A recent convert to Catholicism and a New York City suburb native, Audrey told us about her vision for Catholic music and about how we should not be afraid to set the bar high.
As mentioned in a previous post
, her newest album, The House You’re Building,
is proof of her strong convictions.
The album has been eagerly received by Catholic and non-Catholic fans alike (the album’s first single received one of iTunes strongest debuts on the Christian/Gospel Singles chart) and having toured already with the likes of Matt Maher and Chris Tomlin, it appears that Audrey will be sticking around for a while.
“A lot of new artists come and go in this business,” says Charlie Lowell of Jars of Clay
, “Audrey Assad will not be one of those- she’s a refreshing artist- a voice comforting and challenging together. Her melodic sensibilities are infectious and she communicates God’s caring and creative hear in a way that cuts through the day-to-day mess of life. It will be a privilege to share the stage with Audrey, and to watch her grow as an artist over the years.”
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Audrey about her art as vocation, about her convictions on the nature of “Catholic” music and about her dreams for the future.
Below is a complete transcript of our discussion.
S+L: Audrey, thanks so much for agreeing to speak with me today. This is a really big deal; your first Nashville-produced CD especially given that your producer actually works with Marc Broussard, Natasha Beddingfield and Brooke Fraser to name a few…and the album’s first single did so well on iTunes when it first debuted. I can imagine it must feel kind of surreal for you. Can you tell us a little bit about the path that led you to where you are now and how you feel about making the journey?
AA: I’ve been a musician my whole life but I’ve always kind of had it as a hobby until I was 19 which was 8 years ago because I’m 27 now. And I had this sort of awakening at 19 to many things particularly in a spiritual way to Jesus. But also, I think I figured out that music was sort of my gifting and not just something to do on the side. So since then, I’ve literally for 8 years just been writing and singing and plugging away kind of with no strategy per se. The only think I knew was that eventually I needed to make a record which I ended up doing independently in 2008 .That was the beginning of the process with all the record label stuff and that was what got the attention of the people I work with now (that 5 song EP that we put out independently with some friends of mine that worked on it with me). That whole project cost about $7000 and then a week later, Sparrow records was on the phone and two years after that, here we are.
S+L: Well you’re definitely meant to be doing what you’re doing. Your lyrics Audrey they’re so alive. If I could say one word, I would just say that: they are alive. They are obviously the fruit of a lot of prayer and spiritual insights and I just wanted to know, could you tell us a little bit about your writing process and how these songs are born. I was wondering as I was listening it must feel a bit like your journal is being played on iPods all across North America! It must kind of feel weird!
AA: It does feel like that, actually! And I sometimes curse myself for doing that! Because I think man, in a good way, it robs me of the opportunity to be inauthentic with people because, you know, I’ve put it out there in so many ways that a lot of people maybe wouldn’t do. For me, I wouldn’t say that I start with lyrics first as a rule, but they are the part that I spend the most time on. A lot of them do come as a result of a lot of contemplation and prayer but also, like you said, journaling. That’s something I’ve been doing since I was 11 and I’ve probably got about 30 or 35 full books just full of nonsense from my adolescence (laughs). But nowadays, my journals are more spiritual in nature and so I will, a lot of times pull topically from that and then I often pull lyrically in terms of vocabulary and phrasing from things I’m reading.
S+L: I was reading a bit about your past and obviously I came across that fact that you’re a recent convert to Catholicism which I found kind of neat and I was wondering if in your spiritual journey, have you noticed a shift in the way your music comes to spring up within you. Do you notice that as you mature the music comes to you differently?
AA: I would say so. I think probably Catholicism has something to do with that but you know, in general maturing as a person just in all areas has something to do with that as well. But I guess what I see the biggest difference in is obviously theology. I think, not that it’s a total shift now, really, it’s not. I’m taking things to their farthest conclusion now. Whereas before it might have been a little more elementary or, that’s not even the right word just sort of in an anti-chamber, just outside looking in kind of thing. But now I’d say with the Eucharist there, not even speaking intellectually but from an emotional and spiritual standpoint, I’m accessing parts of not only myself but of the Lord that I never did. So it’s definitely affected my song-writing, for sure, and I’m not sure how much it is directly co-related but I’m sure it has something to do with it.
