Before that, Jennifer broke from her already busy schedule to talk to me this week about her new record (Letting Go, released in May), her first show at a Chicago club and why she decided to return to music after a long hiatus.
Eric Hughes: You took a hiatus for about seven years. And one thing that I recognized after your album, The Way I Am, back in 2001, the one thing you kept telling people as far as why you weren’t releasing a followup was because you wanted to be influenced by something. You wanted to have music not just for the sake of it, but to have a reason behind it. So what was it that influenced you to return?
Jennifer Knapp: I think mostly it was that I missed the conversation that music has, like the community of it. I started writing a little bit at home and was playing it and just kind of getting back into music for myself. I started to get really excited about the music that I had yet I wasn’t going out and playing it. I think that time away and getting that opportunity to just kind of let the dust settle down a little bit really made me understand and just really made me long for the community and the conversation. I think it’s really easy to write a song, but it’s one thing to be able to share it and to have that experience with other people as well.
EH: Letting Go came out in May. When did you start working on it? Not exactly putting pen to paper, but even just kind of thinking about music again?
JN: I think it was about 2007, 2008. I started thinking about music. It took me about a year to take the time to start having the courage to set the time aside. So yeah, 2007 I started to kind of pull out the guitar a little bit and pick up my keyboard. It wasn’t until 2008 that I actually started like writing stuff that I really thought that I could consider sharing with other people.
EH: If you remember, what was the first song that kind of got things going again for you?
JN: Well to be honest, I had a few things that were in my arsenal of music that just never made records. And so with a lack of commitment to writing anything new, I started working in my own studio and started working with songs that–they ended up on the record. They’re called “Mr. Gray,” there’s another one “On Love” and another one called, “If It Made a Difference.” And those are songs that I had that kind of went through the process of the third record, The Way I Am, and just never got on the record. And so just in the process of getting back in the studio, or getting back into the process of music, I sat down in my own studio and started to kind of mess around with it and do a few recordings and getting my chops back and getting my feet back under me I started to write some new stuff as well.
EH: I’m not familiar with what you’ve done with your time during your hiatus. I think you spent some time in Australia, but as far as what you did to support yourself, I’m not really sure. But what I can say is I can assume this year has been a lot going on: You put out a record, you’re on tour all the time. I’m sure it’s very stressful at times, and just a lot going on. What is it like to get back into that life again?
JN: Yeah, it’s both splendid and exhausting.
EH: [Laughs] Yeah.
JN: I mean the cool part of it is that I’m just so happy to be playing. You know, you’re not thinking about like the five flights you’ve got to catch that week and–
JN: –The miles you’ve got to track, and stop looking at how much your body is going to be exhausted. The time on stage and opportunities to hang out with people has just been immensely rewarding. I’m so happy to be doing it. And then I think at the other end of it you know when you’re just completely exhausted and looking at the schedule for the week, just coming off of a good show and having a great interaction and just being reminded of why you started doing it in the first place makes the stress of it I think a lot less.
EH: And if I’m not mistaken, I think your tour is wrapping up here soon. I think at the end of this month. What are you plans to do after your done, other than just, you know, R and R, which I’m sure is gonna be in the cards for you.
JN: Well, I’m still trying to add a few more dates to November, hopefully before things wrap up. We’re still going to plan to add a few more shows on here yet. And then I’ll just take December off. And I’m hoping to head back to Australia and catch some sun because it’ll be summer there and I kind of miss the–I’ve spent the last five years there hanging out and building relationships there, so it’s a great second home and I’m looking forward to having it, a summer over there hopefully.
EH: Awesome. Yeah, I’m very jealous. Here in Chicago it’s going to be very cold. So–
JN: [Laughs] I know, the Windy City.
EH: Yep. So you’re going to be here on Monday. Have you played in Chicago before?
JN: I have. It’s been a long time. I’m pretty sure–I mean I’ve never done a club in Chicago. I can’t remember what the last show I played there was. I think, is it Northwestern?
EH: Yeah, Northwestern’s a school here. It’s in Evanston, which is very close.
