Beth Hazel Farris, a Christian pop/folk/acoustic singer/songwriter, who wrote the Casting Crowns’ song “Follow Me”, has released her debut full length album Life Is All Music recently. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Beth via email, as we discussed the recent album, how she started in music, and what she hopes listeners will gain from the album, as well as her goals and plans for the rest of 2014 and 2015! Check out the interview below.
1. It’s been a cool journey of how you received your start in recording albums; can you tell us about your experiences, especially in writing the song “Follow Me” and having Casting Crowns cover it for their album Thrive? How has God guided you through the recording process of your EP’s and now the full length album, as well as being a mother as well?
If you would have told me 6 years ago that I would be writing songs, recording them and playing them with a guitar in front of crowds, I really would have laughed and dismissed the idea!
I am still amazed at the gifts and opportunities that I have been given!
I had been a youth pastors wife and stay at home mother for years. When my youngest child turned two years of age I hit a really dark time in life. I suppose it was years of having babies and there was a storm of chemicals and hormones in my body. I did not confide in anyone until later. I believe I was a tad prideful and I still wanted to be looked at as strong. As I was healing from that season my husband, Reagan bought me a guitar. I learned how to play pretty fast but only because I’ve been playing banjo off and on since I was 21. The same time I was learning guitar I was studying the life of Jesus. I was completely enamored by the love and mission of Jesus Christ. Here is this man but also God and He loved the lowliest and most sinful. He stumped the prideful and gave women a purpose. I was completely at the end of myself asking, “What now?” Jesus approached normal and humble fisherman and said to them, “Follow Me.” I picked up my journal and wrote down the words. “At the end of myself” and “Follow Me”. With tears and a new outlook, I wrote this song.
It was just one of a few songs that I had written and it remained just a lullaby for my children for a short while. My husband was working with Mark Hall of Casting Crowns. In fact Mark was once my husband’s youth pastor and then brought us to Georgia to help him and his wife Melanie with student ministry since Crowns was going to go on their first official tour.
(That’s a really grand back-story and picture of Gods hand)
Reagan, my husband, told Mark that I had been writing songs. Mark met with me to hear them and he immediately made plans for me to record them. He wanted me to have them on hand. He had worked with Jason Hoard before on a project and sent me to his studio. Jason and I became great buddies and we grew up with the same kind of music. We both adore country, folk and have an appreciation for bluegrass. You put all that in a pot and it makes for really great Americana melodies! After Mark heard the few songs he believed I would do well to make a full album being that I was now a song writer with fresh, originals to pick from. Jason and I had the most fun making this album. He brought in the very best musicians including Barry Bales-upright bass- from Union Station (The band that plays with Allison Krauss!); I have had all of their albums and knew just about every song! I was completely star stuck and hardly said a word when I first started working with him. I am blessed to have been invested in by Mark and to have the best quality and production by Jason.
I decided that I wanted to be an independent artist with no intentions of signing with a label. It would be over a year however before I released the album. The guys at Proper Management helped me with timing and release. In the meantime, Mark told me he wanted to use “Follow Me” in the new album he was working on. I was completely humbled and argued that I did not deserve to be a part of a project like that. Mark in his graciousness insisted. The first time I heard their version of my song I wept in sheer happiness. I began to praise God for His gift of music.
I wrote all my songs with my children in the room with me. I don’t think I would know how to write in silence. They inspire me to write better being that they love different music. They enjoy listening to bands no one knows about. They have an ear for poetic lyrics that speak of love and their Creator and Savior. My husband is the same way. When I write something that may be cliché they will tell me and I go back and rewrite. They are my critics and biggest fans. I take them most anywhere I play. They sit quietly and play games and meet new people. Sometimes I will play in places where kids are not allowed and this gives them time with a fun babysitter. It’s quite charming to carry a guitar with four little ones behind me. I feel like the Pied Piper!
2. Describe how recording these 12 songs has been for you, and what God has been teaching you throughout this process? Can you tell us the highlight of recording this new album?
