by Tracy Darlington
Sarah Kelly Interview
"Not every song I sing is considered a 'Christian song'. Yet every song is from a Christian heart--mine." --Sarah Kelly
Born in Rockford, Illinois, Sarah Kelly began to hone her songwriting skills at the early age of seven, and eventually found her songs being incorporated into the worship services of her local church as she continued to develop as a writer. She worked her way through college by teaching piano and found herself encouraging her students to write their own music. When her youth pastor approached her about leading worship, it took her completely by surprise, and a full year went by before she agreed to take on that role. She served for nearly four years as worship leader for Master’s Commission, an internationally-based discipleship training program for students aged 18 and up. Before she knew it, concert requests came in from around the world including England, Ireland and Canada. During that time, Sarah recorded original songs on four CDs which sold more than 20,000 copies on their own, without any label distribution.
Sarah independently recorded the solo project that become Take Me Away, her first album. As it began to circulate, industry insiders took notice. It wasn’t long before she found herself pursued by several major labels before landing at Gotee Records. Sarah's latest album is Where The Past Meets Today, also with Gotee.
Tracy: Has music always been a big part of your life? If so, what music would you say influenced you most as a child?
Sarah: Music has always been a huge part of my life. My Mom played piano for the small Lutheran church we attended when I was small, and she tells me stories of putting my carriage by the piano when she played on Sunday mornings. And I was totally raised on the music of Keith Green. He is probably my hugest influence musically.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a musician?
To be honest, I didn't realize that I wanted to do music with my life until the first Grammy nomination. It wasn't that I didn't want it, it was just that I never thought of myself as a full time artist, but rather as one helping out her church. I remember the realization like it was yesterday: "I guess I'm a singer.” But I was overwhelmed by excitement at the same time.
How did you come to know the Lord?
My dad prayed with me when I was really young, But I faced the same struggles and tug of war with my heart that all people face growing up. And who am I fooling? I still face them now. It 's funny, but I think I’m still learning so much in my relationship with God.
Reflecting on this question, I thought of three separate times in my spiritual life that were landmark times, one just being a year ago. So I guess this crazy exciting journey started when I was 5 or so, but still continues, and isn't all figured out even yet.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started in music?
I have been through a lot in the last couple of years. And 5 years ago when my career started, I even begged Gotee not to sign me because of the baggage attached to me. And of course they laughed and said, "You don't scare us. We believe that you are called."
But if I could know one thing going into this whole thing, it is that the church is much more accepting and forgiving than I ever dreamed. I haven't felt condemnation, not once, for admitting that I come from an abusive past. I somehow expected to feel alienated and alone, and instead I have felt nothing but love and acceptance and support, which shouldn't have been surprising to me, but it was. So "Skeptical Sarah" is turning in her title and admitting that the churches I’m close to are much more open to "real life" vs. "illusion life" than I thought. Good on them.
What’s special to you about your first album Take Me Away?
Take Me Away was me worshiping through the circumstance. Like Paul and Silas did in Ccts 16:25. They worshiped in their prison, and I was worshiping in mine.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
”Living Hallelujah” because of the memories I have with some of my favorite Masters Commission students. The first time I heard that choir explode in my newly created song, I nearly came undone. I am telling you, it was the closest I've felt to heaven before or since.
Recently you’ve started talking about your own struggles with an abusive relationship and how you overcame it. What steps did you take to start the healing process?
Well I'm still in the healing process, but the first step is harder than it sounds, believe me. It is simply “remove yourself from that situation”. And now I am daily battling the self hate that got me there in the first place.
Do you have any advice for people in an abusive relationship?
Simply, don't waste your time anymore. It puts you in this numb trance where you will do anything to feel. What a waste of the one life we get, and with no pay off! Grab the bull by the horns and decide to be done with this. It takes work to “take your thoughts captive”. But like any habit, this one can be broken. And the rest of your life you will never regret it.
What advice would you give to people who want to stop cutting themselves?
