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Jill Phillips - Feature Story

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Jill Phillips - Feature Story

"I'm still very new at this."

{{Jill Phillips}}' career as a new Christian artist is poised for takeoff. The first single from her new self-titled debut record, "Steel Bars," is taking wing on Christian airwaves; the album itself is set for release August 31st. Phillips has just strapped herself in for her first real concert tour, opening for {{Caedmon's Call}} in 45 cities between now and November 18th.

All of this leaves the 22-year-old from Cheasapeake, Virginia wondering where God is taking her.

Growing up near the beautiful Virginia coastline, Phillips was raised on ccm sounds and was especially attracted to singer-songwriters like {{Rich Mullins}}, with his "completely honest" lyrics. "In concert, I was impacted by the fact that he sang praise to God, sang about his troubles, and we would all sing praise songs together at the end. When I left, I felt like we had all learned something. That's what I feel called to do right now is to really put my all into these songs."

Mullins' tragic death in 1997 was a jolt to Phillips, then working on a commercial music degree from Belmont University in Nashville. "When he died, I thought about the legacy he left and began thinking that maybe I should go into Christian music." It wasn't long before Phillips had her chance -- she was invited to perform an acoustic set in the conference room at Word Records. Backed by her fiancé, now husband and co-writer Andy Gullahorn, Jill sang seven of their original tunes to a roomful of strangers. "I learned later that the president of the company, Roland Lundy, was there, along with all these label executives - if I had known who they were at the time, it would have been a little more intimidating!"

Within six months, Phillips graduated from Belmont, got married, signed a record deal and began studio work with veteran producer Wayne Kirkpatrick. Phillips practically gushes about the experience. "Wayne was the most incredible man and producer and encourager to us," she recalls. "The players were amazing (Jimmie Lee Sloas, Gordon Kennedy, Shawn Pelton and Matt Stanfield) and it was really incredible to hear our songs taken to another level. We'd been doing them acoustic for so long, I was afraid they would become something else other than what I was, but Wayne had an incredible way of making the production add to the songs and not changing them."

Not changing the songs was critical. Reflecting on her respect for {{Rich Mullins}} and his hearfelt lyrics, Jill says the message is most important. "I would hope that people are touched by the songs. I think the production is wonderful and when I listen to all the instruments, they impact me, but I think they all work together to bring the message across."

For a new Christian artist just embarking on the journey, Phillips says she's thought a lot about her message and her ministry. "I cannot think of one message that I'm supposed to convey," she says thoughtfully, "but I think it's just to write songs about the experience of my Christian walk and to write them honestly. And to glorify God in those songs - for them to be uplifting to people, but also that they can relate to and hopefully glean something from them." She also believes there's something in her music for all kinds of people, all ages. "I don't think there's a specific target age. I know since we're so close to college age, we'll have a ministry with college kids. But I love young children, too. My parents have their favorite song and my grandparents have their favorite song and I would hope that everyone can find something they like."

Phillips debut effort is described as "melodic folk-pop," incorporating acoustic pop tunes like "Steel Bars" along with more soul-stirring ballads such as "I Am" and "Everything." Even Jill has her favorite song. She laughs as she tells me this week her favorite is "Live By The Sword," written by her beloved husband Andy. "It really touches me," she says. "It's about living what you believe in difficult times as well as easy times. It's a real challenge. I think the words and the way the song was written are just really beautiful ... the words are amazing."

Besides her own project, Phillips has been listening to the music of {{Caedmon's Call}}, the headliner on her first national tour. Describing them as a "really great, acoustic-driven folk band," she declares the roster is a "great fit." Jill will share opening credits with Watershed Records artist {{Bebo Norman}}.

As she hits the road with her fellow troubadors, Phillips looks forward to the lessons she will learn as new-artist-on-the-block. Not counting a nine-city promo tour already completed, "This is my first real taste of this kind of life - being on the road, doing shows, meeting people." She says God is already teaching her a lot about servanthood, but class isn't over yet. "I think the general feeling can be that if you're an artist, you should be first, or that you deserve special treatment. What God called us to be is servants - we're there to serve others and not to be really difficult about what we want."

And then there's the lesson on humility. "When you're on stage - and I haven't really gotten to this stage yet, because nobody knows who I am - there may come a time when people are saying, 'You're great, your songs are great,' but you can't let it get to you ... the whole idea of believing your own press." She stresses, "I just don't ever want to get to the point where I'm full of myself and forget what I'm here for and who has given me the opportunity to do this in the first place."

Jill says she's been reading a lot in Ephesians and came across a passage that's perfect for a new Christian artist:

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Ephesians 2:8-10

"That goes along with the whole idea of servanthood and humility," Phillips explains. "We can't boast, because He's the one who has prepared these things for us to do."

As a lifelong Christian, but a new pilgrim on the CCM crusade, {{Jill Phillips}} says she's trusting God for her final destination. "I'm still learning, and I think all the classes you could take in the world couldn't prepare you for being here," Phillips says, adding that she's aware the Christian music scene can be a bumpy ride. "I feel like the people making decisions for me are very moral people, very godly people. It comforts me to know I'm in God's hands. I'm sure there will be things that I see that will discourage me along the way, but I know I'm here for a reason."