Recording a song the caliber of “My Savior, My God” can be a mixed blessing. Just ask worship leader, Aaron Shust. The simple tune he penned for his local congregation took radio by storm, topping six different charts at once while on its way to becoming the most played song of 2006 on the Christian Adult Contemporary charts. From his debut project, Anything Worth Saying, “My Savior, My God” helped earn Aaron a trio of Dove Awards for “Song of the Year,” “Songwriter of the Year,” and “New Artist of the Year.”
It also propelled the Georgia-based worship leader into the spotlight and onto the road in a whirlwind of concerts and promotional tours, sharing the stage with the likes of superstars MercyMe, Bebo Norman, Casting Crowns, Michael W. Smith, Jeremy Camp, Brandon Heath, and TobyMac, in between his own headline stints. A scant year later, Aaron released his hotly anticipated follow-up, Whispered and Shouted, an album informed by his desire to create music that would minister to people outside the four walls of his church. A full-bodied, open-hearted album of breathtaking beauty and scope, Whispered and Shouted flung its message of hope across the highways and byways with a compelling mixture of swelling strings and quiet ruminations.
Two years have passed since Aaron released Whispered and Shouted. Marketing pundits would call that a lifetime in an industry that lives and dies by the next radio hit. But rather than acquiescing to the voices clamoring for ‘more,’ Aaron chose to listen to the voice encouraging ‘better.’ And if ‘better’ required additional time for songs to gestate, so be it.
That’s not to say Aaron has been sitting on his hands for the past two years. On the contrary, there have been no dull moments for Aaron Shust. His roles include the increasing demands of fatherhood (two boys ages 2_ years and 6 months), constant interaction with fans during and after his concerts, and ministry opportunities at his home church and with international relief organization Compassion International. Alongside all this, Aaron was determined to make his next album the most intense, honest, and cohesive of his career. One listen will convince even the most jaded critic that he has succeeded.
With Take Over, Aaron Shust ups the musical ante by stripping the songs down to their bare bones and offering them without extraneous embellishment or anything to hide behind. They are the kind of songs that creep up on you when you least expect it, nestle between your ears, and make themselves at home in your heart.
“I see Take Over as an album about submission,” Aaron says. “Its central theme might be surrender, a relinquishing of control. A common thread that shows up in a lot of these songs is one of admitting that it is not from our own efforts that we can achieve anything. Certainly we can’t achieve salvation. We can work out our salvation but it is only through what Christ has done on the cross that we have any hope.”
Co-produced by the team of Jason Ingram and Rusty Varenkamp (Bebo Norman, Meredith Andrews, 10th Avenue North, Rush of Fools), Take Over finds Aaron reaching deeper and wider for both musical and lyrical inspiration. To get it, he partnered with some of the most respected songsmiths in the industry, including Brandon Heath, Matt Bronleewe, Ian Eskelin, Matthew West, Doug McKelvey, and Jason Ingram. As an artist who had always written his own songs, Aaron says the experience humbled him, stretched him, and helped him to rediscover himself as a songwriter.
“I wanted really excellent songwriting for this project. Songwriting is hard work. It doesn’t come easily for me. To be able to sit in a room with Jason, or Ian, or Brandon and create music that touches people’s souls was a privilege.”
The hard work of creating songs paid off. Take Over is a project of rare aesthetic beauty coupled with a refined and intentional foundation. It is at once classic and contemporary, ranging from pensive and introspective to exuberant, communal rock ‘n’ roll.
“We blew out all the stops on Whispered and Shouted,” he explains. “For Take Over, I wanted to scale it back, to simplify the production to the basics — drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic, maybe a piano. The production was really simple, but solid. Every part had a purpose.”
The sparse instrumentation proved to be a watershed decision as the focus became more intentional on the songwriting. While some artists opt for poetic turns of phrase or catchy hooks that sound great but leave listeners wondering what it all means, Aaron is more interested in making sure his lyrics are straightforward and understandable.
“I think every artist struggles with how to construct an album that is completely cohesive, yet still takes you on a real journey,” Aaron explains. “Because life is a journey, even when it doesn’t feel particularly cohesive.
“It all goes back to the worship leader in me that wants to engage my listeners in an experience that will impact their lives. I wanted to create an album experience that starts with a bang, gives them a little rest in the middle, and then ramps it up at the end. I wanted it to be a rollercoaster with the ups and downs, highs and lows. I think there are songs that work when you are sitting down in your living room on a quiet summer evening, and then there are songs that work on your morning drive.”
Take Over boasts straight up, raucous rock songs like “Come and Save Us,” with its thundering bass, undergirding drums, and dichotomous message that is at once an anguished cry for mercy and a triumphant shout of victory. But it also has theologically-informed contemporary hymns like “To God Alone” and “Forevermore” that will no doubt take their places in worship services around the world. And of course, it has songs that are classic Aaron Shust, like the celebratory pop anthem “When Everything is Beautiful.”
“There’s a difference between being a worship leader in church on Sunday morning and being a worship artist in concert on Thursday night,” Aaron muses. “When I lead worship at church, it’s my job to lead the congregation in songs that point their hearts and minds toward God, toward His worth and His holiness. There is a holiness that I want to be felt on Sunday morning. But, even in a concert situation where people are paying for a ticket to come hear me sing, ultimately, I am still singing songs that point to the glory and worth of God. There are still moments of congregational worship when I step off the microphone and allow the audience to lift their voices and sing. I love those moments of community.”
For Aaron Shust, it is those moments when the music moves us to set our own wills aside and let God Take Over that make it all worthwhile.
Take Over, Mr. Shust’ third and best album is one of this
year’s most impressive Christian records.
This is classic and modern at the same time. Aaron takes on an honest yet hopeful look through the eyes of faith.
“My Savior My God” is #2 on Billboard’s Best of the
2000’s Christian Songs Chart