It's not unusual for the lead singer in a successful rock band to step outside the group and record a solo album, usually as a way to satisfy a creative impulse not possible within the confines of a band. For Sanctus Real frontman Matt Hammitt, writing and recording his solo debut, Every Falling Tear, wasn't an exercise in artistic freedom, it was a process that helped the young father deal with every parent's worst nightmare.
Encouraged by his Sanctus Real band mates to release these songs and to share his story through the songs that are meant to provide hope for people that are in crisis, Hammitt's journey to the new album started with the prophetic glimpse offered by the current, best-selling Sanctus Real album, Pieces of a Real Heart. The bridge lyric in "The Redeemer" says, "I don't have every answer in life / But I'm trusting You one day at a time / 'Cause You can make a weak heart stay alive forever," reflects Hammitt regarding the hit radio single from Pieces of a Real Heart. "Those lyrics, along with songs like 'Keep My Heart Alive,' 'Dear Heart,' and then the album with a broken heart on the cover, came out on March 9 of 2010."
One month later, on April 12, 2010, Matt and his wife, Sarah, took their four-year-old daughter with them to a doctor’s appointment where they were looking forward to an ultrasound that would reveal if she would be getting a baby brother or sister. “We found out it was a boy and we were all celebrating,” Matt recalls, “but the ultrasound tech isn’t allowed to tell you if something is wrong, so the doctor came in and told our family that things weren’t right, that half of his heart wasn’t developed. It was pretty grim news. They didn’t even think he would survive.”
Diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, Little Bowen, whose name means “Small Victorious One,” defied the odds and survived, but it hasn’t been an easy road for Matt and his family. “When we found out that Bowen was going to be born with half a heart, it started stirring up a lot of questions in me,” Matt admits. “I know there are some mysteries and questions that aren’t even meant for our minds to comprehend, but I just really started praying more, reading more and honestly seeking God for comfort in that time - and for as many answers as I could get. I started expressing all my questions, emotions and feelings through song almost right away.”
Those songs became the poignant, compelling collection heard on Every Falling Tear, set to release on September 13, exactly one year after Bowen had his first heart surgery. Matt poured everything into his music--all the questions, fear and frustration along with a greater understanding of God’s comfort, grace and love. Though he originally recorded the songs as a cathartic experience and a tool to encourage himself and his family, Matt soon began to feel they had a broader purpose. “From April on through September when Bowen was born, I had been pouring myself into communicating and releasing all these feelings and emotions through song,” Matt says. “The more I began writing, the more I began realizing that these weren’t songs just for us or Bowen. I really started to feel like I was supposed to make an album and share them with other people.”
The songs reflect the heartbreaking challenges the Hammitt family has faced as Bowen endured two surgeries and prepares for a third. Yet though the songs were written in response to his circumstance, they are universal in their ability to uplift, heal and encourage all those who hear them. “Let it Bring You Praise” is a beautiful worship song. “Let Go” and “Holding You” are songs about surrender. The latter tune reminds the listener “It’s not in what you hold on to. It’s in the One who’s holding you tonight.”
Matt says “All of Me” was probably the hardest to write. “At that point I didn’t know what was going to happen. Bowen wasn’t born yet,” he says of writing the tune with Bernie Herms. “It’s about recklessly loving in spite of our fears, even if it means we’re going to bleed or we’re going to be broken.”
“Trust” is a song that captures this whirlwind of emotion. “I was struggling to believe that any good could come from that painful moment when I handed my son over for that first surgery,” he says. Matt remembers thinking: “‘If things don’t work out the way that I pray they are going to work out, no matter what we go through, I still know and trust that God is faithful.’ That was really the cry of my heart--to be so invested in the truth that my emotions don’t steal me away from standing on the truth that He’s faithful. ‘I will trust you Lord with all my heart and I won’t forget how good you are.’ I just think that was pretty much the guttural cry of my heart throughout that whole time on September 13th.”
Matt co-wrote “Trust,” along with “You are My Treasure,” “This is Grace” and “Let it Bring You Praise,” with friend and frequent collaborator Jason Ingram. He and Joy Williams of the Civil Wars co-wrote “Let Go,” and he co-wrote “Without You” with Audrey Assad. “I just wanted them to be everything they could be,” he says of the songs, giving props to his co-writers.
Matt has already been sharing this new music with others going through difficult circumstances, including Russell, who has been awaiting a heart transplant. “He told me that those songs had meant a lot to him and that they were comforting to him,” says Matt, who understands first hand the power music can have to soothe and encourage. Matt and his family felt it that terrible day they left the doctor’s office after first hearing news of Bowen’s condition. “We tried to turn a CD on and--this actually never happened to us before--our CD player wouldn’t work. The CD kept spinning and skipping, so we turned off the CD player and turned on the radio. Right as we turned it on, the first song that we heard on the KLOVE Christian radio network was ‘Hold My Heart’ by Tenth Avenue North. That was a huge comfort to us. If you listen to that song, you’d be blown away by the lyrics of that song and how it pertained to us that day.”
Hearing that song at that moment not only provided comfort, but also somewhat of an epiphany. “We’ve always heard the stories about how our songs affect people, and that day, I was on the other side at the moment that I needed it,” says Matt. “This is what inspired me to begin writing more music out of this circumstance.”
In addition to providing spiritual and emotional support, the music on Every Falling Tear will have further impact on families as Matt and his wife have started the Whole Hearts Foundation, a non profit organization dedicated to helping families of children dealing with illness. “In addition to retail sales, we are selling the album at our [Sanctus Real] concerts and 100% of everything we make off that album is going to go directly to help families with children with life-threatening heart defects and disease,” Matt says. “We have this huge vision for the foundation.”
Though Bowen is doing well now, and Matt has met young people in their 20s who have had surgeries, survived and are leading normal lives, he is still fragile and anything could happen. That knowledge, and the experiences of the past year, has paradoxically strengthened Matt’s faith and given him a zeal for all of life. “The biggest change in my life is just my ability now to be grateful for every day that God has given us,” he says. “All of those experiences kind of burnt away my reliance on anything but Christ. I no longer put my faith in what I see here, but in what’s to come. If things don’t go well for us in this life, if we lose Bowen. . .if we don’t have Christ or the hope of what’s to come, then it’s a sad story. If we have that hope of what’s to come, it’s not so sad at all, it’s actually really incredible.”