Gersh Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and Gersh lyrics)
Meeting the qualifications for the New Artist of the Year Dove Award will be an odd situation for Mark Gersmehl. With two Grammy and 22 Dove Award nominations already under his belt, the New Artist category seems a strange place to be.
But those accolades, along with selling 1.5 million albums, came from his position as a founding member and one of the primary songwriters of Whiteheart, one of the most popular and successful pop/rock groups in contemporary Christian music in the last two decades. After 16 years and 11 studio albums, Whiteheart went inactive in 1998. "I'm grateful for the experiences and ministry opportunities that I had with Whiteheart," says Mark. "We had some great times and I met some wonderful people during that period of my life. I will always treasure those experiences, but it was time to move on."
Now Mark, more popularly known as Gersh, is about to release his debut solo project, titled Awakening, on Spring Hill Music. The solo thing is something that has taken him a while to get used to. "I love bands, sharing the stage, hearing other people play brilliantly and reacting to them," he explains. "I even like bands offstage. Bands are like big, messy families and when you deal with artistic individuals, the emotional quotient skyrockets. But when the chemistry clicks, it is amazing.
"I don't mean this in a weird way, but I've never felt the need to be seen alone on a stage," Gersh continues. "There isn't anything wrong with that idea; God has wired some people to be exactly that way. But what intrigues me about a solo project is the intimacy and honesty of making that kind of music. It is very humbling to think that people take the time to listen to what you have to say. I want to encourage them, challenge them, help them to realize just how much God loves them. That feels like a very great privilege and honor."
Gersh met his wife Brynn when their two bands toured together; she was a member of the female pop/rock group Rachel, Rachel. After their marriage and several years of trying to start a family, the couple discovered that Brynn had a condition that prevented her from conceiving. After much prayer and seeking spiritual counsel, Gersh and Brynn decided to attempt a medical procedure, even though they were warned that success was not a guarantee. Their miracle baby, Trevor, was born in 1998.
After Whiteheart dissolved, Gersh spent most of his time with his wife and their new child. But after that much-needed break, he found his artistic drive back in full force. "Because of Brynn and Trevor, I do not want to be the same person I was yesterday. They deserve better. So as a Christian singer/songwriter, I found myself sitting down with God in a song and saying 'Please come even closer. Show me Your heart, teach me the things about love and life that I have barely begun to understand.' Hopefully, someone can listen to these songs in their car or at a concert and be drawn deeper into their own heart and realize that God is there waiting for them.'
"I've always felt that one of the greatest luxuries you can have as a Christian is to be a musician, because you get to work out your faith in a song. There is an enormous vulnerability in that art form because you are inviting the world into the intimate places of your heart and saying, 'This is what I think, feel, and question; do you think I need a whole team of psychologists?'" he finishes with a grin.
Awakening finds Gersh exploring sounds and musical concepts that weren't part of the Whiteheart palette. Some comparisons have been drawn to the modern Euro-pop of Dido or David Gray, with an acoustic piano base. "These songs were born in the privacy of my living room, seated at a piano, staring out the window," he remembers. "Many of the songs that I admire most need nothing more than a singer and a piano or a guitar. Too often in this technological music world, songs are dependent upon production. When you strip away the 'stuff,' the emperor has no clothes. It is hard to write good songs; I have written so many bad songs, I know this to be true. I was sure that I would be playing many concerts alone, with just a piano, so I wanted to try to write songs that could stand up in the intimacy of that setting."
"As much fun as rock music is, it's all about knocking the walls back with your sound," muses Gersh. "Now I want to draw the walls in. I've tried to create songs that can stand alone on the basis of their melodies and their lyrics, without the heavy artillery behind them. This is some of the most intimate music I've ever made. At the same time, we had some serious fun with the production, blending acoustic elements with the technology available today."
Co-producing the project with Gersh is Richie Biggs, whose credits include the Newsboys, Tree63 and Switchfoot. "The record was made in Richie's home studio, which happens to also be his garage," Mark grins. "The third primary party on this project was Mark Hill, who played all of the guitar and bass parts. It was so much fun for the three of us to go down to the studio and just start hashing this stuff out. We joked around that we were the garage band for the 21st century."
Awakening finds Gersh going from the stark spare ness of "Breakdown," to the warm, rippling "Awakening," to the trippy rhythms of "Shoes." His heart is laid out in the lyrics-the desire to know God more fully, the joys and disappointments that fill life on this earth, the hope for what the future holds. The title track is a song that encapsulates what Gersh believes this record is about. "I have always loved John 8:12, where Jesus says he is the light of the world," he states. "I feel like it is finally dawning on me how beautiful His world is. I have never been more grateful to be alive and I want to spend my days learning how to love. Even musically, this project feels like morning to me."
The song that seems to draw one of the strongest responses in concerts is "Breakdown." Written for a friend who was going through a divorce, Gersh has found that the song resonates for many people who are experiencing emotionally traumatic situations. "I wrote that song because I saw a dear, dear friend trying to 'hold it all together' while he was in the midst of this very difficult situation that was not of his choosing. He was trying so hard to be strong, to just go on with life, when what he really needed to do, to start healing, was to just breakdown in front of God, and let Him pick up the burden."
Gersh is looking forward to getting out and playing his new songs in front of audiences. "It's funny," he reflects. "As much as I have loved traveling across the world with a band and playing music, that is not what I have missed the last few years. I've realized what I treasure the most is listening to people after a concert when they tell me what is going on in their lives. I have written so many songs that were born out of what people were willing to share with me about their own struggles, hopes and fears.
"When someone listen to this music, I want them to be so close to their own heart that they can touch it," Gersh explains. "And at that point, I could care less if they are hearing me. I would rather have people listening to their hearts than listening to me."