Ellie Holcomb recently came up our radar as a sincere artist with a unique ability to pour out prayers filled with joy that are still true to the realities of this life. Her earnest songs and warm voice quickly won us over and we had the pleasure of getting to know her a little more. Here is that conversation.
WL: You father is one of the most well-known songwriters and producers in Christian music (Brown Bannister). How has that shaped your understanding of music ministry and your path as a worship leader? …
Ellie Holcomb: I learned from my dad at a very early age that music had this wonderful ability to offer hope and encouragement to the weary soul. He still tears up telling stories he hears from artists about the way songs speak and sing life into people’s hearts. I think that has shaped me more than anything, and the idea that I could be any part of that story makes my heart beat fast.
WL: Also, did Amy Grant ever drop by the house when you were growing up?
EH: Yes! She has been a sweet friend to our family over the years and is a lovely, genuine soul.
WL: Tell us a little about your journey to your current place in life?
EH: Growing up in the music business, I saw that there was great cost to being an artist, so I swore I’d never marry a musician and decided to pursue teaching instead of music in college. I got my Masters in Education and taught English for 2 years, but I happened to fall in love with my best friend, who happened to be a musician. After a year of spending half of our time apart, my husband asked if I would be willing to quit the teaching job that I loved to join him on the road. What we thought would be a year-long diversion, turned into seven and a half years of writing, recording, and touring the country together.
I kept writing songs that were helping me work through my faith. Most of them are prayers asking God to help me believe that His promises are true. They didn’t fit in with what our band (Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors) does, but Drew really encouraged me to pursue writing them because he loved how they were sounding.
So I wrote furiously, sitting in God’s word and letting music come out. It was and is such a joy. I found out during this season that we were pregnant and by the end of 9 months, I ended up wit a precious baby girl to hold and 45 songs to sing.
We recorded my second EP and then my first full-length in a year, and while I was very hesitant to move forward with making music apart from our band, it has been so sweet to see God sustain and provide for me, for this music, and for our family.
I got to release my first full-length record thanks to the support of 1,756 backers on Kickstarter, and I could not be more grateful. Praying now that the songs will be light in the darkness for those who hear them.
WL: What other musicians or artists have inspired you in your life and/or continue to inspire you?
EH: I love Amy grant. Always have. Always will. Sara Groves and Jon Foreman have made records that are balm for my soul.
WL: Your recent CD was a Kickstarter project, as more and more worship leaders are starting to get interested in putting together a worship CD for their local communities, what are some things they should be aware of before jumping in?
EH: It’s scary, but wonderful. It’s a vulnerable thing to ask for help, and to know that if you don’t hit your goal, you will fail publicly, but it’s a beautiful thing to invite your community to be a part of the creative work you’re making! I’m so glad fear didn’t keep me from launching a Kickstarter campaign. It’s been one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced creatively because it develops a group of people to surround you and the work your making. Being an artist can often be lonely, especially when you are creating something, but Kickstarter opens the doors and invited people into the process in a healthy and wonderful way.
WL: Do you have any tips for people who want to try the Kickstarter rout?
EH: I’d start by setting a realistic goal and thinking through the rewards and experiences that your community would enjoy. I think a good video that casts a clear vision is extremely helpful too. The invitation is important.
WL: Along with being an expression, songwriting serves a purpose, what are you hoping your songs accomplish for others?
EH: My deepest prayer is that the songs I write would encourage and refresh the weary heart. I also hope that they will always be honest, and in that place of being very real, might help others feel the freedom to come just as they are to Jesus.
WL: There seems to be an aware joy in your music, as in joy that is aware of pain in the world. Is this intentional on your part? …
EH: I love the way you said that. Most of the songs on this record come from a difficult season that I have experienced myself or that I’ve walked through with dear friends. I’ve seen God to be very faithful on one hand, and on the other, I still have a lot of unanswered questions about suffering in the world, but I’m learning that there can be a joy in the midst of unanswered questions because Jesus suffered too, and He is with us, in the heights of our joy and the depths of our sorrow. My counselor calls this grounded joy. Joy grounded in the truth that life is immensely painful at times, and that Jesus enters right into the middle of all of that pain and offers companionship and hope that the pain is not the end of the story.
WL: What words do you have for people who are worshiping even when they are in desert places?
EH: Run to Jesus. He is a man of sorrows. I’m learning that He’s the best person to know or to run to in the midst of deep suffering because He suffered too. My gut reaction to pain is to run away from God shaking my fist at the heavens, shouting “Why? How long? What’s the point?” But I’m figuring out that maybe He’s big enough to handle those questions, and I can run TO Him when my heart is breaking. And what a comfort to be held by a God with scars as our wounds are in desperate need of healing and our hearts are in desperate need of knowing that we are not alone.
WL: What is the role of music in a church’s local mission, and what do you see the role of music in the larger mission of God in the world today?
EH: Music is a bridge builder. It has a way of working itself into the crevices or our hearts and souls in an unassuming and undeniable way. It seems like music in the church can help open the doors of our hearts, even when they’ve been slammed shut, and that melodies full of truth help point our wandering souls back homeward.
Hopefully, it does the same thing in the larger mission of God in the world, offers truth and beauty that break down barriers and make our souls long for the kind of Love that will complete us, for the kind of hope that will not disappoint us, and for a place that we can truly belong.
WL: What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the process of releasing your recent record, As Sure as the Sun?
EH: I’ve learned that I desperately need to hang onto what is true and that spending time in God’s word is a game changer. When I get busy managing all of the good opportunities and responsibilities that have come in the wake of releasing this record, and forget to look to Jesus, I’m quick to wither, fear creeps in and begins to own me, but when I keep my eyes on Him and lean into His love, it changes me. It helps me have the courage and peace to face a wonderful, but unknown and extremely busy season in our life.