BETHEL MUSIC'S BRIAN & JENN JOHNSON
The seasons in our lives are like pages in a story. And with each new chapter, we find the faithfulness of God. In the hustle of daily life, it is vital that we stop and reflect on His goodness and what He is doing. The good. The Bible says "whatever is pure, whatever is lovely...think on these things." Magnify them.
With hearts filled with gratitude, worship leaders Brian & Jenn Johnson decided it was time to look back on God’s steadfastness throughout their lives. Being in ministry since they were teenagers, After All These Years, is their first solo project in more than a decade. This is their first-ever studio album since releasing their live debut, Undone, in 2001 and their follow-up, We Believe, in 2006. Brian and Jenn have continued to shape the direction of the modern worship movement as worship leaders at Bethel Church in Redding, California, and founders of Bethel Music, a collective that includes highly-regarded singers and songwriters like Jeremy Riddle, Amanda Cook, Steffany Gregzinger, Jonathan David and Melissa Helser, Paul and Hannah McClure, Kalley Heiligenthal, Kristene DiMarco, and many others. Through the years, Bethel Music’s releases have been honored with multiple Dove Awards, and Brian & Jenn’s songs, including “One Thing Remains,“ “Forever,” “No Longer Slaves,” “Love Came Down” and “God I Look To You,” have been carried around the globe.
The couple is largely known for writing anthems that give voice to countless worshippers, yet on After All These Years, they chose to forego big production in favor of a timeless, intimate album.
“It’s a devotional album where we’re just reflecting on the faithfulness of God,” Brian explains. “There’s a back-to-basics feel about it that’s very peaceful and inspires the devotional life—devotion to Jesus. It’s not as much about taking over the world as it is about gaining a right perspective again and going back to the purity of what it means to follow Jesus.”
With producer Jason Ingram at the helm of their new album, Brian & Jenn decided to use an 18-piece symphony orchestra as the backdrop for their songs, giving the new tracks a peaceful, dreamlike quality.
“It’s moving. When you hear an orchestra, it pulls on the strings of your heart, so that was just something we were drawn to sonically.” Jenn shared, “We have always loved the concepts of timeless and ageless. We’re not looking to be trendy or cool—just something that’s going to last and has the underlying tones of those classic elements.”
Together with Ingram, beautiful orchestration, transparent lyrics, and intentionally under-produced elements, leaving raw moments, they created an album that’s just that,. “I think with this album, it’s not as much about being wowed by something but about being honest and raw,” Brian offers. “We purposely, on many occasions, decided to keep things the way they were—even a vocal that’s not perfect.”
Each song serves as a direct reflection on a specific season experienced by the couple encompassing 20+ years of ministry, marriage and life with their three children. “The songs all came out of situations or themes that have been a part of our life. We wrote the songs in the past couple years, but a lot of them are themes that have been in our spirits and in our lives for a very long time,” Jenn shares. “It was really exciting to make an album that centers around an expression of our history with God versus just what we could sing corporately, which we also love.”
In the midst of the creative process for the album, the couple endured a particularly challenging season as Brian suffered a nervous breakdown. “Life caught up with me,” he admits. “I really had to work through a bunch of stuff—some forgiveness issues, and some difficult conversations I needed to have. Jenn really helped me with that, but I had to let go of a lot of things. I started getting up every morning early and reading the Bible and listening to worship music all day, because I quit everything and rebooted my whole sense of who I am. My devotional life took off, and I started really seeking God. Through all that, step by step, I got better.”
Brian was out of commission for over six months. Work on After All These Years came to a halt as he focused on his physical and emotional health. During that time, a demo Ingram had recorded of a song called “Greater Than All Other Names” became an anchor of personal solace for Brian and later a cornerstone track for the new album.“I listened to that song on repeat every day for six months straight, it really ministered to me.” Brian reveals. Out of all of them, regardless of what happens to that song, that was my lifeline—Jason’s version of him and a piano.”
Following the breakdown, Brian reevaluated facets of both his personal and professional life. He came back to the songs previously begun for After All These Years finishing the tracks with a renewed sense of purpose and passion, noting that after the incident he really felt like he had something to say through song. “It felt like we did this album because of something instead of for something—instead of for our ministry or recognition or because I had a bunch of songs, and I just needed to do an album. It felt like we did it because of something that God had proven over and over in our lives,” he shares. “The pressure of having to have an album full of new-school, cool production kind of went away, and we just went and did an album that’s honest.”
Featuring co-writes on every single track from Brian & Jenn and stacked with contributions from A-list writers including, Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin, Matt Maher, Jeremy Riddle, Seth Mosley and Paul McClure, among others, After All These Years radiates the constant character of Christ in the midst of life’s unexpected twists and turns. Songs like “I Won’t Forget” and “Only Jesus” were written in the aftermath of Brian’s breakdown, boasting a vulnerability that’s only forged through fire. “That song’s my testimony,” Brian says of “I Won’t Forget.”
In writing “Only Jesus,” Brian says he hopes listeners discover the victory found in Christ’s death and resurrection. It offers the wisdom he gleaned through writing it: “It costs every ounce of your life to follow after the resurrected Jesus,” he says.
Although some of the songs were written during times of sadness, the tracks convey reverence and hope, breakdown and breakthrough.
With “Mention of Your Name” Jenn recalls the birth of her first child, which required an emotional emergency C-section, only a year-and-a-half into their marriage. “It was our first trauma, really, in our life, and it was this intense moment. I closed my eyes in the hospital bed, and I just said, ‘Jesus. Help.” And He did. “Just the mention of His name, and I had an encounter with Heaven. I felt like liquid Peace run through my body, and I knew that no matter what I had coming, I was going to be fine.”Jenn wrote "Gravity” after an encounter with God she had during worship as she began to see her earthly circumstances from God’s point of view. "I was overwhelmed with a situation and it was clouding everything in my life. While closing my eyes worshiping on the front row, God lifted me up into space and He said, 'Look down. Do you even see this problem? No. You don't even see the earth. This is not what I'm doing. Focus on what I'm doing and what matters eternally.' I was so caught up in how God was orchestrating the galaxy and reassured that it was going to be OK and He knew exactly what he was doing. I was able to see from heaven’s perspective what mattered in that moment and what matters eternally. I think that’s the invitation for every believer on a daily basis.”
There’s also the prayerful, “Let Me Be Love,” written after Jenn’s encounter with God where she felt so passionate about celebrating diversity and loving people, especially in light of heart breaking racial tensions. She said, "I just wanted to hug people that I didn't know and say, I'm sorry." The Lord spoke to me about BEING love, releasing His love and letting him do what only He could do, sometimes simply by making eye contact and smiling at people.
Every song testifies to the ways Brian & Jenn have seen God at work through both laughter and tears. However, although After All These Years recounts Brian & Jenn’s journey, they want listeners find their own stories within their narrative.
“I think the album as a whole will really inspire people to hear God and to have that personal relationship with God for themselves.” Jenn offers. “Our prayer is that people have encounters and it makes people hungry to build their relationship with God on a greater level.”
As partners in marriage and ministry, Brian & Jenn desire to know God more themselves, to tell of who He is and what He's done and to live their lives on earth modeling the Kingdom of Heaven. In looking back, they’ve discovered that with every step and in every season, God is faithful and present, After all these years.