Take 10 with The Afters’ Matt Fuqua about Fear No More
The Afters are preparing to release their most honest and vulnerable album to date tomorrow. Appropriately called Fear No More, the album touches heavily upon the band’s problems with fear and anxiety and is a rallying cry to themselves and the listeners to leave that all behind. I had the chance to connect with the band’s guitarist & 2nd vocalist Matt Fuqua about those struggles, the new album and how their approach to creating their art has changed over the years.
[JW] Hey guys, your new album is called Fear No More. What was the inspiration behind that title?
Usually when we write songs, we try to make the titles and lyrics sound like we would say the same message to a friend. “Fear no more” isn’t the phrase you’d use to encourage someone but there’s something almost hymn-like about it. Hymns are old and have stood the test of time – people have sung these words forever throughout the centuries. In the same way, struggling with sin and anxiety is not new. One of the things we’ve realized as we’ve grown older is that these are things that humanity has struggled with forever. So, the thing the we wanted to communicate with the record is that you’re not alone – you’re not even alone where you live, in this time. Our tendency is to isolate and think “no one else knows what I’ve going through” or “I’m defective” and it’s just not true. We wanted to communicate that we’re all broken and we all struggle with these things. And it’s going to be ok.
[JW] I Will Fear No More has been doing really well ever since its release and Well Done did really well too. How rewarding is that after you’ve poured a lot of time into a song? And how do you keep yourself grounded in those moments?
We are always humbled when we see people sharing our music and when we see the responses to the songs because we never could’ve imagined that God would use these songs in people’s lives the way he has. We always think that it’s all the Holy Spirit’s work because we couldn’t have done this the way he has. We just can’t take credit for it. Especially in light of 3 million views on a video in just a couple of months, we don’t see any way that we could take credit for it.
The main way we stay grounded is being heavily involved at church and in our families. Ten years ago, we decided that raising Godly families was going to be our priority. We put a cap on how much we’re willing to work so we can be with our families at church and invest in our church body – which is hard because our line of work (music and touring) is on the weekends. We decided being gone on the weekends wasn’t what we wanted for our children. And we didn’t want our wives to feel like they were alone on Sundays, and that their husbands were unknown by their friends. We live in community with people who do not do what we do – and so being present was important to us.
[JW] I Will Fear No More tackles anxiety and fear, something you, I and many others struggle with. Was it hard to write about those struggles? Or was it cathartic?
It was both, actually. Years ago, it may have been more difficult to open up about personal things. But, we’ve always tried to write about life, and in the earlier albums we would largely write about the things that were going on in others’ lives, our friends, etc. That’s MUCH easier to do. On this album, more so than any other album, perhaps because we are getting older, it is partially understanding that people (ourselves included) are way more broken than we ever thought. We did find comfort in writing about things that have been difficult for us, and it was good to practice honesty in our songwriting.
[JW] Were there any other songs on the album that were difficult to write?
“Well Done” was particularly heavy for us – we began to feel the weight of the words long before we even really knew why. For example, my grandfather passed away a few years ago, and my dad said that he would pray each day for not only his kids, but his kids’ spouses, and their kids, and his grandchildren. My father was struck by this profound amount of prayer, and committed to do just as his father had done for the rest of his life. When we were writing “Well Done” I remembered this and it became an inspiration for us. This song isn’t about the END of life, this is a song about LIVING. Following Jesus every day and in every moment. Ultimately, it’s about living a life that at the end Jesus would say “well done.” That was the hardest song to write from an emotional standpoint as I thought about a whole lifetime of the men in my life praying for me.
[JW] Welcome To The Future is my personal favorite on the new record, it actually reminds me of the sound on your first two albums. Take us behind the inspiration for that song?
The song inspiration came from a focus on our future instead of our past. So often when anxiety takes over we are completely overwhelmed by our past…what we’ve done, what happened to us, etc. But this isn’t something we can change – we can only look forward. It’s an anthem for us as we live our own lives…forget the mistakes I’ve made, the abuse I’ve endured, the people who have said I’m worthless…let’s just live the life we’ve been called to live.
[JW] You guys have been around for a while now. How would you say your approach to creating your art has changed over the years as you’ve become more adept in your musicianship?
We have ALL strived to be more honest with our lives as we’ve grown in maturity. This plays out in our songs, on social media, etc. We’ve realized that if the church doesn’t get honest about who we are and how broken we are, the world will look elsewhere. This perspective has affected the art we create, and we are fortunate to have the ability to keep creating all these years.
[JW] What Bible verses spoke to you the most in the creation of this album?
One of the passages that have always stuck out to us is Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd…” A lot of our lives have been spent in this valley of the shadow of death, and we’ve always clung to the promise that the Lord will prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies, and that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. God is good even when times are hard.
Another Biblical inspiration for this record is the 365 times we are told to “fear not” in the Bible. Josh brought this to the table when we were writing as he looked back at a season of anxiety after his father passed away at age 37. At the time, Josh was young and he began to be a bit of a hypochondriac. He would get sick and take himself to the doctor, fearing he had developed cancer himself. His wake up call was when a doctor bluntly said, “Get out of here. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re perfectly healthy. There are legitimately sick people here and you’re wasting the time I could be giving them.” This shook Josh up and made him realize that he WAS fine – and began to lean into scripture. He started reading the verses about fear and anxiety a lot and he discovered the 365 “fear not” commands in the Bible. One for each day of the year. He took this intense warning from the doctor and God’s assurance as a way to cling to truth. That inspiration became “I Will Fear No More,” which can be an anthem for people to sing over their lives as they go through similar circumstances.
[JW] If there’s someone reading this who’s feeling beaten up by life and they’re overcome with anxiety, what would you say to them?
If someone is reading this and thinking “I can’t get through this fear and anxiety alone” we would say, “You are right, you weren’t made to do it by yourself.” God created us for community – and community points to him. Our fellowship with fellow man is a shadow of what Heaven is made of. We need other people, and we need to intentionally seek this out. Getting involved in the local church is the first line of defense for battling isolation. We have, to a great degree, underplayed the role that our church body should have in our lives. We’ve decided that we want the Kingdom without the King – and we’ve taken that central part of community and removed it entirely by letting social media affect how we feel about ourselves. So, if you’re feeling beaten up and anxious, seek out a local church congregation and get involved. Volunteer, go to Bible studies, meet others. We are ALL struggling and you don’t have to do it alone.
[JW] If listeners could take just one message away from this album, what would you want that to be?
There are moments when we all feel abandoned…when we feel like God doesn’t see us, or hear us, or we doubt his existence. But when you scour the scriptures, He almost always works through suffering, enslavement, and pain. He’s the “upside down” God. Jesus himself is an example of this. The King of all creation was born to two “nobodys” in a manger…only shepherds welcomed him. In the moments when we feel forgotten, that is the moment that God is shaping and molding you to be who he wants you to be.
[JW] How can our readers be praying for The Afters over the coming months?
Even though we travel less than we ever have, the time that we spend away from our families is very hard on them. Our children sometimes still weep if we have to leave for more than a week, and it’s difficult to explain to them why we have to be gone. We would ask for grace for our families, and that this would be a blessing to them.
Thank you to Matt Fuqua for not just taking the time to answer those questions but doing so so thoroughly. I think you’d agree after reading that just how exciting this new album sounds and I promise you it’s that, and then some. Make sure you pick up this album tomorrow, get prepared to dance down the street to Lightning and lose yourself in fearless praise to our wonderful Savior throughout. Fear No More really will hep you to Fear No More.
Tune in to their Facebook page tonight at 7pm cst for a Q&A and performance live stream.