Sarah Kelly : 2006-04-04Randy and Erika had a wonderful time chatting with the delightful Sarah Kelly during GMA week in Nashville.
Read my review of Sarah's CD, Where The Past Meets Today.
Randy: I first reviewed probably....I guess it was the first year I was writing reviews when your first project came out, and as soon as I listened to it I wrote the review for that week. It was early in the year. When did it come out?
Randy: February. See, it was early in the year. I said, "It's early in the year, but I know this is going to be one of my top ten CDs of the year."
Sarah: Oh, I remember that! I remember that review! Thank you very much for that.
Randy: You're welcome. I just loved it from the beginning. Some good guitars in there, it had some edge to it.
Randy: I'm not about sugary...
Sarah: No, that was an indie album that Gotee just picked up and put on the shelf. That was something very special about Take Me Away.
Randy: I enjoyed it a lot. When I saw there were some interview slots open, I said, "I've got to talk to Sarah Kelly, even if I've got to get up early."
Randy: It's tough the second day. The first day of GMA, it's easier, but by Tuesday it's tougher to get up early. We made it.
Sarah: We made it!
Randy: I want to talk about the new project a little bit. I haven't heard it yet.
Sarah: Nobody has. Not even my label. It just got mailed to them, and it's supposed to be here today. Five of the songs on it, they haven't heard. They've pretty much given me full creative on it, which is awesome.
Randy: I want to talk about two things, basically. One is just the album itself, and then one you had this recent article--was it the Planet one or CCM?
Sarah: Probably one of them.
Randy: It was just talking about the abusive past and some of the things you had to get through.
Sarah: Well, it's funny, you know. It all goes together. The album and that is definitely one and the same. I mean, it's the same story. The album's called Where the Past Meets Today, and that is basically my way of saying honesty, you know, where the past meets today. It's like a synonym for the word honesty. You can build your life an illusion and run away and call the truth something else for as long as you want to, but until you face it, you can't be free. And until you face it, you can't be healed, and you disqualify yourself from peace. This album is about getting honest. Every single song is a new taste of honesty. It hits that from a different angle for me and I really pushed myself to be more vulnerable in my relationship with God and in my humanness, you know. Admitting things I need to be different in. It's just a very honest album that I think will hit people in the heart.
Randy: Was the first (album) one of those accumulated-over-a-lot-of-years of songwriting, or was the first one fairly focused in terms of when you wrote it?
Sarah: Listen to this, man. The first one, I wrote in six days. It was just this fun thing to do with my church to raise money for a drum set. So this one was much different.
Randy: So this one's the bass and the guitar?
Sarah: Right. Yeah, we're raising money--no. We did raise enough money for the drum set.
Randy: Good, good.
Sarah: (laughs) And then a record deal, offers, and Grammy nomination. (laughs) But basically, this new album, after that Grammy nomination, I had calls from probably three of the top producers in all of music. Not just Christian music, but all of music. They really, really digged my voice. Which again...I don't really think of myself as a singer, I really don't. I'm a teacher that somehow finds themself singing and did an album to make money for my church and it ended up in a music career.
Randy: What was your teaching background?
Sarah: English. 7th and 8th grade.
Randy: I was an English major. I didn't teach much English because I like a lot of literature and I got stuck teaching grammar stuff in 10th grade. And I switched to computers and ended up doing that for a career and then later on I went back to teaching. Taught history and computers and stuff. The only two female artists I interviewed are you and Sarah Groves, both ex-English teachers.
Sarah: And both....
Randy: She's about being honest too.
Sarah: She's very deep in her lyric. She's great. I'm a fan of Sarah Groves.
Randy: That's cool. I had no idea you had a teaching background, too. My wife's a first grade teacher now. Erika's got a gift of teaching. I don't know if she'll use it in that way...
Sarah: Use it some way. It always pops its little head up. I go up to churches every Sunday and work with their worship teams and teach them the right music.
Randy: How long were you actually in the classroom?
Sarah: Well actually, no. I never got there. It was one semester away.
Randy: Oh, really? So you got derailed.
Sarah: I got majorly derailed.
Randy: But you still had the background, the educational classes and stuff like that?
Sarah: Oh yeah. I have one semester, and I'm ready to go. It was really, "Oh, gosh, did I really waste all this money?"
