“rewrite, rewrite, rewrite”
God Is Our Refuge is a passionate, driving worship song based on Psalm 46 written for the Sovereign Grace Psalms CD.
The two writers, Joel Sczebel (Vancouver, Canada) and Peter Gagnon (Virginia, USA) wrote the song without ever meeting, working via email.
You can find links to download mp3’s and chord sheets here.
What was the initial inspiration?
PETER: I was reading through the Book of Psalms (more like scanning actually) in preparation for writing songs [for the album]. I was looking for Psalms that had some familiar language to them, but that were not overly familiar, and that could translate well to life in our modern world.
verse 1 –
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
– is a strong opening statement that sets up the rest of the Psalm, I found myself coming back to it time and again so I thought that should be the chorus for the song. However, in seeking to connect the Psalm with the modern world I was thinking a lot about wars, famines, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes – the stuff our news headlines are full of. As a result, I wrote the 2nd verse first and then the chorus.
How did you come to write a song with someone you’d never met?
PETER: [When] I was about 95% satisfied I posted the lyrics [on the Sovereign Grace songwriters forum] with the hopes one of our other writers would write the melody for it. Joel picked up on it and wrote the melody in one night.
JOEL: I was working on another song for the Psalms album [You Will Never Change] but was stuck and couldn’t think of a line that I needed for it so I went on the forum, found some of Peter’s lyrics, and decided to see if I could come up with any melodic ideas for them.
PETER: He originally hammered out a demo on acoustic guitar, then I got together with some of the musicians in our church and we worked up an arrangement that sounded a bit more like Coldplay than the final CD version does.
How long did the song take to finish, and how much rewriting did you have to do?
PETER: The song took about a month to the (almost) final draft.
JOEL: When I write melodies I typically just pick a chord progression and sing what feels like a natural fit for the lyrics and then do a basic recording with just a vocal and acoustic guitar or piano. I usually end up writing 3 or 4 completely different melodies for a song and try to pick the best one but on God Is Our Refuge my first idea ended up being the one that was used.
PETER: I’m a strong believer in the writer’s mantra – “rewrite, rewrite, rewrite”, so after determining what the song content should be, and hashing out some preliminary ideas and rhyme schemes, I spend most of my time rewriting. Not being a particularly talented musician helps me focus on lyrics.
In pre-production Bob Kauflin, Joel, and I emailed back and forth for 2 or 3 days. Bob made a suggestion about switching the verses so they followed the Psalm more closely [and] we agreed that the song needed a bridge. I also revised verse 2.
Any further thoughts?
PETER: I think it’s important to study and take time to digest the subject matter I’m writing about so as to have some perspective and a few solid ideas when I start to write. As I studied this Psalm, I was also meditating on related passages in Psalm 2, Daniel chapters 10-12, and Revelation 22. Distilling and including ideas from those passages while highlighting the language of the Psalm was a bit challenging, but not unduly so.