Becca Bradley, a Nashville-based worship leader, accomplished musician and recording artist, independently releases her second studio EP, The Lion's Eyes, August 7. The six-song studio EP features Bradley's bright pop vocal style that is reminiscent of Leigh Nash along with her signature gifting as an accomplished cellist. Her songs and voice are also infused with remarkable emotional range with thematic messages that point to a Jesus who is undeniably compelling to those first hearing the gospel.
Hallels: Becca, thanks for doing this interview with us. Many Christian artists play the piano or guitar, but very few play the cello. When and how did you develop an interest in playing the cello?
Thanks for taking the time to listen to my music! I'm honored that you would feature me in Hallels. My musical journey began with piano lessons at age six, and I started playing the cello when I was eight years old. My older sister, Melissa, was actually the first to introduce our family to the cello, and I followed in her footsteps the next year. My younger sister even played for a bit, so for a little while we were a cello playing trio of sisters! Over time both of my sisters quit music, but I stuck with it!
Hallels: I believe you were already playing music even before you became a Christian. When did you start playing music?
Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a toddler I would watch KidSongs singalong videos and Disney musicals every day, and I knew every word to every song. My mom always wanted to take music lessons as a kid, but her family was very poor and couldn't afford them. She wanted us to have every opportunity that she missed out on so, when my sisters and I got old enough, my mom signed us all up for piano lessons. After awhile all three of us played the piano and the cello, but I am the only one who kept up with it and made music my career.
Hallels: And how did you become a Christian?
I didn't become a Christian until college. I moved around a lot as a kid, but it wasn't until high school that I moved to the Bible belt and had my first taste of Christianity. It was definitely a big culture shock, but I could tell almost immediately that these Christians had something that I did not. I remember going into Christian homes for the first time and being overwhelmed by how much these families loved each other and how they seemed to love me so unconditionally, even if they hardly knew me. I was really intrigued by their faith, but I didn't know how to ask my friends about God. Talking about religion was really uncomfortable for me. God had always been this vague, theoretical idea to me, and to talk about Him like He was real... it was like talking about Santa like he was real. It was just awkward! Ironically, I ended up going to Belmont University, a Christian college in Nashville, Tenn. I chose Belmont because of their excellent music program, but I was also secretly excited about the idea of going to a Christian school. It would be an opportunity to take Bible classes, attend chapel, and learn about Christianity without having to have awkward conversations with my friends.
I heard the Gospel for the first time my freshman year of college, and I knew it was true. I knew I needed Jesus to be my savior. However, I also knew that this would mean some major life changes for me. I couldn't keep living the way I was. I wrestled with God throughout my first year of school, and I finally surrendered my life to Him my sophomore year of college. I can say with complete confidence that this was the best decision I ever made. It wasn't easy, and my life has been far from perfect since then, but the Holy Spirit has been with me every step of the way. He picks me up every time I stumble, dries my tears every time I get hurt, and guides me through every hard decision I have to make. He is my saving grace and my best friend!
Hallels: You have performed with many artists before, both secular and Christian, including Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith - what's your most memorable experience performing with another artist?
Oh, this is a hard question! I do have one funny story about the time I played with Taylor Swift. We were doing her song "Back to December" for the CMA Awards in 2010. They thought it would be a fun idea to make it snow on stage at the end of the song, but they didn't tell any of us that it was happening. So when we got to the dress rehearsal, they decided to try out the snow machines for the first time, without thinking about the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of musical instruments on the stage... If you want to see a bunch of musicians run for their lives, just start throwing soapsuds all over their expensive gear! It was so funny. I don't think Taylor even realized what was going on until she turned around and the entire string section was gone!
Hallels: How then did you end up recording your own music?
My journey to becoming an artist is very unconventional. I feel like God has been leading me through back doors and shortcuts to bring me to the place where I now am, and it's been an adventure to say the least! I played at the Dove Awards for the first time when I was just eighteen and to be honest, I had never even heard of a Dove Award before that. The cello definitely got my foot in the door of the music industry, and God just took it from there and ran with it! When I became a Christian, I started writing worship songs almost by accident. At times I would literally just start singing a chorus out of nowhere, and I knew that this wasn't by my own doing. Throughout college I wrote songs just for fun, never showing them to anyone. But last year God started convicting me about this. He reminded me of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), and told me that I was the servant who was given one talent. My songs were meant to be shared and multiplied rather than hidden and kept to myself.
