Listen to the new single from 7 Hills Worship!
Listen to the new single from 7 Hills Worship!

Sarah Kelly

On Saturday July 22nd, 2006, JfH's John DiBiase and Amanda Roloson sat down with Christian music's sweetheart Sarah Kelly under a gazebo at the singer's hotel during Passionfest 2006 to discuss all things regarding her sophomore album Where The Past Meets Today, as well as her recent involvement with Gotee Records' Jesus Freak Tribute album...
This interview took place on: 7/22/06.

  • (John DiBiase): Tell me about the new record because it is very different from Take Me Away.
    Sarah Kelly: It is very different from Take Me Away. The last song that I wrote on Take Me Away was called "Please Forgive Me," and it made the album seriously by the hair of the chinny chin chin. It seriously came out a week before Take Me Away was coming out. I just shoved it on there last minute and it ended up being one of the brighter, fresh breath places on the CD. It's a very honest song. So many people have commented on the fact that you wouldn't need to ask God to forgive you for those things, but it's more a song about feeling how you feel at that point when you feel that you have no more innocence to offer Him. You wouldn't need to apologize for that, but it just captured an honest moment like I hadn't captured in music to that day. So this album picks up where "Please Forgive Me" left off, and it just continues to grow and grow. The first song I wrote on that album was "Out of Reach." So if you play "Please Forgive Me" right into "Out Of Reach," you'll go, "This fits." And if you played them in the succession of the way I wrote them, like doing "All I See" first, I think you'll find that it isn't so different. It's just a natural progression. Who wants to recreate the same album twice, you know? People grow, its been about four to five years since I made Take Me Away and sold it independently before it was out on Gotee in 2004. And I mean I've grown as a person, I've grown in my thoughts I've grown in confidence, I've grown personally musically, socially, spiritually, in every way. So I think that is - or I'd like to think anyway - that that is reflected on this album. I think you can hear it's deeper, and at some points, "funner," because now I let myself have more fun because I was so serious sometimes that it was no good for me. Sometimes people take themselves too seriously. Well, I fit into that category for a long time in my life and now I have kinda learned how to have a little fun and not take life quite so seriously and I think that's actually wisdom *pause followed by laughter* I do!! You kinda just relax and let God unfold things for you as well and not just to drive yourself so hard that you don't leave room to see his miracles. It definitely takes off where "Please Forgive Me" ended. "Still breathing" was the second one, so if you played "Please Forgive Me," "Out Of Reach," "Still Breathing," you would go "oh yeah! those sound like the same album."

  • JFH (John): When we saw you play "Out Of Reach" at our local Christian bookstore, was that the first time you'd played it?
    Sarah: That was the first time I ever played it publicly. That store had a living room kind of a feel so that was a great place to play it because if you make a mistake, it's not as serious somehow as if you're up in front of a festival and they're expecting something. In a bookstore, it's just kind of more relaxed. But after that, I played it at a festival and I saw a ridiculous miracle happen and I started to see God's hand on my life. I saw a foreshadowing of things to come that day. I saw what I believe. You know how when you just fall into something and you go "that's a fit?" You know when something's just a fit. I played that song by myself on the piano at a festival for only the second time live. Honestly, it was a miracle. It was the most spiritual moment of my entire life, and I have a lot of those in my living room. I've seen a lot of miracles, but never quite like this. I took that journal that I had those words written in, and played the song, and I didn't say anything about details or anything, I just said, "Listen, I come from an abuse-filled past and abuse is an addiction like any other addiction. Abuse is like the drug for the addiction of self-hate and I decided to end that addiction and this is a song that I wrote when I decided to end it and it's one of my first times playing it." And by the end, I was in tears. I ripped the words out of the journal and said "Did this mean anything to anybody here?" It was festival just like [Passionfest]. Oh! I don't know if you're like me, but when the lights are down, God moves better. So in the middle of the day with a restless hot crowd is just not the place to have a real Spiritual moment, you know? I didn't even have a full band out or anything. I didn't say a word about Jesus. I didn't say "Come up front if you need to." I didn't do any of that! None of it! It was this state festival with all of these sharp college students - it was not a Christian festival. There were all of these college girls and guys who were sobbing like I sobbed at Cheddar's restaurant when I admitted to my sister for the first time that I was abused. Sobbing like that - the kind where you don't care about how you look anymore. And they were just lining the front of the stage. And I was just gonna give my words to somebody. I didn't ask for that and all of a sudden it's just on my lap! My guitar player and my drummer look at me like "Uhh what do we do?" and you just felt this calm like you could have heard a pin drop. I think it was so loud during the whole set and then, at this point, everyone just shut up and you could hear a pin drop. And Zack, my old guitar player, just started playing worship songs like "Here I Am To Worship," on the guitar and I just prayed with every single one of these people and that was the rest of my show. It probably took 30 of the 40 minutes. It was the most ridiculously Spiritual moment of my entire life. When we got done with the show, we went and sat in the green room and didn't talk for about 45 minutes. No one could say a word. We were like (*blank stare*) "Did that just happen?" Seriously, if we ever bring it up to this day, we have no words to describe it. I saw a foreshadowing of my future. I mean, one out of four women are physically abused and I'm not saying that that was just about physical abuse. That was probably about addiction - everybody knows what an addiction is, whether they know it or not is whether they're gonna be set free from it. If you refuse to acknowledge it, you're never going to be free. But everyone has tasted what it feels like to enjoy something that's not good for them, like a friendship or whatever. I think it was way more than abuse, I think my music speaks to way more than abuse. It talks about getting out of the reach of anything that holds you back and the things that are hard to say goodbye to. Things that you have learned to love that maybe you shouldn't. I still am in awe of that day. It was expected to be one of the most humiliating days of my life because I'm getting up in front of this crowd that doesn't know me, and I'm sitting here with half a band - about to sound mediocre at best - and it ends up to be the best. I'll be talking about that day 'til I'm 80. You really felt like you made a difference that day I have enough adrenaline from that day to do what I do for at least a couple more years.

