Sara Groves Illuminates the Invisible Kingdom
Sara Groves is one of the most penetrating and vulnerable artists in Christian music today. Beliefnet contributor Collin Derrick recently caught up with her to talk about her life, spirituality, and new album.
BY: Collin Derrick
Your music is very personal and conversational. You do a lot of soul baring. What artists challenge you to do that more?
The first was Emily Saliers from the Indigo Girls when I was in college. I had some Christian music but I loved Peter Gabriel, Sting and the piano players like Billy Joel [who] I would try to mimic them musically but lyrically the Indigo Girls. The Indigo Girls are made up of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray and Amy is very angry and bitter. I don't resonate with her songs. But Emily just opens up her heart and writes songs like "History of Us" "Ghost" and I thought, "I want to write music like that but from a Christian world view." She was really the first one. Now Patti Griffin just takes my face off. I still have to grow in that way. I still have a lot of cultural conventions that keep me from saying this or that. Not in a negative way, like moralism, because I myself am unorthodox but I always feel like there is more to say and more to do.
If you could do a duet with someone who is stylistically left field of your own music who would it be?
I already know this: Toby Mac. There’s a part of me that loves words and I’ve written a few songs with rapid-fire words and I thoroughly appreciate hip-hop and rap music - the ability to fit that many words and ideas in. I told Brown that [I wanted to work with Toby] when we were working on Add to the Beauty or Tell Me What You Know and asked, "do you ever see me doing a duet with Toby?" And he said, "Honestly? No." [laughing] But I can really see it!
I would buy it.
I would be a total nerd. I would be an idiot but it would fun.
Are you listening to anything interesting or exciting right now?
Josh Garrels - really enjoyed him lately. Crystal Wells - I love her. We’re touring with Audrey assay, who I also love. A brand new couple Jenny and Tyler - excited to get to know those guys. I love Johnny Lang, been a fan of his for a long time.
I saw that you got to interview him a while back.
I did! It was good. It’s hard to meet someone as an interviewer sometimes. I felt like he was treating me like an interviewer instead of a fellow artist. But I think his conversion was so amazing. I loved his music long before he was saved - he was in so much anguish. I remember we saw him on David letterman and Troy and I both said, "What happened to him? Something happened to him." The very next day, because he's from our part of the world, on the front page of the lifestyle section it said "born again" and there was a big picture of Johnny Lang and we both thought "wow." We knew it, before we knew it.
Your mission statement is "challenging people to see the next step in their walk with God". What do you feel like your next step is and are there any artists that challenge you to do that?
First question, my next step with God - there are so many steps. I need a lot of work. I need to trust more and definitely still have a lot of fear. My next step in a personal way is just - that's what that mission statement is about. The atheist will wake up and say "maybe I’m agnostic?" The 90-year-old woman who has served in church all of her life, who has a sweet relationship with Jesus, always has a next place, a next step. There will never be an end to that. CS Lewis says “higher up, further in.” The next step for us is in a practical way is launching the Art House North in St Paul. We have been really influenced by the Art House in Nashville and that’s been a big part of our community, even though we don't live in Nashville. We’ve missed out somewhat on artist community because we don't live in Nashville - though the benefits have been stellar. We’re by family; we're plugged into our church. We’re not in Nashville, which has its benefits like - I don't respond well to competition and I feel like it’s set me free and I’m able to be myself. When we go there we have great friends there like Charlie and Andi, Charlie peacock and his wife Andi Ashworth - who have spoken into our lives a great deal. A lot of what you've seen us do with our marriage, the holistic way we tour and do everything, was inspired by a vision we caught at the Art House in 2002. They’re basically providing community for artists. They live in a 100-year-old church and when I was first there I just got it and was inspired by it. It’s been on our hearts for about four years. We jokingly said to Charlie, "there's a church for sale, how about Art House North?" He got real serious and said "I would do that in a heartbeat. I would do that in a heartbeat." So Troy and I looked at each other and knew immediately that, if he was open to branching out as the Art House, we would love to do something like that. They ended up branching out to Dallas first. We’ve bought a 100-year-old church in St Paul and will be renovating it over the next year. The goal is to provide support for artists in our community who often work in isolation, a reason to gather, lots of food and collaboration will hopefully be born out of that. We’re really excited about it. We'll [also] provide events for the community along the lines of art/and faith - that's our next step. We’re investing everything we are in that. We’re selling everything we have to do this Art House. This is where we’re headed. It’s what we'll be doing for the next haul.
That's a big investment.
Yeah, but the confirmation has been raining down. [There was] a stretch with the anxiety where the heavens were brass and the breadcrumbs were few and far between but now it's loaves of bread every day. Every few days something happens and we have no doubt we're moving in the right direction. That doesn't mean it won't be hard but we're up for it!