Official Web Site
Layton Howerton Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and Layton Howerton lyrics)
Layton Howerton Biography
There's a sense in which the texture of a landscape can channel and shape the people who live there. The rugged, desolate mountains of Wyoming tower like wrecked spires, dwarfing the human inhabitants, and somehow, by their mute presence, drawing attention to the vast emptiness around them. The open spaces provide no distraction for the mind, and the immense scale of the natural world, the backdrop against which life is lived, stands as a perpetual witness that we humans are small and fragile and finite. It is a good place, Layton Howerton says, to go when you surrender.
The music that comes from Wyoming can be reflective and stark. It is the kind that echoes through the hills or through the rafters of an old church house. It is rooted in real life, in the lives of those who live there, and it directs inward and upward, even as the landscape does. It is about images and emotions and longings. Most of all, it is about people and their stories.
When Layton Howerton sold his home in Nashville, bought an old Winnebago, packed up his wife, five kids, and a dog, and they headed for Wyoming with no certain destination several years ago, it was a pivotal moment in his own story. Raised by pioneer missionary parents in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and miraculously healed of leukemia as a child, Layton had struggled since the age of 19 with a call on his life to serve as a pastor. Born with musical gifts though, and a fine-grit-sandpapery voice capable of smoothing down the rough edges of any song, Layton had resisted the call to pastor in favor of pursuing his own dreams of musical success. Critically applauded by publications like Billboard, and courted by several major labels and publishing companies, Layton seemed always on the verge of his big breakthrough. And yet, one by one, at the "eleventh hour" every deal seemed to inexplicably fall through.
"All through the years I sought after my own selfish things," Layton recounts. "Until I was 36, I was pursuing personal gain. I was a stubborn man."
Layton's father, a big bear of a man--described in the literate, earthy, song Larger Than Life-- told Layton that God had a plan for him and that he needed to surrender to it totally. When the truth of his father's words finally soaked in, Layton at last gave up his "boxing match" with God, surrendered to whatever God's will might be, "anteed up everything he owned in the world", and headed west to be a pastor.
"I left my music behind," Layton says. "I suddenly had such a powerful assurance that pastoral ministry was His will for my life that music just didn't even matter anymore."
Others who knew Layton, however, sensed a more embracing call on his life that would one day utilize all of the gifts God had invested in him. "A pastor friend of my dad's spoke to my wife on the phone," Layton says, "and told her 'You tell Layton that he may think he's done with that music, but God is going to use it in a way that Layton never dreamed of to reach people. He's going to look back later and not believe how God has used it.'"
Settling in Wyoming, Layton and his family sensed that this was where they were to begin their pastoral ministry. They pastored a church and saw tremendous growth in the first year. As Layton settled into his calling, he began to wrestle with ways to more powerfully communicate the gospel to his flock. He prayed for help and inspiration. That's when the songs began to come.
"In the middle of the week I would wander through the sanctuary alone with an old Martin guitar," Layton explains, "and these songs would just come to me. I would write every so often to go along with the teaching for that Sunday. They became an effective way to open hearts to the message. What was so different about these songs was that they were no longer about me. I had finally quit serving the tool and begun to serve the master. The songs were still about my experience, but they directed differently. They were about how Christ had transformed and changed me."
Drawing on images familiar to his listeners--small-town life, sowing and reaping, everyday hopes and sorrows, even combine harvesters-Layton's songs took on a "storyteller's aura", and began to function much like Christ's parables, offering a truth that unfolded as listeners interacted intellectually and emotionally with the story. "What I began to do with songs, I realized I could do with my preaching as well," Layton says. "I began to paint word pictures, setting the scene completely, in great detail, to draw people in. Christ is about response. Everything in His Word is interactive. It requires a response. When I teach, when I sing, when I talk, I want a response."
The song Samsonite, written just in time to be included on Layton's first project "Boxing God" and re-recorded for his latest Tin Cup Release, is a painful, hopeful number that promises to draw a deep response from a wide cross-section of people. "For the first time I'm having men and women alike tell me that they wept when they heard this song," Layton says. "It's about the pilgrimage of life that we're all on. The key storyline of the song is that you never know what a day may bring. There's gonna be some rain, gonna be some thunder, gonna be some people close to you dying. Life is so unpredictable that we need to travel light. We can't make it through hanging on to the things that we need to let go of."
Boxing God (Layton's first release on Sparrow Records which contained 3 top 20 hits, critically acclaimed), the transparent, soulful title track, stands out as an autobiographical metaphor for Layton's years-long struggle against the will of God for his life. "And it doesn't end with a one-time surrender," Layton adds. "That's a battle that we all continue to fight every morning when we wake up and ask ourselves whose will we're going to follow today. We can so easily begin a day in devotional life and end it in whatever our own will is."
Within a year of moving to Wyoming, Layton got a call from a BMG Publishing representative who had tracked him down wanting to know if he was still writing songs. "I told him Yeh, I'm writing songs to go with sermons. They listened to my songs, paid for some demo recording, and then signed me to a publishing deal. Peter York at Sparrow Records got a copy of the songs and couldn't believe it because he had seen me perform a few years earlier and had tried to get in touch with me only to find out that I had left music and gone to be a pastor in Wyoming."
When the door opened for Layton to partner with Sparrow shortly thereafter, it marked a full circle journey that he had never anticipated. The musical dreams buried years before had been given back to him, though no longer as ends in themselves. Now they were one among many tools and gifts to further his life's call to teach and to pastor the Body of Christ.
"The verse finally came true that by dying to self I gained the whole world and more," Layton says. "For so many years I thought it was sacrifice to leave my ambitions and follow God to Wyoming or wherever else. I was so focused on what I would give up. When I finally surrendered I wound up realizing that it wasn't sacrifice at all, it was simply obedience. Now I tell people, 'You wanna see things happen? Don't just behave. Be obedient.' God has even redeemed my years of rebellion and struggle. What he has drawn me through has given me the ability to relate--in relationships, in preaching, and in my songs--to the people around me who share the same struggles."