Those who know me well are aware that I’m a monumental music fan. However, I’ve never been terribly impressed with contemporary Christian music.
There are a few exceptions. And David Ruis is one of them.
In fact, David Ruis is my all-time favorite worship artist, hands-down, walkin’ out.
If you’re not familiar with Ruis’ work, then follow my suggestion.
Head over to Pandora and create a “David Ruis Radio” station.
Then start listening to all of his tunes. Feel free to skip the tunes from other artists.
David is the man.
On that note, here is my interview with Ruis.
Frank: Tell us when and how you began learning musical instruments and how you started singing and writing songs?
David Ruis: I was quite fortunate to have been adopted as an infant into a pretty stable home. My parents were very new to the Christian faith when I came into their world and were quite keen to “do this right.” A part of their understanding of raising kids was a breadth of education, which included music.
As a result, I was enrolled in both vocal coaching and piano lessons at the age of 5. My initial musical training and experience was all in the classical world of both piano and vocal instruction.
My piano training was quite formal taking me up to level Grade Nine in the Royal Conservatory in Canada, my vocal chops coming somewhat more informally. But a great experience nonetheless being a charter member of the Calgary Boy’s Choir, remaining on as a Tenor for operetta and special performances as well as being a pianist for one of the touring choirs as my voice changed.
Being trained in a more classical vein, combined with my being raised in a very conservative/fundamentalist church environment (although I loved a wide spectrum of music), I never leveraged my talents in any space other than the classical world of festivals and adjudication until going to college.
Heading into my first year of college I began to dabble in some song writing which caught the ear of the music director at the school. It wasn’t until I stepped out in my first church planting experience at the age of 21 that I began to write what one would call “worship” music.
Frank: Share the story behind your first album. How did your work get “discovered?”
David Ruis: The first album I ever did was at the age of 19 towards the end of my college tenure – a work called “Never Let Me Go.” For me, and most certainly for my denomination, it was exploring the outer edges of then “contemporary music” and had me labeled as someone who had sold out my talents to the devil by many in my denomination.
The album caught the attention of Tim Archer, a well known Contemporary Christian Artist of the time, and he signed me to a label of his called “Straight Ahead Productions.” That whole adventure ended in a contractual nightmare and convinced me about my call into church planting.
In our first church plant we began to “stumble” into this thing called worship – a new experience to say the least. We began to write music for corporate worship and recorded a couple of community albums between ’86 and ’91.
In 1991 I had relocated to Kansas City and was on staff at Metro Vineyard Fellowship. Although I was not on the “worship staff,” music continued to be a huge part of gift mix and I did a live recording (on my own dime and all done “in house”) called “True Love.”
The songs were beginning to take hold, and the church had quite a broad exposure via conferences etc. which drew significant attention to the project as well as to the songs which began to be used in quite a wide spectrum of churches.
Somehow (I really don’t know how) the music caught the ear of people at Maranatha! Music as well as that of Chris Wimber (I believe his sister-in-law gave him a recording) at Vineyard Music.
The “discovery” was quite frankly word of mouth for the most part as I was not part of any kind of distribution network initially. Kinda fun to think back on actually, as this pre-dates the Internet and other now common avenues of exposure.
Frank: Who have been the major music influences in your life . . . both artists who are within the Christian genre as well as those outside of it?
David Ruis: I would have to say that Claude Debussy, Bach and Benjamin Brittain had a significant impact on my music development as well as Michael Oldfield and Alan Parsons. Many old black gospel artists also impacted me.
Later on U2 began to stir me musically as well as Sting. I really did not have much exposure to Christian music, but came across Barry McGuire, Phil Keaggy and Sweet Comfort Band. And I would say that helped shape some things along with the immutable Keith Green.
Frank: I’m a person who likes the story-behind-the curtain for various works of art, be they books, songs, messages, albums, etc. Tell us the story behind each of these songs (I love each of them). How did the lyrics and music come to you . . . what inspired them, etc.?
David Ruis: This song was heavily influenced by the teaching focus in the community I was a part of in Kansas City. There was much attention given to Song of Solomon, the lyric of course being drawn extensively from that book.
Also – the understanding of moving towards a more “intimate” expression of worship than what I was raised in was a huge factor in unlocking this song. I distinctly remember the melodic line lingering in my mind for a long time before the words found their way forward. I “knew” the sound was speaking of intimacy – and when I read the biblical text it seemed like a fit to the melody.
I will say though that this song has caused me some consternation over the years. I am somewhat afraid of an “allegorical” approach to the text and sometimes fear that the song may seem to emphasize that.
Also – the theme of intimacy in worship is so special, yet I never want to bleed into an unhealthy sensuality in regards to Christ. When the song was penned, the power of intimacy being such a “new” concept in the liturgy of the church I think influenced its popularity and my crafting of it.
However, now it is not so “cutting edge” and could be misconstrued as one of “those Jesus is my boyfriend” songs.
Just letting you in on a bit of my own struggle with unpacking this kind of stuff … hope that makes sense.
