by Tracy Darlington
Michelle Tumes Interview
"Apart from one of the disciples, I would love to have dinner with Sting because of his musical genius." --Michelle Tumes
Aussie singer/songwriter Michelle Tumes debuted on the music scene with her 1998 debut titled Listen, and has since then offered up 2000’s Center Of My Universe, 2001’s Dream, and a collaborative effort with Susan Ashton and Christine Dente in 2005 called Lost In Wonder: Voices Of Worship.
Listen produced three consecutive number one radio singles, “Please Come Back”, “Healing Waters”, and “Christ of Hope” and merited Tumes a Dove Award nod for “New Artist Of The Year”. Subsequent albums yielded an additional three number one singles with “Hold On”, “Heaven’s Heart”, and “Deep Love”. Tumes has shared the stage with the Newsboys, 4-Him, Jaci Velasquez, Twila Paris, Fernando Ortega, Newsong, Out of the Grey, and Andrew Peterson among others.
Tracy: What initially caused you to choose a career in music rather than in dentistry?
Michelle: It was really something that I couldn’t stop. You know what I mean? In my mind I was saying to myself, “Dentistry is a conservative and stable career.” But all that time I was writing songs, and it was something that really drew me. I’m sure it was God. I think He put that desire in my heart, and it was really overwhelming and stronger than dentistry.
So you’d be writing for years?
Since I was about 13 or 14 properly. When I was 6 or 7 in the school yard I used to write little melodies, but I started playing the piano when I was about 14.
What was your first reaction when your husband said, “Let’s make an album?”?
(Laughs.) It was a pretty calm reaction because the good thing about my relationship with my husband is that we come to the same conclusions. So it wasn’t like, “Oh, my goodness, I can’t do this.” It was more like, “Okay, I trust you, I understand. I feel that way already. And we’ve got two songs that could go on the album.”
I laugh because I remember the day; I don’t remember the date or anything, but it was just like, “Let’s do it. Here we go.” I’m not particularly good at change, but it was a pretty easy transition for me.
What was it like having your hand in so many different aspects of the album making process?
For me it was great because I learned from working with Charlie Peacock on my previous albums. I was there all the time in the production process, so I saw how it went and how everything fit together. I saw how every producer has a different take on making an album. I really wanted to use Charlie’s model on how to do it and put it together. It was a lot of work, but I’m glad I did it. In the future I would be open to other people coming alongside me as well. That day I conducted the orchestra my mouth was really dry. (Laughs.) I was so nervous!
What’s different about this album compared to your previous projects?
Stylistically and musically this album is similar to my first project Listen. But it’s different thematically. Now that I’m a little bit older, I’ve gone through some things now and seen things from this side of the cross. I’ve had bad things happen, unfortunately, but I’ve then seen redemption in my relationship with Christ. That’s where the album’s theme of celebration and contentment in any time and aspect of life comes from.
What’s your favorite song off the album and why is it special?
As a writer, we all say they are all our favorites! (Laughs.) I like them all, but “Gypsy Heart’s” message really gets me. It’s about a person who says to himself, “the grass is greener on the other side”, and they chase treasures outside of where they should be going. Their treasure lies right there within themselves, which is their relationship with God. For me it’s a cautionary tale about not being distracted by things in the world and what other people say.
What message do you hope people will come away with when they listen to the album?
I hope listener’s feel this celebration in life, no matter what happens. And it’s not the kind of thing where we have to be happy-go-lucky all the time. We acknowledge that bad things happen, and it hurts, but there is so much hope in Jesus Christ. I really hope people will come away with that.
What was the funnest part of making this record?
Definitely going to Prague and doing the strings—even though it was nerve wracking! It was nearly a year ago that we did it. We were flying over today a year ago, actually. It was a great time. We felt it was really the hand of Providence because we met up with this great contractor who was a Czech person. He got us all tickets to beautiful operas and orchestras. It was an enchanting time staying in Prague and working with the orchestra there.
We went to see Cesky Krumlov, which is off the border of Austria, and we were able to just walk around and be tourists for a couple days. We stayed right in the town square of Prague. The old clock is apparently 500 years old. A lot of the city wasn’t destroyed by the war, so the buildings are beautiful.
How about the hardest part of the recording process?
The hardest part really was just getting up every day from 10am to 2-3 am going to vocals and doing the editing. That was difficult. I don’t regret it, but next time it’ll be great to have someone help do that because just me and my husband doing it all was really, really draining.
How has studying ancient history and literature like you’ve recently done affected your song writing?
It helps me use the creative part of my brain. As I said before, I studied dentistry, and obviously that wasn’t very artistic. But it was good for me to go back to university. It really inspires me, and it expands my vocabulary again.
I like to observe situations. I love to imagine what it would have been like to live in the time of Jesus. What would it have been like to have been a Roman citizen or an Athenian citizen? That really intrigues me. Ecclesiastes says, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” So all those people felt the same things we do. I like exploring that. I think God teaches me different perspectives from it.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started in music?
