THE INTERVIEW: GEOFF BULLOCK

PICTURE: Courtesy of Geoff Bullock

Geoff Bullock on his songs:

"It’s like being renowned for being the parent of somebody. But the songs I’ve done have been part of an extraordinary work and they’ve been used in extraordinary ways and have visited millions and millions of people all around the world. In a way, I can’t feel responsible for that. The more that happens to the songs, the more I feel a growing gap between me and what my songs are doing and, sometimes I also think, who I’m perceived to be. And that’s always been a struggle...”

13th August, 2004

After several years out of the public eye, world-renowned songwriter Geoff Bullock, 48, has returned to the limelight and is rewriting many of his earlier works for a new album. He spoke with DAVID ADAMS and LLOYD HARKNESS...

Can you recall how you came to be a Christian?
“It was in 1978, November ‘78, and it was in that real charismatic, pentecostal awakening that was happening...I grew up with a bunch of teenagers and they started getting saved into what has become the Hillsong Church and eventually I went along and that was it...I was 23 (at the time) and living in the northern suburbs of Sydney working at the ABC as a cameraman. I had become a senior cameraman on one of the drama crews in the studios and yeah, I really had my life more or less planned out - I thought I’d go into production and directing and that’s where I’ll be. Music was always a part of my life, but I never thought I’d become ‘Geoff Bullock’ if you know what I mean.”

Obviously that’s what you’ve become renowned around the world for - songs such as The Power of Your Love and Refresh My Heart.
“That is really bizarre for me. It’s like being renowned for being the parent of somebody. But the songs I’ve done have been part of an extraordinary work and they’ve been used in extraordinary ways and have visited millions and millions of people all around the world. In a way, I can’t feel responsible for that. The more that happens to the songs, the more I feel a growing gap between me and what my songs are doing and, sometimes I also think, who I’m perceived to be. And that’s always been a struggle...”

Because the songs have positioned you at a certain time in your life?
“They position prayer at a certain time of my life. Of course, as you grow, you realise the things you once prayed were an unnecessary prayer...you’re asking for God to do something that He had already done. So it’s interesting at the moment: I’m rewriting a lot of the songs and writing either third verses or changing words around...It’s amazing how if you change a word or two the song suddenly goes ‘whack!’.”

Can you give us an example?

“A good example is ‘Lord I come to you, let my heart be changed, renewed’. Well, us going to God? When you just think of it naturally, I mean man going to God, that’s creation’s cry. All creation longs for communion with the Creator but we cannot go to God. The miracle of it is that it’s ‘Lord, you come to me’ so I now sing the song with ‘Lord, you come to me’. Instead of singing the prayer, ‘Hold me close’, it’s ‘You hold me close’. Just expressing it in that way...To say ‘Lord, hold me close’ is actually a misunderstanding of the Gospel. It’s sort of like saying ‘Oh Lord, have mercy’ - well, how much more mercy must He show? Or ‘Lord, forgive me’ - well, how much more forgiving can God get? I’ve become so aware of what God has done for me in having to apply grace to my journey rather than trying to prove myself worthy...It made me realise that there’s a whole culture of people pleading with God to do something that He’s already done. And when you turn around and realise the miracle - that He has done it - it turns life all the way around. It suddenly puts a value on you that you could never achieve in your own endeavour at all...”

You left Hillsong Church (as it’s now known) in 1995. What happened?
“Oh, gosh. I burnt out, I suppose. At the time I was so convinced that God was asking me to leave and (now) I’m just not so sure...I just knew I had to go and I think, in a way, it was escaping a damaging spirituality that I’d allowed to happen. I don’t want to blame those guys for it - it was my problem. Now I have become a very different person and so you can see that there was a divergence of style and theology and concept that came from it. Unbeknownst to me, my marriage was breaking up at the same time and obviously there were relationship problems but I was too busy and too self-possessed and too church possessed to notice. And I think there were other political issues going on at the time. Hillsong had just

Geoff Bullock on why he left Hillsong:

“Oh, gosh. I burnt out, I suppose. At the time I was so convinced that God was asking me to leave and (now) I’m just not so sure...I just knew I had to go and I think, in a way, it was escaping a damaging spirituality that I’d allowed to happen."

exploded, the church had the Midas touch, and I don’t really think that we were counting the cost of what it really took. I had an inability to say no and in the end, I just disintegrated. I just totally lost my confidence and I honestly thought that when I left, I would slip out the back door and nobody would really notice I was gone...(I)t broke their hearts and to this day there is still real unresolved sadness and a sense of betrayal. And I’m really sad for them but that’s how it was. I feel tremendously responsible that I led them along the garden path of being so incredibly enthusiastic and incredibly faithful that eventually I sentenced them to disappointment because I was trying to fulfil something that I could never achieve...”

