. 2nd Avenue, Phoenix, crescentphx.com, Monday, April 30, $25.

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