Jesus and the Professional Music Business: The Afters
Josh Havens and Matt Fuqua of The Afters unpack how the gospel comforts and simultaneously challenges them as professional Christian musicians. Check out their cautionary tale on keeping Jesus center stage.
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Josh Havens and Matt Fuqua of The Afters have been both challenged and comforted by the gospel. Check out their cautionary tale on keeping Jesus center stage.
Jesus and the Professional Music Business: The Afters
Shelby: For the young person who sees themselves wanting to make music, maybe professionally or like lead worship or whatever, what's the worst piece of advice you could give him or her?
Josh: I would say, “Never practice, play as few places as possible. [Laughter] You are worth so much right now, even though you have no experience. So unless somebody offers you what somebody’s making that's been doing it for twenty years, don't do it.”
That's what I would say. That’s the worst piece of advice I could give you.
Matt: That's pretty bad advice. That's pretty bad.
Shelby: Somewhat anxious, always authentic. This is Real Life Loading.
I'm your host Shelby Abbott, and my desire with this podcast is to help guide you toward the life-changing power of Jesus. For relationships in a constantly shifting culture. Not too long ago, I was working at an entertainment venue by being a runner for all the performers who were scheduled, getting water, coffee, snacks for whoever needed it.
And as I worked there, I ended up hitting it off with Matt Fuqua and Josh Havens, better known as the band, The Afters. Now, I'll be honest. I don't listen to a ton of Christian music, but after meeting these guys and hearing them perform, I started listening to their stuff immediately and I loved it. I really recommend their album Fear No More, and you can go down the music rabbit hole from there once you listen.
Well, I wanted to have them on Real Life Loading to talk about the music business and how God has worked in their lives as professional musicians. To start today, we're going to talk about their life on the road, finding a good work life balance, and some advice they have for any aspiring musicians or creatives. It's going to be fun. Let's get into my conversation with Josh and Matt from The Afters.
Matt and Josh, you guys have known each other kind of forever since your Starbucks barista days several years ago, right?
Matt: Even before that actually.
Shelby: Before that, okay. When did, when did you guys actually meet?
Josh: It all goes back to the hospital nursery. [Laughter] Not quite that far back. Matt is older than me. We actually knew each other in middle school. We went to the same private middle school.
Shelby: But then you guys ended up working together, right? Yes, at Starbucks.
Josh: We did. So, we graduated high. He came into the Starbucks that I was working at, looking for a job – and we ended up working the same shifts together. Super fun.
We worked the morning shift together. Neither of us were morning people. There'd be like a rush in the morning, where you'd have all these people who were headed to work, right? And they'd come in and we'd knock the rush out. Then for about two hours there was almost nobody.
We were supposed to be prepping coffee and grinding and all that stuff. But we would go grab our guitars instead. And we were both worship leaders for different college groups. We always had of guitars with us. We'd pull them out there in the store and we would just start making up songs. Customers would walk in and we'd sing out songs about their drink orders. We were just goofing off and having a lot of fun together. One of our customers was, “Man, you guys sound so good, you should start booking shows.”
I also met my wife at that same Starbucks. Basically my whole trajectory for my life was basically set at that Starbucks.
Josh: [The] Other two band mates that we had at the time, we found them there at that Starbucks.
But my wife, she was going to Dallas Theological Seminary, and they were having a missions conference and they needed some music for it. She said, “Can you guys put together some music for our missions conference?” So, we put together some songs and that was the first time that we ever played together and started booking shows after that, and been making music ever since.
Shelby: That's amazing.
Josh: I think part of the secret to our longevity is - because those years that I've been describing, we first started playing music together in what 1998, over 20 years. I think the secret to our longevity is we're just great friends - and we love - it's all about the hang. In fact, I just heard a podcast with Tom Hanks. He's my kindred spirit, because he said basically, “He makes movies so that he can have the hang with everybody on set.”
I was like, that's kind of like why we're a band. We're a band because of the hang. We just love hanging out with each other so much, because we genuinely are just great friends and love that we get to do this together.
Shelby: That's great. You guys have been in the music industry for over 20 years, as you said. What's been your biggest struggle living life in music production as in life on the road and dealing with that whole part of the industry that takes you away from quote unquote normal life?
Matt: It's been different in different seasons, actually. I think in the early days it probably was just the amount of time that we were just gone. We were gone all the time, at least two thirds of the year which is just not sustainable.
Josh: Both of our wives have some PTSD from those years. You’d say the word “tour” and they're like, “uhh, don't say tha!” We didn't have good boundaries in those early years and we learned the hard way. There were some years where we were gone 280 plus days.