So last January, I began playing my music out for the first time ever, and the response was overwhelming. God put it on my heart to make a record, so I recorded my first EP Shaken last spring. The reactions I got when I released my first EP were actually really funny. Everyone knew me as a cellist and a backup singer, but nobody had a clue that I was a songwriter or artist. I was on The Bible Tour playing with Francesca Battistelli and Chris August when my EP released, and people on the tour started coming up to me saying, "Why did you not tell us you were an artist, too?!" After everyone got over the initial surprise and confusion, I got a lot of support from the CCM community, especially the other artists on that tour. Byron "Mr. Talkbox" Chambers, the guys in Sidewalk Prophets, and Jason Gray, all friends that I met on the Bible Tour, have been big supporters of my music. Jason even brought me on his Christmas tour, letting me share some of my songs alongside him, Lauren Daigle and Carrollton. To look at how far God has brought me and my music in such a short time is really overwhelming. It just goes to show that a small step of faith can go a long way!
Hallels: Let's talk about "The Lion's Eyes." What's the inspiration behind the title track and what's the song about?
"The Lion's Eyes" was the first song that my producer, Evan Sieling, and I wrote together. He had the initial idea to write a song with that title, so we just began talking about what that could mean. It soon became something so much greater than either of us had anticipated. "The Lion's Eyes" is a powerful song about our identity as Christians. Psalm 141:8 says, "But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in You I take refuge - do not give me over to death." In today's culture, it is easy to place our identity on a myriad of different things: relationships, success, money, beauty, fame... the list goes on. It can get very confusing and overwhelming and can make us feel "surrounded yet alone." But when we fix our eyes on Jesus, all of those things begin to fade away. He is "a brilliant light that destroys the lies," and He calls us "chosen, accepted, forgiven [and] free." When we really let that truth sink in, it puts everything else in perspective.
Hallels: My favourite song on the EP is "Yours"-- what's the story behind this song?
Thank you! "Yours" is one of my favorites as well. This is probably the most vulnerable song on my record as it was written from a place of brokenness and repentance. One of my biggest pet peeves in the Church today is the idea that, once we become Christians, we will never mess up. And if (or, more accurately, when) we do, we feel like we can't tell anyone. I love looking at the life of Peter. He was one of Jesus' closest friends and most devoted followers, and yet he denied Jesus three times! He loved Jesus and played a pivotal role in the spreading of the Gospel throughout the nations - and yet, in his moment of weakness, he denied the One he loved most. Or look at David. He was known as "a man after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22), and yet he committed adultery and murder. I am by no means making excuses for sin, but I am acknowledging its existence, even in the lives of believers.
Salvation is an instantaneous exchange, but sanctification is a lifelong process. The closer I grow to Jesus the more I look and act like Him and the less I sin, but I am not perfect. I still have moments of weakness where I act impulsively out of my own selfish desires, and I have to repent and turn back to Jesus. The song starts off with my own confession" "I have run - I've run away from Your love. I have hidden, so afraid [that] I'd never be enough. I have fought - I've fought Your grace with hands defiled." And then comes His beautiful mercy: "Still You never turned Your face from this child." He is able to look past our sin and call us worthy, adored and, most importantly, His. It is that overwhelming love and grace that leads me to sing, "Hallelujah to the King of glory... Hallelujah, You have called me worthy." My prayer is that this song will bring people freedom by showing them that they are not alone in their imperfection and that, when we do mess up, God's streams of mercy are never ending.
Hallels: I must admit I am not a fan of EPs as there are too few songs. Do you have any intentions of following it up with a full length album?
I hope to! There were a number of reasons why I decided to release another EP rather than waiting and doing a full-length album (finances, timing, etc.) But the biggest reason I did another EP is because I don't want to put out anything that is less than excellent. So many bands and artists put out records where there are maybe six great songs and six so-so songs that seem like they're just there to fill space. I am very choosy about which songs I release and which ones I don't-and I knew that I had six good ones ready to go. I feel confident that I could show someone any one of these six songs and they would have a good representation of who I am as an artist. That being said, after putting out two EPs, releasing a full-length album would be a natural next step for me. I don't know logistically what that will look like yet, but I'm excited to see how it unfolds. I'll keep you in the loop!