Cutters are extreme people. All or nothing sorts. And like any addiction, it starts in the mind. Whether you are making yourself feel, or giving yourself what you think you somehow deserve . . . There is a self respect issue that has grown into this. So it requires taking your thoughts captive. Let me explain. Paul, the same guy who says this, was thrown in jail, and at midnight worshiped. Now this is total speculation, but I think that he was totally exemplifying this for us. His thoughts may have been betraying him, and instead of giving in, he worships. It is hard to think one thing and say out loud another thing. So my advice? When thinking of this, put on the worship tunes. That is what helped me thought this very thing.
Can you tell us a little about your involvement with Master’s Commission?
I love Masters Commission. That is where I lead worship for years---before the record deals and Grammy noms. They are a bunch of college students that love God as much as I do!
Can you tell me a story someone shared with you about how one of your songs affected their life?
Well, just yesterday here in Europe (I am on tour) I opened for a huge band here. A guy on the way out came up to me and told me he stumbled upon my music on MySpace (I was the featured artist last month) and came out to the show. He didn't know English too well, but he ended up saying that he hadn't cried in years. All I have to say is, “Glad to meet you on your journey, my friend.”
How does your faith come into play in your writing and performing?
My faith is inseparable from my music. Both are a place of complete honesty, so they fit together well. Not every song that I sing is considered a "Christian song”. Yet every song is from a Christian heart: mine. Jesus Christ and the Bible are huge inspirations in my songwriting itself. For instance, “All I See” from my first album, is written from the perspective of Mary who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair.
Share with us an unusual or embarrassing moment you had while on tour or on stage.
Okay, this is like an everyday occurrence for me. I am not very elegant, so I always am tripping or making some sort of fool of myself. To ask what is the most embarrassing ever? Well, let's just think about today shall we? The most embarrassing thing to happen today is that, from stage (of course) I said a word that is not bad in the states, but I guess it means something entirely different out here in Europe. So the room got weirdly quiet, and then laughter broke out all over. I finally figured out what was going on, and then had a great laugh with all of them. Word to the wise. Don't say the word “frisky” in Europe. It means something totally different.
Are there any musicians you consistently turn to for inspiration?
In the last 5 or so years I have become a huge classic rock fan. Snything 70s will do. And I love singer songwriters. So if you blend the two, you have perfection. Carol King, Larry Norman, Keith Green, and so on. I also love Sigor Ros.
Do you have a new project in the works?
I am starting an album right now. Songs are done, and I am extremely excited about the new place in life that I am in. All of my 2 albums were written in the shadows of abusive situations. This one is the first I’m writing as a free, grace loving, peace knowing individual. I think it is my best work ever. Like the chocolate part of the Neopolitan ice cream. Still strong and introspective, but extremely worshipful. I guess I can't help myself.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you pick and why?
I would definitely go out with Carol King. I would ask her a bunch of life questions and then write a song with her . . . or at least watch her process.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
1. I have a pet rabbit Caliboo. Big ears and big feet.
2. I am Swedish.
When you’re not singing, what do you enjoy doing?
Drinking Diet Coke and painting. Or traveling to some beach. Keep in mind I have been doing 260 shows a year for years now, so not much time off.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Cereal (Raisin Bran, of course) and coffee.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Diet Coke, creamer for coffee, and last weeks leftovers.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Vente nonfat vanilla latte . . . iced.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Going to Spain, and having the largest chain of piano schools in the country.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Sigor Ros and Glen Gould.
What three words best describe you?
I just asked my best friend, and they said, “Passionate, passionate, passionate.”
Anything else you’d like to say to TitleTrakk.com readers?
One more thing. Don't waste any more of your precious days on insecurity. It is a meaningless game that leads you nowhere and steals your life. You have the power to live life totally free from it. So stop messing with the whole “backwards pride” or the “pride in disguise” and realize that your life is far too precious to waste. Oh, and don't date jerks!
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.