Interview with Christa Wells; Feeding A Beautiful Soul

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Award-winning singer and songwriter, Christa Wells, has just released her newest album, Feed Your Soul with acclaimed critical, peer and fan reviews. The album was recorded at Zodlounge Music in Nashville, and the common theme throughout the album referencing the title, is the giving and receiving of love. This album was a labor of love, fan and artist-wise, as Christa received full funding for the album through a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $15,000 dollars. With this being Christa’s second full-length album, she has collaborated with other artists on their projects, as well as becoming a duo with her dear friend, Nicole Witt. They released a folk-music debut as More Than Rubies, which was released earlier in the spring of 2013.

Christa is an award-winning songwriter with many credits to her name. She was awarded with Songwriter of the Year by the Gospel Music Association for Contemporary Christian artist, Natalie Grant’s recording of the emotionally powerful, “Held.” Her writing credits also included the current hit by Plumb, “Need You Know (How Many Times).” She has also written for and with Selah, Point of Grace, Sara Groves, Nicole Sponberg, and Jessica Campbell. Christa is a kindred spirit and a dear soul, and our “interview” was more of a conversation between friends. We discussed her new album, Feed Your Soul, how she overcame her anxiety of singing to audiences, her favorites, and much, much more. Discover more about Christa and let her words and music “feed your soul.” The first part of our chat was she and I discussing a couple of the favorite songs that she wrote solely herself and ones she collaborated with the artists on.

GGM: How does your relationship with God influence your writing in music? 

Christa: I feel like when I sit down to write music, I bring my whole personhood into it; my whole humanity. As a person of faith, there’s no part of my life that’s not governed by God, and there’s no part of my life that is lived separate from Him. It’s really not even a conscious effort. I don’t have to think, “Okay, I’m going to sit down and write a song and need to remember to include God in this.” It’s that my whole worldview is shaped by my understanding of who God is and how He loves us. So, my writing is not compartmentalized into faith and the rest of life, because He’s the Lord over all of life.

GGM: After working with several iconic artists, how does your process of recording and writing evolve, during those writing and recording sessions? 

Christa: Well, I’ve had to grow into collaboration, because I began my writing as a teenager writing alone, and it really was during a difficult time in my life. So, the writing, the experience with writing was personal and private, and it was my safe place during a difficult time, so it formed my view of the creative process as being sort of a cave-like experience. It’s where I go when I’m alone. So, ten years later when I found myself in co-writing situations, it was really difficult for me just because it was such a very different process; learning to think and create out loud in a room with other people without the luxury of taking months to flesh something out, is quite a challenge. Honestly, I felt horrible at it for quite awhile. My good friend, NIcole Witt, has helped me so much. She’s been writing for a very long time in the country market, as well as pop and Christian, and somehow she’s opened me up. She’s taught me how to lighten up about it a little bit more, and not feel like every creative effort has to be this grave, you know, serious endeavor, where I hold tightly to all of my ideas. I’ve learned to find more joy in the process, and to really listen to what other people have to bring to the table. There’s just so much to learn from other artists, and I feel like they’ve honed my craft. Also, in the room, we’re discussing important things of life, so I learn about life, I learn about faith through my fellow artists and writers.

Christa and I had a personal chat about how many people cocoon the Christian music industry and she mentioned that she wants to reach people with her music from all walks of life, and that’s she not trying to fit one categorization of music. We agreed that music is universal, and should be spread throughout. 

GGM: I want to talk about the Kickstarter campaign. It obviously overwhelmed and humbled you at the same time with the outpouring and devotion of fans. Why is that? 

Christa: It was terrifying in one sense because you don’t know how it’s going to go. The Kickstarter campaign; a lot of them that I have seen by indie artists they start out rather slow, and you do have this fear that this is not going to go well (laughs). You’re really eager to create what you want to create. In my case, I wasn’t raising money for post-production, I was raising money to do the basic production of the album. So, it simply wasn’t going to happen without people’s help. I am an admitted self-sufficient person to a fault. I don’t like to ask for help. It’s partly because I’m prideful. I want to be able to do it myself. It’s also I guess I underestimated how much of a gift it is to other people to allow them to be a part of something. I underestimated the value that has in other people’s lives; to be a part of making art. So, from my perspective when I put it out there, I felt like I a big burden on people, and I didn’t want to be a burden, and I didn’t want to make people have to give money when they could be spending it on something else. There’s that really not wanting to intrude or impose, but it wasn’t that I had an overwhelming number of people show up and help out. A couple of things were very interesting to me with one being the people that jump on board are often not the people you were counting on, not the people you expected; some of my oldest, closest friends didn’t touch base with me at all during that process, or contribute anything, and that’s fine. I wasn’t at all bitter or angry. I was surprised that the people who jumped in I had less history with or that I didn’t really know were watching, and would want to get involved and invest themselves. The second thing is these e-mails I would get from people who were literally thanking me for letting them do this. I was completely blown away and thinking, “What do you mean, thank you for letting me do this? You’re the one doing something for me, and they were saying, ‘No, this is a gift to us, to be invited in the process.'” I guess I just realized the beauty of community out there, the beauty of the music-loving community, and half of those people love music, and half of those people just love me for some reason, and wanted to support whatever I’m doing. Also, I realized there’s this common hunger in the human soul to make something. We want to make stuff, we want to create something new, in whatever way we can come alongside and be a part of giving birth to something that has never existed before; that’s tremendously exciting and an honor to us all. It’s an honor to me to get to create music and it’s an honor, apparantly to other people, to help me make music, and that just floored me. I’m so, so grateful to know that there are people out there like that.

