Matt Papa and Matt Boswell were in the midst of solo music careers when they were paired up through their record labels. It was 10 years ago when this blind match was made, and they have been writing and composing with each other throughout the time since. But it was this first joint recording collaboration which earned Matt and Matt their first two Dove Award nominations – Inspirational Recorded Song of the Year for “His Mercy is More,” and Inspirational Album of the Year for His Mercy is More: The Hymns of Matt Boswell and Matt Papa.
I talked with the songwriting duo on the day of the 2020 Dove Awards ceremony, and learned more about what brought them together and what inspires their creativity.
Matt Papa: “They are kind of like blind dates, when you write with someone you’ve never written with before. But it went well. We worked on a couple of songs that day and they kind of started to actually take shape. You never know what’s going to happen – if you’re going to get in a fight and hate each other and leave, or if you’re gonna write something wonderful or not, but we ended up getting some pretty good and a couple of things. And then, so we just kind of stayed in touch from there.”
The two tell me they had instant songwriting chemistry, and embarked on a music partnership from different corners from the country. Matt Papa from his home in Atlanta where he serves as the Worship & Arts Director at Christ Covenant Church, and Matt Boswell in Prosper, Texas at The Trails Church. The founding pastor says he “transitioned from leading worship through song to now leading worship through sermon each week.”
Their musical journey led them to form personal and professional relationships with the founders of Getty Music. Keith and Kristyn Getty are themselves modern hymn writers and have created a global resource for both musicians and listeners alike of doctrinally sound songs with an updated melodic edge.
Matt Boswell: “Both of us had friendships with Keith before we began partnering together in writing. I met Keith when they first came to America about 10 years ago and Matt and I were both influenced by what Keith and Stu Townend had been doing together through their partnership. It’s been really fun getting to become very good friends with one of the people you really respect and have looked up to. They have really helped make an influence on the way that I write.”
The songs on His Mercy is More are congregational. The tunes and lyrics, while complex, are easy to sing.
Papa: “I think that was the main thing that we had in mind. You know, I think it was GK Chesterton, one of my favorite quotes of his ‘The most important part of the picture is the frame.’ As art-making goes, I do think one of the most important things is limitation. And on this album, we limited it to the songs that Matt and I had been working on that either had already been spreading through the church or we knew had the potential to do that. And of course, the Gettys have been doing that for a long time, so partnering together made sense.”
Hymns are not just a passing fad for these artists. Matt Boswell tells me the genre makes up a large part of his faith story.
Boswell: “I cut my teeth on the 1975 Baptist hymnal and still think it is one of the greatest hymnals of all time. I know that that’s hard being that close to it. But you know, so grateful to have been raised on the hymns of Isaac Watson, Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby. We have a great kind of ecumenical tradition of hymnody to be drawn from.”
While it seems that everyone in the world is suddenly learning how to work and socialize across great and small distances, Matt and Matt might be considered pros at the feat.
Boswell: “We were social distance before social distance was cool! I mean, we write primarily by FaceTime and Zoom and have been doing that actually for a few years with me being in Dallas and Matt being in Atlanta. This has been just the norm for us, to continue to write this way through quarantine and life with COVID.”
In celebration of their Dove Award nominations, they released the song “Psalm 150,” a welcome breath of fresh air in the middle of an exhausting year.
Praise the Lord
Sing His greatness
Praise the Lord
Raise your voice
Papa: “That will be on our upcoming album which should be September of 2021 or so. It was one that we wrote fairly recently. The last time someone did, sort of a popular rendition of Psalm 150 was ‘Let Everything That Has Breath’ by Matt Redman. There really hasn’t been someone who has tried to do that in a broad corporate sense since then. So that was kind of our stab at that. I’m really pleased at how it turned out. I think it makes a great opening song for a church service. And it’s particularly so, because it’s not sort of ruckus or celebration. It’s kind of a more serene, calm, sort of disarming way to begin service.
Several of the songs on the album feel like exactly like what we need to hear this year. “Let the Nations Be Glad” and “Lord from Sorrows Deep, I Call” are two of my favorites. I asked if there was one song that they think best embodies the album’s theme.
Boswell: “That’s a great question. ‘His Mercy is More’ became the title of the album because that song has probably gone further than we had imagined at first. It’s interesting, your thoughts about ‘Lord from Sorrows Deep, I Call.’ That for both of us is really special. That’s based off of Psalm 42, but then further, you know, we’ve tried to walk this balance of saying honest and vulnerable things and putting truth in the midst of those emotions in the mouths of God’s people. And that’s exactly what Psalm 42 does in the text. Our version of it is a pretty honest and raw expression of trust in the midst of sorrow and pain. It helps keep us singing through sorrows, even through seasons like we’ve walked through together.”
Papa: “Well, kudos props to Nathan Nockels. He produced this album and he’s a great mind and a great person, and he did a great job. One of the things, speaking of Nathan, he sort of reinterpreted ‘Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor’ in a way that I thought was really refreshing. It had the steel guitar, kind of haunting, old Emmylou Harris mood about it. It just fit really well with the lyrics of the song. It’s one of those songs that doesn’t have a chorus. It just kinda sits next to you wherever you are in life.”
Check out the live rendition of “His Mercy is More” below: