by Tracy Darlington
a difference between a dream and a destiny. God will begin to show
you when it's time for it to be revealed."
Barlowgirl is an all girl band made up of three sisters: Rebecca, Alyssa and Lauren Barlow. (Can you guess how they came up with the band name?) For two years they traveled around the country and were the back up band for their dad. During one concert Lauren, who was the keyboard player at the time, caught sight of a drumset, fell in love.... and so a drummer was born. Soon after that the girls began experimenting with song writing and out of that came songs never to be played or heard of again :) During that time they decided to start their own band and have been one for the past several years. What happened to their father, you ask? Well don't... kidding. He and his wife (ironically, the Barlowgirl's mother) are now the girl's managers. Yes, it is a family affair.
Tracy: How did you know God was calling you to pursue music as a career?
Alyssa: It took a while for God to get it through to us. First and foremost, we knew He was calling us to do ministry early on. I remember He'd given me some verses for my life at different moments when I was really searching, and He spoke to me. So for a few years, as we were doing music without being signed, we knew it was ministry all along. When we finally knew it was going to be in music we went up for training at “Seminar in the Rockies” in Estes Park, Colorado. We were up there getting training and researching what we could do better, and it was there that a label approached us and talked to us about getting signed. I remember that was the first time we looked at each other and went, “Okay, this is what God really has for us.” It wasn't until we got our first offer of being signed that we realized it was serious.
Didn't you have a competition up there?
Yes. We thought you just played to get critiqued, and then we'd know what to work on. We didn't find out until we were already in it that it was a competition. We were like, “No! Not a competition!” (Laughs) I still remember that feeling walking into this huge, huge auditorium room filled with so many guy bands! We were like the only girls walking in! We didn't win; we did make the finals. It was crazy, but looking back I can see how God kept a lot of things from us, or we would never have done them! (Laughs) It was His way of being a good Father, making His kids do what they're supposed to do.
When you started recording Love and War did you have a particular theme in mind, or did it come naturally?
We tend to go song by song. We kind of just open up our journals and see what God's doing for us. So much prayer goes into it! We have our church fasting and praying, and our family takes days to fast and pray. We have an opportunity now to be a voice and to have a platform. It is a very heavy, serious responsibility. I don't think we go into it thinking, “Oh, this is the theme of the album.” We go into it thinking, “We're going to go song by song and take it step by step.” After about three or four songs, we begin to see the theme. You see the pattern of what He's doing. With this album, once we got to the third or fourth song we started to see that the theme was love and war. That's the theme. We didn't intend that to be the title right off the bat; it was kind of, “Oh, that's the theme!” And then it ended up being the title.
Your bio says that there are two continuous messages you are trying to get across on this album. Can you explain them?
The two themes are right
there in the title, “Love and War”.
For us girls it's one of those things where we just feel like, yes, we're
fighters. We love to fight for what God has for us, to stand up for Him,
to be willing to be uncomfortable. As kids, my mom and dad didn't allow any
teen magazines or fashion magazines in the house. They didn't allow us to
read those as kids. We were allowed to read books on Joan of Arc, or Martin
Luther King, or Mother Teresa. That is what we were allowed to be consumed
by as young kids. Fox's Book of Martyrs, and George Mueller, and on and on.
All these people who shaped history.
They wanted to develop in us at a very young age a passion to follow in those footsteps, to be those who stand up and fight for what God has for you. To be willing to go out and lay down your life for love. That's what we began to realize - it's not one or the other, it's both. We stand up and fight for what God has for us, and we're willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of love. We're willing to die for love and fight for love. To give our lives for love. This album is a very urgent album in regard to those two subjects. It feels like the time is now. We've been talking about this for six years, but more than ever we feel like we're meant to tell our audience that the time is short. Let's really get to where we're meant to be and find out who we are meant to be. Let's stop wasting our time trying to be comfortable and satisfy ourselves for the moment, never thinking about the future and a destiny or calling or anything beyond ourselves. This album is a cry for people to wake up.
You guys were homeschooled, right? So was I. How did that help you foster this ministry?
Becca and I both attended many schools early on before our mom began homeschooling us. I attended three schools by the time I was in fourth grade, public and private. Same with Becca up to seventh grade. God kind of cornered my mom. He'd been telling her to homeschool us for years, and she was like, “No, I don't want to be that weird family!” She had this fear that her kids weren't going to do well socially, all the fears that go with that. She finally agreed after God cornered her. Let me tell you, being in all three worlds - public, private, and homeschool, I am SO thankful my mom listened to God. They were the ones who spent our most crucial developmental years building into us. We became what we were meant to be by absorbing what was around us. That is how we become who we are. Because my parents were the primary caregivers, building into our knowledge as well as our spiritual lives, those years are why I believe we are who we are today. Because of their determination. They didn't just stuff us full of math and science and English, which is wonderful and they did that. But alongside of it they focused a lot on character and being who we are on stage as well as off, in the public as well as behind closed doors. They spent a lot of time on our character. You don't always get to learn that anywhere else. Getting that from them is why I believe God is able to do what he wants with our lives.