Recording these songs was at first completely out of my comfort zone. I shyed away at first. I was convinced that this was not for me. I quickly came to my senses and knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and these were my songs and I just needed to get in there and have fun! Jason feels like a brother to me and he always made sure that the songs were what I had envisioned them to be. My favorite part of the process was layering the songs. We would first do acoustic guitar and then sit and think how we wanted to dress the song. “More banjo!” was my new motto in the studio. Jason played a sitar in “He Knows My Name” He also played the congas while Brian Scoggins played drums. Barry Bales played the upright bass that day as well. That was so much fun to work on and I was very pleased how that it came out. On “I’m Gonna Marry Him”, Jason and I stomped on a wooden board barefoot for percussion. I shook a coffee can with coffee beans inside while Edgar Vargas played tambourine. Ason even kept my laugh in there. You can hear it at the end of the song. It was always a party. I wish I had made a video documentary of my time in the studio.
3. What is the one thing that you hope listeners can gain when they hear Life Is All Music, especially since it isn’t classified as a ‘Christian’ album per se on the iTunes categories, hence you may receive more mainstream listeners? If there is one song listeners should check out first, what would it be?
My hopes for listeners… All these songs are personal to me. They are stories from my life as well as other people’s stories. I have always been a storyteller. In high school I fancied telling stories to my classmates and making them laugh. I tell my children stories so they may hear my heart and understand what I am trying to teach them. Jesus told stories. Stories are universal. I’ve had many folks send me messages and tell me that they saw themselves in a song on the album. “That woman is me!”, “That man is me!”, “That’s our story!”… This is what I love to hear! When I play these songs in coffee shops or bars I know that it’s not just entertainment. I want to sing songs that leave with people. There are many songs for the moment and they just stay where they are sung. I want people to leave and think. That doesn’t mean I do not sing cute songs of love. I mix those in as well.
I don’t live in a “Christian culture” world. I live in the heart of New Orleans. Most people may not know Jesus but they do love music. My goal is not to make songs radio friendly but rather letting the music go where it goes. I now hear that folks need more CDs to give to friends at their work place or their neighbors. These are people that would probably not step foot in a church.
I’m fact, I turned in my music to a Christian radio station and I’ve yet to hear back from them. I also turned in my music to the local radio station that’s really popular with the locals and they played a song the next day! I believe God is Sovereign and that is the road He has me in!
4. The album contains some of my favourite songs from yourself, inclusive of “Follow Me”, “He Knows Me Name”, “A Dream”, “The One” and “Your Song”; what did each of the 11 songs mean to you as you were recording it?
I told you about “Follow Me”. “He Knows My Name” was written about Zaccheus whom Jesus encountered one busy day. He was probably a nasty little fella considering he had made profit off the poor. When he was meeting with Jesus the disciples grumbled at the grace of Jesus. I have seen that happen way too many times and I am sure I have done the same at some point. Why can’t all believers rejoice while others meet Jesus? I believe there is so much competition within the church. A “holy” competition, “gifted” competition, “blessed” competition. Why? Yuck! Anyhow, when I read how the disciples reacted I remembered how my husband once said in a sermon that they” grieved over grace”. So I wrote that down. “Now I’m giving Him my world and they’re grieving over grace”. That is my favorite part of the song and then Jesus says in the Bible that he came to seek and to save. He is just too cool!!!!
“A Dream” was written about people I have seen that had almost no real hope or love in this world. Of course I knew that Jesus is the real source of life, love and hope. I was on my knees crying for some of them after work one night (I was serving tables at a little restaurant in town at the time) my heart ached for anyone who hadn’t grown up under protection of real love. My heart hurt for all the times I did not genuinely love or approach someone in pain. Sometimes I just want to be comfortable and I’m sure others feel the same. Jesus got his hands dirty and made himself be around others and so should we. That song was meant to reach out to the broken as well as challenge the church.
“The One”…I love this song. I remember every pencil stroke of this song as if it were yesterday. It was also the only song I wrote before coming up with a melody first. I was desperately seeking the right words from a friend of mine. When I did not receive what I felt I needed, I felt shorted out. My attitude became one of discontentment. I believe that is how the world goes ‘round. We all seek what we believe to be rightly ours so we may feel “happy” and “full”. We buy and seek and turn flips in life to get that acceptance “high”. That was me one morning.