Josh: Yes, and that's just not good for a family.
Matt: I think we kind of found that balance later in our career, probably in the last half of our career and being connected to our churches and kind of restructuring our work life, because our work life is on weekends.
If we work every weekend, we're not taking our families to church. We just thought this is all wrong. This is all backwards and it's a hard thing to find to balance that without just saying no to a lot of things, which is what we did. We just say no to a lot of things.
Josh: And, and we've had to learn that. And I think that if I could go back to my younger. I would tell them set boundaries on the things that are really important. You have to do that for your life, for your relationships. There were things that we said yes to that looking back on [it] was not a good, yes
At the time it seemed important, but in the scheme of things, it really wasn't. And if you prioritize the right things, God's going to bless it. Your career is down the list of things that should come first. You have your relationship with God, you have your marriage and your family and career is down the list. If you're faithful in those other things, I think God's going to bless your career.
Shelby: It's difficult to help a 20 something to say you got to say, “No to more.” Because I understand what you're talking about. Because early on when I was in full-time missions, it's like, “Hey, would you be willing to come speak at this thing?” I'd be like, yes.
If I say no, they're going to forget anything. There's always that temptation if I say no, that this is going to negate other future possibilities. So we overcompensate and then we end up burning out.
Josh: Yes. It's definitely a balance for sure. And we were not normal early twenty
somethings. We were married and had kids and I got married at nineteen.
Josh: By the time I was 23, I had my first kid. So we had, even in those early days families to think of. I think that that made it a little different because if I was just single, well, it wouldn't matter. I could be as busy out as I wanted to and it wouldn't be affecting anybody else. But when I'm leaving a wife and a kid at home and I'm gone two thirds of the year, that's hard.
Shelby: Yes. For the young person listening, who sees themselves wanting to make music, maybe professionally or like lead worship or whatever. This might be a little bit of overlap, but what's the worst piece of advice you could give him or her?
Josh: The worst piece of advice - is it say “yes” to every - just that.
Matt: Just so that they know, if somebody gives this advice to them, oh man I cannot trust these people in my life.
Shelby: Yes. Or you could go back and go - there's probably plenty of people who gave you bad advice as you were growing up, just as a cautionary tale. Help them to see, if they hear something like this, maybe they want to think twice. It's not universal.
Josh: I would say never practice, play as few places as possible. You are worth so much right now, even though you have no experience. So unless somebody offers you what somebody's making that's been doing it for 20 years, don't do it. That's what I would say. That's the worst piece of advice I could give you.
Matt: That's pretty bad advice. [Laughter]
That's pretty bad. I think that early on, the best thing that you can do for yourself is give yourself opportunity. Because if you're not there, nothing's going to happen, right? If you don't put yourself into a position where you're going to be in the place where the door opens, then you're not going to be able to walk through that door.
I've seen this happen a lot with young people around me, where they put their value ahead of their experience. They might get caught up on well I'm worth this, so I'm not going to do it unless I get paid this. Don't get caught up on that stuff. You are eliminating yourself from all kinds of future possibilities. Stay focused on what's really important. It could be some of those things that you're doing right now. Internships, they're there for a reason. It could lead to your dream job.
Shelby: Yes. It's a springboard. Something into the future.
Josh: Springboard. There's so many things that are like that. When you are giving your time, especially early on in your career and when you're doing it, it could lead to an open door.
The true good advice that I would give is practice and be ready for when that door opens. Because you could be asking, “Why isn't God opening these doors?” Well, he may have opened it and you weren't ready to walk through it because you didn't put in the hard work yourself. Put in the hard work to be the best that you can be so that when God opens that door, you're ready to knock it out of the park and you're ready to walk through that door.
Shelby: Yes, that's good.
Matt: I would add onto that, if what you're getting paid is really like a big deal - the biggest thing, you're probably in the wrong business. You might do really well and you might get signed and you know what? And that might work out for you. A lot of guys that we know that have gotten signed ended up just with a mountain of debt at the end of it and are now working in real estate or at a bank or something. You know what I mean?
Matt: So, If you're not doing this because you love it so much and you can't imagine doing anything else that you're probably not going to make it - because it's so hard and so few people make it. If you don't really, really love it and you just can't imagine what you would be doing other than that - I would say don't even pursue it. Pursue it as a hobby. You know and have fun with it.
Shelby:, Yes, but there's opportunities to lead in churches and stuff like that.
