This is a transcript of a phone interview I had over digital coffee today with CCM singer-songwriter Ellie Holcomb. The 30 minute conversation includes topics such as her album As Sure as the Sun, her involvement with Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, potential collaboration with Jon Foreman, touring plans, a relatively-unknown side project, and her thoughts on streaming services.
EH: Hey, is this Ian?
IZ: This is!
EH: Awesome, this is Ellie. How are you doing?
IZ: Good. Good morning!
EH: Sorry I wanted to make sure I hit the right number. My managers gave me a list of all the numbers to call today. Just wanted to make sure I hit the right one.
IZ: Yup, you got it. The one and only!
(NOTE: This is not true. There are, in fact, two humans named Ian Zandi in the United States)
EH: Good, I’m glad I gotcha
IZ: Thank you, just doing a bunch of interviews today?
EH: Yeah! I tend to do better if they are all together. Otherwise I’m a little forgetful
EH: It’s like, ‘I’m doing interviews on this day at these hours’. I love it, I feel like I get to have coffee with a bunch of people even though they aren’t right in front of me.
IZ: Very cool, I’m drinking a cup of coffee right now. You got it
EH: Oh good, good. Cheers!
Eh: So where do you live in this world?
IZ: I love in Southern California, about an hour away from L.A.
EH: Ok, great. What is your city called?
IZ: It’s called Pomona.
EH: Okay great. I have an aunt and an uncle who are in Temecula.
IZ: Yeah, I know where that is.
EH: I’m in Nashville, Tennessee. Born and raised. It’s freezing here.
IZ: Is it?
EH: It really is. Wishing I was in Southern California right now. We had a bit of a warm spell. The temperature dropped like 20 degrees today, it’s crazy.
IZ: It’s like 80 degrees outside I think.
EH: Ahh glory. Soak that up for us, will you?
IZ: Ready for interview?
EH: Yeah man.
IZ: It’s been about a year since your Kickstarter album As Sure as the Sun has been released. What were your thoughts and plans when you first set to creating the album?
EH: Ahh man, that’s a great question. I started writing these songs really just for myself as a cathartic way of working out my faith. I really was never intending on writing a record out of it. It was just a way of me asking God to help me believe His promises are true. So when I started playing these songs for my husband, my manager, and my dad, who produced this record, they all said ‘Man, you need to make a full-length record’. I just said ‘No, no, no, no, nooo. These are just for me”. They just said ‘No, really. You do.’ I think my hope was, I just wrote these songs for myself, and they are really an encouragement and helpful for me. If they could be an encouragement to anyone else, then maybe I do want to make this record. Maybe I do want to send this music out into the world. Truly, my only thoughts in place were that I hope to refresh the hearts of saints. If one person heard it and was encouraged, that was worth it because it was great for me, writing these songs. Truly, that was the heart, vision, and the driving thing, that I want to be encouraging people. I had realized by then that the people in the church, and myself walking in that community, is full of people that are weary and suffering. They need encouragement too. I was thinking ‘Man, this would be really cool to make a record that recalling intermittently the promises of God.’
IZ: Very good. For anybody that hasn’t heard the album yet, which is a shame because it is great, how would you describe it in one word?
EH: Help. Truly, help. I feel like the theme of the record is ‘Lord I believe; thou help my unbelief.’ Yeah, that’s why I would say help. That’s sorta the theme is ‘Lord, help my belief’.
IZ: Wow, that’s great that you came up with that answer right off the bat. So, you know.
EH: *Laughs* Well, “help” or “hope”. Those are the two things that I am continually asking Jesus for.
IZ: Well, what really sets this apart from your husband’s Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors stuff? Did you really want this as only a personal project? Did he have any input?