As I was sitting there with my “might as well go eat worms” self, I opened the Bible to a random passage. Isaiah 31. God had shown His power to the Israelites over and over. He proved His love and devotion to them. Yet, they were still seeking confidence from earthly strength. The scripture said, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horse and chariots because they are many and trust in horses because they are strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!” I immediately asked my God to forgive me for seeking earthly acceptance. I wrote this song then and there. I do however believe in the power of edification. I believe wholehearted in encouraging others. This is the best way to defeat envy and comparison.
“Your Song”- I wrote this in my front yard while my children were climbing a young oak tree. I feel this song is different from the rest of the album. I wrote it after a struggle of wondering what by priorities and purpose was as a follower of Jesus. “That emptiness I felt when I tried to do the right thing, You filled that void and now I know, that I am here to worship You.” I really believe if we keep our eyes focused on our magnificent Creator who is all-perfect, our life WILL reflect Him. So many times we try on our own and we become spent and empty of the things of God and full of self. That song was interesting to record because the studio was filled to the brim with male musicians. I was late on my scarf orders. (I was crocheting scarves and selling them since I didn’t want to wait tables any longer.) I was crocheting all day in the studio while the men talked about hunting and guitars. That was a fun day.
5. Has there been a recent song that has been ministering to people on the road, and what are some of the encouraging stories you have heard from the impact of your songs (on any of your albums you’ve recorded, or on this upcoming album)?
My favorite song on the album is “Backyard.” One of our buddies, Jacob Watts, had posted, “Holiday at Sea” by C.S. Lewis. I am a fan of C.S. Lewis and his work. For some reason this was the first time I had read this particular writing of his. You will have to read it to see where I was inspired to write my song. His words painted a picture in my head that I could not shake. My mind recalled how many times I have dressed up the children to go somewhere fun and they decided it would be more exciting to get gum in their hair or get dirty in the backyard. I had these great plans for my children. Plans they have no idea about. But with their child minds and will, they are very much pleased with their own small plans. Isn’t this the picture of God and His Creation? People make their own plans while God has huge plans. We settle for mud when He has life, love and real purpose.
I have had the most encouraging messages come my way! Life is hard. We live in a very broken world. I have heard many stories from folks from all over. “Follow Me” has nudged many to the feet of Jesus. I completely humbly say this. I owe Mark Hall a great deal for putting this song on his album to help get the message of this song out. I remember what the words Jesus said in this song did in me. For many people the words ring true- “You may lose everything, just follow Me.”
The uplifting feedback has been the people that have said that “Backyard” allowed them to step out on faith and know that they were definitely supposed to plant a church. My husband and I stepped out on faith to plant a church in New Orleans, LA. We left our comfort and moved not knowing what would happen. We didn’t do this because we are awesome but because we knew that if God puts something on your heart, you do it knowing He has plans for you. Good plans. Hard plans…..but good.
6. Were there any difficult songs to write, sing or even record, either because they were based on personal experiences of yourself or others? What has God used to speak to you more- the songs that were easiest to write or the hardest?
The hardest song to record was by far “Sailor and a Southern Girl”. I wrestled with instruments and lyrics. It’s a song about my parents and I would hate to not do their story justice. I put a lot of thought and heart into this one! I think someone needs to make their story into a movie. I love their testimony!
7. For those who may not have listened to your style of music before, who would you say you sound similar to at the moment, in the CCM industry, so that potential listeners can know what to expect? Personally, I reckon you have a country/bluegrass/folk/acoustic sound, similar to All Sons And Daughters, Ellie Holcomb, Audrey Assad, Brooke Fraser and Needtobreathe, vocally and musically!
In the CCM world I suppose I have the same vibe as Rend Collective and all the artists you mentioned. I adore their music I am honored for the comparison!!! I can relate to lesser known bands and artists such as Young Oceans, Paper Kites, Josh Garrells, The Oh Hellos. Despite controversies in theology, I adore Gungor. Their music is grand. I listen to albums and downloaded music primarily. I also adore the band, Leeland and the worship leader, Matt Papa and I miss the band, Downhere.
