In light of their highly anticipated new release, Still Standing, set for July 13, 2018, I had the opportunity to speak with Joyce Martin, of the Dove-awarded, Grammy-nominated Christine artist, The Martins. We talked tandem jumping from an airplane, a first-look into the groundbreaking new record, as well as deeply personal insight into the real life stories behind the new music. Joyce speaks life-changing counsel into the hearts of our readers with a spirit of love and transparency. For the one struggling with fear and anxiety, or those just starting in ministry, or the one struggling to get back on their feet after a tough blow, this is a can’t-miss conversation.
Rachel Lynn: First of all, I want to congratulate you on an absolutely stunning album. When I listened to it, I was just so blown away. Every single song felt so personal, and I really appreciated that.
Joyce Martin: I’m so glad you said that. We feel that it is so personal to us, it is so good to hear someone say that about the record—that you feel the same thing. We haven’t done many interviews about the new music yet, so it is great to hear that.
RL: You wrote on the title cut, “Still Standing.” What was the idea behind that concept?
JM: When we got back on the road after taking some time off and being apart, the first record we did together was called New Day (2011). It was pretty deep and personal too, and we were still kind of getting our feet wet as far as touring again—and actually being a family again—because we had been apart for several years. And so, those songs were really important to us at that particular time. Then we did the A Cappella (2014) record, which was critically acclaimed, and received a Grammy nod and all that stuff, so we were very proud of that too. And, when we realized it was time to do some new music, it was so daunting because we have been together back on the road now for five or six years—maybe a little longer—and we have grown closer together as a family unit, and as a ministry, and finding exactly what part of our story to tell was a challenge. We know God put us on a platform to be able to connect with people, to give them hope that they’re not alone. There are people who have been through similar situations to what we have, and have come out the other side. So we were like, “How do we say that in a way that is palatable for the masses, but still is very, very personal to us?” And so, we started finding those songs.
I sat down in a room with Kenna West and Don Poythress, and wrote two songs for this record. I said, “Guys, this is what I want to say: Jonathan, Judy, and I cannot believe that after all we’ve been through, that we can still stand on a stage together and brag on Jesus. I want to say that it is a miracle that we are still standing. Physically standing up, but also emotionally standing tall. Spiritually standing. We are all still breathing air. Breathing together, as one unit.” And the songs just came together. God just sat there in that room with us and brought it all together. We cried, we laughed… God knew what He was doing when He put the three of us in that room together.
RL: Tell me about the song, “Beautiful.”
JM: We wrote that on the same day as the other two songs. That song is even more personal. We haven’t started singing it yet, because we still cry when we sing it. We wrote it from the perspective of me singing to Jonathan in the first verse, about his situations I’ve watched him go through in his life; and then the second verse is Jonathan and I singing to Judy, and addressing her particular journey of grace; and then the third verse is Jonathan and Judy singing to me, and addressing what I’ve been through. And as a listener listens through the record, it will be personal to them and their story, but it does give insight into what we personally have been through, and how we have watched God work in each other’s lives.
RL: Given the story behind it, would you say that one is your favorite song on the album?
JM: It’s so hard to pick—but “Beautiful” is definitely the most personal for me. If you’ve seen us in concert, then you know we are pretty transparent, and we do tell a lot of our story. But this particular song… It makes us face it again. The reason why we stand on that stage. It is beautiful. God takes everything: the good, the bad, the ugly, the hard, the hurtful, and He mixes it all up in one cup, and pours it out, and works it out for good. He will. If we’ll let Him.
RL: Gordon Mote produced this record. What was the process like, working with Gordon?
JM: It was so much fun! We have known Gordon for so long. He has played on our records, and we shared the stage with him for a couple of tours, when he was with the Gaither Vocal Band. He is fun to hang out with, and, of course, he is über talented.
As we were working, we didn’t realize how much he was changing things, as far as where he was setting our voices, the harmonies, the progressions, and the inversions. We would start singing something and he would say, “Hey, try it this way!” And we didn’t realize just where he was placing those voicings—it just was fun! It was different.
Bill Gaither called me after he heard the record, and he was the first one to say, “You know what, it sounds just like The Martins, but it’s so different.”
And I was like, “What do you mean?”
And he’s like, “Where he put you guys’ voices and your harmony… It’s different than you guys normally do, but it sounds just like The Martins.”
