Up until about a month or two ago, the name “Jennifer Knapp” was lumped into the pile of CDs in the church van as we embarked to encounter Jesus and abstinence at some camp with a name no one could pronounce. In short, Knapp was never someone whose music, life, or career affected my life at all. She was just a girl who made music that girls in my youth group liked, not me; I just didn’t get it.
Of course, that was then. Knapp’s well publicized return to music has gripped many of us. Coated in mystery and swells of rumours, no one knew what to expect. Over the last year she’s been recording and preparing a new album. The last few months she’s been touring with Derek Webb and the delightful, though still relatively unknown, Amy Courts.
That she was returning to music was not a surprise. Nor were many of us surprised by her interview with Christianity Today in which she revealed she was in a long-standing, committed lesbian-relationship or by her well articulated defense on Larry King Live. Controversy isn’t a surprise or a shock to intelligent people, just like blood doesn’t offend surgeons.
What shocked me was the honest nature of Jennifer Knapp’s public life. This raw, open entrance into the life of Jennifer Knapp was dissonant to most who listened or read. To me it made less sense than any of the long monologues of Ayn Rand. But then I listened to her new record Letting Go, released today (Graylin Records/Thirty Tigers). The lyrics link her recent interviews and the culture to which they were delivered. They give the sense that there isn’t a barrier between society and faith, that people of faith are made of flesh not plastic and that there is limitless potential for their art.
On Larry King Live Knapp said that “rumours had been circulating for seven years and while I wasn’t here to answer on them, it was starting to feel like a lie.” If there’s anything we need from people who are following Jesus it is more open, honest, candid exchanges.
Jennifer Knapp was kind enough to offer me the opportunity for just such an exchange:
CP: Recently you’ve returned to Nashville and worked with Paul Moak (who has worked with Over the Rhine and Trent Dabbs) and recorded at the Smokestack. Tell me about that experience and process.
JK: Paul is a classy guy. I was pretty nervous about going into the studio, having not performed any of the music, having not entered into the musical world in any way for so long. Paul made smooth the transition process of taking the intensely private musings of my writing and reminding me of the excitement that it brings in sharing it with others.
CP: You brought in a team of new musicians on this new record, who are they? And what were they like to work with?
JK: Will Sayles, drums; Cason Cooley, keys; Paul Moak, guitars; Tony Lucido & Matt Peirson, bass; Claire Indie, cello were the core players.
I tell you, they’re an immensely energetic and creative bunch. It was a true celebration for me to watch each person give his passion over to the craft. It was an honor to have them give the attention to each performance in hopes of putting the best into each and every song we tracked. It’s not always like that, going into the studio as a solo artist, and to get that kind of respect was something I will never forget.
CP: In 2004 you took your now infamous break to Australia. Where in Australia did you go? And (what’s burning in everyone’s minds) why the break? But more importantly what made you want to come back to the states?
JK: I travelled much of Australia but took up residency in Sydney.
Generally speaking, being a musician had lost most of it’s joy for me. I was exhausted with few opportunities to recharge. There was little inspiration in the wonderful experiences I was having. I felt like I was forcing myself to manufacture an interest in continuing to write and tour…good signs that I needed to renegotiate what I was doing. The fact that music was one of the most serene and genuine comforts of my life was a mystery, so I left, wondering if I had any right to call myself an artist.
I think the underlying question is not so much what made me move back to the States, but why I started writing again. I have a home in both places, but my return to writing has been a great re-discovery of one my greatest pleasures. To share the songs that I’ve written with the audience that has waited for so long, it seems the natural place to be, right now.
CP: What propelled this return to music?
JK: I think mostly, that I’ve reconciled myself with the fact that I will write whether anyone listens or not. It is a part of my existence, what I am made to do. It’s taken me a long time in being removed from the commercialism of it all to find the rich joys that music has brought to my life. To remove the strain of simply crafting a record so that it can be sold, but plumbing the depths of the human spirit is what draws me in, every time.
CP: What are some of the themes in the new album Letting Go?
JK: In general, I think a lot of what comes out is the process I’ve gone through in holding on to the joys of life when dark clouds loom. There is struggle within it, some cynicism, frustration, but also relief and celebration.
CP: Can you give us some depth on this statement on your website: Sometimes, you have to let go of everything to be able to come back.?
JK: That’s a statement made in regards to the fact that when I left music, I thought that I might very well never play again. It may sound cheesy, but I just didn’t know if I was supposed to play or write anymore, so I left it all behind. I resisted even, the urge to participate until I knew. I suppose it’s the old ‘if you love it, set it free’ adage…I’m truly grateful to find that it’s been here the whole time.
CP: Has the honesty in your new music compelled you to be more honest with fans about your sexuality?
JK: I have always approached the audience/artist relationship as something sacred. Perhaps my acute awareness and appreciation of all who enter the room is due to my history in the church; a place where I have also guarded as the sanctuary for our deepest longings and self-discovery. I’ve done my best to be as relevant and honest as I can at every turn. While walking in the love, I hope to fully share that love publicly through the gift of music. I felt there was no more honorable thing I could do than reveal this truth about myself. Out of a deep respect for those listeners who differ, I offer this personal truth in order that they may enter fully knowing the truth.
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