EH: It honestly began as a cathartic way for me to work out my faith. It’s EXTREMELY personal. It started off as me trying to kick back at the darkness by hanging on to the promises of God. It’s very personal…. we just so happened to turn it into a record. Drew’s stuff, even though he is a man of faith, his work is little bit more veiled in terms of faith. It leans a little bit more towards storytelling. It’s interesting because that’s the music he loves and resonates towards him. For me, I’ve loved a lot of that music too but have also really transformed. I’ve seen records that lean more explicitly dealing faith, that have carried more through a lot of heartache. I was trying to write music that would carry me through a lot of heartache that I was facing. It helped a lot as it turned out. It’s definitely more explicit in terms of dealing openly with the questions, struggles, and joys of walking with Jesus.
IZ: Right. I read on your website that some of these songs were written while you were pregnant with your daughter. Did that have any influence on the songs?
EH: Oh man, yes. This record was born out of walking with a lot of friends and myself through some pretty serious trials and darkness. I began writing this record just right before we got pregnant with our little girl. Just really asking God to help me hope that his promises are true. It was an amazing thing as this little life was growing inside of me. Some of the songs that I wrote towards the end of the pregnancy are way more full of hope, than the songs that I wrote in the beginning. I think that was twofold. One, I think I was faithful through the suffering. On that life, and the life of my friends Two, I literally saw life being made from inside of me. I couldn’t believe that I got to be any part of that, you know? It was sort of metaphorically seeing Him breathe life into something that was not. I was seeing him do that into my life, and then literally into life of the little girl that I carried. The days that we got closer to meet her, I think he really kind enough to fill me with more and more hope that His promises are true. That he is in the business of breathing life into things that were not there… that are dead. I am really grateful for that, it’s a really beautiful process.
IZ: Assuming that you make a 2nd album in the future, maybe you are or not, what direction do you see yourself taking it? Would you continue these songs of help, or take a different direction?
EH: The songs are coming again. I’m not exactly sure if I am making another record, but I am writing more songs. I think it will continue to be me sitting in God’s word, and letting music come out. I think it will be more of the same… different things that I am learning. I always write what he is teaching me and what I am struggling through in my life. I think it will reflect a lot of the things that we are walking through in our community, and what He is teaching me through His word.
IZ: What inspires you musically? We got the lyrically part down, but what about musically?
EH: Oh man, you want like specific records? Or…
IZ: Yeah in general or specific. Whatever comes to mind.
EH: Oh so much. I just heard this professor speak about a year ago… his name is Dr. Jeremy. He talks about the premise of music is that you start in a key called “home”, move “away” from that key, then you go back “home”. “Home”, “away”, “home”. In classical music, in rock music… it’s sorta the premise of music theory. In all music, it seems to resonate in the way that we were made. We were home at the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, then we are kinda in this fusion of “away”, and I think our hearts long for “home” again. So music in general kind of speaks to that ache and longing in me and it seems like in a lot of people. I love all kinds of stuff, but specifically, I am listening to a record right now by Steffany Gretzinger it’s called The Undoing. She comes out of Bethel here in Nashville. I listen to Jon Foreman, always.
IZ: Oh yes!
EH: There is a lot of great music in the mainstream music that I love too. Mumford… the band called The Lumineers… The Lone Below. There is a lot of great stuff that really resonates that makes your heart beat fast… in a good way. That’s some of the stuff that I am listening to right now.
EH: OH AND NEEDTOBREATHE RECORD TOO!!! Rivers in the Wasteland… holy goodness.
IZ: Speaking of them, they are all going on tour with Jon Foreman and Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors. Are you going to be on that too?
EH: Ah man, I certainly hope so. I won’t be on the whole deal because I am staying home with our little girl. I will be touring with Third Day this Spring. Also doing a shorter run with Steven Curtis Chapman and Brandon Heath. I’ll be on the road some. Even if I am not singing in the show, which I know Drew will bring me up for some of it, I just want to see all of them. That is like, a killer tour man.
IZ: Were you on the new Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors record? I really haven’t heard it yet.