Josh: Yes, for as an example I recently saw a situation where there was a job offered and it was not great pay, but it was potentially a good opportunity. One guy I know turned it down and another guy I know ended up taking it. Well, that one gig ended up leading to an entire tour that the person went on and was hired for, and now they're a part of that whole world. It completely changed, that one yes changed the trajectory of their lives. If you love what you and you pour yourself into it and you make yourself available, the money part of it's going to follow. It'll come down the road, but don't get caught up on that. I see too many people getting caught up on that too early.
Shelby: Yes, that's good to know.--
Matt: Specifically for the music business as it pertains to the music business.
Josh: --as it pertains. That doesn't, that does not pertain to every job, but in the music business.
Shelby: Well even writing, I've written a few books and people told me, who are authors who went before me, they're like - do not count on this as a source of income. This has got to be a side gig, because you cannot feed a family especially as a new author.
You just can't do it unless you hit the lottery and all of a sudden everybody's buying your book - and it's a very, very rare thing, but don't count on that. That's been good advice, because my last royalty check was for six months of book sales was dozens and dozens of dollars. [Laughter]
Josh: Oh man. But if you continue to work on that part of your life, like if you pour yourself into being the best author that's out there. Then eventually that you're going to have a bestseller. You know, that, that can follow.
Matt: Uh, not eventually, not eventually. Maybe you will have a bestseller - maybe, because you can. This is the crazy thing about being creative. You can make what you think is the best album ever, and it could sell nothing.
It's not like punching a clock for the man. If you clock in and you clock out. They're obligated to pay you for those hours. When you write a song, there is no guarantee that that song will make even a penny.
Josh: You can spend, you can spend two years of your life writing a book and it's not like you turn it in and they give you a salary for it. You might make ten cents off of it, or you could make ten million dollars, depending on how people receive it.
Matt: The truth in what Josh said though is if you don't keep writing, you will definitely never have a bestseller.
Shelby: Yes, that's true. Don't stop the race before you even start it. Yes. I agree.
Josh: If you love something, you have to do it. If it's your passion; if it's what drives you, musicians have to play. It'll eat you up inside if you're not playing and you're a musician. If you're a songwriter and you stop writing, like there's a part of you that is not going to be right with that. I always tell my kids find that thing that you love to do and become really, really good at doing it -- I believe that opportunities will follow that.
Shelby: That's great.
And now it's time for three dots, three thoughts on Real Life Loading. This is where I share three simple ideas that could potentially change your life, or at least slightly improve it.
Thought one: Since the guys from The Afters had their lives changed by the Starbucks, they worked at all those years ago, I thought I'd give you a bit of advice when it comes to Starbucks and all you non coffee drinkers out there, since I'm not a coffee drinker. When I meet someone at Starbucks, I usually order one of four things that can satisfy me while others sip on their legal addictive stimulants. Ready? Here they are. I'll get either get an unsweet black tea, a hot chocolate, a chai tea latte, or a double chocolaty chip Frappuccino. Oh, so good. Two of those things I know are what kids would order at a coffee shop, but there's nothing wrong with getting a little sweet treat while you're out with a friend.
Thought two: Unless you're an elementary school teacher, there is never a valid excuse to use the font Comic Sans. If you student teach third grade, fine. Any other scenario in the entire world? Never.
Thought three: You know what all Christians have in common, like true Christians? They believe that a baby born over 2000 years ago is still alive right now. They believe that baby lived a perfect, sinless life, was crucified for our failures and shortcomings,
rose from the grave, and offers life to anyone who would say yes and receive it. Christians are men, women and children who admit that they cannot add one single solitary ounce of goodness, holiness, or respectability to their right standing with the Creator of the Universe. They need someone to do something, and Christianity is about the ultimate someone doing the ultimate something.
God came down to earth in the form of a little baby. Lived 33 years of a perfect sinless life, was executed unjustly on a Roman cross, and then kicked in the door of death, when he rose from the dead three days later. The punishment all us losers, like me, deserve was pointed with laser focus on Jesus Christ when He was murdered on that cross, and His record of perfect sinless living was transferred to all who would admit and believe that they are in need of miraculous intervention to change their situation. And when they admit and believe everything about it, their life changes. They're no longer a slave to the vices of their past. They live in the freedom of new life. They live in a relationship with the living God. And even though we're all different in a million different ways, coming from a million different backgrounds, that's what all Christians have in common.
This has been three dots, three thoughts on Real Life Loading. Now back to my time with Josh and Matt from The Afters.
Shelby: In one of your more recent singles called Say Goodbye, you guys say that all that pain is not who you are, all that shame is not who you are. And that's important for us to hear regardless if you're at the tail end of high school or getting ready to have your first kid. In what ways have you personally struggled with pain and shame that's tempted you to define yourself by it?
