Aryn Michelle, Female Songwriter/Artist of the Year at the 2014 Gospel Music Association IMMERSE Conference, is prepping to release her debut full-length album DEPTH on August 14, 2015, and is available for pre-order now at Apple Music, Amazon and Google Play. DEPTH will be releasing through a unique management and label partnership with industry veteran Chris Erlanson's 168 Management and physical distribution through STL Distribution and digital distribution through Syntax Creative.
Hallels: Thanks Aryn for doing this interview with us. Being a pastor's daughter, does that help or hinder you in terms of your own singing career?
For me specifically, being the daughter of a pastor has been a great help in my career because my dad has always encouraged me not to think about my giftedness as a career but as a calling. He, and the rest of my family, have always supported me in whatever way they could, and also never pressured me to accomplish any agenda beyond seeking out where God would have me go. He has always been patiently nudging me in the right direction, and always lent a listening ear ready to give wisdom when I've needed it. My dad is a shepherd who has led me the same way that he leads his congregation: through an example of a servant heart working with righteousness and discipline. He would have loved me and supported me as fiercely whether God called me to be a songwriter or a pharmacist. I have been so richly blessed to call him my dad.
Hallels: You have released a couple of secular albums, why a Christian album now?
I spent a decade running away from "Christian" music. I had decided that my calling was to be a "light in the darkness." I wanted God to use me as a Christ-follower who was making music in the "secular" marketplace because I thought this was the highest path of an artistic person who wanted to follow Jesus-but also didn't want to make bad music. So I wrote and performed songs that hinted about Jesus and never ran against the message of the gospel, but I refused to come out and shout the truth from the rooftops.
I spent a decade trying to be what I hoped God wanted me to be. I realize now I didn't take much time to lay my personal ambition down to evaluate how God might want to use me apart from my own dreams and agenda. (Sidenote: refusing to write "Christian" music is also a very convenient excuse for those like myself who are terrified of evangelism). After a decade of pursuing a self-proclaimed calling, I hadn't gotten very far.
After my last "secular" album hadn't done much and hadn't reached many people, I'm surprised that I didn't stop performing and recording altogether. I was continually hitting roadblocks and couldn't understand why. The costs in money, energy and time didn't seem to be justifying the pursuit of a musical career. But, I just couldn't let go. I had to record just one more album. Dorothy L. Sayers says,"The conscious intellect may argue that the writer should pursue some fruitful or established undertaking; but they will argue in vain against the passionate vitality of a work that insists on manifestation." I knew I needed to make another project, and so I began to have conversations with my father about where to go next as an artist.
My dad asked me some very important questions that I hadn't been considering:
- What were the unique gifts that God had given me?
- What was my personal history and story?
- Where had God placed me in this life?
- What kinds of people were consistently touched by my music?
I realized that God had placed me to be raised by a pastor and family who had always faithfully followed Christ. I realized the people who always responded to my music where Christians (even when I was beating around the bush). I realized that God had provided an education for me that left me with a desire for intellectual pursuits in biblical and theological knowledge. So why was I fighting so hard against the history, giftedness and calling that God had built my life around?
I spent a decade running from Christian music because I thought I had to be a "Christian musician." Now I'm a writing and performing Christian music, not because I think I have to, but because I want to.
But the fluffy stuff isn't enough for me. If I'm going to write an album about the Christian experience I want it to be honest, and this is the motivation behind my new album, Depth.
I didn't want to write songs that were "a mile wide and an inch deep." I wanted to write about scripture, biblical people and the Christian experience with theological depth. I wanted to ask hard questions and give people a work of art that they enjoyed because it not only encouraged them, but challenged them as well. If we as Christians have a desire to embrace art that speaks truth, then it's going to get messy and complicated because life with Christ is messy and complicated.
I spent a decade running from Christian music and now I'm standing still in the calling that God has uniquely equipped me for. I hope you'll stand firm with me and acknowledge that being a follower of Christ and a lover of good art do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Hallels: Congratulations on being the Female Artist and the Writer of the Year at 2014 GMA's Immerse Competition, tell us a little more about your involvement and win.
My journey with this particular GMA competition actually spans a decade! I participated in the talent competition of the conference back in 2004 when it was still called GMA in the Rockies. I had just begun to write my own music and perform regularly and I still had a lot to learn! I was cut in the very first round of the competition, but used that moment of disappointment as an opportunity to learn and grow and seek out where I needed to improve. Over the next decade I worked on my craft through writing hundreds of songs, playing as many gigs and striving to grow not only as a musician but as a believer in Christ. I went back to the competition in 2014 with my greatest goal being getting reconnected to the Christian music community. I wanted to grow in relationship with other creative Christians and I just wanted to meet them and know them better. Winning the Female Artist/Writer Award was a blessed bonus and God has definitely used it to open doors for this project and to help me continue to invest in and grow with other Christian creatives. I won the category with a song that's included on this album that's called "Moses."
Hallels: In your bio, you said that your new album "Depth" is "Christian music for thinking Christians." What do you mean by this?
I think my music stands out sonically and lyrically because it's a little bit more raw than what's most popular right now in Christian music. I think positive, uplifting Christian music is profitable and necessary, but I feel like there's still a lot being left unsaid about the day-to-day Christian experience. I didn't want to write songs that were "a mile wide and an inch deep." I wanted to write about scripture, biblical people and the Christian experience with theological depth. I wanted to ask hard questions and give people a work of art that they enjoyed because it not only encouraged them, but challenged them as well. If we as Christians have a desire to embrace art that speaks truth, then it's going to get messy and complicated because life with Christ is messy and complicated.