EH: Yeah, yeah. About four songs. I don’t think I wrote any of it. I might have wrote one of the songs. Isn’t that terrible that I can’t remember?
IZ: Naw. That means you have just wrote SO much that you can’t remember.
EH: I do sing on about 4 of the tracks.
IZ: Ok, very cool
EH: Yeah it’s been good. I come to a handful of shows when I can. Man, it is so fun to get to do that now. Having been in it for 8 ½ years, it’s really fun to come out and watch the show and not participate in it the whole time. I’m a pretty big fan of the music that Drew is making too, it’s fun kind of getting to be a fan rather than a creator and performer all the time.
IZ: Since you are a really big fan of Jon Foreman’s solo work, would you ever have him collaborate on your future songs? Vice versa?
EH: AH MAN! Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Can you talk to him?
IZ: Yeah, he’s in San Diego…
EH: You can just have coffee with him. Drew and I really are really looking forward to touring with the band. I have so much respect for all of the music he makes. I know he is getting ready to make a lot of new music right now. But Yes. Big capital letters… YES.
IZ: I’ll pass it on.
EH: I appreciate it. I will say this, Matt Maher and Audrey Assad those are two other artists. I just love what they are making. I mention them in relation to Jon because they are so thoughtful about the way they live their lives, interact with culture, and write their music too.
IZ: They just seem like the authentic, real-deal… like your music.
EH: Thank you very much. Great company.
IZ: No problem. So I believe an English teacher at one point, right?
EH: Absolutely was.
IZ: What age range did you do?
EH: Well, I did 8th grade and then High School.
IZ: I don’t think this question would match that, but I’ll ask anyway because you have a young daughter, would you ever consider putting out an educational album? They Might Be Giants have done some things like that…..sorta like Veggietales?
EH: You know what? Yes. I am kinda doing that in band called Rain for Roots with 3 other moms here in Nashville. Sandra McCracken, Katy Hutson, and Flo Paris write folk music for kids in an effort to help little hearts carry out big truths.
IZ: Oh wow, I didn’t even know about that.
EH: So I am doing that in a way. The record we made is called The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like This. It’s based off of the parables of Jesus. It is fascinating writing for that because you sit in some of these very complex scripture passages. You start to think “Maybe we complicate this a lot. Maybe it is this simple?” Yes, I am currently doing that and loving it. I was a teacher singing in the classroom and writing raps. The kids would always laugh at me. Music is such an amazing way to make connections with ideas and emotions. I think it’s an incredible teaching tool. It’s taught my soul a lot of things over the years, without even setting out to do that. Also, great for memory.
IZ: Music really is a great tool. I didn’t even know about the group. What was the name of it again?
EH: It’s called Rain for Roots. It started because one of my best friends asked me ‘Hey, can you write some children’s music for me that will help me not want to shoot myself in the face?’. I called my friend Katy, who does jazz music for kids called Coal Train Railroad, we got together with 2 other moms in our community. I actually like listening to it, so that’s good.
IZ: Alright, I just have one last question for you. I ask it to anyone I interview because it’s a big topic. What are your thoughts on Spotify and other streaming services like that? Do you support it?
EH: *Laughs* Well, I will say this, whether I support it or not, it’s happening. It’s the future of music. Honestly, it’s great for independent musicians. You get worldwide distribution and more ears that wouldn’t hear it otherwise. It’s not great way to pay your bills right now, or maybe yet, in terms of practically speaking. I do see a lot of good in it too. It’s a great interface to use… check out new music. We use it for records we already own.
IZ: I think that’s fair.
EH: We will go out and buy a record, and then listen to it on Spotify. In a way, we are double-supporting the artist. We try to put our money where our mouth is. If we love something, we are going to pay for it. More than just the streaming fee… It’s definitely a good thing.
IZ: Thank you for your time Ellie. I really appreciate it. Good luck with the rest of your interviews!
EH: It was a pleasure talking with you. Thank you.