I also love meeting other folks who are on the same kind of journey as myself. I have been able to work and hang out with great songwriters. I got to play a show in New Orleans with a friend named Brett Weller. We both lead worship in town. He is about to release a new EP. I recently opened for a fella named Levi Weaver. He and his lovely wife and 2 kids have been traveling around America in an RV while he plays all over. He is a brilliant writer. I really enjoy an artist named Lizi Bailey that I did a show with a while back. I like playing with local musicians when I can My friend here, Katie Watts and I play together often.
8. Both musically and lyrically, how does Life Is All Music capture the experiences of yourself throughout the last few years of your musical journey? As you move into what God is calling you into next in your Christian music career; is there anything you hold onto that God has spoken into your life?
This album is most definitely tells the story of my journey. “Sailor and a Southern Girl” is a song I wrote about my parents. How they met and though the baby in the story, me, came before marriage….God brought redemption to the story. My parents were later introduced to the gospel of Jesus by a young couple. My parents immediately followed Jesus and have always done ministry in the church. They have taught us to give back what the Lord gives us. I wanted the words on this project to be strong but full of hope and grace. “Queen of your World” is a song of maternal thankfulness. My children are very much a part of this project. These are songs are songs I want them to hear. This is the kind of music we love!
The music is mixture of all the sounds I enjoy! Folk, bluegrass and novelty country. “He knows my name” has the bohemian feel that I wanted for that song.
I have been incredibly blessed to not have to jump hurdles to get my foot in the door in the music world. It all just happened. Mark Hall really felt that others would benefit from hearing my songs. I suppose what Steven Curtis Chapman did for him. Which is kinda a cool circle! Obviously I do work different avenues to spread the word for my music. Social media is a big vehicle but most importantly friends sharing music they like. That’s my favorite kind of music anyway! The kind you heard about from a friend. So I am thankful to people for telling others about my music. I am sure I will always have people who don’t much care for the music style or lyrics and radio stations that wont give me a chance. I believe every door is closed and open for a reason.
9. Which of your new songs are you the most excited for in terms of playing it live at concerts? Has there ever been a song that you have sung in concerts that you didn’t think would have the impact that it currently does? Or has there been a song where you thought should’ve had the impact that it currently doesn’t? What has God shown you through both/either circumstance?
I have really enjoyed playing “A Dream” at concerts and shows. I left the stories open for people to imagine their selves or someone else being the characters. It’s a very personal song wherever you are in life.
10. For anyone who is reading this interview and is feeling discouraged or down, either because of something in their life currently or something spoken over them, what can you say to them?
The Bible says a few times that’s Gods will for us is to give thanks. I believe when we stop to thank God for breath, shelter and people on our lives, we receive a better perspective. If you’ve been hurt by someone and you give thanks to the Creator of the Universe then God seems really, really big and people seem real extra small. I don’t say this to devalue anyone. Of course we are still commanded to love and pray for those who hurt us.
11. Are there any artists/writers/producers you would like to collaborate and compose music with in the future? Who were your favourite artists you admired and looked up to musically in your earlier years, and is there any artist or band that you admire within the music industry currently?
If I could work with anyone it would be all the artists I mentioned! I would be thrilled to write with Jon Foreman one day. Golly…my husband would be ecstatic. That’s his favorite! I like the way he writes. Josh Garrells has a studio I would like to visit. Although it would be hard to imagine recording anywhere but Jason Hoards Studio. (Black Cat Studio.)
Growing up we listened to all sorts of music that influenced my eclectic music ear. My bio lists all the music I grew up with. Great music! My father played Rich Mullins often. I loved his music and words. They were different from the others in that industry at the time. Of course Steven Curtis Chapman was also in the air. We went to see him on his first tour. Newsboys opened for him. We went because my parents were friends with his childhood buddy. We loved the concert and always bought his albums. I still have the t shirt from that concert.
12. Who do you look up to in the music industry (CCM, or mainstream), either as a spiritual mentor, or someone you ask advice from? If anyone reading this interview wants to move into the music industry, what would you say to them as advice- how would you succeed in the industry, especially worship, with your values intact?