Going back to Love and War, what is your favorite song on the project and why?
It's always so hard to pick in the beginning. They feel like a bunch of new kids (laughing) I can't pick which one I like best! I think right now where I am, one that I'm really loving to play live and watch the response from is “Stay with Me”. It still means a lot to me; it's very very personal to me. It came out of an interesting struggle for me personally. It's fun to play live. It's cool to see the response - it's awesome. The people in the crowd are getting it right away. When you see something like that you realize that this is an issue a lot of people are going through, something that a lot of people are learning and struggling with. This needed to be addressed where we all are at right now. I'm excited to play it.
“Stay with Me” came out of a time as we were writing the album last year, when there were a lot of moments when, ya know, you're waiting and waiting and waiting for the breakthrough. You're doing something out of obedience. It's like the eleventh hour's passed, and it's getting to the twelfth hour. The eleventh hour's okay once He shows up; I'm cool with that. But man, when it goes into the twelfth hour, that's scary. Then you start to go, “Oh my goodness, am I off track? Did He forget me?” Even though you know the truth, those things still go through your head. We were going through a season like that. The straw that broke the camel's back for me was that we had been writing the album at that point for five months. When we write an album, we'll write 6-8 hours a day and just lock ourselves in a room and not come out. We're consumed with songwriting. After five months we had a song and a half. So much prayer and waiting and expecting, and our deadline was in 2 1/2 weeks. I was just like, “I can't do this!” I'm stressing out. We've got our deadline with the label. How are we going to write ten songs in two weeks, when we couldn't even write one in five months? There were so many situations like that happening in our lives.
I told the girls, “I need a break.” I got in the car, and I told God, “I will always love You, and I'll always be a Christian, but I need You to know that this is too hard. It's too hard to serve You. Why do You wait so long? Why do you do this to me? Why don't You tell me what's going on?” I remember telling Him, “I quit.” I threw my hands up. Now I get to go back and tell the family that I'm done with music. I'm thinking, “I can't do this anymore. It's too hard. I'm not enjoying this process.” He just spoke to me in that moment. He said, “Alyssa, you Christians always ask Me to take you out of hard times. Why are you Christians always doing this?” I remember Him speaking to my heart, “You asked Me to give you a destiny. You asked Me to give you a calling. You asked me to take you to the next level. You have to grow up. You can quit today and be comfortable and live a normal life, and that would be fine. Or you can continue to press in and for a moment in time be uncomfortable so that you can reach your destiny and your calling. You can continue to press on and not give up.” It reminded me of when He was in the garden, when He knew He had to go to the Cross but He didn't want to go. He had to look at the future. He had to look at His destiny, His calling and be reminded why He was going to go through what He was going to go through. I felt like I had to make a choice to look at the bigger picture.
If Jesus had said no and chosen to be comfortable, we would never have been saved. So I came back and told the girls that I was going to keep going and pressing through. It was a big defining moment in my life, when I said, “I'm going to stop complaining when I'm uncomfortable.” That's one of the church's biggest downfalls. We crave comfort more than our calling, and I think it's stunted our growth. That was a big lesson in my life. One I'm still learning.
Speaking of the songwriting process, what does that look like for you guys, having three creative people in the same room? How does it work?
A very unique thing about the three of us is that God has gifted us in such different ways that we can't write a song without each other. Becca is very gifted when it comes to writing the chords, the musical side of the song. She'll sit in her room and play guitar or piano and she'll often write it right there as we're praying and waiting on God. Lauren and I are both gifted lyrically and in coming up with the melodies. That's our job. We'll sit down as Becca's playing and say, “Hey, thematically what are you feeling? What has God put on your heart?” We'll just sit in a room and start talking and playing and we're praying. I'll normally start humming something as Becca's playing. Then Lauren will throw out a lyric. She does a really good job. I can do themes, different pieces of songs, but she's really good at the hooks, the phrasing. With the three of us it works. We don't ever really step on each other's toes, because we know when we watch what the other person is doing we think, “I can't do that! You do that. You're much better at that!” It's a wonderful blend of three gifts. God knew exactly what He was doing when He put us together.
What was the most challenging part of recording Love and War?
So we went through all that struggle, and it was awesome and God finally showed up, even though leading up to it was crazy. So I thought, “Oh phew, that's over. We learned our lesson.” Getting into the studio, it was like the same thing all over again. This studio time was one of the most attacked, crazy times we've ever had in a studio. Something would happen every day. Something would take away like four hours of our time. Ya know when there are so many little distractions? I remember one day in particular, it was tracking day. Lauren was going to track drums. Something was broken, so we had to wait. When something is broken in a studio it could take five minutes or an hour. It just depends on if you have the part there or whatever you need. So people came in and fixed it, but it's been three hours and we haven't recorded anything. Not a beat. Lauren sits down and she's like, “Okay, now we're going to record.” She goes to hit her first beat, and the bottom of the snare head blows out. So we call around, and there's not a snare head in all of Nashville. I mean, it's Music City! How is there not a snare head? I think driving around looking for a snare head took another hour and a half. Now it's almost dinner time, and we haven't recorded anything.