When did it become clear to you after leaving Hillsong that you were to start moving back into the public eye?
“Well, you see, my marriage broke up within two months of leaving Hillsong - my wife left me...There were no moral issues at all which has probably surprised a whole lot of people who think there was a moral breakdown - that didn’t happen until almost a year after I left Hillsong. Well, obviously at that point, I thought ‘Goodbye’...What got me to the point where I am now? I was having dinner with some friends on 4th July last year and they said: ‘Will you come and do your concert at our church?’ And I’d said no so many times - ‘I just don’t do that anymore’. So I thought, ‘It’s Maitland, New South Wales, no-one’s going to know...why not’?. Well, within two weeks, I had a charity wanting me to become a patron, another two concerts - it was just like somebody opened the door. I don’t want to be too spiritual about it, but it just took off. And it was really odd this time, there was no effort in it - I’m just along for the ride. But it was very odd stepping back onto the stage again after two-and-a-half years and pulling the songs out and starting again. It was an odd feeling.”

Geoff Bullock on his music now:

“It’s very sweet and gentle. There’s no more theatrics, there’s no more ‘happy-clappy’. At the concert you won’t hear anything from my past catalogue; anything of the early days where people thought of me as being quite a metal-head. There’s none of that. It’s all very mellow and melancholy and touchy-feely.”


So who is Geoff Bullock today?
“Who is Geoff Bullock? Well, I’m a father of seven kids...Geoff Bullock was a writer of a lot of really well known songs who is now revisiting that and writing new songs and books and things. I suppose I’m a person who has had an encounter with God who just wants to share the openness of that without putting a cultural barrier in the way - in fact trying not to put any barriers in the way (but) letting God reveal Himself to people...”

If you had to define the difference between the style of music you were writing 15 years ago and the style of music you’re putting on this CD, how would you define that difference?
“The difference is ‘What must I do to experience the presence of God?’. That was what Geoff Bullock was all about: what must we do to make the church successful; to experience the presence of God; to have an encounter with God; to get more of God. Now it is the all that You (God) have done to enable me to be in grace and to be part of who You call the church to be, not what I need the church to be.”

So how has that impacted your sound?
“It’s very sweet and gentle. There’s no more theatrics, there’s no more ‘happy-clappy’. At the concert you won’t hear anything from my past catalogue; anything of the early days where people thought of me as being quite a metal-head. There’s none of that. It’s all very mellow and melancholy and touchy-feely.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 or 15 years time?
“If you’d asked me that question 14 months ago (or even) ‘Where do you see Geoff Bullock in a year’s time?’, I’d have had no idea. I would have said ‘Sailing, varnishing, maybe writing some songs, I don’t know - maybe developing some property’. I tell you where I’d like to be. When you say the name Geoff Bullock people think of praise and worship and singing songs. It would be really nice if in 15 years time when people said the name Geoff Bullock, people thought of the Forgotten Children's Fund...In fact, I’d like the word worship to go out of our vernacular and that (instead) we would enjoy our musical arts as an expression of faith, an expression of celebration, a creative expression of grace but when we thought of (God’s) outworking in our lives, we thought of rolling our sleeves up and getting committed to physically meeting needs and to loving people and accepting people and allowing God to reveal Himself to them...I’d love to see an inclusiveness where this whole culture was broken down. I’d love to hear people sing but not striving to have a spiritual experience in it. I’d like to see the Forgotten Children’s Fund and charities like that really take off and for the church to become very strong advocates for the poor and the marginalised.”

- www.geoffbullock.com

This interview has been edited.