Matt Hein of I AM THEY Interview
What started out as a one-night Halloween Harvest Night worship music event in 2008 for a church opening a new building in Nevada, turned into an event involving multiple churches. Matt and his church reached out to five other churches in the area which brought all those churches together in unity out of worshiping and fellowship. “Over 300 attended the event which was big news for us and our small town of Carson, Nevada,” Matt reminisced. After their performance those involved agreed to keep the worship music team together and so begin a ministry that was reoccurring every other month and would eventually be known as Solomon’s Porch. “When we received an offer to open for Matthew West that came as a big surprise for us and we were like, yeah, we should begin to write some songs and name ourselves as a band,” Matt related. After realizing the name Solomon’s Porch had been taken the band decided to change their name to, I AM THEY.
Matt stated, “The band’s name was inspired from the book of John chapter 17…Jesus is praying for his disciples and he keeps referring to the disciples as THEY as he is calling out the identity of his disciples. He who sees and what he sees the church to be and so I AM THEY personalized that and are taking ownership of it. This is really the calling of everyone in the band and why we are here,” Matt said. He added, “So outside of the band, it is really a call to the Church at large to really claim and own that identity as believers.”
Soon after the band’s tour with Matthew West, I AM THEY went to a festival called Spirit West Coast in California, headlined by Toby Mac; the band won the competition! Matt had headed back to the hotel and remembers his wife calling him (as she was still at the concert watching Toby Mac) and had told Matt their band had won. This meant they would be going to Nashville to record a single. “What blew our minds was the reward of going to Nashville! Nashville was not even on our radar to visit, but we went there and tracked our first song,” Matt explained. “The producer who worked on the song said, “Hey, should I send this to some of my friends?” Turns out his friends were the five major record labels in Nashville, and that started the conversation where we ended up meeting with all these record labels and had a couple offers down the road,” Matt added. “Then things started rolling, so having never co- written songs before and coming from a small town we learned a lot coming to Nashville and working with our record label, and with talented producers just to try song writing. We were doing a lot of cover songs from other bands. It wasn’t until we had been writing on our own in different categories, different genres, and not just straight down the middle worship songs that we got the offer from Matthew West to tour,” Matt recalled. “With writing news songs for our first album we really began to grow in heart and voice and how we functioned together as songwriters. We worked with a clean slate and wrote new songs which were to become our first album.”
After a five-year journey since their inception, the band would release their first self-titled album “I AM THEY”. This would spawn hits such as “From the Day” which is played at their live shows today. Matt said, “It was one of the first songs we wrote for the record with a friend, Jonathan Smith, who helped with writing other songs on our first album and ended up producing the entire first album as well. Which is even more interesting now, from my perspective, because John has gone on with his own successful career including writing songs such as Chain Breaker with Zach Williams and producing his whole album. We met him at an early point in his career and he has really blossomed and taken off. We always called Jonathan the seventh member of our band because he just fit right in, and every time we got together in a room, we’d write a song we loved,” Matt remembered.
The transition from their early beginnings in a smaller church in Nevada to a new life in Nashville, TN would prove to be difficult for some of the original band members. Matt said, “The Lord challenged us and called us out of the boat, so to speak, when we were to make the transition from steady, stable jobs and life, to a life of Christian Artists living in Nashville. There were just some things we weren’t prepared for, including the lifestyle and life on the road,” Matt recalled. “While it was some of the most difficult times, glory be to God, it’s been some of the most blessed times,” he added. Abbie Parker would replace I AM THEY’s original lead singer and add a different perspective to their live shows as well as future music. Jon McConnell would join the band which would offer an additional lead vocal to Matt, the band’s only remaining original lead singer, and Abbie’s voice. It was important that Jon and Abbie didn’t come in feeling like they needed to sing the same as previous band members. With this new record they were able to sing with a clean slate and sing as they wanted to sing. As importantly, “The band was growing, maturing and evolving,” Matt would go on to say. Jon’s voice is prevalent with their chart-topping song “Scars”. A song which demonstrates the weaving of a theme throughout “Trials and Triumphs”. “More of a voice came out in our second record, and a next level of honesty and transparency from this record,” Matt would concede. Band members decidedly made the choice to shed light on their struggles with their followers and new fan base to demonstrate, “We come out free by being transparent and willing to be honest. It is so liberating to tell a story of life and not a story of death, the scars of Jesus. We hope others that hear our songs and ministry during shows, can connect with the struggles we have dealt with in our personal lives, and that scars have redemption,” Matt added.
Speaking on the song, The Water, from their sophomore album (a known favorite to singer/keyboardist Abbie Parker), Matt said, “The song was co-written with David Leonard originally from the band All Sons and Daughters. David and Leslie Jordan wrote on a couple songs including Near to Me and The Water. David ended up producing at least three other tracks on our record, as well. David had since stayed with the producing side of music as All Sons and Daughters decided to come to an end.” Since, David has released a new solo album titled The Wait.
When asked about how the song My Feet Are on The Rock came about Matt recalled “I was in conversation with my Dad who lives in California. He always talks about scripture and pouring scripture into my life. We were discussing Matthew 7, the scripture about having your house built on a rock when streams grow and winds blow. We were talking, at the time, about all the hurricanes in 2017 including Hurricane Harvey since our singer Jon lived in Texas and had experienced it first-hand. For me, personally, my Dad just started ministering with me that way with scripture and it speaks so much to what is going on in my life. He said, “Yeah, you should write a song about it,” and My Feet Are on The Rock came about!”
When asked who has had the most profound effect on his life personally, Matt said it was his Mom. “I accepted Christ at a Billy Graham crusade at the age of six. My Mom has been the one who’s guided me though my Christian walk both during big and difficult times. Musically, I would say Matt Redman has had the most profound effect. Matt stood out to me lyrically and what I should do and look like. He is so genuine and has such authenticity. He has been one of the greats in the faith for me. We always ask ourselves in the band who would you get clammy hands over if you saw them in the room. I don’t really have a whole lot of those in my life because we’re all just human beings, but Matt is still one of those people for me because I have so much deep respect for him,” Matt added. “When Matt came out with The Heart of Worship, I had just started as a worship leader and picking up a guitar, and that song helped me to be centered and influenced how I write music today.”
Matt professes, “We’ve enjoyed headlining tours which now allows us more time to minister to our audience. During shows as an opening act, we couldn’t do as much. God has called us to use our voice in that way as much as our music. There are some things music can do that words can’t do. We really believe in our songs because they carry an eternal truth and there is a life in our music. We want to minister as much as we can through our music and through the Word and encourage people with the Word. Being able to minister and reach out with our testimony and connect with somebody then after the show, being able to pray with people. Hearing what’s going on in their life or how they were impacted by one of the songs or how one of our testimonies stood out to them and how they could relate to it, that’s what keeps me going,” he concluded.
Visit I AM THEY’s website, Twitter page, YouTube, and Instagram for their latest updates and tour news! If you haven’t given Trails & Triumph a listen, every song on the record is strong musically and carries a wonderful story of being set free by honesty and transparency. The album peaked on Billboards Top Christian Albums at number 23.
I AM THEY IS: Matt Hein, Vocals & Guitar; Abbie Parker, Vocals and Keyboards; Jon McConnell, Vocals and Guitar; Justin Shinn, Keyboards; Nicole Hickman, Drums; Sara Palmer, Manager.