Finally Lauren sits down, and she's tracking away. We get about two minutes into it and the computer shuts off. We're like, “What happened??” We look around, and the cord has come out of the wall. The computer cord! How is that possible? Nobody's even over there! This kind of stuff happened every day! We've never taken so long to track an album, because of the hours and hours. It was once again, “Girls, are you willing to press through, even though it's going to be hard. It's almost like He was allowing that whole process from writing to recording to be difficult to see if we crave comfort more than we crave the calling. Are we willing to just keep pressing forward? We realized how spoiled us as Americans are. You read stories of people in other countries, and they know what it means to go through trials and difficulties. I'm complaining because I can't write a song according to a deadline, and these people are being beaten and thrown in jail because they're believers. I don't think we have a real concept of what suffering even is. It was a good growing up season for us girls.
What advice would you give to someone trying to reach their friends for Christ?
That's a really good question. It's a beautiful balance between love and war in getting people to understand who Jesus is. A lot of times we think that we're the ones who are meant to save people. Like, “I've got to save this person.” We need to get our mindset on the fact that we're not the Savior. We aren't saving them. We are representatives of who God is and how much He loves them and desires them. We need to show them who God is. The thing I'm learning lately is that we can recite who God is all we want, but until there's an experience, we don't ever truly know Him. There's got to be an experience. There's got to be something we know because we've felt Him, we've heard Him, we've opened a door to an encounter with God. That's what we're meant to be to people. When it comes to friends, that doesn't mean you just go along with everything they say. If they're asking you to compromise you still stick to your standards. That speaks volumes. Be careful not to come across as judgmental. I've had to do that a lot with people in my life. I've found there is more respect that way. You've got to really find the balance between how you love and not make them feel judged, but how do you live clearly enough that they know you won't move or compromise. God is the one who saves through your example.
Do you have advice for people trying to pursue their dreams?
For years I had dreams of theater. I thought I was going to be on Broadway and fulfill my dreams of being an actress. For many years I was in theater, and God blessed that. He knew the desires of my heart. I joined choirs and theater groups, and it was awesome. I immersed myself in those things. When I turned eighteen it was like God was saying, “Okay, now it's time to build My house. You've been building your house; now it's time for you to help me build mine.” I prayed for many years about what that meant. What does it mean to follow God's dreams for you life, to follow God's plan? Sometimes our dreams are God's dreams for our life. But going into it, just pray that God will direct your path. Pray that God would plant His vision of why you're here, that He would give you your destiny and your calling. There's a difference between a dream and a destiny. God will begin to show you when it's time for it to be revealed. Until then keep seeking, keep praying. Keep doing what you love to do. If you love to sing, go join a choir. Go sing at every place you can possibly sing. Sing at old folks' homes. Go sing! Sing for God in your room. Don't let anything stop you, 'cause you never know how God's going to use it. A lot of practice goes into it as well. As soon as I knew this was what God wanted us to do, we started practicing forty hours a week. God wants us to be skillful as well. We put all we are into what God wanted us to do.
Do you have any fun road stories?
Every day's an adventure. You never know what's going to happen. Lauren has extensions in the front of her hair. Normally they're fused in, like a glue and heat gun thing so they don't come out. A few months ago our hairdresser was showing us these great new clip-in extensions. And Lauren was like, “I just feel like they're going to fly off my head.” And everyone was like, “No, Lauren. That's impossible. Just get the clip-ins. They're probably better for your hair. You'll be fine.” She's like, “No, guys. I really feel like they're going to fly off my head.” So she was really concerned. She's like, “What if they fly off my head on stage?” I'm like, “Lauren. Calm down!” Sure enough, ten songs into the set Lauren does this drum roll, catches the stick in her hair, and a huge chunk of hair flies across the stage like a flying rat. We all just turned around like, “Oh my gosh!” Needless to say the next week she came home and had them glued back onto her head. She was like, “I told you!” I don't know what people thought! I'm really glad she got the clip-ins to give us something we can laugh about.
You're on tour with Superchick right now. Are you going to get on stage and sing the “Barlow Girls” song with them?
No, I don't think so! (laughs) It's funny, ten years ago when they first wrote it and they would play it, we would show up at shows and they would always invite us up on stage and we'd go up and the whole crowd would sing it. It was very very sweet. I don't know about now. Now we're normally getting ready for our set at that time. I know that's a very lame excuse. (laughs) It would be perfect 'cause we now kinda have two boys in our band in a way. Our two techs come up and play every once in a while, so it could kinda work!
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.