Since his humble debut as a recording artist in the `90s, dizzyingly chameleonic Israel Houghton has been injecting contemporary gospel with a blazing, youthful and musically masterful energy that has placed him among the most highly influential tastemakers in his field. As a singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and worship leader, he has created a canon of songs that have become standards in houses of faith around the globe. He has accomplished this largely as the leader of Israel and New Breed, a GRAMMY®, Stellar and Dove Award-winning musical ensemble and ministry organization that has amassed gold-selling albums and critical platitudes reserved for the best of the best.
Elev8 caught up with the busy Houghton for an exclusive interview! Also, check out a 2005 interview with the 700 Club for some background on his life and career below.
E8: Have you always been religious? Can you talk to us about your spiritual journey? Did you ever have moments of doubt?
IH: I think I was born under very interesting circumstances. But I was almost immediately born into a Christian home of a single mom who got married when I was 1 years old. By the time I was 5 years old, they (my mother and stepfather) were ministering regularly. It was during my sophomore year of high school that I said, “I really believe.” I made a decision to live my life with God. But I’ve had moments of crisis, definitely.
After I was married, I had seasons of doubt. I think everyone has these crises. “I want to know you for myself,” I said to God. I had moments where I questioned whether I just believed in God because of what I had grown up around and had been told my whole life. I wanted to have my own personal relationship with Him. I think that realization has really answered any faith crisis I experienced.
E8: What do you say to people who come from trying circumstances like yours and opt instead to reject God, who think that those issues are reason to believe there is no God?
IH: That’s probably 90% of people I deal with everyday. They can almost justifiably say, “Where was God? Where was he when I needed him?” I think it’s in moments like that when people don’t want to hear cliches. This may sound defeatist to my faith-filled friends but…I tell the doubtful people that I don’t know. I don’t know why you had to go through those difficult times. I don’t know why you were dealt things that others weren’t. But I DO know that God is still good. People who have been through stuff can help others through things. In my own life, feeling like a mistake, an accident, I know what that’s like. But life isn’t as bad as statistics might suggest. I still wake up in America every morning! I’m still alive and breathing. What am I complaining about? There is so much that is blessed. Change your perspective! I’ve traveled all over the world and seen what real problems are.
E8: In your travels, have you witnessed any differences in how people practice Christianity in different places?
IH: The Westernized mentality is very much, “When I go to Africa, I’ll show them how Christianity should be done.” But when you get there, you realize that they know something. They express themselves and worship like nothing I’ve ever seen. They’re teaching ME something. You don’t realize God is all you need until He’s all you have. There is a greater love, appreciation, desperation. It’s worth the jetlag because I come back with a renewed sense of, “You know, God, you’re good.” For me, [performing internationally] helps me to help people experience God.
E8: What do you think of your music being transcendant, appealing to people of other faiths or people who may not be religious at all? Do you have any stories or experiences to share?
IH: I’ve had a lot of people tell me, “Hey, I don’t like Christian music. But there’s something about the way you do what you do; the love, the passion, the hope in your music.” Hope doesn’t need a church. You can hear bad news every day. My side is the good news side. And this philosophy is effecting my writing as well. I’m writing about things like change, hope, life – things everyone can relate to, things you can understand if you at least acknowledge there is a God. There’s something you can hear in this recording that will mean something to you.
E8: Who are your musical influences? Is there anyone you would dream of collaborating with that you haven’t already?
IH: The first concert I ever went to was when I was 5 years old – Andrae Crouch. I saw that and immediately said, “That’s what I want to do with my life.” I think my music is cross-cultural in the way Crouch’s was. I aim to be the Andrae Crouch of our generation. I don’t know if there ever has been a Gospel artist who has had such an impact like Andrae Crouch. As far as musical influences, I was a Black kid in a white family in a Hispanic church. Needless to say, there were a lot of different influences. My mother is a very accomplished musician, herself. So I listened to everything: The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, etc. If I could land a collaboration with Stevie Wonder, I think I could retire the next day. I think all artists see Stevie as their biggest influence and their dream collaborator.
Israel Houghton & New Breed’s upcoming album The Power Of One will be available in stores & on iTunes March 24, 2009. CLICK HERE to pre-order your copy today!