  • JFH (John): I know that you worked with a bunch of different people and different talents on the record. Could you tell me a little bit about them and how they came to play on the record?
    Sarah: Let me tell you how they came about, because that's amazing. I mean these people don't just call up Christian artists and want to work with them. Really, when I say I'm a Christian artist, it's something that is not extremely respected. Because of the fact that we think that they don't know that we steal their music and put Christian lyrics to it, but they know. They just choose not to do anything about it.

  • JFH (John): They kinda view Christian music as just a bad copy.
    Album cover Sarah: Yeah a little bit. It definitely doesn't have much artistic merit in their eyes a lot of times. (John: Which is what we want.) RIGHT! And that's - oh my gosh! I think the beauty's in the flaw. I think our flaws make us US. I mean, my voice is one big flaw! That's why people relate with it though. It's not pretty. It's not perfect. If you go to a voice lesson, they would tell you NOT to sing like I sing because it's hard on your voice. It's flawed - it's got all my pain in it. But it ends up being a beautiful thing because it's honest and it's different. People used to make fun of me for how I sing, and people used to make fun of me for my hair! They would write little nasty pictures on my locker with like rats coming out of it. *John and Amanda look surprised* Yeah I know! And I was even cute! I swear I was cute! I didn't know it then, but I was cute! I think it took me to be twenty five to realize that it's the things that we're made fun of for when we're younger that are the things that make us artistic in the future. Artistic, unique, and rememberable. So if you were made fun of for your nose, just think, that nose is going somewhere because that nose makes me different from everyone else. It's all the things they used to laugh at, ironically, that people love about me now. And I don't think that's coincidence. I don't! I mean, the beauty is in the flaw, it makes sense. That's the art. It makes sense. (John: I think also in the sense that the devil knows what God's gonna use. The best things about you that God is gonna use.) Absolutely! (John: So of course you are gonna get all your discouragement about that when you're younger.) Yeah! Exactly!! I really think there is something to learn from that and that's the stand I take on my music. A lot of the best parts are found by making mistakes live, "Oh, let's keep that, that was kinda cool!" or when I'm jammin with my band. I think the beauty is in some of the mistakes and I think even in my own life what's made such an awesome expression is some of the mistakes that have led me here that I've learned from and moved on from. The album, Where The Past Meets Today, that's what that means! It's another way to say "honesty." It's another way to say "I'm taking everything that I've learned, everything that I am, I'm not gonna hide it anymore. I'm not gonna pretend to be someone else." You know how we do that when we go into church worship? We leave all our problems at the door, go in and lift up our hand and sing karaoke to God, and then take up all our problems and leave again instead of standing in the middle of our problems and releasing faith - which is what real worship time should look like. That's the whole concept behind this album. It's a concept album about that one thought. Every song is supposed to hit it from a different angle. I didn't make this album for radio - not Christian, not mainstream. I didn't make it for movies, I didn't make it for TV. I made it for the concept, the idea of getting honesty; of being an example of honesty - to give other people the permission that sometimes people think they need. To be able to find their beauty - and their beauty's in their flaws, or what they think are their flaws. (John: It's a very sensitive album.) OH it is! I'm trying to meet people where they're at. I travel half the distance for them. I'm trying to go into their world a little bit.

  • JFH (John): So how did [the people you worked with on this album] find you?
    Sarah: The president of Guitar Center, not a bad person to know honestly, I got introduced to him through a mainstream publicist who heard my album. Sandy Freeman and Karen Sundell. They heard about me from one of my shows from my booking agent. That's how this all hooked up. They introduced me to Dave Weiderman. He thought I sounded like Janice Joplin and really intrigued him and he saw an artistic value in what I was doing. He listened to Take me Away and he was blown away and was like "What can I do to help you?! There aren't enough artists like you." He said such nice things to me, things that I don't even feel, you know? It's weird to say. He was basically giving me the merit of a classic rocker artist of today. I was like, "I don't know! I just go around and sing and sell my CD's! I give God the glory and blah blah blah." Dave is a recent Christian - way cool! He's so down to earth. Every artist loves Dave. When they're in trouble, he's who they call. So God knew what he was doing when he got a hold of Dave. God's got plans for L.A. and I know it. So anyway, he heard me sing and he said, "why don't I put your picture on the side of Guitar centers?" and I was like "Oh, OK - well I guess that would be nice!" So next to Melissa Ethridge and Eddie Van Halen, here's Sarah Kelly! And I'm going, "Uhhhh..." *makes intimidated face, followed by laughter* My hometown, Rockford, just had a Guitar Center go up and my picture is next to Cheap Trick. All my friends go by and they're like "What?!" My parents almost peed their pants! *laughter* My grandpa went up, and he's like 90, and he goes, "Oh! That's even bigger than SHE is!" in an old man's voice. Oh it was amazing. So I was like "OK Dave, that will really help a lot." And he asks, "Well what about a producer? Do you have a producer picked out for your next album?" And I go "No, I don't, and I'm starting to get the songs together." Pfft! That was like two years ago! OK? Like I really thought I was close to recording at that point? So he hooks me up with these three different producers. And all of them are super ridiculous stars in their world. RIDICULOUS! One was a little kinda weird for me, just a little out there. You know the artists that are just a little too artsy? And you just want to go, "Are you with me here? Are you on the planet? You OK?!" I was in the room with him and I was like, "this just isn't happening." The second guy was just super polished. I'm thinking "Oh no - have you heard my music? Why would you want to do my music?" I could tell I was going to have a great album but I don't know if I'd have the flaws that makes the art. Then I met Mike Clink. I had no idea what he had produced. I didn't know what any of these men produced, and then I found out later and was like "Whooaa!" Mike sat down with me and he was just very real, very fatherly. He's the guy who is responsible for the production of Appetite for Destruction, Use Your Illusion One and Two, Guns N'Roses, Heart, Jefferson Starship, Duran Duran - just a ridiculous amount. What he's known for is bringing a live sound onto an album. I got that right away. He was asking the right questions. He was honest. I was thinking "I could hang with this guy. I can make a good album with this guy." Then I find out who he produced for and I was like "NO WAY!!" When you asked how did all these guys come to play on this album, it's because I picked Mike. He has connections and relationships with every rocker ever. I mean it's Mike Clink! People will sell an arm to work with Mike. I had people begging to produce this album. I'm seriously wondering how I'm going to top it, because I mean, I had Gary Novak on the drums, who has done the huge Clear Channel albums - most of them are Gary Novak's drumming. We've got Denny Fongheiser who played drums, he's in Heart. Then there's Chris Chaney, he played all the bass and he helped co-write a song. He's from Jane's Addiction and played with Alanis for ten years. We've got Nick Lashley, who also played with Alanis and he plays with Tracy Chapman and co-writes a lot of stuff. Then there's REO Speedwagon's guitar player Dave Amato. When he did his solo, the hair on my arm stood up. Then of course Slash comes in at the last moment and throws down a couple solos and I'm like "Why is he doing this?!" and Mike said, "He doesn't play on just anything. He hasn't played on anything for two years. The last thing was the Lenny Kravitz album. And he took your record home for two weeks and listened to it and decided he really liked it." He chose the songs "Out of Reach" and "Still Breathing" - both of the solos sections *imitates guitar solo on "Out of Reach"* If that isn't a Slash line, I don't know what is! I can tell the minute he starts playing because of "November Rain" - it brings back all my Junior High roller-skating years. *laughter* That was the only time I was allowed to listen to secular music, y'know? *laughs* OK, so before we even got to playing, he was hooking me up with all these writers as well. Like Chris Chaney and Dean Truit and then a guy named James Michael - Oh dear! I mean that man - he writes for Meatloaf, Motley Crew, Alanis Morrisette - he produced her version of "Crazy" that's hitting right now. He's just an amazing musician. So I would bring these songs in and be like "OK, what needs help?" And he would be like," Uh... the bridge." *laughs* So all of a sudden I had a new set of ears. And I learned so much in my songwriting. You know that I go around from college to college and church after church teaching songwriting. And I feel like my own songwriting has grown so much from learning from the best of BEST of all time! Just to have that experience and to bring that with me, and in some of the teaching that I do, is priceless. If that was all that came out of it, it's enough. To be honest you, I went into this thinking I have great melodies and kind of poor lyrics, but I came out of it thinking my melodies sometimes need a bit of development, my lyrics however, they're decent. In fact Dean said that I have the best lyrics he's heard in 10 years. I wrote all of my own lyrics on this album. They kind of helped with forming the song. I would come with melodies and stuff, but more the bridges, and that was where I needed some co-writing action. *laughs* I'm a worship writer! We only do one verse, one chorus! *laughs* And sing it over and over and over and over! *laughs* That's the world I come from. So of course I needed to learn what the purpose of a bridge was. I mean I really learned a lot from these people. And Mike made me write 60 songs before I had eleven that would past the test. So as he says, "there's not a stinker in the bunch." He picked his favorite eleven and that's how we came up with the concept. Now, coming up with 60 songs built around one concept - let me tell ya, I have learned how to be honest with myself! I mean that's the whole concept of this album.

