Singer and songwriter Carolyn Arends will be celebrating 20 years since the release of her first album. On October 1st, she will be releasing an acoustic project where she has re-recorded 11 of her formerly released songs and one new song. In order to decide what songs to include for this project, she has enlisted the help of her fans who voted as to which their favorite Arends song is.
Hallels: Let's go back 20 years, tell us how did you get signed to Reunion Records and get to release your first album.
I'd gotten a "break" at the age of 21 when I met a music publisher (Andrea Whitaker at Benson Music) at a music conference and signed a songwriting deal. I was pretty shy and I had a lot of issues with stage fright, so at first I thought I'd be happy writing songs for other artists and staying off the stage myself. However, God had other plans, and he grew me into life as a performer and recording artist. (Now the stage is one of the places I most love to be.) Some record company execs had gotten to know me through my songwriting, and I ended up with a few record deal offers. I went with Reunion mostly because they were the home of Rich Mullins, whom I loved.
Hallels: You were with Reunion Records for 4 albums, what were some of the highlights from that period of time?
There were so many exciting firsts in that period of time, it's hard to name just a few. But definitely, my first tour with Rich Mullins and Ashley Cleveland was a highlight - as well as the tour we did with Steven Curtis Chapman and Audio Adrenaline. And the very first time an audience sang back one of my songs to me (I was at Six Flags in Houston, and the songs was "Seize the Day") kind of blew my mind. It still does, actually ... the fact that people take words and melodies I write in my basement and commit them to their hearts is humbling and wonderful.
Hallels: Did you music change after leaving Reunion Records?
I think it probably did, but less because I left the label and more because I was continuing to grow and mature, especially as I became a parent. I hope my music is still getting deeper, even now. I've gotten "folkier" over the years, I think - probably because most of my touring has been in a very acoustic format and I love the emphasis it puts on the songs themselves.
Hallels: How do you think music, especially contemporary Christian music, has changed over the last 20 years?
Well, the internet has changed the music industry wildly. It's gotten much harder to make a living in music, but at the same time, much more possible for new voices to be heard - so there are pros and cons. Christian music specifically has gone through a time of being very focused on music intended for public worship, and there's a lot that's good about that. But sometimes I'm concerned that there's less of a place for artists who write music that isn't necessarily intended for corporate singing. My friend [Canadian recording artist] Keith Kitchen points out that in biblical times you had Levites, who's very important job it was to help facilitate the praises of the people, and also Prophets, who's equally important job it was to speak into the culture around the from a profoundly God-centered perspective. I hope there will still be a place--whether it's in the Christian music industry or the Mainstream music industry or somewhere in between--for Christian musicians who are more Prophet than Levite.
Hallels: You are celebrating 20 years with a new project. On this new album, you have got to re-record your older songs. How did you approach the songs now that is different from the originals?
This project was done with myself, my duo partner Spencer Capier, and our engineer/co-producer/fellow instrumentalist Roy Salmond. Because we were after an acoustic, live flavour (where, hopefully, less is more), we made a rule that each of us could only play one instrumental part and sing one vocal part on each song (rather than indulging in the layering that would be a normal part of a more produced project.) It was a fun challenge, because we had to make sure that whatever parts we played were serving the song as maximally as they could.
Some of the fan-requested songs were already pretty acoustic in their original recordings, so in those cases we pushed ourselves to somehow take them in a new direction. For example, we made the arrangement of "Seize the Day" (a song I've always played on guitar) more focused on piano, and the recording of "Reaching" (a song I've always played on piano) centered in guitar. In a couple of cases Spencer took signature solos he's always done on violin and transposed them to mandolin, or vice versa. It was a fun process.
Hallels: You have asked fans to choose their favorites. What about you? If you have to pick, what would be your choice or choices?
That's a hard question - kind of like being asked to choose a favorite child. Fortunately, some of the songs that mean the most to me--among them "Reaching" and "The Last Word" were requested. And some songs surprised me - for example, folks requested "Under the Gaze" and in our re-recording of that song it began to speak to me in a whole different way.
Hallels: There's also a new song on the record, tell us more about this new track.
The new song is called "Just Getting Started." For a while I've been wanting write a song about the tricky balance between living with an eternal perspective while understanding that every earthly moment we have now is sacred. I'd been struggling with it for a while, and then two providential conversations helped me get it into focus. The first conversation was with a friend in Ottawa named Jill Hamer-Wison. And the other was an overheard dialogue on a podcast between Nathan Foster and Chris Hall - two folks I am now working with at an incredible organization called Renovare.
Musically, we had fun with "Just Getting Started." I used to write guitar songs in alternate open-tunings all the time, but I gradually moved away from them (probably because they are hard to get into and out of in concert.) But on this song, I let myself play in an open-tuning again. Spencer added some very sweet violin, and Roy some gentle piano.
Hallels: Over the years, how has your faith in Christ matured or changed?
That's a huge question! I think I've gotten better with mystery--with the fact that God is transcendent. But, wonderfully, I've also become aware--more often and more deeply--of God's immanence in the person of Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. I'm slowly working out another one of those tricky tensions--that life with God is purely by grace and yet at the same time I am invited to partner with him in my own transformation. I've got a sense that the new work I'm doing with the spiritual formation organization Renovaré (http://new.renovare.org/news/director-of-education-carolyn-arends) is going to take me somewhere considerably deeper on that journey. So I'm excited.