S+L: I definitely see work as an artist or a musician as a sub-vocation almost…to create, to be a co-creator... How would you describe your duties as a musician as basically a guardian of God’s Beauty? It’s a very privileged view.
AA: Wow, I’ve never heard it put that way. That’s a lovely way to put it. I think there are obviously unique joys and burdens that come with it like anything. I think for me, probably deepest joy that it brings is when there are these moments and they don’t happen every moment, not even every show per se, but there are these moments where I lose myself completely in the singing and in the telling of these things or in the writing. Sometimes that happens too. When this happens, I feel like a transaction has taken place between myself and the Divine something kind of exchanged between us; that I have this unbelievable privilege and burden of sharing with the world. I couldn’t put that into words if I tried but I think the best way I can simplify it is to say that I think my job is to you know, is to bloom where I’m planted and do what I’m gifted to do, but all to open hearts to God even if it’s only a little bit farther, a little bit of an opening. Even if I never see the fruit of that encounter with them, whether or not I ever hear of it…that is my life’s work.
S+L: Audrey if I could ask you, do you have a particular vision for Catholic music? There is definitely a profundity that is present in your music and I was wondering if you could have your say, what would be your vision for Catholic music be?
AA: Well, I’d say it’s pretty similar to my vision for Christian music in general. My vision quite honestly is that all religious music would be either church music, meaning sacred for use in liturgy or just music and not have a religious label at all. Meaning that if I had my perfect way, meaning what I could see a s a perfect way for music to be is that all music is music and that when Christians and Catholics in particular would make music that it would be artistically competitive with what the world was doing but not in the sense that we are beating them at their own game but rather that we’re setting the bar, the way it used to be, you know. I think that the only way that is possible is if we get out of the sub-genre that we’re in. Because, quite honestly I think that getting rid of the labels of Christian and Catholic in front of the word music would help that come to pass because you can’t set a precedent when no one is listening to you. And when you have a sub-genre like that, people aren’t accessing what you’re doing because they already think “I don’t want to listen to that”. The best example I can think of right now is a band called Mumford and Sons from the UK. I don’t particularly know for sure that they are Christians but I can’t imagine that they’re not after reading their lyrics. But they are at the top of their game in England and people are buying their records because their music is so good. And they speak about love in a way that is so compelling that it can’t help but inspire a person who’s really listening to ask questions and I think that’s how music should be. But when we have this sub-niche that we’re kind of stuck in, you know, the world is passing us over because they see the world Catholic or Christian in front of it and they say “it’s not for me”.
S+L: Very well put. That’s wonderful. I’m just wondering if you had a dream project or a dream collaboration; do you have anything in mind for what’s up next for you?
AA: Oh man, a dream project! I’d love to do a lullaby record and I’d love to…and I’d love to do …this sounds ambitious…but I’d love to sing in French. I grew up with French in my house. I know a few French songs, but I think it would be lovely to do a few songs, maybe for a lullaby record even, in another language. So who knows, we’ll see how it goes I have a lot of ideas.
S+L: We’ll be watching closely for that! And finally, I’m wondering, when are you coming to Canada? You have lots of fans up here!
AA: I would love to come back to Canada! The last time I played in Canada was a few months back I think in April I was in Halifax for a concert there. It’s the first time I’ve ever been there and I fell completely in love with it. I mean I’ve always wanted to go because I’m a huge fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery of course. I’ve never been to PEI yet but that’s next on my list.
S+L: What does your tour schedule looking like? Do you have an idea of that yet? Does it look like a pretty gruelling next few years for you?
AA: well the fall is you know, actually kind of a patch-work quilt at this point. Some mini-tours and a lot of just individuals shows that I’ve booked but I have Christmas and spring tours in the works and then next summer Matt Maher and I are hoping to do some European travel with this music stuff so, I don’t know, it’s all in the conception phase. So this year is looking rather busy and I’m getting married in the spring.
S+L: Oh congratulations on that!
AA: Thank you!
S+L: So we can be expecting more collaborations between you and Matt Maher, then?
AA: Oh yeah!
S+L: Audrey, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.[…] it’s been a pleasure
AA: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
S+L: The more people who hear you, the better off we’ll be, it’s a treasure.
AA: Thank you very much!
To hear tracks from Audrey’s new album, visit her myspace here