JN: Yeah, so I think most of the work I did around Chicago was then associated with local colleges and stuff.
JN: Is Wheaton there?
EH: Wheaton’s also here, yeah.
JN: Yeah, I think it’s highly likely that Wheaton was the last place I played the last time I was in Chicago.
EH: Well the venue you’re going to be playing at — Lincoln Hall — it’s brand new. I think it opened late last year, and it’s just awesome. It’s got great acoustics. Who are you playing with that night?
JN: Yeah, actually a comedian is joining me that night.
JN: She’s a friend of mine — her name is Lianna Carrera. She’s an up-and-coming comedian, and has a really interesting approach to her comedy. She’s a PK — preacher’s kid — lesbian whose gone through a lot and still be able to laugh about it at the end of the day. She’s a really great inspiration I think.
EH: As far as Letting Go, which we haven’t really touched on too much, I noticed in some of the songs — “Dive In,” “Inside” and parts of “Letting Go” — it’s a lot tougher. It’s a lot rougher, a little darker in the sound. And I’m wondering how that came about for you. I was looking back at your catalog, and I feel like the songs on this new record have an edge to them–
EH: –Just kind of wondering where that came from.
JN: I think I’ve always kind of had like a little edge to what I’ve done or in the very least tried to encapsulate it in the irony [Laughs]–
JN: –But I felt like with the pressure–the pressure was released in trying to come up with a happy ending because this wasn’t a Christian record. The history I’ve had with Christian music, it’s really hard to leave an open-ended question in that format. You know, to question your faith and not necessarily have a rosy resolution to it. That’s one of the joys I’m actually having about being able to say some of the frustrations or conflicts or what it means to just be living, and to enjoy those moments. There’s still an overriding sense of hope. For me that process has been really important to just go, “Man, this really sucks”–
JN: –I don’t have an answer for it right now, but I’m going to just plow right through it. And the same kind of energy that I enjoy just from my guitar at the end of a night, sometimes that’s all you get. Just being able to put all your energy into that emotion. And so for me, that’s been a really fun aspect of it. I don’t feel like I’m going to offend anyone by just talking about how frustrated I might be in the moment or even coming out, you know, through an aggressive moment on the better side of it.
EH: Last question for you is actually from a really good friend of mine, and a really big fan of yours. Actually, I met her back in middle school — I’m 24 myself, so I’ve known her at least half my life if not more. And she introduced me to her youth group and a lot of Christian music back in high school and you were actually the first artist that she introduced me to. And then I think following you is, you know, Third Day and Audio Adrenaline. I think Newsboys were in there, too. But you were always first. So your music definitely has touched her. The question is: As a listener who also shares her life with a woman, it seemed evident in hearing the new project initially that some of the songs clearly spoke to that journey you’ve been on. She points out the line, “Even though I got my pride” from the song “Inside.”–
EH: And her question is, since she actually saw you perform in Pennsylvania — I think it was in April of this year, so before your album came out — she wants to know was it hard to begin the tour and play shows and new pieces before publicly coming out?
JN: Yeah. It was a little bit — I don’t know what the word is where I was… certainly on the edge. I was certainly acutely aware that I was, you know, potentially playing to some audiences that might not support me, you know, six weeks later on down the road when the press was gonna hit and that kind of thing. But at the same time, I really enjoyed the process of being able to just get back and do what I do. And to share my music the way that I’ve always shared it, which is as honestly and as openly as I can. And I felt like that before people knew that I was gay that to have–I felt like it was an opportunity for people to come out and see me and see that I didn’t have two heads and that I was a normal human being. Are you going to write somebody off just because there’s an element or an aspect of them that might be difficult to understand, or hard to agree with? It’s still a human being inside of that that has gifts and talents and passions. That’s what I took that opportunity to be.
- Jennifer Knapp was born in Chanute, Kansas.
- Her album, Letting Go, is available on her website for $8.99 (mp3s) or $12.95 (CD).
- Jennifer will perform at Lincoln Hall on Monday, October 11 with comedian Lianna Carrera. Tickets are $20.
Jennifer Knapp performing “Dive In” at the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio on March 24, 2010