When Zach Williams’ hit “Chain Breaker” was announced as the winner of the Best Contemporary Christian Music Album at this year’s Grammy Awards, it was the latest and greatest honor in Williams’ meteoric rise to the top of the Christian
A native of Jonesboro, Ark., Williams was not even signed to a record label when he co-wrote “Chain Breaker,” the international hit that held the No. 1 position on charts for 15 consecutive weeks and achieved official Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) gold certification.
“I had been in Nashville for a week, writing,” Williams said. “I wasn’t signed to a label. I was just coming over as a guest to write songs. It was at the end of a week. I was ready to go home. I was ready to see my family. I was tired. I had nothing that I honestly was bringing in at that point.
“Then, I met Mia (Fieldes, co-writer of “Chain Breaker”) for the first time. She had this super strong personality. She was just on fire when she came in, and we got to talking. I was sharing my story and my testimony with her. My wife and I were involved in a prison ministry at that time, so we were really excited about where we were then. Jonathan Smith, (“Chain Breaker” co-writer) turned around to the piano and just played a little something, and I went ‘play that again.’
And when he did, the words to ‘Chain Breaker’ just started coming. ‘If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles. If you’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies.’ That was one of those songs that was literally almost written in 15 minutes.
It was on Williams’ mind after the writing session.
“All the way home to Arkansas, I was just praying that God would just use that song and that people all over the world would be able to hear it,” Williams shared. “And a few months later, the label heard that song and offered me a record deal.”
After the song was written, Williams said that he wasn’t sure how it would be received by Christian audiences.
“I thought maybe it was too rock or too country to resonate with Christian music audiences,” he said. “I didn’t think it would get played on Christian radio. Nobody knew who I was. I didn’t know how people were going to react to it.”
After the song’s mega success on the contemporary Christian charts, the song was later covered by several Southern gospel artists, including Triumphant, the Gaither Vocal Band and soloist Steve Ladd.
The song also speaks to Williams’ own story of redemption. After using drugs and alcohol for years, he was known as a partier. In 2012, God intervened, and he quit the rock band that he was a part of it, instead electing to begin a new Christ-centered life off the road. But the way that Christian songs had helped him in his journey continued to stoke the desire to sing.
In the release of “Chain Breaker,” Williams said that one of his chief hopes is that the song ministers to non-believers, as well are those who are already saved.
“Obviously, I hope it can inspire people who are already believers,” he said. “But for anyone who isn’t saved, they need to know that there is someone out there who can break their chains and help them with these problems that they have in their life and completely make them brand new.
“For Christians, for believers, I think we get in our day-to-day routine where we’re just checking it (items) off our list. We’re going to church on Sunday, because it is good for our business … it’s good for the other people around to see. It becomes just like doing the laundry. Going to church, leaving, going home … and completely not having a relationship with the Lord. You’re coming out of church with the same mess that you went in with. So, I think a lot of believers have just forgotten what it was like the day they got their chains broken.”
Though Williams says he can’t define his music under just one genre – “maybe some Southern roots gospel,” he says – he hopes that his music appeals to listeners of Southern gospel, contemporary Christian, and other genres equally.
“I want these songs to have the opportunity to minister to everyone,” he said.
Although “Chain Breaker” was a hard act to follow, Williams’ second single off of his debut album, “Old Church Choir,” also ascended to No. 1 on the charts, where it stayed for 20 weeks. With his recent successes, Williams became the first debut artist to have back-to-back singles reach No. 1.
“All glory to God,” he said. “It’s just incredible.”
By Justin McLeod
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in March 2018.
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