Rebecca St. James Talks About Something Else
- Dan Ewald Contributing Writer
- 2003 23 Jun
Rebecca St. James is the face for sexual purity for Australia, Europe and the United States, having written a song and book titled “Wait for Me.” She was named one of the Top 50 “Up-and-Coming Evangelical Leaders under the Age of 40.” She was invited to be part of The Presidential Prayer Team. This is basically a Christian parent’s greatest success story. But is she too good to be true?
“There is something unreal about her and her unshakable self-confidence,” said a reporter for Details back in 1996. “She seems to be able to talk of nothing without relating it to God.”
Her zeal is certainly confusing to non-believers; yet to some of her fans, St. James is the next best thing to Mary.
“People look at her as if she has all the answers and is Miss Perfect,” says Rachael Lampa, fellow performer on the “Wait for Me” tour. “And I couldn’t speak more highly of her. I’ve never, ever doubted her sincerity.”
Even when her life seems sacrosanct, St. James is quick to point out her insecurities. “I’m very careful about my image,” she says. “I had an outfit I was wearing onstage in Australia that somebody wrote me a letter about afterward and criticized. I had on a belt around my hips, and this person felt that [I] was a bit provocative. Stuff like that gets to me because I’m so keen on living up to the standard of purity in every way.”
And being the poster girl for virginity is like a magnet to earnest, young (and not-so-young) male concert-goers. “I had a guy in his late 30s approach me the other day and ask if he could speak to me after the concert,” she recalls. “He pretty much told me that he listened to my song ‘Wait for Me’ and thought it was for him. I felt really bad for the guy, but I shared that God hadn’t shown me that he was ‘the one.’” She sympathizes: “I think it’s just because of the music. They feel like they know me, but they don’t understand I don’t know them from Adam.”
St. James has been touring consistently since 1995, playing more than 200 dates a year, and life on the road is starting to show its wear. In this conversation, St. James is occasionally animated with the fervor of a traveling evangelist, but at times her voice contains the weariness of a missionary home on furlough.
Your life is so far from what the rest of us call “normal.”
That’s one reason I’ve been so grateful that my family is a part of what I do. They bring a sense of perspective to my life. But I look forward to being more “normal” again one day, when I can enjoy coming home to my own bed at night and cleaning the house. I crave some of those normal things.
How do you develop everyday, practical skills that many of us take for granted?
I have started cooking on the road. I mean, I knew somewhat how to cook basic things, but I really wanted to learn how to cook from recipes and things like that. I always thought I’d have to wait until I was off the road to learn, but I just figured out recently that you can buy toaster ovens and skillets and can cook on the bus. The other day I cooked a nectar and puff pastry tart, and yesterday I cooked this Korean-based barbecue. Now my band is making jokes that we should start selling pastries at the merchandise table!
Do you still have an apartment in Nashville?
I used to have a little apartment, but I don’t have that anymore. It was crazy. I was paying this full-on rent, and it wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t investing in anything, and I was gone all the time. Now I have a big, old farmhouse. My parents pay for half, and I pay for half. We’re hardly there so it feels a bit like a hotel.
What is your most artistic accomplishment?
On my "Transform" CD, I did a little bit of opera singing on backgrounds on “For the Love of God.” On the "God" album, we really tried a whole bunch of different things. We would angle the microphone into a glass in the studio, and then I would put my face against the glass and sing. I think that was for background vocals on one of the songs like “Carry Me High.” We tried some wacky stuff.
Speaking of your biggest-selling record, "God" (which went gold), you were accused of ripping off Alanis Morissette’s sound and look. What’s your perspective on that now?
I was only aware of it once people started saying it. I probably listened to one or two of [Morissette’s] songs. I didn’t have the CD. One of the people I was working with did play me something just to say, “Hey, check this out. This girl sounds really cool.” I had long, curly, brown hair like Alanis, and my music was passionate and aggressive. It wasn’t my objective to try and copy her, [but] there was one song — ”You’re the Voice” — that now, looking back, I can really hear it.
Any song you’d rather not have to sing again?
Well, I don’t sing it anymore but the song “Pray,” actually. That album was a hard album for me. It was a painful season in my life, mainly because of friendships that were really hard at the time. One of my friends was going through this horrible season, and she was blaming me, turning against me. It was weird. That whole album was written out of pain. Every time I think of that song and that album, I think of the hard time that goes along with it.
Do people expect you to have all the answers?
Yeah, pretty much. [Sighs] Years ago on a live radio show, I got asked, “What do you believe about once saved/always saved?” I just said, “Maybe we can talk about that after the radio show. I think it would be more divisive than good to talk about it on the show right now.” [Laughs] I was like 17 or 18 at the time.
What are the challenges of being in the public eye?
The one thing about the spotlight is that it almost encourages you to be fake. You do feel expectations to be a certain way. If I’m hanging out backstage with people who have helped promote the gig or even kids of people who are working at the concert, and I’m not friendly, that’s the one memory they’re going to have of me. I think there’s almost more pressure on someone to be fake in the spotlight than anywhere else. I’m extremely committed to being the same onstage and off. That whole thing about being real — that’s something I work on.
Such is life as a role model.
To be honest, I find that constant pressure to be “on” spiritually, emotionally, physically is a big, massive drain. I’ve shed a lot of tears about that because I feel so weak. The road often taxes you in all those ways. I get really tired sometimes and feel like I can’t keep doing this much longer. But in those times, God encourages me somehow … encouraging me to keep on and to focus my eyes on Him.
You’ve talked about the difficulties of being a young woman in leadership. Is there anything particular to the female sex that makes leadership challenging?
There are different emotional things that we go through — even each month, if you want to really get to the basics [both of us laughing] that kind of encourage women to find it specifically hard. We’re wired differently. We are more emotional creatures generally, not always. I think things that would be water off a duck’s back to men sometimes, women feel more deeply.
Your life, in many ways, sounds rewarding yet exhausting.
I’ve struggled, especially this past year and a half with feeling tired. I had a sabbatical last year and felt led to write out my vision, my mission, my purpose and my calling. They sound similar, but they’re actually very different. I wrote out what all those things mean to me, and when I got to my mission, I couldn’t come up with a pat answer. I didn’t feel like I was on a mission daily.
An extra “meet and greet” before the show, an interview with a newspaper that I didn’t know about or any time something extra would come up last minute, I would feel like, “Oh gosh, this is the last straw. This is too much.” The biggest thing I find really hard is keeping everything in balance. But God has really brought me back to my sense of mission. I had to come back to: “You know what? My life won’t always be taxing in this particular way, but this is the part of the mission God has called me to.”
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