Staci Frenes is a unique artist with an acoustic folk-pop style, which brings a good diversity to the Christian marketplace. If you are fans of Andrew Peterson and Jason Gray, you will connect with her music.Her new project, Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores, reflects the difficult hardships that she and her family have gone through the past few years and how God has brought them to a place of peace and hopefulness.
Some of the issues Staci and her family have dealt with are, losing her father and brother within months of each other, losing the family home in the 2007 financial crisis and the unexpected shock of her teenage daughter announcing that she's gay.Her music has connected with a large and varied audience that includes placements on The Biggest Loser, America's Next Top Model, Nashville, along with national ads for American Airlines, the Gap and feature films that include the 2016 "Faith of Our Fathers."
Q: Staci, thank you so much for your time. Let's start with yourself: you have written music not only about your faith, but also for programs such as "The Biggest Loser, "Nashville" and others. How did you get into songwriting? How did you get to write for all these shows?
When I was little I wrote poems and stories. I've always loved words! But something musical awakened in me when I was around 12, the same age I became a Christian. I asked my parents for guitar lessons and my youth group pitched in and bought me my first guitar, a Yamaha. I'm grateful that I discovered songwriting early on, because it's how I process the deep stuff and try to make sense of it. I started recording my own music in college, and later was signed to a couple of small publishing companies in Nashville. This gave me the opportunity to write with lots of great songwriters. I also was a member of the West Coast Songwriter's Association for a while, which introduced me to other publishers. Eventually those connections led to some of my songs being licensed for film, TV and other things.
Q: What then prompted you to record your new album which is essentially a Christian album?
Actually,most of my music is what I'd consider 'faith-based.' Even when my songs don't overtly mention God or Jesus, they're usually exploring some aspect of love, beauty or truth and those things are deeply rooted in my understanding of God. It had been four years since I released my last album, and there came a specific nudge in my heart last year to start writing for a new one. I'd been through some BIG life changes and I could feel the songs starting to form in my heart, wanting to be written. I knew some would be songs about the painful things I'd been through, but I also knew that hope and God's faithfulness were the core themes of this album.
Q: My heart ached just reading about what you went through lately with the loss of your father and brother, and a financial crisis. What sustained you through of all of this heartache?
Our family went through a really rough season when we lost my dad to cancer and then my brother to a sudden heart attack soon after that. For a while I was angry at God. It felt like He'd given us too much to bear, especially my mom. The pain of losing a loved one is like nothing I could ever describe to someone who hasn't gone through it. Some days it felt like I was suffocating and it was hard to even breathe. I would read the Psalms, how David cried out to God in anguish, and then praised Him in the next breath. That's the dichotomy of being human. Gradually I think you learn to live with loss, and then you have to choose every day to believe that God is still good, that He still loves you and hasn't abandoned you.
Q: I also read about your teenage daughter coming out as a gay, how did you process through this news?
Well, it was a lot to process and in some ways and I'm still processing it. Initially my reaction was shock and disbelief, because I really didn't see it coming. Ours was a pretty conservative evangelical Christian home, so it never occurred to me that either of my kids would be gay. Like most moms, I envisioned what I thought was a 'normal' future for my daughter-falling in love with a man, getting married and having kids. It's been painful letting go of my pre-conceived ideas for her life, and it's been a learning process setting aside my biases in order to better hear and understand her heart. I don't get to choose her path, but I can surround her with love, guidance, and provide a safe place for her to grow and become who she's meant to be. And I can keep pointing her to Jesus, trusting that His grace is sufficient for her, as it is for me.
Q: Let's get to talk about your new record, "Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores." Let's start with the title, what does it mean?
It's from a quote by Shakespeare in A Winter's Tale. The minute I saw it I knew it would be the perfect title for the new record. The theme of Unpathed Waters Undreamed Shores has to do with navigating the messy, unpredictable waters of change. It's about the constant tension between disappointment and hope, between letting go of what's familiar and reaching for something we can't yet see. Change is uncomfortable and scary, but also exhilarating and hopeful. I wanted to explore both of those ideas in this album.
Q: How would you describe your style of music?
It's been described as acoustic pop and folk-pop. I was influenced by the records my parents listened to when I was young, lots of rootsy, singer-songwriter music like Simon and Garfunkel, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. I'm still drawn to a lot of acoustic music. The songs on this record began with me on the guitar, and sometimes the piano. My producer (Nate Sabin) infused the arrangements with more texture and layers than on my past albums, and I love the end result. It's still got organic, acoustic roots but with lovely ambient elements.
Q: In what ways did these songs help you yourself in your walk with God? And how can these songs minister to your hearers?
I wrestled with a lot of my own struggles and doubts in writing for this record, and was always surprised and happy when I finished a song and it felt like something got resolved in my heart. Several of the songs on this album started out as pure anguish, like David's cries in the Psalms. The chorus of "Dry Ground" says, 'I'm overwhelmed, I'm in too deep, afraid I'm doing down. Can you part the waves, calm this sea? Please don't let me drown. Lead me by your hand to dry ground.' It felt cathartic to write those lyrics and sing them with all of my heart! I wanted this record to be as honest and raw as I felt inside. When you speak the truth about your deepest fears and doubts, like any truth, it sets you free. I began this album from a place of sadness and despair, but over time, the process of pouring out my heart and creating something beautiful filled me with hope again. I pray listeners can feel that hope.
Q: If you could pick a song off your new record that speaks most clearly about your own hope, which would it be? And why?
That's a hard one! Each one is like a different slice of hope in my heart. 'Undreamed Shores' was the first song I wrote for the record. It's about letting go of what's behind me and looking forward without fear to what's in the future. Learning to embrace change has been a difficult life lesson for me, and that song helped me articulate the resistance I'd been feeling. I was having trouble trusting that God would be faithful to me down the road, even though I'd experienced Him to be my provider, healer, comforter, peace, and so many other things. The hope we hold onto is not that we'll have pain-free, worry-free futures, but that God will be with us--however the future unfolds.