Randy: People think that something like an English degree, you've got to be an English teacher to use it, but I've always said that that's one of the most flexible degrees. I used to be in the computer business, and I run into guys all the time that were English-teacher backgrounds. Because somehow, learning to analyze literature, learning structure, you learn a lot of things you can apply.
Sarah: Words. Yeah. Lyrics.
Randy: Communication stuff. There's so much you could do with that background.
Sarah: I went to L.A. thinking I could write music, you know, thinking, "Oh, my songs are good, the melodies are good, my lyrics kind of need work." But Mike Clink who's that producer that has taken me under his wing and is such a blessing to work with. That man has hooked me up. I am living a dream right now. I don't even know who half of these people are playing on my album, because I grew up on Christian music, but when I tell that to other people, they're like "woooahh!" Like somebody from Jane's Addiction (Chris Chaney), again I wasn't really familiar, someone like Slash from Guns N' Roses...
Randy: Slash played on your album?
Randy: That's crazy!
Sarah: And REO Speedwagon's guitar player (Dave Amato) played a solo for me. Lincoln Brewster I had him come down and play for me, and then Nick Lashley who played with Alanis Morrisette for like seven to ten years and now he plays with Traci Chapman. Gary Novak on the drums who plays for everybody (Alanis, Chick Corea).
Randy: So you're saying it should sound pretty good.
Sarah: What I'm saying is I can't believe I get to sing on this thing. That's what I'm saying. David Campbell did the string arrangements, which is probably my favorite part, sonically of how it sounds....that man is a genius. Sheer genius. One of probably the best string arrangers of all time, and I can't believe he did it. But anyway...
Randy: It's who you know, right? Got someone who can make the connections, it's amazing what can happen.
Sarah: Well, we sure don't have the budget for all that. It's got to be God. It really does. That's what my dad always told me. "When the Red Sea opens, you don't have to wonder where to walk, you just keep walking." You don't really wonder where it's going to take you, either. You just keep going. I find myself in the middle of that situtation daily right now.
Randy: How long was the recording process?
Sarah: A year. And I had to write fifty songs to get ten that were good enough. Quite a different experience than Take Me Away. Take Me Away was just slapped together--the best seven....and a half songs, and then put a few more on, you know what I mean? Half of them didn't have bridges in Take Me Away. Just throw a solo. Whereas with this one, I learned the art of songwriting so much better by working with people like Marty Fredrickson and James Michael and just a bunch of great songwriters. It's still my heart. It's still my lyric. I was saying I went thinking I could write a good melody and have bad lyrics, but now I see after working with these people, repetitively I heard, "Oh my gosh, you have the best lyrics I've heard in ten years, but your melodies need work." It was funny because I thought--
Randy: Your perspectives got turned around.
Sarah: Oh my gosh, I've learned so much about the art of songwriting, and that helps me when I go to these groups whether they're public schools, because I work with Grammy in the schools, or churches, working with their worship teams and how to write music. So this--everything that I've learned is going to help me teach songwriting better to those people.
Randy: Polishing your craft.
Sarah: Yeah, man. I love it.
Randy: Talk about a couple songs that are favorites.
Sarah: Well, my very, very favorite song on this album is definitely--ooh, there's two.
Randy: You can pick two. It's all right. We've got time.
Sarah: I was like, "Um, no that's not my favorite." Out of Reach and the reason why is because of the lyric and that is just...me. "I'm out of reach, I'm out of reach of yesterday, fade away, and I have been changed. so on with today. Then there's the bridge, then it's just like "Ahhhhh!" I come out of my skin every time I sing it. "Thankfully I'm breaking free of all the chains that were holding me, and I never knew how good life could be, so this is peace." It's just...I wrote it in the moment that I decided I was not going to be--let myself fall into these abusive relationships anymore. I drew the line hard and clear and it came out in the form of a song, and this was it. I was in my living room and I just went "OOOhhhh!" I was a freshman at age twelve, so keep that in mind. I was not like in sixth grade, okay.
Randy: I turned thirteen a week before my freshman year, so I can relate a little bit.
