New Artist Spotlight: Jonny Diaz
Mike Donehey, lead singer for Tenth Avenue North (GMA's reigning "New Artist of the Year") interviews new INO recording artist Jonny Diaz.
Mike Donehey (Tenth Avenue North): CCM listeners, this is Mike from Tenth Avenue North with the New Artist Spotlight. Today we are talking to Jonny Diaz (Di-as). Did I say that right Jonny?
Jonny Diaz: You got it right, man!
Mike: Di-az. What language is that?
Jonny: I always just tell people it's like, "You don't want to die ... as an old, lonely person."
Mike: What if I did wanna' die as an old, lonely person?
Jonny: That's a whole different interview. [Laughs] It used to be Dee-as about five or six generations ago. Then it was Americanized when it was brought over. So it's Di-as now. My whole life I've been fighting that battle, but at least it's unique.
Mike: Now is it any relation to the baseball player, Matt Diaz?
Jonny: He's my older brother.
Mike: Unbelievable! Who does he play for?
Jonny: The Atlanta Braves.
Mike: Are you a Braves fan? Do you guys fight about it?
Jonny: [Laughs] Actually, I grew up a Braves fan, so it works out really well. But if he gets traded, we might have some issues. Growing up in Florida, we didn't have any teams, so the Braves we always had on TBS. Now Florida has a couple teams, but back then they didn't. The Braves were always my team.
Mike: Where in Florida did you grow up?
Jonny: Lakeland, Florida. Right in the middle.
Mike: Did you enjoy living in Lakeland?
Jonny: You know, I don't think I fully appreciated it while I lived there, but now that I live here in Nashville, it's always fun to go home and see family and everything. But I couldn't wait to get out of there when I was in high school. I had that syndrome.
Mike: Everyone has that syndrome. Everyone in high school believes the place they live is the worst place on earth. [Laughs]
You're first single, "More Beautiful You,"… What prompted you to write it?
Jonny: I've been married about 18 months.
Mike: Me too!
Jonny: If you're like me, you probably have women totally figured out by this point—smooth sailing from here. [Laughs] That's not true. But if I have learned one thing from being married and from my wife, women, of all ages—but especially young women—have this desire to feel beautiful. I'm sure your wife feels the same way.
But as guys, I don't think we fully get that. We don't really understand all the pressures that go into that. We have our own issues, but that's not really something that's big for us. I still get to play a lot of camps and get to spend a lot of time with students, so I wrote "More Beautiful You" after being with a group of high school students and seeing these girls try to fit into a mold they were never created to fit into.
I thought it would be cool to write a song for those girls, and also for my wife, coming from a guy's perspective, which is a little different. Here's what Scripture says, so here's what I'm gonna' stand on. Here's the way I view you, and I hope you can do it as well.
It's been one of those songs… I wrote it and thought it was OK and wanted to play it for youth groups. I didn't even know if I wanted to put it on the record. Then it turned into the title track. Then it turned into a radio single, then [went] No. 1. It's blown my mind to see the plans God has had for this song. I'm really just a vessel for that.
Mike: It's an important message. Have you seen that Dove campaign video where they take this girl and show all these people putting make-up on her? Then they take all these pictures. Then, they show the guy on the computer doctoring the picture, making her eyes bigger and her neck longer.
Jonny: Not only have I seen it, but we also took that idea and incorporated it into the music video for "More Beautiful You." We did a mother/daughter, where they did this fun photo shoot where all this fancy stuff was done, but then at the end of it, the father and husband of these girls laugh at it all because he likes them the way they are naturally. It's kind of a lighthearted take on that whole Dove campaign.
It's pretty insane what they can do. It goes to show you, we try to compare ourselves to people that aren't even really like that in real life.
Mike: Why do you think that our vision of beauty is so distorted?
Jonny: I think the desire to feel beautiful isn't wrong at all. I think we can find that throughout Scripture, comparing the Church to the bride and all throughout Song of Solomon… I don't think that desire to be physically attractive is wrong at all. I really think that is from God. But when we start comparing ourselves to other people, that's where the danger comes in.
I don't know why we do that. I don't know who the judge is that says this kind of hair looks good and this kind of hair looks bad. Or this size hips looks good and this size looks bad. I don't know who created that. I don't know where it comes from. And I'm not gonna' sit here and say I don't fall victim to that. It's so hard not to. But every once in a while, you have to step back from it and say, "We really are a soul that's wrapped up in a temporary body anyway." So not to belittle that stuff, but to get a Godly perspective on it really can change everything.
Mike: It is a profound mystery that we bear the image of God. I try to help kids understand, just being human, is a profound thing.
Jonny: That's so true.
Mike: I like what you're saying about how beauty has changed.
Jonny: Whatever we compare it to now, whatever we're striving so hard now to achieve, it's important to keep in mind, in the future, that's probably not what will even be considered beauty. The only thing we can do is go for what timeless beauty is. Like you were saying, it's found in the image of God.
Mike: Are there any other songs on this record you are really passionate about for people to hear and understand?
Jonny: The next single on the record is called "Stand for You." Basically, it's saying, in our culture and in our time, we're so afraid to offend people that we're actually willing to water down the truth. There's this whole movement that Christianity is too narrow, and we need to be more open-minded, and heaven is really this big mountaintop and there are many different paths to this mountaintop. It really doesn't matter how you get there.
The funny thing about truth is it is always narrow. In order for something to be true, something else has to be false, or the truth isn't really the truth. "Stand for You," for me, is my declaration that even if the rest of our culture, our government…wherever our country goes, I'm going to stand up for what God's Word says, even if I'm the only one.
Mike: What would be an example of that?
