Jonny Diaz’s new album Sweetness And Sorrow almost never happened. For that matter, any new music from Diaz almost never happened.
Three years ago, Diaz wrote an album called Everything Is Changing because everything was, well, changing. It’s not something he’s said to many people before, but at the time Diaz thought it would be his last album.
He was touring around 100 days a year, starting a business with his wife, had just become a father…And beyond the busy schedule, the music industry had become more draining of life than giving. The focus was on making a product to sell, rather than to fulfill a passion. Songwriting sessions were formulaic instead of inspiration-led. Diaz was feeling the industry more than the music.
Then something happened that changed everything all over again: Jonny’s song “Breathe”– a last-minute toss as a radio single– resonated quickly with listeners and became a hit. Suddenly it was time to reevaluate his music career all over again.
“Of course God had to use a song about finding peace to humble me to actually do so,” Diaz laughs. “I was burned out, exhausted, but with “Breathe” He showed me ‘You can do this and stay grounded in the other important parts of your life. You have a calling to do this, and there is a way you can use this gift and live that out, while maintaining peace.’”
Diaz charted a new path going forward. He became more intentional with his performances and with the music-making process itself. The result was a brand new album he could truly, pardon the pun, breathe into.
“Making this project was relaxed and fun. And in having fun, it resulted in some of the most creative work. None of those songwriting pressures– Will it be a hit radio song? Does it have mass appeal?– were even asked. We just focused on the question of What’s God stirring in our hearts and how can we explore that truth and have fun with it?”
What was God stirring in this season? A baby son, Dodger.
An exciting business venture, he and his wife’s Nashville gym. Beauty. And a reminder of where that Beauty comes from.
“A lot of songs and records come from places of weariness– and that’s meaningful, because beauty comes out of that vulnerability. But what about the times of life that aren’t quite so heavy? When we feel the summer breeze, when we laugh at our family’s jokes, when we welcome precious new children into the world… that’s not to say those times are perfect, but when we don’t find ourselves in the valley…What’s to be said about that time? We need to remember God is in all of that. The joy comes from the Lord, and He’s working in us during those seasons as well.”
Recognizing the gift of that sweetness is reflected lyrically through songs like “Need You Always,” a reminder to not become complacent in our faith when we are soaking up sunshine moments of life. Diaz sings the eponymous lyric “I need You in the sweetness and sorrow just the same, I need you always.” to express the necessity of constantly craving God, pushing into Him, realizing the love He puts into our lives.
“It’s about being present. It’s about taking a beat to notice the sweetness. It doesn’t always come in grand statements, but He fills our lives with joy in so many ways we’ve got to recognize.”
Sonically the album showcases this light as well. The seven tracks provide organic, easygoing melodies, the kind that make you want to roll the windows down and soak up the day. Even the songs that reflect on heavier ideas still embody a life-giving spirit.
A particular highlight is “There,” all-too relatable tune about losing ourselves to comparison and jealousy. More relevant than ever in today’s digital age, the song presents the dilemma of wishing our lives were filled with more “seaside selfies and sunshine tans.” But with a whistle and acoustic guitar Diaz shares the truth:
“These days everyone only posts the best-looking versions of themselves, and we think ‘They’ve got it all together.’ There’s danger in thinking that what someone else has and where they are is better than where we are. We start to believe we should be less content. But it’s a false view. What’s real is what’s right in front of you. I get caught up in it too. But when my daughter does something that makes my son laugh, I realize I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Nothing compares to that. It’s not something I could even capture on Instagram.”
Seeking and dancing in those joys is what Diaz hopes people, like his own little ones, can take from this collection of songs. Sweetness and Sorrow is an opportunity for listeners others to feel the same freedom and warmth he felt while making it.
“There is no bigger thief to creativity than fear. With this album we didn’t overthink. I wasn’t paralyzed by fear. And it will always be a reminder that yes, seasons of sorrow will come– there will be hard times with work, with family, with the world…But He’s in all of it. And when we’re in the sweetness, we’ve got to see it. Appreciate it. Sing about it.”