Exclusive Interview: Kanye West’s Musical Director for ‘Sunday Service’ Explains True Intentions Behind It
“Our agenda is to spread the love of Christ, and we see it being spread and we’re seeing people who would never even seek his face have an experience.”
Rapzilla had the chance to speak to the Sunday Service music director Phil Cornish. He opens up about what goes behind the Sunday Service, Kanye West, and the validity of the gospel being represented in the sessions.
What in your upbringing do you think prepared you for such a huge production like Sunday Service?
Oh .. All of it man. I grew up a 7 Day Adventist. It’s a very conservative Christian Denomination. We did mostly hymns, so it was a minimalist approach to worship. There wasn’t a lot music-wise, or singing wise it was really really stripped down. Mr. West, he’s actually a minimalist in the sense that he likes to keep things stripped so you can hear everything it has to offer.
One of the unique things about Sunday Service is it really gets to the meat of the message and the point it draws. The point it draws is spreading the Gospel and really attacking the point that Jesus’ love saves, love is the way, love on your brother, love on your enemy, and that’s really the primary message of Jesus. I can love you even through a dispute. I can love you through a difference. In Proverbs, it says a soft answer turns away wrath. (Proverbs 15:1). A lot of times we’ll break the music in the song so lyrics can be heard or sometimes the music will go and then you let the lyrics support the music.
Because I grew up 7 Day Adventist, I took the reverse approach of most church musicians. A lot of them grow up Pentecostal, Baptist or Cogic where they’re a lot more music-driven and a lot more going on in services. I study classical, jazz. I started playing in the Baptist church and for lots of other churches. Then I started touring in my early 20s with Akon, Music Soul Child, and Dream. Then I started working in the studio. So I’ve literally touched all aspects of music once I got to this opportunity, and think that’s definitely helped me thrive in this particular situation.
Can you explain what your role is as a music director for Sunday Service?
So in a traditional situation, you’ll have an artist, you have musicians, you have singers. A music director is there to administer the band, find musicians, give creative directions, arrange music, and just staying in tune with what the artist wants. In this job, there are a lot more singers so me and the choir director have to be on the same page as well as being on the same page as the artist.
My job is literally to be in tune with what’s going on singing, music, and creative wise and help tie it all together. If we need musicians, I’m finding musicians and if they need rehearsal, I’m rehearsing those musicians. And I also play with the musicians, and not all Music Directors play, most of them will oversee and appoint people to play, but they’re still wearing the hat of arranging and sitting in different rooms for other parts outside of music. Basically you’re looking out for the best interest of the musicians you hired and looking out for what’s being presented musically.
So how is it working with Jason White the Choir Director?
Jason is a Legend, it’s such an amazing experience. I’ve followed Jason for years listening to records he worked on growing up and I’ve always wanted to work with him. It’s been a perfect marriage of sorts, and due to his level of success as a producer, vocal contractor, music director, choir director, and musician, it’s like literally being able to work with someone who’s done it all at the highest level. Every day is a learning experience. Whatever he sees that will make me better or sharpen my iron he points it out. I’m in a situation where my iron is constantly being sharpened.
What do you think has been the most challenging part of making this production happen?
The most challenging part is hearing the backlash and different opinions. People don’t know what it’s like when you see people arguing and having different opinions on something you’re a part of. People say to block it out, but it’s not that easy. A lot of the opinions are vastly different and the negative ones are like dang that’s what you think of me? Like if it was really what you say it was, do you really think I’d be apart of that? And you really can’t answer all the questions and even if you could you wouldn’t solve everyone ’s plight.
How do you stay encouraged through the controversy?
At the end of the day, the most rewarding thing is being there at a Sunday Service and seeing the impact that you’re having with people in the moment and outside the moment. Because with all the negative responses you see, you do see people who are truly appreciative, grateful, uplifted and refreshed. That’s really what it’s about. Our agenda is to spread the love of Christ, and we see it being spread and we’re seeing people who would never even seek his face have an experience. We’ve done our part, all we can do is plant the seed and allow the Holy Spirit to take it from there. You can’t allow no one to dictate what you’re doing and get you off your track, because God is not the author of confusion, and all that does is introduce confusion.
Do you think the sermon in Detroit helped?
Yes, the word of God always helps. We’ve had multiple pastors come and share but people will ignore that. For every person that says, ‘Okay so a pastor did come and speak and preached’, there will be someone who didn’t see someone preach and say, ‘Oh they still don’t have any preaching or any word’. Or they’ll think Kanye himself is preaching or the churches we pop up at they think that it’s Kanye’s Church. So there will always be people who didn’t watch the stream or didn’t look at any of the clips and they have a strong opinion about what happens whether they’re there or not.
I would hope it would help the people who were there and the people that actually listen to the message that was given and those who tied it in with the songs and just the spirit of the atmosphere. But you can’t change everyone’s mind so you just focus on the people who are open to change and the message and everything else is beyond you. Like if you give a homeless person a dollar you can’t really worry about what they do with the dollar because your heart in giving him the dollar is what will be sown and you reap what you sow.
So what is your goal as a human a Christian and creative with everything you create?
Everything I create is one to glorify God because He gave me the gift that I use to share, and it’s purpose-driven. My goal is too always walk in purpose for as long as He has me where He has me. Also to grow as an individual and a person I want to be a husband one day. I want to fulfill my potential as a human being and a Believer. With everything I do, I’m looking at how am I growing from this and bettering myself. How am I being more Christ-like? What is convicting me what isn’t convicting me. The Thing that scares me the most is when things stop convicting me. I have to say what is happening and I have to check myself.
What advice would you give young creatives trying to find their way and live within their purpose?
Stay the course. Whatever you do stay the course. Even if you’re in a bad place stay the course there’s something to get out of it because God has you where he has you for a reason. Don’t stay too long you definitely have to pray and seek direction so wherever you are and what you’re doing you can thrive in your next situation.
I’ve been fired a couple times or amicably moved on from something. Every time I moved on there was something great on the other end. So for me, that was confirmation that I was where I was supposed to be and I got what I was supposed to get from it. I think that’s the biggest thing, people overlook humble beginnings. So stay the course, know who you are and don’t compromise your belief or who you are as a person to get anywhere because it will come back to bite you.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the music for season 6 of Empire, it’s going good. I’ve been in the studio with Usher, Demi Lovato, and I have a lot of things going on but you never really know if it’s gonna come out or not. I’ve also been arranging for some other tours that are going on. Obviously most of my time is taking up with Sunday Service, but you never want to completely shut your self off from other things. God puts you in certain rooms with multiple individuals so your talent can really show itself. But yeah, I got a lot of different things going on and I’ll continue to make my mark and do the job I can do for as long as I’m in the position to do it.
Watch the full Sunday Service in Detroit from last week below: