Singer/Songwriter Ellie Holcomb, formerly of her husband's band Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, ventured out on her own this year with her first full-length album As Sure As The Sun. Jesusfreakhideout.com's Jen Rose chatted with Ellie about her new album, her musical background (and family), and what inspires her most...
This interview took place on: 3/19/14.
Ooh, great question. Hey, I'm Ellie Holcomb and I... love to sing. I guess that's not the one thing I want readers to know. I guess I'd like 'em to know I love the ways that music connects people's stories. It's one of my favorite things about being a musician. Being a bridge builder.
Ellie: I literally grew up on Christian music. *laugh* I always knew from my dad... I would hear him tell stories of songs he would produce that would really encourage people or change their lives even, and he would tear up talking about it. Still does. He hasn't lost that passion. So I knew as a little girl, I knew that music was a powerful tool to be able to speak into people's lives. It was sort of mysterious and wonderful to me as a little kid. But I never thought that I would actually do music as my job. I always just thought I would do it for fun 'cause I also watched as a little kid how music would be really hard on many families, with moms and dads having to travel a lot. So I kind of swore I would never marry a musician, and um... and that didn't work out so great for me. I fell in love with my best friend who happened to be a musician… *laugh* so...
Ellie: We met in college through mutual friends. We both loved music and would go see shows together and led worship together at a couple different campus ministries, and y'know… the rest is history. *laugh*
So to more succinctly answer your question, I really think I caught the bug early on from seeing the power that music can have to bring a lot of good into the world.
Ellie: That's right! I just thought I'd always sing and write songs, but the only place I had ever done that really was… I used to write heartbreak songs in college, because that's what I was going through at the time, and I would sing them in the stairwell in my dorm. I remember a lot of nights I would do that, and I'd have my eyes closed, and I would look up and there'd be girls lining the stairway… a lot of them crying, a lot of them would end up sitting down and wanting to tell me their story just because I played a song, and I thought that was amazing. So I thought really, honestly, I'd keep singing but it would just be in like stairwells. *laugh* 'Cause it built bridges to other people's stories, and they felt like they could talk to me just because I'd played a song. I've always been amazed by that.
Ellie: Exactly… it just means they have a feeling, but they don't know how to name it. I experience it all the time just with other people's music.
Ellie: I loved teaching. I would sing and rap in my classroom. *laugh* I taught at urban schools and would do anything and everything to try to motivate them (*Jen laughs*) and I had an absolute blast doing it. Drew asked me to consider joining him on the road after I'd been teaching for two years. He was gone over half the year, and we'd gotten married after my first year of teaching, and we were not loving the fact that he was away from home all the time. Like, we got married so we could be together but we never are. *laugh* So I thought I would always wonder what it would be like if I didn't try it. I really wanted to be with him, and I think we thought it would be a year long diversion, and it turned into seven years. (Jen: Wow.) Yeah, isn't that crazy?
Ellie: It's kind of amazing! It's served our marriage so well to travel and tour together. It has been and continues to be a huge gift to get to do this together. And not easy, y'know? But really good.
Ellie: Yeah, we tour… about… 200 days a year. So we're gone from home anywhere between 150 and 180 shows a year. People ask us if we live in Nashville and we say "sort of. Sometimes."
Ellie: Yeah. *laugh* So that was a really big decision for me to make a full-length record and make this music and pursue it a little more full-time. Because we've been together on the road, you know, but Drew was hearing the songs I'd been writing and he was like, "Babe, you've got to record these. You need to chase this down." I'd been a background singer and kind of a utility musician, and he's really the one who made me quit to make this record. *laugh* He's probably my biggest believer.
Ellie: Yeah, I was trying to write for our band. They're kind of in the folk/Americana singer/songwriter world. But I kept accidentally writing songs about Jesus. *laugh* So Drew was hearing those and saying these are great, and "I don't think you should feel pressure just to write for our band. You need to write these songs." So I didn't need permission from him to do that, but for some reason… and then I was pregnant with our daughter. When she came I had a baby to hold and 45 new songs to sing.
The songwriting for me began... I had started trying to memorize scripture about five years ago with a friend of mine who struggled with depression, sort of as a way to help push back the darkness. There was a lot of lies that she was believing, there was a lot of lies that I believed, so she kind of figured out that it was not enough to just acknowledge that they were lies, but we needed desperately to hang on to what is true. So it was really hard trying to memorize scripture. Worthwhile and something that we are still doing, but I just thought I can remember a thousand songs so what if I just, y'know, sat in God's Word and sat in these promises that I'm pretty sure are true and that I'm gonna need to know are true in future on the days when I have to say "Lord, help my unbelief. What if I let music come out of these promises as a way these songs and melodies might turn my heart back to truth."
