Michelle Lang & Still Water

Michelle Lang & Still Water

    Since moving from one coast to another, Michelle Lang has grown many leaps and bounds as a gospel artist who is making a difference; in the studio, on the stage and in the community.  Ms. Lang recently spoke with SoulTracks about her fascinating story in developing her craft as a singer/songwriter and how she touched the youth in their faith for Jesus through the dramatic arts.  With all her creative strengths, she will be the first to tell anyone that her fellow gospel vocalists could "sing her under a table."  Yet while so many vocalists bring one or two gifts to the table, Lang is one of the precious few females who can communicate the message on different levels: "You do not have a lot of women in gospel who are giving you a full deal such as a full theatrical play."  Through her years of experience working with youth ministries, she has a natural ability to present the scriptures with the whole visual package.   It is remarkable how far Ms. Lang's ministry has matured considering she was content just singing in the church choir and performing for friends and family during her childhood.

    Lang grew up in a small town of Laurel, Mississippi listening to Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and The Commodores: "I grew up on the end of eight-track and vinyl was still definitely spinning."   Her first performance in front of her home church congregation was a song she co-authored with her brother, "Rain Will You Stop A Pouring."  Despite that song's simplicity, Lang has always taken her creative juices seriously: "Once I get an idea and I want to do something, I've never been one to do it small."  Even though Lang was not pursuing an entertainment career at the time, she showcased her talents in high school drama productions and in various pageants. 

    When Lang moved to Seattle, Washington, she first sang with another popular Pacific NW group at the time, In Tune To Jesus. The moment she witnessed the group minister to the audience, she was immediately drawn by their presence: "My ears are warmed up.  My heart is warm.  I feel it's great because of what they are doing."  Eventually she was invited to join ITTJ in 1988.  They recorded a series of regional hits such as "Sign of the Times," patterned after the children's song "London Bridges." Though she approached the group as a singer who did not write songs, the circumstances changed dramatically after joining ITTJ.  "Right after they let me into the group, I don't know what God did, but I started writing songs left and right."  After a steady five year run, ITTJ amicably went their separate ways.  At that point, Lang was convinced this could be the end of a season as a vocal performer.  Meanwhile, her talents were put to use in other ways.

    Utilizing her experience in theater, Lang ministered to the youth in the greater Seattle and across the country in various conferences.  She was hired by Emerald City Outreach Ministries as the Director of Outreach & Leadership.  Her original drama ensemble, Heart & Soul Ministries, consisted of teens presenting a series of musicals based on Bible stories.  "For me, that is the way I looked at art or looked at plays and theater that it should always be musicals."  Through this period, Lang's confidence in her songwriting continued to expand.  Eventually, her path would soon detour back into the recording studio.    

    Little did Lang know that a $3,000 stipend through a local library system would lead to bigger and better things.  Originally she invested that money into a recording project solely for her loved ones' ears.  "I decided to make a CD and give it to my friends and family as a Christmas gift."  Apparently, it was the gift that kept on giving to Seattle gospel music fans.  Encouraged by a local producer friend that she could go beyond just a family Christmas gift, her solo disc The Still Water Theory was Lang's introduction to birthing Still Water.  When the group went to Portland, Oregon for their initial concert, Lang opened another chapter in her performance career.

    When Lang first uttered "God tricked me" describing her transformation as an artist, it first startled me.   Yet she emphatically clarified that it "was in a good way."  It is absolutely no trick that Lang has matured in her vocal abilities while understanding what her primary strengths are: "I've grown as a singer to try to match what I'm good at.  I think my gift from God is telling stories."  In 2003, MLSW released the appropriately titled Mississippi Music.  This was followed by a live concert disc sponsored by World Vision, a project filled with original songs from the various youth camps Lang has participated in - but one very few gospel fans heard. It was Lang's 2004 release - Paint - that sparked a change in musical direction.  Lang credits her current producer Derek ‘DC' Clark, a veteran producer for the likes of Fred Hammond and Dawkins & Dawkins, for granting a lot of freedom in her recordings: "I'm a singer who is also a producer and he gives me a lot more leverage." 

    MLSW's latest project, Obnoxious, is by far their most ambitious disc: "It is hard to say what it is.  There is traditional stuff.  There is urban contemporary stuff."  The material on Obnoxious was extremely personal because of some excruciating trials Lang experienced, starting with the loss of her mother and her fiancé:  "2008 was a very dark time.  Literally in my darkness, God was birthing a movement."   The ‘gospel metal' feel of the first single "Twisted" was inspired by what some of the youth at her home church were listening to, such as the progressive rock group Thousand Foot Crutch.  "Alive," a track Clark "adultified" according to Lang, was based on one of her theatrical productions:  "It was written for an adaptation of Snow White.  So it was written very much fairy tailish and very much for children."  The delightfully smooth blend of funk and praise on "Stand" is a refreshing ‘remix' from the version performed by contemporary Christian superstar Michael W. Smith.  "Sweet Sweet Spirit," with an updated new jack swing, and the contemporary gospel of "Here I Am" are two more strong examples of Lang's musical multiplicity.  My personal favorite track, "Teach Me God," features one of Lang's musical heroes, another Seattle resident - Robin Henderson:  "She took that song to church!"

    With Obnoxious, I believe Lang has outdone herself lyrically, stylistically and production wise from her previous work.  She is also confident to take the premise of Obnoxious outside the Pacific Northwest confines:  "I really believe the CD can go anywhere, can be played anywhere; and I think the show we developed for it can be performed anywhere."  Given the fact that Lang's ideas are never too small, fans should expect MLSW to boldly present the complete package of song, dance, spoken word and theater in sending the gospel messages.   Highly Recommended.

    By Peggy Oliver

    Available Music

    Choice Cut - Jennifer Hartswick - "For You"