Israel Houghton

Taking Church to the Movies

Israel Houghton—winner of multiple GRAMMY® and Dove Awards—is a longtime Roland artist with the V-Piano, and he’s recently undertaken some new projects that have led him to do some recording with the V-Piano Grand. We caught up with Israel at CenterStaging in Burbank, CA, and he told us about his latest music and new foray into the movie business.

Tell us about the new projects you’ve been involved with.
Israel Houghton on the V-Piano Grand

The last 18 months for me has been very new territory. I merged my production company with a film company that approaches film the way I approach music. I never put anything out that I don’t stand by, and sometimes that can be costly in terms of time and emotion and energy. But I’m never thinking, “This is a temporary project.” I’m always thinking about how this will affect my children’s children. I approach every project that way.

When I met Galley Molina from RGM Films and we started talking about working with each other, that turned into doing a few songs on the movie, which turned into being the executive producer of the soundtrack [and] to changing some parts of the score. So we’ve developed this RGM/New Breed company that put out our first theatrical release called I’m In Love With A Church Girl. It’s in theaters now, and I’m super-proud of the work that’s gone into it and the buzz that’s happening with it. That’s consumed just about every day for the last 18 months for me.

Can you tell us about the story?

It’s based on a true story. It’s the typical “bad boy meets good girl.” And the good girl, instead of being corrupted by the bad boy, turns him on to God. He changes his life, but as real life would have it, they don’t live happily ever after. He still has consequences he has to deal with, like the DEA chasing him down from the years before, that kind of thing. I think good movies have great tension and release, and in our case, redemption. So when people can see the story of redemption and surrender and the power of God in extreme circumstances, it’s always a good story. And it’s a true story. And the music is a big part of telling this story.

How has film scoring challenged you musically?

When you’re writing music for cinema, you have to alter it quite a bit. [When working on a record], I might go, “this is the music, let’s make it fit.” [In film], it’s actually quite the opposite—“the film is done, so let’s tailor the music to that.” So I’ve been in many, many, many editing bays over the last year or so, just making things work. That’s been the fun part. And then to be around people who think the same way and say, “We’re not gonna lock film until it’s right.” We’ve had opportunities where we could’ve rushed the film out, but we’re not gonna do that. Now we’re already in pre-production on a couple other films, and it’s exciting stuff.

In the meantime, you’ve also been out making music with the band.

Yeah, we were at the BigChurchDayOut [in England]. We’re the only group that they’ve had all five years in a row from the U.S. That’s an honor. We keep getting invited back, and it’s easily one of our favorite events of the year. I played the V-Piano this year on stage. It’s a great event. It was started by Tim Jupp, keyboard player from Delirious?, and he obviously had his share of a lot of festivals and learned what not to do. All the artists actually love doing that particular festival because it’s just amazing. They hold it at this big castle north of London, and it’s such an amazing event.

Israel Houghton on the V-Piano Grand
Are you here at CenterStaging to do some recording?

Yeah, I’m working on some new stuff. Jesus at the Center, which has been out almost a year, is still really strong. “It’s Not Over” was a number one song [on the gospel chart] for 13 weeks and has been top 10 for 57 weeks. The message of that song is resonating with people, so we didn’t want to rush a new record out. We felt like the [film] soundtrack would be enough of a new record. It has a couple songs that I’m doing in downscale versions, almost a tutorial resource version. So I’m gonna put a little EP together, probably five or six songs of new stuff that I’ve been writing for our Deeper Conference, and have that as a resource for the musicians and worship leaders there.

Are you using the V-Piano Grand today for the recording?

Without a doubt! I use the V-Piano on tour. I’ve got my own. But this is the first time I’ve played the V-Piano Grand, and the speakers in it sound amazing—really, really good. I want one!

Are you heading out on tour again this Fall?

Yeah, we hit the road for 40 cities, mainly leading up to the release of the film. The purpose of the tour was to show clips of the film and get people mobilized to have a big, strong first weekend—to get their youth groups, their choirs, their friends and everybody to go and pack the screens out in the theaters we’ll be in. Hopefully that will spur a strong second week. We’re very intentional about how we’re going to approach this and feeling really good about it. And then [we’re] going right into production on the next one.

What do you love best about what you do?

Most musicians would tell you that I would do music for free, because…I breathe. I’m a musician, therefore I have to make music. And if nobody buys it and if nobody likes it, I still have got to get it out of me. So, it really does come down to the people for me. What gets me out of bed is the currency of relationships. I don’t have a lot of money but I’m a billionaire relationally. That’s where I put my premiums, where I put my value: just doing life, spending life with people.

I think when you have that mentality, it’s very easy to say “yes” to God and His purpose of why we’re here. We’ve been fortunate to do pretty well with music and have good influence and good platforms. What’s that for? So we can say, “We’re living the American dream?” [No—it’s] so we can say, “Whatever blessings we can count, that have been accounted to us, they were there so we could be a blessing to other people.” [It’s] this whole idea of not wrestling with God, but just saying “yes” to whatever You have me doing—if it’s a massive stadium somewhere or if it’s a retirement home or someone’s hospital bed, I’m gonna sing. I’m gonna make this music. I’m gonna be an encouragement to somebody. I’ve been blessed to be able to do that. So I think “people” is what I love most about what I do.

Find out more about Israel & New Breed’s upcoming performances and the cinematic release of I’m In Love with a Church Girl at