Phil Joel Tackles Social Issues with ‘Better Than I Found It’

There’s a certain level of freedom that comes with a solo project, according to Phil Joel, longtime member of contemporary christian group Newsboys. The songwriter’s new project, Better Than I Found It, is a return to the simplicity and joy of making art, while broaching exigent topics.  

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Joel told American Songwriter he hopes to bring an attitude of looking outward, evaluating how an individual may be impacting the world around them, with the songs on the EP. 

A majority of faith-based music looks inward, Joel notes, dealing with conflicts of the heart and mind. While that is a needed perspective, equally as valuable is the idea of approaching life, people, and conflicts with an open hand, ready to serve and find tangible action to support and love others. 

“In the realm that I’ve come from, and still [am a part of] to some degree, unless you’re very overt about faith issues you could be seen as an outsider, but really with this record I tried to be a little more poetic. As far as the topics I’m talking about, they are more social issues—how we need to function outwardly, not so much inwardly,” Joel explains. 

Working on this project alone gave the songwriter renewed courage and strength to grapple with difficult topics he hopes will challenge listeners. 

“This past year to me was kind of frustrating in watching how maybe the church responded to a lot of the things that were going on around us,” Joel notes. “I felt like the church huddled inward a little bit, as opposed to, looking outward, opening their hearts, opening their hands ready to humbly say, ‘hey maybe we can change, maybe we can do things better, maybe we can embrace people that are on the fringes that don’t think like us, look like us, [or] worship like us.’” 

Joel says moving forward he hopes to see this open attitude grow in all cultures, and involve himself even more in the tangible actions which give evidence to claims of the heart.

“I want to see more open hands as opposed to closed fists demanding their rights or fists raised in not just anger, but in fear that maybe something’s going to be taken from us,” Joel says. 

His heart, portrayed through this latest group of songs, is to act in service and love—following the teachings of Christ, to embrace the marginalized—the ones who feel like they aren’t on the winning team.

Joel plans to continue creating work as a solo artist in 2021 and while it may not always be overtly expressed in his writing, the artist says his faith will always be an important undercurrent to the content of future projects. 

Now that he’s written so many songs in different contexts and for different purposes, Joel says he is excited to pull the pieces together, driving his inspiration for new work and current performances

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