(Laughs.) Oh, that’s such a good question! Unfortunately, the joy of music comes with a business side. I was 19 when I first came over to the States. (I didn’t live here when I was 19.) I had no idea about the business, and I really let that distract me. I didn’t question things enough. I should have been a better steward of what God had for me on the business side. I should have been more astute. That’s what I’ve really learned. Generally speaking, an artist isn’t very tuned in to that sort of thing. Although I don’t like it, it’s necessary ‘cause you have to protect what God’s given you.
You’ve talked in the past about how fear and anxiety used to be a big issue in your life. How has god helped you overcome that?
He’s really strengthened me. People used to have to push me out on the stage, especially on the Jaci Velasquez tour, which was my first tour. I used to say to the stage manager, “I can’t go on! I can’t go on!”, and he would just shove me out there. I would pray and pray that God would be there with me on the stage. It’s not really about me, it’s about connecting with the people who are listening to the music. It’s a corporate situation when I perform. Being in classical music you can’t make any mistakes. I think it all came from that. When you’re doing popular songs you can stray from the melody a bit if you want because I wrote the songs in the first place. It took me a long time to get away from the, “I can’t make a mistake; I’m gonna start again”, mentality. It’s okay to make a little mistake here and there. No one’s perfect.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get started in music?
Although I played the piano and sang, I wasn’t completely singing every weekend in my church. I was singing sometimes in my church, but I went to a very big church, so the roster was large. I would say to sing and play wherever you can---in church and wherever you can participate. That will prepare you for being a recording artist. Pray that God will open doors, and He will, no matter what. Whether you’re on a small stage or not, if you’re supposed to be doing this, God will make a way no matter where you are.
You mentioned that you often turn to the Psalms for your inspiration. Do you have any particular Psalm that speaks to you every time you turn to it?
There is one. I read it one day, and it was one of those times where I was like, “Oh, I don’t know if I can do this. It’s too nerve wracking.” I read in this Psalm where it said, “Sing to the Lord with excellence. Sing to Him at all times.” That was the word I needed to hear at that time. A lot of the Psalms depict people in perils and hard times and how they are crying out to God to rescue them. We can all relate to that.
What bands or songs have had the most impact in your life, as a person and as an artist?
Growing up I used to listen to Twila Paris, and the song that comes to mind now is “Fix Your Eyes”. That was really impacting. And a lot of Amy Grant songs have really impacted me. I grew up in a very conservative situation where the hymns were on every week. My Papa loves hymns like “How Great Thou Art”, and even the doxologies are beautiful.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about Michelle Tumes?
I’ve done a couple triathlons, in one of which I wore my bike helmet backwards when I didn’t realize it. (Laughs.) I like to cook a lot. I think it’s the whole artistic thing. I like to bake cakes and pastries.
You’re in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
When I’m really tired I order a triple tall nonfat Latte. When I’m only reasonably tired, just a double tall.
Three things always found in your refrigerator?
Butter, jam, and some fruit. You’ll always find fruit in my fridge.
What’s currently in your ipod or cd player?
I’m not listening to a lot of music right now, ‘cause I’m writing some songs. The last thing I think I heard was the new Josh Groves album. I like to listen to classical music sometimes as well.
What classical music training have you had?
I went to a special music school when I was in high school, and then my mum had me play classical piano when I was really young, like 4 years old. So I played classical piano, and I sang in vocal ensembles, choirs, things like that. I have a huge background in that. I love it.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
Other than the Bible, I read a book a few years ago called “The Betrothed”. It’s a book from the 18th century, and it was just unbelievable. I was reading it, and I never cry in books, but something happened. This man (they call him the Don Juan or something) became a Christian. God just touched his life. It was really sudden, and I started crying. It was fiction, but his conversion was just incredible. He’d done all these horrible things, and he was completely humbled by the presence of God.
What’s your most embarrassing moment?
One of them was on the Jaci Velasquez tour a long time ago. I came on the stage from the wrong side. They’d made the stage in a church, and it was planks across the organ pit. I fell in the organ pit. And then the lights came up. That was really embarrassing! That time I really did have something to be afraid of!
When you’re not singing, what do you enjoy doing?
Fortunately, living in California, I’m always close to the beach. I absolutely love going to the beach. It never gets old to me.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you pick and why?
Apart from one of the disciples, I would love to have dinner with Sting because of his musical genius.
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
I’ve become involved with Food for the Hungry again. I love those people and what they do. I just encourage everyone here in America and the western world to think about people in other countries who aren’t so fortunate. Reach out and help them in whatever way we can. Not a lot of us have a lot of money, but whatever we can do.
Also, for me, musical education is really important. It’s helped me through a lot of emotional, angsty times. It’s a gift from God.
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.