Throughout a fertile decade-and-a-half worth of studio recordings, songwriting, worship leading, vocal arranging, touring, acting, and most recently, becoming an author, Anthony Evans’ creative pursuits have maintained an unflinching authenticity. Yet for all the times he rode high atop the gospel charts, crossed over into pop, worked on Grammy-winning projects, stepped out on the world’s most hallowed stages such as the Hollywood Bowl and even won the ear of Christina Aguilera for a remarkable run on NBC’s “The Voice,” the multi-faceted artist was perpetually in the process of finding an inner spiritual and personal peace.
After some serious soul-searching, sparked by the challenging but cathartic experience of writing his highly-anticipated memoir, Unexpected Places: Thoughts On God, Faith, And Finding Your Voice, Evans finally reached that point of shifting his perspective toward true inner peace. This is further reflected throughout his aptly named 2019 album, Altared (releasing May 17 on Sherman James Productions). And in keeping with his tradition of putting a clever twist on a theme, the title also refers to the fact that several of the songs are completely re-worked covers. These, along with a handful of heartfelt originals, are integral to shaping what’s sure to be a landmark season.
“Altared, is me staying true to my new vision, which is pursuing peace as a person,” Evans confirms. “Peace is what defines my success in my life now, not just ‘projects’. I felt at peace making this project. It’s also me stepping out into my own individual calling and being confident in what I know God wants my life to sound like. People never expect this, but occasionally working in Los Angles has renewed me. I was so immersed in the Bible Belt that I lost a broader perspective. I know Hollywood is so far off from where people would expect a worship leader to thrive, but it spoke to me to be excellent, because you can’t exist in this town without being on your ‘A’ game all the time. It was Christina Aguilera who said to me years ago ‘Anthony, you have a very specific voice, and if you’re not afraid to step into the unknown, I promise you will become a trailblazer.’ And I will never forget it. That came from Christina Aguilera! Those words are still resonating and taking form in my life. As you progressively start to take the steps of being true to yourself, it’s accompanied by peace that rarely comes when you’re not being true to yourself for the sake of success.”
And that’s exactly the approach Evans took towards his inventive reworking of several modern church staples, not only in a way that can minister to fellow believers, but simultaneously tap into the spiritual yearnings of absolutely anyone who comes in contact with his extraordinary and unmistakable abilities. In addition to the powerhouse singer, his ability to select an all-star supporting cast is just as significant in shaping the sounds, starting with longtime producer Max Stark, who Evans was introduced to and began using when he was just a student. Stark, who has since gone on to become a Grammy winner, specifically steers his listening palette completely clear of Christian music. As a result, his work on standouts such as, “So Will I” and “Do It Again,” sound fresh and original.
In the specific case of “What A Beautiful Name” combined with “King Of My Heart,” the background vocals consist of not only LA’s finest session singers (who just so happened to be church kids who never forgot their roots), but vocalists who’ve traveled the world with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson, Patti LaBelle, Justin Bieber, John Mayer, Tyler Perry, and the list goes on and on. “When you hear what these singers and these players are doing to these songs, I can’t say this is my album, I say it’s ours,” observes Evans of the pop-minded project that’s stacked with soulful and gospel influences, R&B and hip-hop flavors, periodic programming, uncluttered arrangements, crisp production and an all-around progression. “My face is on it and I’m the guy behind all this stuff, but the impact of our voices and our musicianship with our hearts together is so moving and fresh…Sometimes covering songs is like trying to wear someone else’s shoe when you wear a 9 and they wear a 12. Over the years, I’ve developed a skill of creating what works for me, but I can use somebody else’s blueprint. There’s nothing wrong with nodding at an amazing shoe that Hillsong made, but I’m going to make a shoe that resembles theirs that I can wear and that fits me the best. That’s the whole situation of being Altared and altering things to where they are within your calling. I think we have a lot of copy-cat type situations happening in church today and my goal has been to be authentic and original, even if I’m doing a cover and using somebody else’s blueprint.”
Just take a listen to a medley of “Great Are You Lord” and “Who You Say I Am,” which came in the wake of Evans suddenly losing his cousin at only 38-years-old. “My cousin’s husband is one of my best friends, and he’s left raising four little girls as a single dad now,” he explains. “It’s super traumatic, but I remember singing ‘Great Are You Lord’ at the funeral, for the first time ever, and that song obviously took on a whole new meaning for me. So we re-created it, and now I’m singing it from an authentic place for me, even though it was written by somebody else. That has been a standout as having the most meaning to me, because I’m singing it in a place of a great loss and a great tragedy in my family. But the legacy that my cousin left is reminding me that even in our darkest moments, He’s still great. That sounds cliché, but it’s totally different when you’re experiencing what you’re talking about.”
