Made New, the second full-length studio recording from acclaimed singer/songwriter Justin Gambino, is set to release August 25. Tracing his prodigal years and the abounding grace and mercy Gambino embraced when he finally returned to the Father, Made New was produced by Nashville-based session player and producer Walter Halliwell.
An autobiographical collection of emotive pop anthems and vulnerable ballads, Made New features 13 selections all written or co-penned by Gambino. Lead single "Fighting On My Behalf," a percolating, synth-infused pop track available on digital platforms July 28, is Gambino's personal testimony to God's steadfast love and care.
Q: Justin, thanks for doing this interview with us. From the beginning, was music an essential part of your life growing up? Who were some of the artists you were listening to?
Music has always been an essential part of my life. Growing up in a big family that went to church every Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday night, music was always playing. I grew up on hymns! When we were on family vacations or just in the car going to the grocery store, we were listening to Carman, Michael W. Smith, Randy Stonehill and Keith Green. In my early teen years, my passion for music started to take off as I was introduced to artists like Switchfoot, The Supertones, DC Talk, Newsboys and Jeremy Camp.
Q: In your teenage years, you went through a rebellious streak. What happened there?
I sure did. Being raised in the church and surrounded by people who loved and guided me spiritually, I was a blessed kid. But when I got my first job at the age of 15 and started relationships with others who weren't raised the same way and didn't share the same values, my desire for the world began to creep in. By the age of 17, I was becoming very rebellious.
I had just graduated from high school when things like partying, drinking, sex before marriage, and addiction to pornography started to really take a toll on me. The crowd I was hanging out with was a bad influence and I wanted to fit into a world I knew deep down I didn't fit into. We broke into a business and stole a lot of money, and that was the mistake that put a halt to my rebellious streak. Finding yourself in a courtroom at the age of 18 answering to a judge for what you did wrong will sober you up quickly. The judge that day had mercy on me. I agreed to a lot of community service over the next 18 weeks, and I also committed to joining a branch of the military. I went on to serve for eight years in the U.S. Navy.
Q: How, then, did you meet Christ?
Growing up in church, I met Christ at an early age. I gave my life to Him at the age of 7 and was baptized on a Gulf Coast beach in Texas, where I'm from. But looking back, I don't remember it being as real for me then as it is now. After I got into trouble and was sentenced in that courtroom, I found myself in Iraq in 2007, fighting for the very freedom I took for granted back home. I started to attend the chapel on base and God presented the opportunity for me to lead worship in Iraq that year. The love of music began to burst out of me once again, after I thought my hopes and dreams of doing music were dead and gone.
In 2020, I, like the rest of the world, was forced into a season of pause, a season of waiting. I learned quickly that I was horrible at being still and waiting on God. That was the year He called me to start doing nights of worship and revivals on the grounds of the very courthouse where I was judged 16 years prior. On December 12, 2020, I can honestly say the love of Christ became overwhelming to me. Seeing how He brought me through my prodigal journey was breathtaking, and I'll never forget that first night of worship at the courthouse as I fully surrendered to Him and His will for my life.
Q: How did God lead you to the music ministry after you became a Christian?
It was a culmination of several things. Receiving my first guitar at the age of 15 and helping lead worship at church, and later leading worship and getting plugged into a Friday night Bible study in Iraq all helped prepare me, but when I really felt like music ministry was my calling was when I was asked to join some friends at a recording studio in 2010. That night, I felt a tug on my heart as if a pastor was giving an altar call and there was no other option but to walk to the front. I didn't know how to start, I just knew that I wanted to pursue music with my whole heart.
Q: Tell us about your new record. Why is this album vital for you to make?
I began writing for this record during a season when I didn't know how to be still and wait on the Lord. When 2020 came and everything shut down-along with my entire tour schedule-I wrote the title track, "Made New." That was a turning point for me spiritually. A month later the Lord called me to start doing worship nights on the courthouse steps and then the rest of the record poured out of me.
I was on tour in 2021 when a church asked me to fill in for the pastor and preach the sermon, in addition to leading worship. That was so far outside of my comfort zone! The Lord told me to preach on Luke 15, the prodigal son story, and to share my testimony in full detail. That's when the He spoke clearly to me and showed me the vision for this record. I returned home from the road and the rest of the album was written in a matter of weeks.
Q: What were some highlights in the making of "Made New"?
The first thing that comes to mind is the producer God placed in my life. Walter Halliwell has not only been a blessing to me as a producer, but as a friend. And I think the record speaks for itself, showing just how much time and energy we poured into it. We are really proud of it.
Secondly, the relationships that were created in this process have been amazing. The musicians, mixing and mastering engineers... I've been blessed with many people who have contributed their talents to this record.
Thirdly, I'll never forget when we wrote and recorded "There's No Love Like The Love of Jesus" all in one day. That song came out of my journal. It was a love letter to the Lord. I had to step away from the microphone more often than I can remember on other songs, as I was weeping in the presence of my Father and overwhelmed by the love of my Savior.
Q: How do you hope these songs will make a difference in your listeners' lives?
My hope is that these songs will call the prodigal home. My desire is to reach those that were once like me-far from home and wandering, looking to fill a hole that the world can't fill. I believe these songs will make a difference for the Kingdom and that they will soften hearts and point people back to the Father. I also hope the album will give hope to those who have prodigals in their life, as well as encourage those who have come home to the Father to stay in Him. Life is so much better when we know the One in whom we take refuge.