Nichole Nordeman -- From Answers to Questions
- Thursday, March 15, 2001
J Man: When it comes to lyrical style, you pose more questions to be answered rather than giving the answers to the listener. Why is that?
Nichole: Well, for me it's just what I feel called to do. I think there are a lot of artists who are called into different areas of Christian music. Some feel very strongly that their gift is to evangelize, other people feel really led into the worship portion, praise and worship music. For me, I feel like my calling from God is to just share my experience and to share my journey, where I've been. So, to ask questions and to be vulnerable, and to voice insecurities and doubts, that's all a part of my experience. So for me, I don't feel like I'm necessarily doing what I'm supposed to do if I'm holding back all that stuff and trying to present this, "my life in Christ has been a piece of cake and I haven't had any struggles or doubts or questions along the way" ... And that has been validated so many times by people after concerts who will come up and say, "Thank you for asking such-and-such question" or "for this line in this certain song," "I've felt that way so many times and just didn't feel permission to ask ..."
J Man: On your new album, This Mystery, a lot of growth seems to come from it. What was the process of growth from Wide Eyed to This Mystery?
Nichole: Slow. It was a slow process. I really encountered for the first time in my life a major creative block, kinda hit a wall, and just feel like I didn't have anything to say creatively. Ended up reading some great stuff, a book Walking On Water by Madeline L'Engle ... I think so much of Wide Eyed was about analysis for me, just the left-brain part of me, needing things to line up, which, of course, is what the antithesis of faith is, so This Mystery was almost a response to Wide Eyed. And also, reading that book and similar things in that, I was able to say, "I'm never going to have all the answers, I could analyze until I'm blue in the face, and overthink it, and overcook it, and spend so much time processing questions." But faith is about letting go, in the middle of that, and about saying, "I don't know, but I believe anyway because Jesus said to."
J Man: So how did this whole music thing begin?
Nichole: I was living in L.A., I had just finished college, and I moved there with a good friend of mine. Didn't really have any direction, not a lot of aspirations to do this. I knew I was tired of my hometown and I just thought, "I just want to live in L.A.." I knew I wanted to be in a place where music was happening, and I knew that was L.A., Nashville or New York, and I didn't know anyone in Nashville or New York. I had some family members and friends in LA so ... Really just at the last minute I got this thing in the mail from my music pastor from Colorado Springs, where I grew up, and he sent me this thing saying, "I don't know if this interests you, a songwriting competition, sponsored by something called the GMA, could be a joke, could be a great thing, I don't know ..." And I was at the time really broke, waiting tables, and it was a lot to invest, whatever it was maybe 150 bucks or something ... life savings to me ... So [I] scrounged together the money and entered, not with the hope of winning, just this'll be a good way to meet other Christians and maybe get plugged into the music scene. I ended up winning the competition and in the process meeting some real key gatekeepers in the industry. Record label heads, publishing heads, and people like that, I established a relationship with that night, [and] continued over the next year, and eventually meant moving to Nashville and signing a record deal.
J Man: This Mystery sounded more fun to create. Why do you think that is?
Nichole: That could be for two reasons. First, my producer Mark Hammond [and I] wanted to go where no one has gone before, in Christian music. That's the cool thing in Christian music right now, there aren't a whole lot of rules. And so we both had been listening to a lot of production we loved, some of Madonna's production, some of Sting's production, and just getting ideas of "Let's get brave musically ..." which, I think, [Mark] did brilliantly. And the other reason for that was I was in a happier place spiritually. Wide Eyed, like I said, was a time of questioning, struggling, and wrestling. It was necessary, but it was hard. This Mystery was kinda again feeling free from that, plus stepping back and being grateful for my faith instead of being so intent on dissecting it all the time.
J Man: Do you like being an opening artist or a headlining artist better?
Nichole: It depends. It depends on the tour and the artist. I've really enjoyed both roles. It's tougher, of course, to be an opening act because you've only got three or four songs to do your thing and communicate. It's hard for anybody in 15 minutes ... so I appreciate the chance to have more time.
J Man: Who are your musical influences when you go to write?
Nichole: I'm influenced by a lot of different music, some mainstream and some Christian music. I grew up with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. As a child, I sang every one of [Amy Grant's] songs in church. As a songwriter, for me as an adult, I tend to really appreciate storytellers. The Carol Kings, James Taylors, and the Stevie Wonders. A couple more obscure people like Jonatha Brook. [They] lose all the fluff and just have your attention for two to three minutes in a song. That's inspiring to me.
J Man: How did you come across the Stevie Wonder song As for This Mystery?
Nichole: Well, to tell you the truth, we were just missing a song on the record. We had all but finished a particular song and both Mark and I just hated it, we're, like, talking ourselves into this song everyday. And finally he just looked at me and I looked at him and we just went "No, this song's gotta go ..." So we had this big hole in the record and we just [said] "Let's do somethin' fun ..." Let's just do something totally left of what someone would expect. [Mark] and I are both huge Stevie Wonder fans. We started digging through our old CD's and playing songs ... "Oh this is my favorite ..." "This is a good one too ..." And [we] eventually came upon that one which I absolutely love, Stevie's version of it. And then I got to reading the lyric and I was like, "This is a great lyric." I have no idea what he meant when he wrote it but what an awesome way to flip it and sing it as God singing to us. "I'll be loving you always ..."
J Man: Why did you decide to do Why as a live recording vs. doing it in the studio?
Nichole: Just didn't want it to become some massive orchestral monster ballad. That was the song I entered in the contest in L.A. that I won. It's always been a very simple story song. If we did it in the studio, it would become big, and we wanted to keep it small.
J Man: So what's next?
Nichole: I'm happy to say I'm kinda taking a break. I've really been on the road for about 18 months solid. A couple tours with Avalon back-to-back, then I was out with Clay Crosse for a tour, went out with Caedmon's Call for a tour ... This is the first season for me that I've just been able to chill, spend time with my family over the holidays, and I'm getting married this summer. Try to take back some life moments I've missed out on a little bit when I was on the road so much. During that time, I hope to really write a lot, and read a lot, and listen to God's voice a lot, and by the time it rolls around to be in the studio again, hopefully I'll have something to say.
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