Frank: Yes. It’s sad that some Christians misconstrue beautiful things. There’s a profound difference between biblical typology and allegory. And there’s a seismic difference between the bridal image of the body of Christ that runs gloriously from Genesis to Revelation, revealing the Lord’s incredible passion for His bride, and the sappy-superficial and very human “Jesus is my boyfriend” mush. Your song clearly reflects the former as does my book From Eternity to Here (Part I).
Let Your Glory Fall
David Ruis: I had been leading worship at a youth event known as “Youth Surge” in Missouri, and we had come to the end of one evening. Ministry was sweet. I was simply “musing” on the keys as kids were being prayed for all over the auditorium I looked up, and it was like I could “see” God’s presence resting on people. But I knew it was about spilling out of that space into the “world” at large, tapping into the overarching story of God for his church.
The refrain just started coming, and I began to sing it over and over, “Let Your glory fall in this room, let it go forth from here to the nations” … over the next month or so that “song idea” kept popping up in various settings, and more and more of the song began to take shape as I began to write verses to it and eventually the bridge.
The song subsequently was recorded on a “Touching the Fathers Heart” album with Vineyard Music and was released just before the “Toronto Blessing” broke out at the Airport Vineyard.
Because it was one of the newer Vineyard songs at the time, it was in the rotation of songs being sung as the renewal broke out. It seemed to capture what was happening and in some ways became the anthem of the renewal.
David Ruis: I had been reading Psalm 87, and it was having a pretty cool impact on our community in Winnipeg, MB – a church we had planted in ’95. The last part of the Psalm declares that as the people of God make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.” I just couldn’t get that phrase out of my head, and a few times in various settings (small and large) that line would bleed out spontaneously as it is in the song … all my fountains are in you.
Some months earlier I had been working on another idea, “there is no other friend, there is no other love – like You Oh Lord,” and I began to realize that what I thought may be two songs, were actually one. And the glue of it all was the cry in Psalm 87 that I was “born in Zion.” Over some time, the pieces began to fit and the songs started taking shape.
David Ruis: At a rehearsal one night, I began toying with the piano’s musical signature that is the intro of the song … loved the 3/4 vibe as well as a bit of a celtic flavor that seemed to be coming through. The waltz feel to it made me definitely think about a dance, and the more I plunged into the feel of the music I couldn’t stop thinking about heaven. I’d also been thinking about the “song of the Lamb” as talked about in Revelation, and that found its way into the lyric quite easily.
The chorus came first as a melody, but the words came quite quickly. The verses were pretty intuitive. The bridge was formed after doing the song several times … just felt like there needed to be something more, and one night in leading it just rested on the musical riff. Pretty spontaneously the lyrics came, a bit of crafting later, but for the most part they spilled out in the context of corporate worship.
There Must Be More
David Ruis: Again – this is one of those songs where a melodic hook preceded all else. I was actually in Anaheim, CA for a conference and was asked to lead some worship. The musical hook developed in rehearsing with the band, and it seemed to unlock a prayer in me that had been fighting for expression in the middle of a bunch of “renewal” stuff that I had been seeing for some time up until this point.
Not that anything that was happening was bad, or misplaced – but it just felt like “there must be more” … pretty self explanatory really. Also just had a deep concern/desire to keep it all “real” … kind of afraid of potential hype I guess … not a bad concern really.
David Ruis: This was kind of fun actually … I had been leading a small group (just half a dozen guys) at a men’s discipleship house in Kansas City.
One of the evenings I was leading worship with the group, and I just began to get this idea melodically and lyrically in my head as we were just “resting” in worship – obviously the theme of God’s love was heavy on me – and I kept thinking about various metaphors for God’s love just thinking that I would sing it out “over” the group … all three verses had almost full shape in my mind before I began to sing it out.
Next thing I knew these guys, quite contrary to their normal posture, were weeping and obviously being “ministered to,” and this song had found some legs.
I did do some tweaking of it in the next couple of weeks, but it was pretty much birthed right there on the spot … crazy!!
Frank: When you’re listening to music (in your automobile or otherwise), who are some of the artists that you listen to these days?
David Ruis: Various and Sundry old gospel from the 30’s – 40’s. Just been re-listening to some of Alan Parson’s stuff. Coast to Coast AM Talk Radio.
Frank: As a creative myself who mostly writes and speaks, I’m fascinated with the creative process and how it operates in others. Share with us, therefore, what gets your creative juices going? And what do you do when you’re in a creative slump?
David Ruis: As simple as it sounds, people get my juices flowing. Engaging in people’s stories from all spheres of life really stirs me – both individuals as well as the larger stories of tongues, tribes, and nations. It helps me make some sense of my own journey and fuels my understanding of God and informs my prayer life.
As far as devotional creativity – creation always inspires. Also, realizing that as far as creativity is concerned, I can never “pump that well dry” … there is always more so I never try to cling too hard to an idea or an inspiration thinking this is “the one,” or “the hit,” or … just enjoy the moment and never panic.
Spending time with the poor and marginalized always de-slumps me.
Frank: what other projects are you working on, music-wise and other-wise?
David Ruis: Working on a Christmas Project which I am really stoked about. Community project with Basileia that we are tracking live in August with Vineyard Music. Continuing to work on ideas (with co-writer) for television. Feel a book on community stirring, and maybe a fiction novel.
Check out Ruis’ song, There Must Be More
And Sweet Wind
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