Sarah: Okay. So I was twelve, thirteen.....I should just say freshman when I started dating. And I started dating guys that were older. New school, the girls didn't like me. I was cute. I didn't know that then. I thought I was awful ugly. Whenever the guys like you, the girls don't, so it was awful. It kind of got them off your back, if you date someone older, then of course, they're nice to you, because they want to date his friends. It was like the lesser of two evils. "Do you want the girls to be mean to you, or do you want the older guy to be mean to you?" And the lesser of two evils was definitely the guy, to be honest. And then that started a pattern of abuse in my life. I had never experienced abuse in my home. I have the best parents in the world. Christian school...where does that come from? Insecurity is where that comes from. Deep-rooted insecurity, a self-hate hate that becomes okay with being mistreated, and then it's nurtured, and before long you're standing in front of the mirror saying you hate yourself. Just looking straight into your eyes telling yourself you hate yourself. One thing leads to another, and I was just getting out of my last, and I'm so excited to say this, my last physically abusive relationship like a year ago, and that's when I wrote this song, was when I said, "No more! No more." I love God. He--I allowed myself to see what God thought of me for the first time. Not just everyone else. I love others. I am a mercy-giver if you do the whole "giftings" thing, that's my gift, okay. I see the best in everyone. I see what they could be, instead of what they are sometimes, which hurts me in my relationships, 'cause I hook up with what could be. Potential, instead of what is. Character's what is. That's why I hooked up with some people that I shouldn't have. Dated for a lot longer before--got to know a lot longer before, excuse me, before I did date. So anyways, I realize that now, and that Out of Reach song is the song that I wrote in the moment that I decided that wasn't for me anymore. And I really believe that was a miracle in my life.
Randy: What about the second one you were thinking about.
Sarah: Yes. At About Midnight is my...I want to say probably my very favorite.
Randy: So your favorite and your very favorite.
Sarah: Very very favorite.
Randy: And most favoritist. You sound like an English person.
Randy: That's all right. We said you could do two.
Sarah: Okay. So, At About Midnight... Paul and Silas are my role models, and I know that they were on the last album, too, but they still are, and I still learn from them.
Randy: Staying power!
Sarah: They do. I guess I worshipped in the middle of my prison, when I didn't know what to do, how to get out, what was the right thing to do. Is it right to give up on someone? Is it right to stay, to go, you know what I mean? In those relationships, are you giving up on that person? Are you telling them that they're never--you know what I mean? I never dated non-Christians, so let's get this straight. A lot of these were church leaders, you know what I mean? So let's just get this straight right now. One out of four women are physically abused and if we think that's any different in the church we are just lying to ourselves. It's just an issue that's been skirted, and probably needs to be somewhat adressed. The younger girls...I just want to get in their face and say, "Listen, just because a guy goes to church, even if he's studying to be a pastor, it does not make him date-worthy." I want to say that.
Randy: I've got three lovely daughters, so this is good.
Sarah: In fact, sometimes, the very thing that makes a man want to be a pastor would contribute to an anger problem. So, be on alert.
Randy: I went to a Christian college and I saw some...my wife and I came to the conclusion that most of the counseling majors were in it because they were too screwed up to figure out their lives without it, and they're hoping to find answers, and the pastors were power hungry,
Randy: There's a lot of--humans, right? We're all humans.
Sarah: Exactly, it is human. And we have to give them the grace, but a lot of them aren't asking to be changed. That's the difference. It's very very hard for that position to be humble.
Randy: For a young woman, they got to recognize that, going with your eyes open, not assume, like you said, "Oh, wow. He's going to be a pastor, he must be wonderful." Maybe not.
Sarah: Right. I learned that early on over and over again. So it may be, he may be, in everyone else's eyes, the coolest and healthiest and most awesome individual, but when he comes home to you he may be a very different person. That's something that you've kind of got to watch for.
Randy: Did you hear, just a couple weeks ago....I don't know if it was here in Nashville, but I think it was here in Tennessee, a pastor's wife shot the pastor in the bedroom or something. I never heard how that all worked out, but I just remember seeing on the news that they were looking for her and I think they found her at her parents' town or something. Obviously something was going way wrong if the pastor's wife...and they're all saying, "Oh, you're such a wonderful pastor, such a great guy!" His wife didn't just pick up a gun for no reason and blow him away.
Randy: There's something going on behind the scenes.
Sarah: Right. Absolutely. A lot of times--that's church politics, isn't it? I mean we all look good on the outside, but honesty, which is what this album is about, is far from there. A lot build lives on illusion when really the Bible talks about worshipping on spirit and in truth. The truth part is the part that I believe we lack a lot of.