Then there’s the lead single “Fighting For Us,” a future classic from the pens of frequent collaborator, Krissy Nordhoff (Your Great Name) and Michael Farren (Let It Rain). “I always have to be reminded that Jesus is not necessarily standing at the finish line with a stopwatch like, ‘hurry up and get here. I’m waiting on you and you’re moving slower than I expected,’” Evans admits. “He will run alongside you and put your arm around his neck when you have sprained your ankle and limp with you. He coaches while being with you, not just standing at the finish line, and ‘Fighting For Us’ reminds me and all the listeners that He is on your journey with you daily, and He’s fighting for your well-being, no matter if you hear a ‘no,’ ‘yes’ or ‘maybe.’ He’s literally fighting for you and with you on your journey where you are. It’s not when you get it together, it’s where you are currently. That knowledge started to alter the way that I viewed my relationship with the Lord. That’s what this song stated and I wanted that to be the message of this album.”
Along the way to selecting the anthemic song, Evans began on a road to this realization during some spiritually-centered therapy sessions which helped, as he puts it, “resituate the way I see God in my head. Because of my southern upbringing in a performance culture—not my parents—I always felt a self-imposed pressure on me of like, ‘Get it together,’ since I was the preacher’s kid: Tony Evans Jr. That kind of pressure became the way I viewed God. ‘Perform well and then I’ll love you.’ I had to literally go to therapy to reset my mind on who God is to me and that is what altered the way I viewed him…A lot of times we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. We don’t look at the daily progress; we just look at where we are and where the finish line is. We’re not where we want to be, and we need to get there, so we start to put on expectations that are superhuman. You start to put Marvel-movie expectations on your life, and you are not a superhero. We actually rely on God to step in where we are and help us progress, so I just backed down on the expectations. What’s so funny is, I feel better when I don’t put that pressure on myself.”
Rather than strategizing a specific plan of getting all of the above into the marketplace, Evans changed lanes completely with his behind-the-scenes approach to Altared, letting his listeners inform and direct the entire process. “A lot of these songs are covers, but even with the original ones, I do it backwards now. I perform them before I record them. I take what works for the listener and then I record them. A lot of times we record songs and then try to convince an audience that they like them. But I can see my audience, and I make the record for the people in the room.”
He continues: “The bottom line is Jesus said, ‘I’m coming back for my church,’ so I’m making this for the people he said he’s coming back for. On a wedding day, everything’s about the bride. If Jesus says ‘the church is my bride,’ then I make my music for His brides. What do His brides like? I’m going to make that for them and it’s a very peaceful approach. It’s me zeroing in on my calling. Being in the center of my calling has produced opportunities. If those opportunities produce peace in me, that is the cycle I want to be involved in. I’ve chosen not to be involved heavily in the industry cycle of things, and my career has gotten better and my peace has magnified by a hundred times. I’m not mad at the industry at all, but I’m finally like ‘Oh! I wasn’t called to radio charts.’ I was called to the hearts and souls of people sitting in the room. I can pursue that when I make albums. The pursuit of peace and my calling are the number one priorities.”
One final component of his current calling is making his ministry mobile, which will once again be in tandem with his sister and best-selling author/actress Priscilla Shirer. The siblings will set out on the “FerVent 2.0” outing, bringing together faithful expressions from Anthony’s Altared with messages from Priscilla’s upcoming movie Overcomer. “There’s a synergy between a brother and sister, or siblings in general that you can’t manufacture,” Evans noted. “I’m thankful that Priscilla has the career she has and the opportunities even now with her third movie coming out in August. It wasn’t even something that she was trying to pursue, but between that and selling millions of books and Bible studies, we have this opportunity and it just creates something you can’t fabricate.”
And speaking of something that can’t be fabricated, Evans continues being open to “absolutely whatever” God has in store for his talents. Opportunities sometimes come in somewhat Unexpected Places, such as putting together vocals for Tori Kelly’s double Grammy-winning album Hiding Place, a Grammy-nominated episode of Black-ish, vocal contracting for the rap and hip-hop communities, or stepping out onto the revered Hollywood Bowl stage for a co-starring role as The Beast in Disney’s star-studded Beauty And The Beast concert series. This amazing experience paired Anthony with Emmy nominee Zooey Deschanel (New Girl) as Belle, plus Tony Award winner Jane Krakowski (30 Rock, Ally McBeal), Golden Globe and Tony winner Kelsey Grammer (Cheers, Frasier), Taye Diggs (Rent, Hedwig And The Angry Inch) and Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect).
Of the Hollywood Bowl experience, Evans recalls, “Standing on the side of the stage with 18,000 people in the audience, I started to put this expectation on myself like ‘you better perform.’ And then I thought to myself, ‘Anthony, this is what will make you crash. What you have to realize, is that you have been taking steps towards this moment for 15 years. I walked up confident because I acknowledged the fact that I’ve been taking daily steps towards becoming who I needed to be for the stage. I believe it relates the same way to being a child of God. This allows us to pivot our perspective as it relates to expectations. You’ll be ready for it, but it will be from a step-by-step place versus, ‘today you need to be the best you’ve ever been.’ Pursuing my emotional and spiritual health has altered how I view God, period.”
Adds Evans: “If I would’ve given up in prior moments that seemed inconsequential, I wouldn’t have been ready for this particular moment, so that was a huge blessing. That’s the same way it relates to my career and opportunities. It came from being faithful in the little, and eventually a lot will come out of the future moments. I don’t mean a lot in the sense of Hollywood. I mean a lot in the sense of impacting people’s lives.”