  • JFH (John): Did you have to do just the lyrics or the music and the lyrics?
    Sarah: I had the music and the lyrics. (John: So when's the B-Side EP coming out?) No way, man! We only take the top. But maybe I would do a demo someday. I have three great songs that could have appeared on this album but just didn't make the cut. They didn't quite match the concept. Good songs -- a couple of them Mike was heartbroken over cause they were some of the better songs. But he's like, "We're really trying to achieve this. Let's stay on course. So that's how everything got hooked up and then at the end of the day, I'm sitting there saying, "what just happened?" a year and a half later having this amazing artwork that represents what I have experienced. And so heartfelt. I'm so pleased with the process. It's been one of the best and hardest years of my life. I mean anyone who knows me knows I've come to a lot of change this year based on what I've learned about myself through the writing of this album. That's why I have a passion to teach songwriting, because I think people can't lie in music. It's one place we can't get a way with it because it sounds awful. It sounds like Cheese Wiz. We've all heard it done. We've all heard it on radio waves. You can't do it. You know when it's costing them to say something and you know when it's not. It's one art form that is really near impossible to lie and not be discovered of in. So that's why I love teaching. It's a connection with God. A new connection. A new way to talk to Him that I can facilitate someone having. So yeah, I am so very, very passionate about writing music and teaching that. Someone asked me in a mainstream interview that other day, "Did you teach because you didn't think you were good enough?" And I said "No." I still teach when I am good enough and I'm very, very passionate about teaching people to write their first song. It's like they could see in black and white and I could give them color. I can give them a way to see color. It's like a new dimension. You can't see it but it's there. A new depth.

  • JFH (John): What's the story behind "Remember Me Well?"
    Sarah: "Remember Me Well" - this is going to intrigue you. Because, I said I do come from an abusive history and I have said goodbye to a lot of things that are hard to say goodbye to. "Remember Me Well is addressing these kinds of things. However, it is not the abuse in this case. When I wrote this song, I was not ready to address that part yet. This was my bass player. Adrian, my old bass player who I loved like a brother. Anybody whose in a band goes through some hard times and not so fun times as well as some of the best memories you'll ever have. And it was my way of closure in that relationship. I mean, it was totally a brother/sister thing. But me and Zack and John wrote it for the bass player who had moved on. I mean, he had to. He had amazing offers coming his way that he needed to grow. Sometime players outgrow solo artists. He was sad, we were sad, everybody was sad. It was very hard and I wrote "Remember Me Well" kinda as a closure to that relationship. He had been my bass player since I started. He'd played on Take Me Away and saw me through last year. He walked me though some of the hardest days of my life and its very hard to say goodbye to someone that's family. We wrote it in the car on the way to a gig - Me and Zack and John for Adrian. (John: Yeah it's a good song. I really like it. It's really sad too. ) It is, but you know when I play it in shows, I use it in context with: sometimes we have friends that we know, now Adrian was not one of these friends, but this is a good way to bring closure to anything that you need to bring closure to. Like if you have some friends that aren't the best influence on you. And you know you're not strong enough to be around them yet, and you have to make that decision to not be around them as much as you used to have been. And it's your choice to not be mad at them for certain things, and to let them be who they are and not expect them to conform to who you are, but also have to take your stand. And I think it really works well in that concept as well. So I mean its just about goodbyes. It's a song about goodbyes and how hard they are even when they're right. That one's going to be a theme song for a TV show. (John: Get out of town!) We are being considered in the beginning stages of at least two shows.

