Artist Interviews
January 23rd, 2001

This is from a 20 minute phone interview that I had with Jennifer. The bold text is my questions/comments to her, and everything else is her replies. Some unnecessary text has been removed, and some sentences have been tweaked to make them more readable.

Jen was, as I expected, very polite, funny and straightforward. I was already a very big fan of hers, and this only helped make me more of a fan. Here's the interview:

Do you plan on putting out a new album or any new recordings any time soon?

Yes and no. I've definitely started talking about going into the studio at some point this year. I just had a meeting with Toby and the Gotee guys this week and by the end of the week we're gonna be figuring out kinda what our plan of action is. Definitely been writing, and I've got some stuff that's been hitting the tape. Been planning on a release that could be anywhere from Christmas to no later than spring of next year.

Have you ever thought about a live album?

Definitely. We're going on a tour here February through April, and we're gonna hopefully just start cataloging this stuff. With other artists, one of my favorite things about some of them is just getting their different versions of songs. One of the things I've appreciated about some of my favorite artists is their live works and just being able to hold that extra piece and take that experience home with me, so hopefully we'll get to do some of that.

On your next album have you thought about brining some of the old "Wishing Well" songs back?

Well, for me personally, all the stuff that I would choose to bring back on it was put on "Kansas". My writing style has changed so much since then it's really hard for me. The hardest one that I don't do that people really wish that I did is a song called "Shine".

Yep, I love that song.

Oh my gosh, and I can't stand it. (laugh)

That one and "Lead Me True".

Yeah, those two songs are ones that people really wish - so, you know, you never know, they might end up in a spot, or at least on a live record for fun. I don't doubt that they'll be updated at some point in time, but I don't have any plans 'cause usually everything that I'm working on is just so much ahead. I've just kind of been in a way of leaving everything behind that's been behind, and constantly writing new songs. So it's very slow, and if I get distracted by too much and get in the habit of liking what's behind me, I don't want to move forward too much.

You write amazing lyrics. What do you write first, generally? Do you write music and then try to put words to it? How does it sorta go when you're writing a song?
The majority of the time it's like a symbiotic relationship between actually physically holding the guitar and playing it and feeling the song, playing the music, and the lyrics just kinda come out of it. It's kinda this mystical thing that I wish I knew how to do it, because when it goes well it's great, and when it doesn't it's awful. But I'm not dependant on my guitar anymore. I used to be very dependant on it - I couldn't write away from it. And now, a lyric will pop into my head and I'm getting stronger in having the ability to be able to write away from it. It's actually been very freeing to do. The things that I like the best, and the experiences that are the most meaningful are when they come at the same time - it's like they were meant for each other.

There's been a lot of debate lately about Creed and Lifehouse. What do you think of groups like these that have left the Christian music scene. They don't want to claim themselves as Christian necessarily, and it almost seems like they're in it for the money?

Well, I think a lot of people do things for the money. Why do most people go to college? They want to have a career in a profession that they enjoy, but to be able to make a living. I don't necessarily have a problem with that. There are many people that criticize just as heavily the aspect of Christian music that we're just making a buck off of the name of Jesus. There's two sides to that debate. I think it comes down to an issue of, no matter who you are, it's an issue of character. I don't know them personally, and I'm not a huge fan of their music. But it hurts me sometimes - that debate comes on our side sometimes when I'm not necessarily playing within the four walls of the church. When we went and played the Lilith Fair stuff, or even when we play at a Border's in-store, or something that's not directly attached to "being a Christian". Some people accuse that of being sold-out, and that we're just doing it for the money, and all this other stuff. But there's a passion, I'm sure, for what those guys in Creed do. You can be satisfied by materialistic approach to getting what you want, but to each his own. If that's really what their motivation is, then I really trust that God knows that. I credit them, and hope the best in them, that they profess to believe that Jesus Christ is their Savior, and I choose to believe that. I'm not around them personally to bear witness to the fruit that would testify that that's the case, but I don't think that gives us ground to criticize. I give right to any individual who wants to choose what they believe, and what they want to put into their head and into their heart. But, it's really difficult to judge somebody until you've walked a mile in their shoes, so to speak.

I remember when people were criticizing you about the Lilith Fair stuff, when I first started to follow you a little bit...

At the beginning of some of that criticism it was really harsh, and it really hurt. And then, it just kinda turned a corner where - I mean, I'm very accountable with the decisions that we make, and I'm probably more mindful of people then I ought to be at times - not being as concerned with the judgement of men versus being concerned with the judgement of God. That's something that's been a real challenge in light of this argument, for me to realize at the end of the day, if I'm uneasy when I go to bed, am I uneasy because I did what was contrary to what God asked me to do, or if I did what was contrary to what men asked me to do. I have a lot more peace being contrary with men, but being at peace with God, than I do with being at peace with men and contrary to God.

What do you think of the whole Napster thing?