Specifically, through these songs I tried to take well known biblical phrases like "the narrow gate" and "fight the good fight" and focus on these scriptures and the context in which they are found to draw out deeper truths. I wanted to take well known Biblical people like Moses and Noah and focus on their humanity and their unique point of view to draw out the emotions and inner turmoil they might have felt. I wanted to focus on difficult ideas found in wisdom books like Job and explore the tension of wanting to know more of God, yet knowing we cannot fully know Him. My hope is that people will live with these songs and over time that they can draw connections between their own personal Christian experience and the scriptures.
Hallels: You also have a duet with Derek Webb on the record, how did you get to work with him?
Derek is an old friend of my manager Chris. After Chris heard the song "Fight the Good Fight," he immediately thought of Derek and how his unique voice and perspective could add another rich layer to the song. We approached Derek and asked him if he was interested in being involved and we were thrilled when he said he liked the song and agreed to come on-board!
Hallels: What I love about the album is that you write a number of songs from the perspective of a few Biblical characters, tell us a little more about "The Sky is Falling," which is told from the perspective of Noah.
I wonder what it must have been like to know that God was about to destroy almost everyone and everything you know.
I sometimes think we gloss over the devastation contained in the story of Noah. We neglect to reflect on the truly overwhelming loss of life, the destruction of all established order and the flood's cataclysmic implications. If we tried to put ourselves in the mindset of Noah and in his ordained position, how could we even begin to cope? To be given a task that would make you a complete pariah, quickly label you a lunatic, and then to know the completion of this task would correspond with the loss of so much-of nearly everything? How would we respond to God? Would we be able to walk out this plan in obedience?
In the midst of such a perilous storm, of such utter darkness, I wonder if I could have held on in faith. We have the benefit of hindsight to know that Noah did hold on to his trust in God through what was most likely the most terrifying and bleak time of his life. In this song, I wanted to understand what that faith amidst such desperate destruction may have felt like. I wondered what Noah would say to God, with everything literally drowning around him. It is a trust and faith I cannot fully understand, and yet I want to try to grasp a piece of it.
It seemed important to me to try to wrap my mind around a small sliver of what Noah might have felt because we sometimes experience this type of situation on a smaller scale. There are times in our lives when God calls us to a task that might bring about ridicule and rejection from others. There are times when everything around us seems to abruptly change. There are times when our world seems to be drowning around us and there's nothing we can do to stop it. There are times when we look out on this world and feel the loss of souls who need Jesus, drowning in sorrow and sin. And so, what is our response?
When the days are long and the nights are longer, we can say that we'll make it through the storm because we know God will remain with us. In Isaiah, God says to his people through the prophet, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched."
I hope you will find this song encouraging and honest, and that it will bring to mind the faithfulness of God, even when everything in your world seems to be falling apart.
Hallels: And what inspired you to write new music to the traditional "Doxology"?
The text that I've set for this song comes from one of the most famous doxologies written by Thomas Ken in 1674 for Winchester College. I was motivated to include this doxology on the album because it emphasizes the Trinity of God, and I've been learning how better understanding the Trinity can help us to better understand God as a creator.
This doxology opens with the line "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." All blessings are created by God for "every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17). I praise God because I know that he continually provides everything that sustains my life. He is a good, generous and thoughtful creator. He is a limitlessly creative creator. He knows about the blessings that I will need before I know that I need them.
The next line is "Praise Him all creatures here below," and indeed we praise God because he has created us and he has created us to praise him. Then we are instructed in the song to "Praise Him above all heavenly hosts." We praise him above all else because nothing else deserves greater glory and adoration, because what created thing could deserve more glory than the thing that gave it existence?
But where I really want to focus is on the last line. This doxology ends with the crucial phrase, "Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost." Why reference the Trinity to conclude a doxology focused on God as the creator of blessings, of creatures and of all heavenly beings? I believe this is the appropriate conclusion for this doxology because the Trinity helps us to understand God as the creator.
One of my favorite books is The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers. I won't attempt to condense this entire thought-provoking work into a few paragraphs of insufficient summary, but I will try to briefly encapsulate one basic idea: God, as "Father, Son and Holy Ghost," manifests for us the pieces of the creative process that we as earthly creators experience when we create art. As earthly creators ,we can better understand our heavenly creator by seeing how each person of the Trinity has a hand in the creative process.
Painters, songwriters, poets and playwrights all experience the "trinity" of the creative process. The "Father" is the timeless idea. It is the piece that has always been; it is the unlimited creative potential. Our Father in heaven existed before time and from him come all the ideas contained within the universe. For the human artist, the "Father" is all the potential ideas that come from our minds.
The "Son" is the physical manifestation of the Father. The Son is the expression of the Father bound by time and place. The Son is Jesus Christ, born in time and body on earth. For the human artist, "the Son" is his or her book, song, painting or play. It is the physical manifestation of our boundless ideas written down.
The "Holy Ghost" is the spirit of the Father and Son that continues to spread and take hold of hearts and minds across time and space. The Holy Spirit lives inside those who have grasped the idea of the Father through the manifestation of the Son. For the human artist, the "Holy Ghost" is the way in which our art (our books, songs, paintings and poems) has an impact upon others. Once the artist releases control of the art, it can go on to capture and impact the hearts and minds of other people.
If God is the ultimate creator, then the Trinity can show us how this creative process works in heaven and on earth. I want to understand the creator more as I strive to create art that is good and true.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Hallels: For our readers who would like to know more about you and your new album, where can they go?
We made a video specifically for introducing people to who I am and what this album is all about! You can find it on my YouTube channel: youtube.com/arynmichellemusic or the direct link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ics1bPCEFRE. Also there's lots of information and ways to stay in touch on my website: arynmichelle.com, orfacebook.com/arynmichelleband, twitter.com/aryn_michelle and instagram.com/arynmichelle