  • JFH (John): What is "Fall Into You" about?
    Sarah: I have not known healthy love in my life, like as far as between a man and a woman yet. But, I have known a healthy love with the Lord. And I have learned how to fall in love. And that song is a reflection of what I dream an earthly love can be like based on my love for Jesus and what He's done for me enough to die for me and loves me enough to die for me. If that is not a Romeo & Juliet story, I don't know what is. That has become very, VERY real to me and that is one of the most beautiful acts done by a man. One of the most artistic things ever done for love. It's amazing. It's a love song, but its inspired by my faith.

  • JFH (John): What about "Between The Lines?"
    Sarah: This has to do with one of those unhealthy relationships that I did have. This one was the last song to go on this album. This is the song that I wrote last. I wrote it with the guy I wrote "Take Me Away" with. And I wanted to do some writing with him for this album too because it worked! *laughs* And he's a dear friend of mine. He plays in my band now! "Between the lines," I love the concept. It's everything that you're not saying. Everything that you maybe can't put into words. Everything that isn't beautiful about your life. What's in between the lines. I see a line as I imagine college ruled paper. And you know that place where the line fades and you see color come out? You know what I'm talking about? It's like dark, dark, dark, and then it's like blue on the ends. Where color fades from gray. Where it's in between the lines is what made us who we are today. What's penned on that paper. It's not the lines themselves. It's not what people see when they first look at a paper. It's what we write on it. It's what we do with our life that matters. Does that make sense at all? It's the story that got you here. So don't hate it and don't be bitter about it because it made you who you are, which is totally unique and beautiful. That's "Between the Lines."

  • JFH (John): You did "What if I Stumble" on the Jesus Freak tribute.
    Sarah: *Nearly leaps out of her seat* Did you just love that? (John: It's weird! It's growing on me now, but it was just weird - at first!) I know, it would be. I love that! I just wanted to bring it down and make people listen to the words! (John: Were you a fan of that album, Jesus Freak?) Oh yeah! (John: And did you pick "What If I Stumble" to do?) Yes! (John: Really? How did you get approached about the album?) "Will you sing a song on the Jesus Freak tribute?" No. Wait! Yes, if I can sing "What If I Stumble." (John: You actually said no at first?) Well, I just really didn't know how I would fit into it. You don't want to cover things you're gonna massacre. You know what I'm saying? I'd say it's a sin to cover Bono, but I already did it. You know? (John: You mean with Toby?) Yeah! You don't want to cover things that you're not gonna do justice for. But then I thought of that song and I thought, "You know what? I believe in that song. That song is a Where-The-Past-Meets-Today song. Somebody had to be going through a lot of pain to write that song. Oh my gosh! Have you ever listened to those lyrics?! That was my whole vision for the song. I said Daniel please - my guitar player produced that - please, please give it to me in a way where people can't escape the words. Cause if there is one thing I would say about "Jesus Freak," it was a captivating song but a lot of times you just sing your way through it. There are controversial words in that song, very blatant for the Christian market. You know, very saying-it-as-it-is. Very bold statements on that song. Bold statements that I agree with and that I feel myself. You know, "Do I simply serenade for things I must afford?" I don't know one Christian artist that doesn't feel that way sometimes. Am I doing this to make a buck, or am I doing this because I feel purpose, you know? Or did the purpose fade? And there are those moments. Everybody has dry times. I love that song and I wanted to kinda bring a melancholy piano, an inescapable sound to it.

  • JFH (John): Any last comments?
    Sarah: Go to Sarah! Be my friend! And good luck on your own journeys. To everyone who is reading, don't feel alone because you have a person who is on the journey with you. A couple of them are sitting at this table!

    Sarah Kelly's sophomore album entitled Where The Past Meets Today is now available from Gotee Records

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