Randy: I think part of it, too, is the culture where we've got so relativized where everybody thinks, "Well, whatever works for you," it's more of a pragmatic thing, and what works is the outward persona but there's not necessarily a heart change behind it, people can do that. And we're all capable of screwing up, obviously, we're all human--
Sarah: Oh, of course. We all will.
Randy: The key is not to hurt yourself because of someone else's screw-up.
Sarah: Right, right. So, At About Midnight is Paul and Silas's verse, well, what I guess their song would sound like maybe a little bit. Acts 16:25, "At about midnight, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God. And the other prisoners were watching them." Basically it's like my..."the other prisoners were watching them," that's the part I like the most. Because I know if I get on stage and worship God with all my heart--I made a deal with God a long time ago that I'd sing in front of whoever he put me in front of, and I think that he showed me that if he was walking the earth today he probably wouldn't just sing to Christians. So, having said that, it took a little bit of a paradigm shift for me being okay with whatever he wants me to do. I really feel that he's called me to something special and something unique, and something that will require me to be willing to look like a fool. And I'm willing. So, At About Midnight is about Paul and Silas, which...I worshipped in the middle of my prison and I can relate to what it felt like when those chains came off in that prison that night. I can relate to that because I've walked that out this year.
Randy: Is there a tour set up already for the new project?
Sarah: We are working on three right now. These are things I don't know about, printing.
Randy: Off the record. < censored, but not for bad reasons >
Sarah: I told God I'd sing in front of whoever he put me in front of, and I mean it.
Randy: Do you have a regular band that you're working with?
Sarah: Mmhmm. I do.
Randy: 'Cause I know the first album, you had a bunch of guys from All-Star United. Did you tour with them or did they just play on the album?
Sarah: They played on the album and they toured with me for a while. Now I have--different guys have come and gone, that's what happens.
Randy: Every year at GMA when I interview a band, there's almost always one or two new guys.
Sarah: Two of them I've had for like four years, but the other two have come and gone. The bass player and the second guitar player, 'cause the second guitar player got married. Wanted him to take a year off and figure it out.
Randy: A lot of pressure, first year marriage to be on the road.
Sarah: Yep. That's not the time to be going all the time, just to be honest.
Randy: Even Israel, the soldiers got the first year off when they got married.
Sarah: Yeah. The only person I've really had to rotate out was the bass player. It was good. I have a great band right now. They're just sick. I'm feeling really good about it. It's fun. (laughing) It's really great to know you're going to have a good show even if you don't go on stage. That's how good they are.
Randy: We're almost out of time, so I wanted to wrap it up with one last question.
Sarah: Sure, absolutely.
Randy: It's Gospel Music week, and we've talked about kind of related issues, but how do you see the gospel part and relating to people? Obviously you do have, with your industry connections in LA and mainstream and all that, you do have a lot of opportunities to get out there for people that are looking for answers and that. The hard part about getting bigger and reaching more people is that it gets tougher to interact personally, because obviously you can't stand around signing 10,000 autographs after a stadium show or something. Do you see a lot of your opportunities as being with the industry people and connecting with the fans through the music, or do you still get a chance to talk to some girls that are hurting that want to connect to your songs?
Sarah: I couldn't live without that. If I'm opening for someone, of course I'm going to stand outside and talk for a while, 'cause that's me. I'm a social butterfly, and I want to hear peoople's stories, and a lot of times that's the payoff. Hearing how something helps someone. I love that. Where I really do my real connection is--I couldn't have set this up any better for myself even if I would have known where my life is going. Because what happened is I started touring to all these churches across America, when I was worship leader and before the whole Take Me Away thing and everything, so any city I go to, I've got a home church. That's weird. I've got accountability coming through the nose because people are not going to let me get weird on them. And when I'm in their city, they will make me sit in their pew, and I love that. I don't accept money from churches, that's.....
Randy: Ministry emphasis?
Sarah: No, no, no, no. I just don't. To go and sow into the churches. I think that's where I'll stay connected at the grassroots the most. That's where I'll just be Sarah, instead of SARAH!! You know?
Randy: Where'd you grow up?
Sarah: Rockford, Illinois.
Randy: Family still back there?
Randy: Thank you for taking the time, we really appreciate it.
Sarah: Yep! Thank you!