Anyone who's ever listened to a pop song is far too familiar with the idea that you don't know what you've got until it's gone. But is the converse true? Do you not know what you need until you have it?
Todd Agnew, an artist who has long challenged listeners to ask better questions, has found at least some of his needs fulfilled as of late: the need for companionship, family, roots and direction.
But that doesn't mean Todd finds himself in a place of creative complacency, either. Needs met in one area frequently point out deficiencies in others, and Agnew has never been one afraid of the microscope when it comes to looking at his own life.
"The perfect version of me still has a deep need for God," Agnew says. "It's the ongoing conversation we have with God: 'you're supposed to need me from the beginning. Need is not a bad thing; it's something that ties this relationship together the correct way of me being God and you not.' You really have to learn that and think 'that's what I was made, how I was designed.' And that's how this music was designed, as well."
In short, Todd Agnew is taking care of his artistic need through Need, his fourth album for Ardent Records/INO.
"It was a pretty big life change all of a sudden," Todd says of his return to his home state of Texas, his recent marriage and becoming a stepfather. "I think I closed on my house on a Thursday and got married on a Saturday. I went from 'single musician guy with no responsibilities' to 'homeowner, husband, father of two' in 48 hours."
For anyone, those kinds of changes could cause a whiplash effect. For a man with an admittedly critical artist's eye, Todd's new life opened up a brand new set of observations.
"It's incredible, but it's also definitely hard. There's nothing that can prepare you for that kind of a life change, especially someone like me, who notices every detail of every failure on my part," Todd says. "Being a husband is one thing, raising two kids is another. You can find yourself thinking, 'Man, I didn't do a very good job again today.'"
The presence of his wife and the kids has obviously served Todd's need for balance in his personal life, but the veteran singer-songwriter has found an unexpected carryover into his professional existence as well. "I've always been kind of the hammer - walk in, speak the truth, blow up the town, walk off and let all the pastors apply that truth or pick up the pieces. Now I'm having very similar things in my marriage and in my life, where I'm definitely someone who sees the truth that needs to be spoken, but I'm watching my wife who always sees the love that needs to be shared."
It is things such as these new roles and relationships that have caused Todd to pen songs such as "Joy Unspeakable", the first single off of Need. "I got married in February of 2008, so there was a great deal of joy added to my life through this amazing gift God had given me," says Agnew. "Now, being over a year into it, I know that it's not all easy and fun; some of life is still quite difficult. But what I have found is that joy runs through it all, and that is God's plan for His bride as well. The strength, the comfort, and the joy that comes from our relationship with Him is ever present, even in our troubled times. That is a joy that I do not have words to describe."
The song, "Written On The Wall", typifies a quest Todd never even realized he was on during the making of Need. "It comes from a place of saying 'I don't understand all this stuff.' I want to follow, I want to do what he wants me to do, if only he'd make it a little more obvious," Todd admits.
Another area Todd Agnew the musician finds his needs met is the musical scope of Need, which falls right in line with his previous projects, a broad stroke of rootsy music that touches on everything from rock 'n' roll to blues to soul to traditional gospel.
But that sort of musical exploration never seems to come easy, especially when trying to balance the needs of the artist with the perceived needs of the marketplace. "This record is definitely the hardest one I've worked on so far. It was much more of a struggling process, spread out over more than a year," Todd says. "Finally I come to the place at the end where God goes, 'What you need is for me to be active in what you're doing.'"
And so that struggle - all facets of it - makes its way onto powerful tracks like the bluesy, rollicking "Deep Deep Love" and the stomp-filled "Tell Me The Story", to the quieter, more contemplative moments found on the loping, strummy "Give Me Jesus" and the hope of "Did You Mean Me?" (with the fantastic yet familiar Sunday school notion of having "met Jesus at the felt board.")
It's the latter track, "Did You Mean Me?", which Todd has had floating around in a notebook for more than a decade, which helped sharpen the focus of the album's final push toward completion, shaking him and the project from the struggle. "When we were making the record, a friend told me that there's no Hebrew word for 'promise,'" Todd says. "God doesn't need to promise. If he says it, that's the way it's going to be. There's no extra need for reassurance. So the questions we have for God: 'Does that really apply to me? Did you really promise that to me?' are sometimes a waste of time and effort. It's more God saying, 'This is how it is.'"
So as Todd Agnew's life morphed in front of him, so did his music, and so did his reactions to the changes that both were going through.
"I thought it was about me needing answers, so I could do God's work for him. Give me the plan so I can go do this for you. Wanting to understand those things," Todd says. "But I started to realize that what I thought I needed wasn't exactly accurate. I really needed to learn to be dependent on God for everything."
Todd looks up, respectfully asking for one more need to be fulfilled. "And if you'd like to give me some instruction, that would be awesome."
"One after another, we learn that we have a need to be loved, to be rescued, to be redeemed, to be restored, all these things. Those are the universal needs, and they are all met in Jesus," he continues. "It's a matter of trusting God to help me walk through that, even though I don't know what I'm doing."