Matt: I think for me it's not that you're tempted to do that, it's that it just kind of sneaks into the way you think about yourself. Instead of saying, “This is in my life, or this is like coming at me.” You say, “This is who I am.” - and that's a big difference. I think for me, I, was abused as a child. I think it's easy to think that that was your fault or that you are - I don't know exactly how to even describe it - but you take it on as if there's something wrong with me or that this was my fault or that I'm a bad person. And that can, again, it's just a lie that these things - it's not that I was tempted to think that way, it's just that that's the trick that it plays on you. You know what I mean?
Shelby: Yes. Like you said, sneaky gets in there.
Josh: Yes. Well, shame is when we take on the identity of the emotion that we're feeling. We start to believe that that is our whole self. I did this thing wrong and so all of me is wrong. You know, we take that on as our identity. There's feelings that we have like guilt. You tell a lie and you get caught in it and you feel bad about it. Well, you feel kind of guilty about it. That's kind of a positive thing because maybe it'll keep you from doing it again. But when you then say, “I'm a liar.” And you let that become your identity, that's when it becomes a really unhealthy thing.
Matt: Yes, and in my scenario, like it, I guess some of it was just how I saw myself, but the other part of it was I just became very angry, and some of that was at God. I was angry at God - for, I mean, I, I processed this later - in the moment I wasn't really thinking, “Oh, I'm angry at God.” I was just angry and that's just another thing that having that a skewed self-perception will do to you. It just subconscious, you're not even actually physically processing it.
And then one day it all came to the front of my mind, and I was just able to forgive and to move on. But that's all of those things, like getting back to the song lyric there, all of those things aren't who you are. But if you let them stay there, they will ruin you, you know? We all write these songs from different perspectives, but that was my perspective.
Josh: That's why it's important to talk about those things when you have things that you're dealing with. Things that are affecting you on a deep level, whatever it is. It needs to not stay inside. Find somebody to talk to it about.
I think that counseling or therapy can be so helpful in processing through those things and maybe giving words to some of those feelings and helping to provide healthy ways to deal with them instead. Because what we do is - we come up with really unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with those feelings. And that can lead to problems like addiction or severe depression, or we find ways to deal with it that are really bad for us. If we can work through those things, it can become a thing that actually ultimately empowers us, because then we can overcome those things. We don't believe those things anymore and we can help others who have been through those things as well.
Shelby: Yes, that's exactly right. Like Matt, I was abused as well when I was five sexually abused. It was something I never talked about. Never, ever, ever, ever. And all of a sudden, I was actually at this conference, where I was speaking, and a college student talked about how she was sexually assaulted. And I just felt like God prompted me to like say something about my personal story, and that was the first time I did it in front of 350 kids at a fall getaway. And after I spoke about it, more people came up to me and talked to me about it. I was like, the Lord wants to use this as an instrument of healing in other people's lives, if I just would be willing to confess it and work through it.
Now, God doesn't call that good. That's not good at all what happened to me, but he can still use the evil that happens in this world for his good. I like that you guys can do that - talk about that. Take that experiences that maybe you've had and craft them, wield them into a song in order to help provide healing for other people that may have gone through the same thing.
A couple more questions for you and then we're going to wrap up here. How has the good news of God's substituting himself for you, putting all of your guilt and shame on Jesus, and placing all of Christ's purity and goodness on you - How has that been a calm in the storm for you?
Matt: Everybody doesn't have this same perspective, which I discovered when I got married, but my wife, her family situation is nothing like mine. She comes from divorced parents, both of which who've been remarried. Her dad's been remarried several times and she's really struggled with seeing God as a father. Okay? Because the picture of what fatherhood or what a father is, is very different for her than for me. For me, I grew up with a dad who just loved me no matter what and there was nothing that I could do to change how much he loved me. He was going to love me regardless.
I think for me to understand God's love for us was maybe easier, but then I was really challenged by it when I started talking to my wife and we started working through some of that stuff. I can see it's a lot harder for people to be able to accept such crazy grace and such crazy mercy. It's like a stranger coming up and giving you a million dollars, and you're like, wait, what? Why? And it's everything that he had. You're like, whoa, that doesn't even make any sense. And now you're homeless and you have nothing and you just gave me a million dollars. I mean, it's crazier than that. And to me, just knowing that it's a price that I couldn't pay anyway. To pay for my sin is something that I just couldn't do anyway. I could live my whole life trying to do it and never be good enough. And that kind of love you don't see anywhere else in the world. You don't, you don't see it.
Shelby: That's so good. How about you, Josh?