Jonny: From a cultural standpoint, there have been a lot of things that have happened that you and I have no control over—things like removing prayer from schools. There's a movement to take the words, "In God We Trust," off of our money. I'm not trying to create a war against those things by any means. But instead of going on a big-time government level, I think all we can do is go on a personal level and make our own personal declaration, that no matter what happens, I'm not going to be ashamed of the gospel. I'm not going to be ashamed of what truth is and what it means.
There's a line in a song that says, "They kicked you out of school, but that's funny because how could you ever go away?" It's not this movement to fight and get prayer back in school, but instead to say, personally, there's no one that can keep me from doing that kind of thing. I live according to my own convictions, and I'm really not worried about what everyone else is doing and saying, because I have made that declaration.
It's something that is relevant now with everything that seems to be going on in our time and our generation.
Mike: It's funny, these thoughts and profound philosophical moments you seem to be emanating, because you were just a baseball player, right?
Mike: You played for Florida State. How did you get from swinging a bat to playing a guitar?
Jonny: Music was something I loved. It was a hobby. I led worship in high school for my youth group. I started writing songs back in high school but had no concept of the idea that you could actually make a living doing this. And I had worked so long and hard at baseball to get at the point I was at, when I was offered a college scholarship with such a good program, it was a no-brainer for me. So I went to Florida State pursuing my own goals, my own ambitions, trying to do baseball and follow in my brother's footsteps. It was there when I had one of those big God moments. He used people and circumstances to speak to me so clearly and tell me that He wanted me to pursue music. In order to do that I was going to have to lay down baseball, lay down my desires to do that.
I wish I could say I immediately obeyed and went right into what God had for me. It was a wrestling match for me. I really struggled with deciding whom I was going to serve, and whom I was going to try and please with my life.
Mike: It's like a war. You have these passions inside of you, and they are good things, so it's hard to know which passion [you're] supposed to follow?
Jonny: I knew I could use baseball to follow God, and that was my goal with it. But it's hard for me to lay down my desires and really trust God. I didn't know much about the music industry. I knew a lot about baseball. I knew what it would take to get where I wanted to go, but music for me was just a foreign language. I don't come from a musical family at all. The idea of actually traveling around full-time was a scary, outlandish thought.
Mike: What are some ways you felt God calling you into this and away from baseball?
Jonny: For me, I had a couple people who were real mentors in my walk and in my life. When I was able to come clean and tell them about this struggle I was having, either to keep playing baseball or pursue music on a full-time level, God used them to speak wisdom into my life.
I didn't know how to record a CD; I didn't know anything about it. But shortly after I was able to hang up baseball, God provided an opportunity for me to go off to Texas and lay down some songs and provided the financial means to do it in a good studio and do it to a level where it could really kick start my career. I still sell those songs, that record, today, even though I wrote them way back in high school.
I know God speaks in many ways. I can't claim to ever have heard the audible voice of God. I know people who have, and that's awesome. Maybe one day God will speak to me like that, but for now, it's a matter of listening to that whisper through life, through the circumstances that surround us.
Mike: More Beautiful You is your fourth album?
Mike: You're a songwriting champion! You're like a machine, just spitting out songs. Is it easy for you to write songs?
Jonny: "More Beautiful You" was written in a matter of about two hours. And sometimes it's so tedious, so tough and so revealing. The best quote I ever heard was by Billy Joel, who I think is an amazing songwriter. He said he hates writing but loves having written. That's how I feel. When it all comes together, it's so rewarding. But through the process itself, it can wear you out. It can be scary to come clean about stuff.
Mike: If you could leave listeners with one thought after listening to More Beautiful You, what do you want them to take away?
Jonny: Rather than writing songs about the big aspects of Christianity or more worshipful, "You're amazing God" kind of songs, up to this point, I've been called to write songs that are more specific and deal with different aspects of the Christian walk. I realize my audience already knows God. They are at least in church or listening to Christian music. So my goal is to inspire, challenge and encourage that body to go do something amazing; so the next time I come back to their city, I can see a visible difference, and I know that my time there wasn't in vain, that I was able to spark some kind of movement.
And whatever that movement may be, for that night specifically… Sometimes it's the idea of "More Beautiful You," just a movement of people who can be content with who they are and who God created them to be. Maybe it's a movement off of "Stand for You," a community that decides here and now, that no matter what, they're going to stand up for the gospel. Whatever it is that God is calling me to challenge that specific body with, my goal is to come back in eight months and see that coming to fruition, see people really living up to that challenge.
Mike: I think you are doing a good job of making people love one another better. We have Audrey Assad on our tour right now, who sings background vocals on "More Beautiful You." She told me how she didn't have a guitar, so you and your wife gave her a guitar. You're a good dude! I was just wondering, I could really use a new guitar ...
Jonny: Tell Audrey to pass it along. [Laughs]
Mike: You don't just have free guitars lying around?
Jonny: Maybe if I win "New Artist of the Year" and I'm rolling in the dough like you guys, I'll just decorate my walls with guitars.
Mike: Don't hold your breath for that, man. [Laughs] Jonny, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Everyone needs to go out and buy More Beautiful You. It's good stuff.
Jonny: Yeah, man. Thanks a lot.
To listen to a podcast of Mike's full interview with Jonny Diaz, log on to CCMmagazine.com/news/podcasts.
Jonny Diaz's debut on INO Records is titled More Beautiful You and is available now. For more info, visit jonnydiaz.com.
Tenth Avenue North was dubbed the Gospel Music Association's "New Artist of the Year" at the 40th Annual GMA Dove Awards. Lead singer Mike Donehey's monthly "New Artist Spotlight" on CCMmagazine.com introduces fans to new artists currently hitting the scene. Tenth Avenue North has scored two No. 1 hits at radio. The band's third single from Over and Underneath (Reunion), "Hold My Heart," is currently climbing the charts. For more information, log on to tenthavenuenorth.com.