The stole my name! (laugh) I appreciate the ingenuity of the young man that created the technology. I mean, I don't have anything wrong with the principle of it. I'll take two approaches to it. There's the personal, Christian, spiritual approach to "why do I do what I do?". The reason why I do what I do is cause I want to share the things God has taught me, and share with other people the union of that joy. So therefore I should be upset when somebody steals my song and makes a profit off of it, i.e. uses other advertisers while they're drawing people for my name. Obviously, groups like Metallica that have really lobbied against it have a lot more to lose. I'm not losing great deals of money from it. However, advertising-wise they make a profit, and I don't make anything - with the current standards. So there's two approaches you can take - you can take the simply being upset for the principle of the things that you labored for, that somebody else is making a profit off of, and you're not getting anything in return. And, that's partly pride and partly just economics. And then there's the other side of it - what do you do, is the Gospel for sale? That goes back to what we were talking about earlier, are we making money off of the name of Jesus Christ, or are we sharing the Gospel? I think there are times for it. I'm not in a position to feel like I have to make any action against Napster, but I definitely encourage people that, if they respect what we do, if you want to sample it, fine sample it. I can't really stop you from doing that. But encourage people that, if you continue to exhaust without returning - it's like harvesting a field and never changing the crop that's in it, and you continue to take the best parts of it and never give back to it. You're not going to have something that lasts - you take the best of it and leave the scraps on the ground. If people don't support us and people don't buy our records, that becomes a problem because I don't have the financial means to continue the ministry that God's allowed, that He's called me to do. It's kind of a weird circle, and indeed, I would have a problem taking anybody to court. It's a Biblical thing. I've had problems financially with people that stole from me, or wanted to take stuff that wasn't theirs. And I had a choice - I could either try and resolve that as holy as I could, or pay, or take it to court. And, court was never an option for me. I've learned a really good lesson about that - God says that if we, as believers, take our challenges and our struggles before men that don't function by the same principles as us (i.e. Christians), if I sue somebody and take it to a court that's not like a Christian elder, then I'm already defeated. I've already lost. Even if I win a multi-million dollar judgement, I've lost, because then I project this person that is contrary to what Christ is. Christ ultimately sacrificed himself, and he understood the value of turning the other cheek. So, that's kinda where I put it. Do I agree with it? No. I think it needs some help.

I'm not extremely informed in the law, but I do know that if you work very hard for something, it's not unusual for you to expect to get paid for it. And I believe that's Biblical, too. I think we have to approach that humbly. We don't necessarily expect to get it, but God understand the principle of reward. He talks about fruit. He understands that, in a relationship with us, that we need to see tangible evidence of Him, and he gives us fruits of the spirit that bear witness to that. So, I can understand why many people are upset, and I certainly hope that they get it squared around in such a way that affords people the fruits of their labor, so to speak.

What do you listen to, what has inspired you, who do you model yourself after?

I feel like I can't really model myself after too much. I definitely say I've been influenced by just kinda rubbing up against it. Mostly singer-songwriters, largely female, and mostly secular. The poetic writing approach that Natalie Merchant takes is huge. I've realized through her that I could write music that was poetic, which is where I started out, as a poet, before I was a songwriter. I realized that you could take that and make it into something that transcended the starch-collared image of poetry, and make it singable, which actually unleashed a whole new world of poetry to me, that poetry is very singable.

Were you able to play guitar while you were a poet, or did you learn that as time went on?

No, that came after. They kinda met in the middle after I became a Christian, in a weird kinda way. But, other influences, anywhere from being moved by artists like Jonatha Brooke, Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman is amazing in the way that she expresses her heart, and her environment - it's chilling. Patti Griffin, Joni Mitchell. On the Christian side of it, Ashley Cleveland is a huge influence for me, and Margaret Becker. Also, I really admire a gal by the name of Nichole Nordeman. I think that the women that have largely just influenced the path that I've been on, are some of the ones that I've mentioned. Shawn Colvin is another one.

Yeah, Diamond In the Rough

Oh my gosh. That made me nervous - I was afraid she was gonna call me and yell at me. "You ruined my song!" (laugh)

I don't consider myself a huge music fan. My catalog is pretty much vintage stuff. I love U2 also. I would say they've been influential in getting to the marrow of the crude nature of man, in light of being a spiritual being. I think they did a fabulous job of that. At the same time, our music's not even related, if you look at it that way.

I just get nervous sometimes about the whole influential conversation, because sometimes people take that as "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". I definitely try to avoid that. In fact, at times I've abandoned certain projects sometimes just because I think it's too much like somebody else that I really admire, and I'm afraid of that. I really have to work at just not being afraid, to just be myself. If it's been largely influenced by somebody that's admirable, then - you know, I'm that way spiritually. I carry on the traits of people that are spiritually important to me, and have taught me a lot. So, it works, all the way around.

It'd be difficult to label your music any one way, too. You mix it up a lot, with some of the poetic stuff from Kansas, all the way up to Into You, which just rocks.

I love being able to go all the way. To be seemingly very deep and intellectual, and kinda going and sloughing it off and just having a nice rock song in the middle.

Jen, that's probably about it. Thanks a ton for your time!

Not a problem. Well Mickey, have a good time. Thanks!

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