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Carolyn Arends Re-Tells the Story of Stories with Her New Christmas Album: An Exclusive Interview

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Carolyn Arends has released 10 albums and is the author of 3 critically-acclaimed books.  15 of Arends' songs have become top 10 radio singles on the Canadian pop and US Christian charts.  Arends has earned 2 Dove Awards, 3 Juno Nominations, and was recognized as the West Coast Music Awards' Songwriter of the Year.

Carolyn Arends has just released her second seasonal album entitled CHRISTMAS: THE STORY OF STORIES. The album features 9 Carolyn Arends' originals, 3 traditional classics, and a rollicking cover of a Rich Mullins' tune. Produced as a duo record with Carolyn's longtime musical partner Spencer Capier, the project is an organic feast of fiddles, mandolins, guitars and bouzoukis, all centered around Arends' fresh and poignant glimpses into the greatest story ever told. 

We are so honored to be able to catch up with Carolyn for this exclusive Hallels' interview.

Hallels:  Congratulations on the release of your new Christmas CD.  I have been listening to it all morning and singing harmony with you as I listen!!!  So, why did you decide to record a Christmas album?

Thanks! This project is actually my second Christmas disc (the first was recorded in 2004), so I guess it's obvious that I love Christmas music. (Are you old enough to remember mix tapes on cassette? I used to search for new Christmas music and make a new mix tape every year - music has always been such an essential part of the season for me.)

For over 20 years, I've written a new song for my church's service every Christmas eve. Given that it's been a decade since my last Christmas record, I had a whole bushel full of original songs waiting to be recorded, and this year it just felt like it was time.

Hallels:  Also, I love to rootsy feel to the whole album.  For our readers who may not have heard the record yet, how would you describe the sound of this new album?

"Rootsy" is a good word! I almost always tour with my duo partner, Spencer Capier, who plays violin, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki and guitar. I love the sound of real strings vibrating against real wood, but sometimes those instruments can get covered up a bit in layers of production. So we were really intentional this time about keeping the acoustic instruments front and centre. (I even got to play some ukelele this time, in addition to my usual guitar and piano.) We tracked the record as a four-piece (me, Spencer, and a really fine acoustic bass player and drummer) and then, with the help of our co-producer Roy Salmond, we tried to keep our eye on the prize of acoustic purity. I'm not sure what to call the result ... lyric-driven folky-acoustic-pop ... with a dash of nutmeg?

Hallels:  I believe this album was conceived with the help of fans via Kickstarter.  Can you share with us some experiences that you went through in the making of this album?

I've spent the past few years in graduate school, so it's been almost 5 years since my last album release. I was nervous to try crowd-funding a new project. But a good friend urged me to give it a go, and I'm so glad she did. We met our funding goal in the first day and ultimately surpassed it by 260%, which was amazing. Even better, it provided an opportunity for me to hear from people all over the world, many of whom took the time to share with me how my music had intersected with their lives. It was phenomenally encouraging and I ended up feeling grateful, inspired and commissioned.

Hallels:  With the 9 original songs you have written on this CD, they were written over the years for the Christmas eve service at your church.  How and when did this tradition happen?

Over 20 years ago the pastor at my church asked me to write a song for our Christmas Eve service and I discovered that writing Christmas songs can be an excellent advent practice - a chance to really think about the Incarnation and try to celebrate it in a fresh way. The next year, may pastor said, "Hey, that was cool when you wrote a song last year, could you do it again this year?" Over two decades and a few pastors later, we've got kind of a high-pressure tradition going on! Some years I worry that I won't find a fresh perspective for a new song, but then I discover all over again that the Christmas story is inexhaustible. 

Hallels:  Being a fan of Robert Ellis Orrall, who has had a country music career and has written songs for Taylor Swift & Reba McEntire, I believe he painted the album cover.  How did you get to work with him?

Robert is great! We first met on a co-writing session and he had this wonderful, whimsical folk art all over his house. I loved it and bought a painting for my husband. Then we had the idea to commission Robert to paint the cover of my first Christmas disc. When this second Christmas project rolled around, we knew it had to have his touch once again! 

Hallels:  Speaking of Christmas, what does Christmas mean to you personally?

I believe the story of the universe is happening in four grand acts--Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. That story haunts all our other stories. And Christmas is the hinge point in the story -- the moment when love comes down and changes everything. It's a staggering, implausible, incredible, wonderful story. I tried to capture some of the wonder if it in the bridge to "What Kind of King"

... What kind of plan ever goes this far?

What kind of mercy puts itself at ours?

What kind of maker walks the earth he made

From a cradle to a cross and leaves an empty grave?

What kind of love? What kind of love?

So I go all-in for Christmas. Even the silly, sentimental stuff (egg nog, tinsel, mistletoe) can help hint at the story. I tried to express that in "Christmas Magic" ... "Friends, the whole reason/ we need this season/ is to help us remember / joy can still come to a world often troubled and tragic ... so bring on that old Christmas Magic."

Hallels:  For our readers who would like to learn more about you or/and purchase your new record, where can they go?

They'll find lots more info at www.CarolynArends.com and they can order the disc or instant downloads there. They'll also be able to get CHRISTMAS: STORY OF STORIES shortly on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and at select Christian bookstores and other music retailers.

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