GGM: You and fellow singer-songwriter and friend, Nicole Witt, collaborated under the name More Than Rubies. Do you ever want to collaborate on a project like that again in the future? 

Christa: Nicole and I definitely want to collaborate on another project, and we’re already talking about it. Our big question is how much will it resemble our collaborative work that we did on More Than Rubies? Because we loved that body of work, and it’s a very niche market, and as far as the people that have heard it love it and feel very strongly about it because it’s different from what’s out there in the realm of worship music. It’s lyrically deep, theologically rich, but musically and sonically it’s really stripped down. But, I think a lot of people who listen to Christian music are more accustomed to simpler sounding lyrics with higher production value. We kind of flopped it on its head, and we didn’t do that strategically, those are the instruments we play. She plays fiddle and I play piano, so we try to keep it close to what we actually do in those settings. We wrote lyrically what we were wanting to write, and we weren’t constrained by any marketability issues, because we weren’t aiming for Christian radio. We simply wanted to make something that we were proud of, that we felt great about, and with integrity, walk in and lead people when we are invited to lead worship. That’s not what we do primarily, but over the last couple of years, we had been invited to do that a number of times, and we had a growing desire to create the music that reflected who we are musically. We definitely want to do it again; we’re just kind of toying with what we feel compelled to make. Will it be another album of worship music, or will it be something different? Sonically, of course, we have our main pallet, our voices  and our instruments will be there. The question remains what it will be like. Collaboration in general is more exciting to me. We’ve gotten to watch a couple of bands recently at a festival, one was called The Vespers and The Farewell Drifters, and watching both of those bands, they just lit up the night with their joy and their collaborative music making, the energy, the instrumentation. So, that lit a fire under both of us. We were just so hungry to make new music and work with other musicians. I don’t know, it’s just contagious.

The Farewell Drifters are my buddies, and we connected further about how much a small world it really is out there! 

GGM: What advice would you give to someone who struggles with performance anxiety, much like you did? 

Christa: That’s hard…I think for some people, honestly, it might mean either it’s not what they’re called to do or it’s not time for them to do it. I think that can be a signal, but that’s not what your first love is; and for me, for a few years, I did not perform, I focused on songwriting instead, and I think that was what I was supposed to do. The songs that came from that time like “Held,” probably would not have come if I was strictly writing for myself and doing my own thing. So, I think there’s a tension there because you want to listen to those clues to what your calling is. At the same time, what I struggled with, it’s not right to be that bound up, as a human it’s not right. It’s not the way we are meant to be because it’s not free. So, I have regret over that because I think it ultimately came from a very self-centered, pre-occupied character trait at that time. That sounds weird because you feel like you’re a very insecure person, therefore you’re not prideful, but it’s not true. I’m insecure because I’m concerned with my own image and I’m concerned about failing in front of people and preserving my ego and pride. Really, it’s a hard thing to swallow. It truly does come from an ugly place, and I miss so much in those years of being really present with people and their stories; giving a good gift that I had to give, because that’s what music is about. It’s not supposed to be a gift for the music maker, although it is, it is a joy for me to make music. What I’ve learned is that’s a by-product of giving joy to other people. So now when I get up in front of people, I’m thinking about them. I’m actually looking in their eyes, looking in their faces, and hearing the music and just thinking about it that way. Because I’m here to give what I’ve been given to pass out to people, just like the disciples with the loaves of bread. Everyone has their thing they have to give. So, I guess as far as advice; if I was speaking to my younger self, I would say to keep doing it anyways. Not that it has to be a profession, but I think if I had allowed myself the discomfort of returning to the stage more frequently, maybe I would have conquered it sooner, because I would have learned that lesson sooner if I had said yes to things more often. I think a lot of it is hard to give advice that pulls people out of self-consciousness and self-centeredness. I think it’s something that we have to pray through and grow through. It comes with maturity and expanding your love for other people. I think the more we practice loving other people, self-love diminishes in a good way. It’s not that you don’t want to love yourself, but self pre-occupation diminishes, because we have less time for it. We’re busy thinking about each other.

Purchase Christa’s second full-length album, just released on August 13, 2013 HERE.

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