Ellie: Yeah, that's right. Even those… I'd sort of been hesitant all the way to record anything. But yeah, there were two EPs before the full-length, basically because I was doing these women's conferences and women kept asking for the songs. So, y'know, for that first EP, we went in the studio for three days and recorded it. It's been such a cool story because people kept asking for more and more CDs. For the first batch, I'd burn each CD and put them in a jewel case, and then there was a little brown paper bag with a sticker, and I'd pray over each one. You know, it just makes the heart beat fast to think about God's Word encouraging His children. It doesn't come back void. And that's what I've found… memorizing Scripture just changes me.
So I guess that was resonating with other people. I needed to print more CDs to give all my friends, and I'm on the road with the band and would be like "Guys, we need to pull over and go to Office Depot. I gotta get more jewel cases and CDs." So my husband Drew is a very pragmatic man, and he said, "No no no, we're gonna put this on iTunes." So I just prayed over the wav files and we released it on iTunes.
I was hesitant as all get-out to do that. And sure enough, that first EP with me and a guitar singing God's Word went number one on the Christian iTunes chart. But we didn't do any promotion! I was just crying, not because "Aahhhh it's selling so well, ahhhh we're number one!" Not because of that, but because I was thinking "Oh my goodness, more people are hearing these songs and it's just God's Word going out into the earth and He encourages people through this. I can't believe I get to be a part of this!" The whole time… even though that was so exciting to me, that's the thing that drove me to keep releasing music. 'Cause I was like, "no, no, people don't want to hear this," but the songs were encouraging me. I was writing what I needed to believe was true. I was writing the truth that I forgot all the time, and maybe this will encourage somebody else.
I felt like I was gonna throw up the night before we did Kickstarter. I kept telling my husband and my manager, "No one's gonna do this. We need to lower the goal from $40,000 to 10 at the most." I remember my husband asking me, "Ellie, do you believe in these songs?" And I said, "Well, I believe in God's Word, and God's Word is in the songs, so yes, I believe in these songs." Then he said, "Well, we need to try."
And then we hit our goal in three days. We'd set the goal for fifty days and I basically cried joy tears for fifty days straight. *laugh*
Ellie: I know, I was soooo grateful I got to be any part of encouraging anybody, you know? So it's been a very sweet thing to sense God calling you to something and, honestly, I had a lot of fear and hesitation about it, but I'm so thankful that fear didn't keep me from following that calling. It's been really sweet to see God provide and open doors in a way I never dreamed He would.
Ellie: Oh man, yeah. "As Sure as the Sun" is one of my favorites. It's based out of Hosea 6:3, which says, "Let us acknowledge the Lord. Let us press on to acknowledge Him, for as surely as the sun rises, He will appear. He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."
I've said this before, but I'm a worrier. I know I'm not supposed to, but I worry about a lot of things. If there's one thing I've never honestly worried about when I'm falling asleep at night… I never worry, "Is the sun coming up in the morning?" You know? It's kind of a sure bet. And that's how sure God says His love and His mercy are. So it's just like this tangible promise that every morning I'm reminded of. His mercy doesn't end. His love never fails. See, the sun came up. That's how sure His love is.
I wrote that for when I was kind of dreaming about this little kid we were getting ready to bring into our family. I wanted it to say what I would want her to know in the deepest parts of her being, and it turns out that's just what I need to know in the deepest parts of my being too! So that's been a sweet one to sing over my little girl, because I feel like I'm singing it over my own soul at the same time.
Ellie: Yeah, absolutely!
Ellie: That's a great question. I looooove Jon Foreman.
Ellie: Yes, oh man! He is a genius. He really is. And I love those EPs because you can just sit in them. You don't have to work yourself up to listen to it. They just kind of wash over you. So he's one of my favorites. And I love Sara Groves. Her record Add to the Beauty specifically is a well that I continue to draw from.
Ellie: Oh yeah… it's from several years ago, kind of one of her older albums. I love all of them, but that one specifically rings really true with me. And then there's… I could kind of go on for a long time. I love Christa Wells. She's an amazing singer/songwriter. She and Nicole Witt wrote a record called Image of God. Their group is called More than Rubies, and their stuff is really beautiful.
Ellie: Hahahaha! Oh that's amazing! I have to say - and I overuse this all the time. It's my New Year's resolution every year to use less of them, but I love them so much. Exclamation point. *Jen laughs* I know it should be used, you know, sparingly, but it's… exciting, you know! Makes you pay attention! And I love that. What's yours?
Ellie: That's a good one. Have you heard Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb's record Ampersand?
Ellie: You would love the artwork. They're wonderful! *laugh*
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