And then when I told Gordon what Bill said, he was like, “I did that on purpose.”
I said, “You mean you’re that smart?” I thought he did it on accident! It made the record so fresh for the listener. It is us, but it’s not exactly the same. And, we had to work hard! It was worth every single hour, and every day away from our families to get it done exactly like it is done. Sonically, the best thing we have ever done.
RL: “Smell Of Smoke.” Absolute show-stopper, written by Kenna West, Amber Eppinette, and Jason Cox. Everything about it is killer. Talk to me about that song.
JM: I was driving in my car—we had just gotten some of the mixes back—and I was listening to that song, and I had church in the car by myself. I called Kenna, and I said “Kenna. Girl. This song is getting to me.” I said, “It sounds so silly and so trite for your own music to bless you, but I’m telling you, this song is powerful.” It is so powerful to know that God is with us in the middle of the fire, and he protects us from the fire. It’s like you were never in the fire—that’s what it’s saying! That’s how powerful God is.
RL: Sooo ya’ll jumped out of a plane in honor of this record. What was that like?
JM: Here’s the deal: I am a scaredy-cat. I’m scared of water, I’m scared of heights… I’m not really afraid of flying anymore, but I used to be petrified to get on an airplane. I’ve kind of overcome some of those phobias and fears over the years, but I have never in my life wanted to jump out of an airplane. Ne-ver. It’s never crossed my mind, and even when people said, “Would you do it?” I’ve always said, “NO. No way. There is no way.”
So, we got an email from our management, that said that the Army Golden Knights were doing an exhibition in Tennessee, and they always have some type of artist, singers, actors, or even presidents, come and do it as a way to promote recruitment for the army. They travel all over the country and do this. So, we got this email letting us know that they were opening up the tandem jump experience for Gospel artists this year. They don’t always do that, but every now and then they do. So, we had been approached to submit our names to jump out of an airplane. They were going to choose 30 people in our area.
Now, I saw the email, but, I mean, I deleted it. Like, yeah, mhmm. And then Judy was like, “Did you get the email about the tandem jump?”
And I was like, “Yeah, I think I saw something about it.”
And she goes, “You want to do it?”
And I was like, “NO, I do not want to do it.”
And she was like, “Oh, come on.”
She is our daredevil. Nobody knows that about her, because she’s sweet, quiet, teeny-tiny, meek little Judy… No. She’s a daredevil. So she asks me if I want to do it and I say no, absolutely not. So then she calls Jonathan. And Jonathan says, “Yeah, if you do it, I’ll do it—if you can talk Joyce into it.”
So they call me together on a conference call, and they say, “It would be really cool. It would be a great way to promote the new record; they’ll video it, and we can use that for promotion…”
And I was like, “Ya’ll are CRAZY if you think I’m jumping out of an airplane.”
So, she tells me—and I promise you I’m not making this up—Judy said to me, “Well, it’s a process. You have to submit your name and your group, and why you want to do it, then they’re going to pick out of thousands of people that are going to submit it… They might not even pick us. But, if we do, then we’ll know God wants us to do it.”
And she was kind of, you know, being silly about it, and I was like, “Yeah, okay, whatever.”
And she asked if I would just fill the form out, and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll fill it out,” thinking, We’re The Martins, from Arkansas. In the scheme of things, we’re just like a blip on the radar. And so I thought, You know what, what are the chances that they would ever pick us?
So I filled out the form, and didn’t think another thing about it. Completely forgot about it. What she did not tell me—and Judy is going to have to answer to God for this—what she did not tell me, was that she had a conversation with the Golden Knights gentlemen who was doing the picking… And he was a Martins fan. He had been following our ministry for years. Knew us all, knew our story. And she did not tell me that. I had no idea, until I was in a yellow suit, with a soldier strapped to my back. And by that point, I was like, whatever. I don’t want to do it, but I’ll do it. And it really did change my life. I just kept saying, “I can’t believe I did this. I can’t believe I did this.” And my phobia level has come down tremendously. Not just for jumping out of airplanes, but just fear in general. Girl, if you can jump out of an airplane—you can do just about anything.
RL: By comparison, which do you think was a scarier moment: the tandem jump, or that first time you sang in front of Bill?
