On January 1, Christian folk band Poor Bishop Hooper will release a song based on Psalm 1. In November 2022, they will release a song based on Psalm 150. Every week in between, they will release new songs that work through the Psalter. That’s 150 songs, released one per week, for three years.
The ambitious EveryPsalm project is just the latest creative Bible-set-to-music project from the Kansas City–based band (composed of husband-and-wife duo Jesse and Leah Roberts), whose 2014 album Foreign Made landed at number 21 on TGC’s list of the best Christian albums of the decade. EveryPsalm is also the latest encouraging example of what has become a renaissance of Scripture-based music in recent years. From Sandra McCracken’s Psalms to Bible albums from The Corner Room (e.g., Isaiah 53, 1 Corinthians 13) or Psallos (e.g., Hebrews, Jude), the most inspirational Book in history is inspiring a new generation of musicians.
The most inspirational Book in history is inspiring a new generation of musicians.
I asked Jesse Roberts to talk about the EveryPsalm project, Poor Bishop Hooper’s excellent Advent EP, and his advice for aspiring Christian artists.
Who is Poor Bishop Hooper? How do you describe your music and mission?
We began performing under this moniker a little more than six years ago, after we were married. What started as a simple duo playing simple songs (Leah on upright bass and myself on guitar) has since become a wide-ranging array of full-band expressions, trios, songwriting, and more. A few years ago our music became a full-time ministry, which led us to create a nonprofit. Our mission is to serve people by musically communicating the gospel. We focus on underserved communities (prisons, rural communities, urban poor) with our live experiences, and encouraging the global church through Scripture-based songs.
What inspired you to tackle the ambitious EveryPsalm project?
Years ago I began writing lyrics/poetry out of the psalms as a daily habit. It was a beautiful time, but amid the busy-ness of life, that specific journal was stashed away for a few years. Earlier this year the Lord was drawing us back into the psalms, and we felt encouraged to take a step of faith and write a song for each psalm. The idea for the EveryPsalm project was born.
Songwriting and creativity comes in waves, so we’ve learned that when the wave is surging, ride it and write like crazy. We wrote a great deal of songs (almost the first year’s worth) in just two months. That was the affirmation we needed. I still occasionally battle the fear of getting halfway through the project and running out of ideas, or of all the songs sounding the same or being boring. But the Lord, in his persistent goodness and mercy, calms me and calls me to continue. So we’ll see how it goes!
What will be your process for writing these 150 songs and churning them out over the next three years?
Due to the large number and weekly frequency of each release, our goal is to write, record, and produce simple, meditative songs that focus on God’s Word as directly as they can. We believe Psalms is one of the most profound and personally relatable books in the Bible. It presents the highest of highs and lowest of lows. We know our tendency creatively can be to overthink, overwrite, and overanalyze in our songwriting process, particularly when dealing with Scripture. But we trust that God’s Word is good and perfect. So we try to just build on it.
Because we simply don’t have the time to pour hours and hours into each track, we just have to take God’s Word, allow him to lead the creation of each song, and work relatively quickly and efficiently before sharing it with the world. We are fortunate to operate a studio in our home, which is the only way this project would ever come to pass, and we have a streamlined mixing and mastering process that will allow the next three years to (hopefully) flow rather smoothly.
What do you hope for how EveryPsalm blesses the world?
Our hope for EveryPsalm is that people would encounter God’s Word, and that peace like water would flow from that encounter. We pray that people who’ve heard it before would know it better; that Scripture might be memorized along the way; that folks who’ve never heard the psalms would be blessed.
If as an artist you are chiefly a host to God’s glory rather than your own, it might mean you will not be famous. It might mean you have to do art in your spare time. But it will be a good and pleasing dwelling with the Lord.
Early in this process I shared our idea with a good friend who said he often has trouble sleeping at night. When he wakes in the darkness he always reads or listens to the psalms. He said it was the only thing that ever calmed him and helped him back to sleep. Our goal is that he and others would experience the peaceful goodness of God from this project.
All the songs will be free to stream, download, and listen to via whatever platform you use. If people are interested in supporting this mission or our other endeavors, we’d love any partnership—prayer, financially, or otherwise. (You can learn more at everypsalm.com/give.)
Are there any other books of the Bible you hope to explore through another concept album?
Leah and I have more musical projects in our dreams than time to make them a reality. The more we write, the more we focus on drawing out the artistry of Scripture. I’ve wanted to do an album through Acts for years, and Leah would love to do a project on Isaiah or any of the other prophets. We’ve discussed Revelation at length. Genesis is of course on the table, but would probably have to be five albums or something. Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs—there’s just too much good content in the Bible. Right now I’m just trying to see if we can get through three years of psalms, but so very excited for whatever comes next.
Your Advent songs on Firstborn are beautiful. What was the inspiration for your approach to this collection?
After having children (Rufus and Ada are 5, and Phineas is 3), Christmas just got so much better! My wife is always throwing out that quote from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: “For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.” Kids are so overjoyed in the season.
Though my bride had always kicked around the idea, I previously had no interest (maybe even disdain) in writing Christmas music. But after having children and experiencing the Christmas season alongside them, we began to want to write music into that space. There is so much beauty in Scripture as it tells the story of Jesus. Such mystery and intrigue: lowly and humble characters inheriting massive roles, angelic visitations, dreams galore. In 2018 we decided to write a small collection of songs that might help us realize, hopefully in some more meaningful way, that the God of the universe took on flesh. A dear friend and pastor urged us to base it around the traditional weekly Advent themes, which was superb advice, and Firstborn came to life.
How would your challenge or encourage young Christian musicians today who want to create beautiful, Christ-exalting art that lasts?
One of the things we’ve learned over the years is the importance of hosting God’s Spirit instead of our own. If we host his grandeur and glory as we write a song, we can better point it all back to him. If, on the other hand, we host a spirit that seeks to tap into a growing Christian-music industry for the sake of financial gain or profit, the art we create carries that spirit. If as an artist you are chiefly a host to God’s glory rather than your own, it might mean you will not be famous. It might mean you have to do art in your spare time. But it will be a good and pleasing dwelling with the Lord.
Practically, pray a ton, create a lot. If you’re a songwriter, be writing songs all the time. Flex and stretch that muscle. Draw, paint, write prose, sing—whatever it is you do, do it a lot. Your capacity as a young man or woman to go after the beauty of God late at night, early in the morning, or for hours on end is much higher than after a family and other blessings enter the picture. Work hard unto the Lord. Be diligent with the gifts he’s given you. But keep hosting his Spirit above your own. Art is always better that way.