Josh: Well, I love that act of sacrifice as a display of love defies logic. It is love to the point that it makes no sense and we can't comprehend it. You see that play out in Jesus life, leading up to the point that he ultimately gave his life. You see it in different ways - that same love that defies logic. To me that's a challenging thing because, you know, if we're going to love like Christ, that is hard to do. That means loving when it doesn't make sense. That means expressing love when you really don't think you love the person, when you don't want to react in love.
I think that even we as, as believers, aren't very good at that sometimes - for me, that's been a convicting thing of looking at my life and saying, “Okay, I want to react like Jesus in all things even when that kind of love doesn't make sense.” When you look at the lap of Jesus, he rarely got mad or displayed his anger towards people who were being sinful. His anger was directed towards the religious zealots. When I think about loving like Jesus, it's responding in love even the times when it doesn't make sense to do that.
In the times that I have chosen to do that, I've seen God work in those situations in the most amazing ways. You look at this world and how messed it up it is right now. We live in a world that is so broken and what this world really needs is more of Jesus and it needs people who are in love with Jesus and people who love each other the way that Jesus loves us.
If we want to be people who love the way that Jesus loves us, that means loving others even when it doesn't make sense and responding in love, even when it doesn't make sense. Think about that person who you don't really like, who might think different than you, who might have different politics than you, who might look different than you, who might have a different background than you do. It means even loving that person and showing them Christlike love, which is a really hard thing to do sometimes.
Shelby: Yes. I dare to say it's impossible. Because when I'm weak, then I am strong. It, the impossibility of all of it forces you to go. There's going to be an answer. And the answer is God doing it himself. He's the one who makes it possible for us to love people that I would never love before. Yes. It's good.
What kind of spiritual disciplines have you weaved into your life that have continually stirred your affections for Jesus in the midst of both failures and successes?
Matt: One thing that I have started doing that I felt was a really great thing was -
I committed to not look at my phone until I had prayed for at least my family, my kids. It forces me to just be like - no, this is more - I've going to do this - I've got to pray. I've got to spend some time with the Lord, or I will just go months without doing it, Because if I just pick up that phone, it just sucks me in.
Shelby: That's great. How about you, Josh? What are some things?
Josh: Well, this year I, uh, I got to go on a mission trip with my daughter to Africa. We went to the country, Malawi. Our church is a very missional church. Being able to do that, that always reminds me of what's really important. When you do it, it sparks something. If you're a young person, I would say go out and serve, and it's going to change you in more ways than you even realize. I always come back from those trips and have just a, a different perspective about something that ends up being very, very valuable in my life.
Shelby: Yes, it's really good, both of you. Thanks.
This show is called Real Life Loading -dot-dot-dot. Those dots are intentional. It kind of communicates that we, we haven't arrived. We're very much in a state of being in process. What I want to ask you guys, Matt, we'll start with you. Where is your life in a state of loading right now?
Matt: I feel like in every way, I still feel like I'm just trying to keep my head afloat, you know. It's like something new every day - and you just right when you think, “Alright, I think I've kind of figured it out,” something new happens. - Which I hope is encouraging to people because--
Shelby: [Laughter] -instead of like bleak
Matt: --Yes, instead of thinking, “I don't.” That may seem real discouraging, but I guess the encouraging thing is that perfection, that like arriving just doesn't exist. - It's okay that you haven't got there, because you won't ever get there.
Shelby: Yes. That's good. How about for you, Josh? Where is your life in a state of loading right now?
Josh: Well, life is always full of surprises and I feel like every season never ends up being what I think I'm going into. Whatever comes, whatever surprises are ahead, my goal is that my identity is not in what I do, but it is that I'm a child of God. I want to see myself the way that God does. I want to love as much as I can with that impossible logic-defying love that Jesus loves us with. – And that's what my identity's going to be found in. And I'm going to do the things that I love and I'm going to do them as well as I can -and celebrate the victories that happen. But that's not who I am.
Shelby: That's beautiful, yes. Thank you, guys.
What you do or neglect to do is not who you are when you are his child. Christ and Christ alone generates your identity. Great conversation with some really great guys. Check out music from The Afters wherever you get your tunes and know that the men behind the music love our Savior.
If this episode with Matt and Josh from The Afters was helpful for you, I'd love for you to share today's podcast with a friend and wherever you get your podcast, it could really advance what we're doing with Real Life Loading if you'd rate and review us. And it's stupid easy to find us on our social channels, just search for Real Life Loading or look for our link tree in the show notes.
I want to thank everyone who's on the Real Life Loading team, Jarrett, Josh, Chloe, Bruce, and Kaytlynn. I'm Shelby Abbott. I'll see you back next time on Real Life Loading.
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