JM: Oh my gosh. Hands-down, singing in front of Bill Gaither. Oh my gosh. If you look in the video, you can see my top lip jumping. I could not control it. I was scared to death. I have to watch the video back to even remember it, because that moment in time was almost like an out-of-body experience.
RL: It is so fascinating to hear you speak on these battles with fear. When The Martins first stepped onto the scene, you were almost instantly recognized as this bold spirit, a courageous and vocal mouthpiece for The Martins. Today, we see so much fear and anxiety, especially in young people, and it would be so easy to look at you and say, “I bet she’s not scared of anything,” or “I could never be as confident as her.” What would you speak into the lives of people who struggle with these sorts of thoughts?
JM: You know, what just keeps coming to mind—and I guess it’s not super spiritual—is just, if I can do it, anyone can do it. You just make yourself available; and if you have something to say, open your mouth and say it. And God will take over. I always tell people, “You do not have to be great at something, to be effective.”
And, from a performance standpoint, when I train people, I tell them, “My job is not to take your weaknesses and make them stronger. My job is to take your strengths and make them stronger.” We can work all day to try and improve on weaknesses—and you always want to give yourself goals to improve—but, God gave you certain gifts that you excel in. Find out what those are, and hone those skills. Don’t try to reinvent the Will. Work to do what you do well, even better. That is what builds confidence.
RL: Years ago, The Martins did an interview with Michael English, in which you shared about growing up in a house with no electricity, until your family moved when you were 14-years-old. After everything that God has brought you through, if you could go back and have just one conversation with that little Joyce, before moving into the “big house,” what would you tell her?
JM: (tearful) Whew. No one has ever asked me that question. I guess I would say, “Don’t be surprised… when your life falls apart. Be prepared early.” I was the firstborn. I always did everything right. I was an A student, because I wanted to please everybody, and I wanted to be the best. I was a good Christian girl… And I, honestly… I did everything right… And my life still came to a screeching halt. And I was hurt, and disappointed and… I wasn’t ready. Because I never thought it would happen to me. And because I wasn’t ready… I gave up. And found myself so far away from God so quickly, because of my anger and bitterness. And I know it’s because I was not prepared to experience it first hand. It was so easy to stand on a stage as a child, and as a teenager, and as a young adult, and tell other people that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. But when you’re having to apply it to your own life, it’s not so easy.
And so I would tell that little girl, “It’s coming. You’re not immune to trouble. No matter how hard you try for your life to be perfect, it’s not going to be. So, put on the Armor. Gird up your loins. Stay in the Word. Expect trouble, and then always know that God is in the middle of all of it. Never give up when it gets tough.”
I need people to know that. You may be sitting in the sunshine today, but you don’t know what’s coming tomorrow. So let’s agree right now that we’re going to believe God is who He says He is. No matter if it’s a good day, or a bad day.
RL: Looking back, at all of the things that brought you here, still standing, what do you think is the greatest thing that you’ve seen the Lord do in your life?
JM: My life is so good right now… It’s so hard to choose one thing. But I guess what I celebrate the most, is restoration. It’s one thing to get over stuff, and it’s one thing to look back and be like, “Shew, glad that’s over,” but it’s another thing to see God not only give you a bright future, but to restore the things the devil stole from you. Some of it hasn’t been restored yet, but so many things have, that I don’t fret about it anymore. I don’t live with regret like I used to, because I’ve seen God restore so much in my life that I know I don’t deserve. The only reason He’s done it is because I’m clothed in Jesus. God doesn’t just save from evil—He restores from calamity. And that’s like His favorite thing to do. He says, “I’ll show you what I can do. I won’t just give you a beautiful road ahead of you, but I will erase the bad stuff on the road behind you.” And that’s what I celebrate the most.
RL: Moving forward, as you prepare to share this beautiful record, and take these songs on the road, what is your prayer over this music and this new season of ministry?
JM: What we pray every night before we get on stage, is that everything we say and everything that we sing—and we can apply it to this record—that every song on this record, would be the Word of God to people. Because the Word of God always accomplishes what it is sent forth to do. And our purpose is to give people hope, and a reason to contemplate where they are in their walk… And so, my prayer would be that the purpose in these words and in these songs will accomplish what God intends for them to accomplish in lives. That it would go into ears, and go down to their heart, and make a difference in their lives.