She is a rarity. A Catholic singer/song-writer who has been embraced by both mainstream and Christian venues.
After releasing “Goodbye Jane” in 1996, she has toured with singers such as Kathy Troccoli, Wes King and The Newsboys. Her most recent album, “Obvious” was released this past summer. She serves as a staff songwriter for BMG Music Publishing in Nashville. She spoke recently with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in Lancaster, Ohio, and have one sister who is a year older than me. My parents divorced when I was 2 years old and my mother remarried when I was 15. I grew up in a loving home filled with music, laughing, and games. There were always aunts, uncles, and cousins over.
Have you always been musical?
Music has always been a big part of my life. It's a part of all of us. We were always singing or music was going on somewhere in the house. Both of my parents were very musical. My mother taught us everything. She sings with several bands — a Big Band and an Irish band. She gave me lessons and taught me to sing. I studied piano, organ and flute, supplementing these with a few guitar lessons from my mother. My degree from Ohio State University was in music composition and theory.
I understand that you met your biological father just a few years ago. What was that like for you?
We didn't talk about him much in the home, so for many years I never really had a father. As an older teen, one day, out of the blue, this guy called and said, “Do you know who I am? I am your father.”
This happened so late in my life that in many ways I felt like it was nice to meet him, but I didn't feel I needed him. This lack of a father did affect my perception of my heavenly Father. For many years I felt that God was distant and absent. It took me a long time to realize that where humans fall short, God does not. God is always there. I talk with many teens, whose fathers are not present, about this.
My father passed away from cancer about two years ago. Today, I'm grateful to have a husband that is a great father to our 18-month-old. I get to see my daughter's joy in growing up with a father, so everything has come full circle.
How did your music career get its start?
During college I had been singing in a lot of bars on campus. I had been praying a lot about what I should do after college. One night I remember coming home at 2 a.m., and I decided to read the Bible. I opened it to Genesis where God tells Abraham to go to the land that I will show you and I will bless you and make you a great nation. I took that as my signal that I should go elsewhere.
So, the day after graduation I packed up a Ryder truck and headed to Nashville to pursue Christian music. I didn't know anyone there and I had about $50 in my pocket. I got a job my first week there and started going to every poetry reading and musical event I could find. I landed session work as a demo singer, flute player and backup singer. I also interned with a couple of Christian music companies to learn the ropes. Here, I learned how to write and I fell into songwriting. I've been here nine years and I feel very blessed — that this is where God wanted me to be.
Your music is inspired by Catholic writers, such as Thomas Merton and Flannery O‘Connor. Can you explain how their writing has influenced your music?
Sometimes when you write, you get a little stale. At those times I try to pick up a book. When I first moved to Nashville I picked up O‘Connor quite by accident. I started reading A Good Man is Hard to Find. I fell in love with her writing. She gave me the understanding that you can write a song that is entirely secular that can be a completely religious story that points people to God. I've tried to maintain some of that in my writing.
I like Merton because he is so steeped in God. His poetry is everything that I want to be. I also appreciate his blatant honesty. If you're not honest, you're spitting out nothing. I want to be honest in my songwriting. I see it as a ministry, and so I appreciate reading others who are honest as well.
Do you have any favorite stories about how your music has affected listeners?
I recall one time, during a concert, singing a song titled “Brave.” It was a song I had written about my biological father when he was dying and my own wish that I could be brave enough to forgive him with full-abandon like God forgives us.
After the concert a girl came up to me and told me that she had been orphaned. Her father had killed her mother and then killed himself. We talked and prayed with one another. By the end of our conversation she felt encouraged — as if she was taking a part of me home. I felt very blessed by her. I don't even remember her name, but I think of her often — every time I sing that song.
Tell me about your most recent project, “Daughters of God”?
Daughters of God is a 14-song album featuring the talents of eight female Catholic artists and writers. I am producing the record and it is set for a spring release. It's women's ministry. We hope to tour the country with a “Daughters of God” Catholic women's conference in order to encourage women to go back and start their own Bible Study groups and fellowships within their own dioceses.