Photo courtesy of Fairlight Hubbard and Amy M Phillips of EYE
Just 10 years ago Jennifer Knapp was the Christian music "it girl." In 2002, following her third successful album, she took a hiatus to Australia for personal reasons. She returned in 2009, shocking Christian music fans by coming out as a lesbian and shedding the Christian music label, all while maintaining her personal spirituality. Now over a year later Beliefnet caught up with her while on a break from tour stops including progressive Christian festivals. Jennifer openly discusses those shows, her new music, her sexuality, and her spirituality in this in depth interview.
Has not being a Christian Contemporary artist freed you creatively?
I think so. I always feel, as an artist, and this is just artistry, a bit handcuffed. I think one of my biggest challenges is when I’m in a room, alone, by myself, going, “Hey, now it’s time for you to be creative and awesome.” And if I think, “Oh my gosh, I’m terrible.” There’s that insecurity. So I think it’s opened up its new set of issues for me, I tend to get a little bit hypertensive sometimes, I start chasing the rabbit trail a little bit, in a spiritual context, inside of my music. And then I start thinking, “Oh my gosh, well, if I’m not writing music for the church anymore, then I need to be quiet, and I need to kind of appreciate it.” There’s kind of a different twist on that, that I wasn’t really expecting.
But, at the same time, I think there is a lot of joy. I don't necessarily feel like I’m having to sit into a dogma, which is, as an artist, I’ve never been interested in propagandizing with my music. I’ve just been more about interpersonal journeys and the psychological and just the spiritual nature that I think music has anyway; whether you’re talking about love or working in a truck yard. I just think that there’s so much more to be seen through life if you step back and really look from a wide angle. So I appreciate that now that I’m not necessarily writing for that, that I’m allowed to step back and another step further and kind of get some perspective and the freedom to be able to speak about this thing, to write about this thing, in a way that I wouldn’t be that apologetic. I had to really struggle before to get a song on a record; because [they would say] “You’re not specifically talking to Jesus on this song, so we can’t put it on a record.” Even though that song had an extremely spiritual starting point and path, it wouldn't make it because the lyrical content didn’t check off the boxes, so to speak.
Has this freedom changed the actual music itself in any way for you?
I really don’t think so. Others have argued that it has. I think I’m a little bit more relaxed now, in terms of if a song comes out and it’s a little bit on the more country side of it, which didn't really fly in the vain of what I was doing at CCM, if I had something that was kind of country, like a folk-related, I’d really try and push the top edge of it a little bit more than I might normally do, but I don't know. Now, I just kind of let the song be its own personality; because it’s not having to serve the beast, so to speak. It’s not having to -- Christian music is an interesting genre because it's the only genre that’s lyrically-based. You know what I mean?
So you can have rap and country and folk, praise and worship music, whatever, but it’s all about -- it doesn't matter how you deliver it; it just matters what the content is inside of it. And it’s a whole other world, when you step outside of that. That’s not a requirement. The requirement’s to write an extremely good song that means something lyrically, and then, you’d have to be joined by very good music or you won’t survive. Nobody’s going to hang out and buy a ticket of me at the local pub if I don't play good music. And I can nail the lyric all day long, but if I deliver it poorly and they don't like the style, then they’re not going to show up.
So who do you listen to?
That’s a good question. I’m actually not a big music listener, which is weird, apparently; or so I’m told. I really do tend to enjoy just about any artist who writes themselves; writes and performs their own music. And that’s anywhere from Eminem to Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman. But I listen to all kinds of stuff. Lately, I’ve been listening to the Sugarcubes and from the early nineties and -- I don't know. I was listening to a rock record the other day. I can't even remember what it was. That’s how bad of a condition I am in.