She's only 16, but Catholic singer-songwriter Marie Miller has already made ChristianMusicToday.com's list of “Ten Independent Artists You Should Know.”
This is particularly impressive since few Catholics ever make the list at all: It's heavily dominated by evangelical-Protestant artists.
The Huntly, Va., teen started performing professionally with her family when she was 11. Not only does she sing, but she also plays guitar, piano, mandolin and a Greek stringed instrument called the bouzouki.
The home-schooled high-school senior has performed at local church events and festivals in her home state as well as at the 2003 West Virginia State Fair and the 2004 national conference of Focus, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. She spoke with Register correspondent Amy Smith.
How did you come to realize that God might be calling you to music ministry?
I just started playing and singing, and I liked to do it. As Christians we are supposed to take everything we love to do and give it to Jesus, so I said, “Okay, God, I'm enjoying this and I feel like this is what you want me to do today.” I take it day by day. These are the very beginning steps of something.
What inspired you to start writing your own songs?
I wrote my first song when I was 12 or 13. I found a treasure. It was like, “Wow, this is fun and I can say what I want to say.” Songwriting is so good for someone like me who likes to express herself. It's a beautiful outlet for things I want to portray and say to people.
Where do you get your song ideas?
Experiences and different things. For the songs on the CD, I got help from others, but the songs are all a feeling or message I want to get across.
How does your Catholic faith influence your work?
On this CD, there's a song called “Mother Must Be Praying.” There are two elements. First, we have earthly mothers who are always praying for us. And second, we have our Blessed Mother interceding for us. When you look deeper, you can see the Catholic faith in it.
How does your family contribute to your music?
I have an amazing family. My dad has been extremely instrumental in my music, helping me along. My dad called [well-known producer] Mark Heimermann and arranged a meeting in Nashville. We gave him my demo and, 15 minutes after we left, he called. He said he liked my music and wanted to produce my album. My mom is also super supportive.
My faith is due to my parents. They're great about teaching us by example. My older sister is also super into her faith. All around me is Jesus, and that's exciting.
You've said that you want your message to be that “God is our destination toward happiness.” Is that what you want listeners to take away from your music, particularly teenagers like yourself?
There are so many things I want to say, but that's the main point. It's the old message that life, virtue, prayer and Christ bring you to your ultimate end. I feel the reason why I can say this is that I struggle, too. It's so easy to lose that thought.
When you're 16 or 17, you become aware of the world's struggles and wonder how you can be a light to others and be what you're called to be. You can be at Mass or holy hour, then see friends and end up on a different path than you were five minutes before. If we strive for Christ, people will see that joy and it will become contagious.
How would you describe your musical style?
It's acoustically based, not super pop, but it has a pop influence. With a little bit of mandolin and bouzouki, it has ethnic elements. It's kind of earthy.
What is your favorite song on the CD?
Probably “Cold.” I like the way it turned out. I wrote it when I was 13, and it was reconstructed a little for the album. I like warm weather, so I can relate to the idea that when you feel bad, you feel cold. It's good for me to sing about self-awareness and not always being the person I want to be. I also like “The Road.” It's about our path as Christians and choosing the one that leads you home. The world says, “Come here, do this or that,” and I'm saying, “I choose Christ.”
It's a theme for me, a reminder of my own promise to Jesus to keeping going on the right path. The message is especially important for young people when friends are choosing paths and not all of the paths make one happy. A lot of teenagers think romantic love or drugs, alcohol or sex will make them happy, so it's so important for young people to wake up and say, “Jesus, I choose your road. This is what I want.”
Mark Heimermann has produced highly successful acts like dc Talk, Stacie Orrico and Jaci Velasquez. What was it like having your debut CD produced by a big-name producer?
It was very exciting, of course. I love the different albums Mark has produced, so I knew it would be very good. It was a little nerve-wracking at first, but he was super nice. We had a good time in the studio. Sometimes I couldn't sing because he was so funny.
I'm going to hold off on college for a year and see where God leads me with the music.
Amy Smith writes from Geneva, Illinois.
‘A Voice That's Pleading’
Out here in oblivion everyone's sleepwalking
Blissfully unaware of kingdoms rising and falling
I'm here in this mess living life unconscious
Painfully obvious, I need to find a way out of this
Somewhere there's a candle burning
And a voice that's pleading
Somehow the world keeps turning
One soul believing
The earth trembles and heaven moves
Love is interceding
My mother must be praying
— from “Mother Must Be Praying,” written by Mark Heimermann, Marie Miller and Judson Spence, on Marie Miller's debut, self-titled CD.