I’ve met Matt Redman a few times. He is absolutely one of the most approachable people I’ve ever been around and he takes the time to talk to people. He just seems like a really grounded man. Kiddos to him!
I’ve already mentioned Mark and his kindness. I got to go on the road with Dara MacLean once and she is the type that sits you down and says, “So, tell me about yourself!” Not many people do that sort of thing. That will always stick with me. I’ve never met Jon Foreman but he seems to have a sweet relationship with fans of his music. After an energetic concert he still finds the energy to surprise folks with after shows. He just seems personal. On another note, I do look up to Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. I heard a musician once say a woman should probably quit singing after 40. I’m 33. I didn’t say a word but I did think about those two gals and smiled. They are still singing their hearts out! Ladies get better with age!
13. Any artists you have toured with in the last few years that have impacted your life the most? Any new tours you are excited for in 2014 and beyond? Any artists you’d like to tour with but haven’t yet?
I do not have anything on the books for a tour yet. I am working on booking in different cities that I’ve been invited to. I would very much enjoy doing this next year. I did enjoy opening for Crowns! Mark is pretty incredible to do all that he does. He gives so much care to the folks on the road and his student ministry. I look up to Him and Melanie a great deal. They encourage me to love the church and to reach out to the world.
I would love to open for another band soon! I love to travel, meet new friends and I love the hum of the bus while sleeping. My children Love because they get to stay with their grandparents.
I am going to get to play this next Thursday night with Mac Powell’s country band in Jackson, Ms. I am super excited about this!
14. Is there anything in your life that keeps you grounded and places things in perspective as you travel and create music? What’s next for yourself in 2014 and 2015, musically or otherwise? Can you divulge about what your next project will sound like if you have thought about it?
My family and our church keep me grounded. We don’t really talk about my music with our church group. We meet in our home to worship, learn scripture, fellowship and give thanks to God. We talk about loving our community and the good news of our Jesus. There is really no room to talk about my cool careerJI like this. It does keep me small in mind and a woman of vision.
I am currently saving earnings from my last album to work on my next project! I have new songs to share and I am completely thrilled to record them! I am hoping to get back to the studio this winter. I pray it will make the same impact as the last if not greater. I believe it will be very different than my current album. I’m in a very unique season of life here in New Orleans. I feel like I have my thumb on the heartbeat of those around me. I listen to their stories and seek the words of God. In dark places, I look for God’s presence. I have some ideas running in my head for wonderful new sounds. It’s all bursting in my head waiting to be poured out in the creative setting of the studio!
15. Is there any song, or Bible verse, or even famous quote that reminds you about why you do what you do and why you chose music as a career and ministry?
I would say that Blessed Assurance is my favorite song. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine…….This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.” I’ve loved this song since I was a small child. It was also the first hymn that my father learned after following Jesus. This old hymn also encourages me to continue sharing stories through songs.
16. Is there anything else that you would like to add that hasn’t been covered in this interview yet? Any parting words, and encouragements that will impact the readers of this interview, either from your own life or from others around you? How can fans stay connected with you via social media?
I want to send out a blanketed and sincere thank you for all those who gave my music a chance! I really pray that it has encouraged people not just as a person but in who God is to them! I hope to have an online store on my web site soon! This way people from all over can buy a tangible cd and shirt. The money from those purchases goes first to help a ministry in Kenya, then to putting back into the music. I do love to share my everydays via pictures on instagram. That is how I keep up with my favorite artists! I also have a music page on Facebook. I read every single message and try to respond as quickly as I can to them. I have always felt bonding through music when I’ve listened to my favorite artists. Sometimes I want to hear the heart of a song but shy away from asking. So I encourage people to ask away!! Don’t shy back because chances are I’m in sweat pants wiping a booger off the wall or having a meltdown because my son hates math and I have a five year old climbing on my head. I may not respond immediately because one hand is holding a spoon and the other in a sink but I always try to make time!
Thanks guys for this interview! I will meet you all when I go to Australia! I have had a few invites to play there so I shall go!!! Let me know what else I can answer!! Or better answer! God Bless!
Be sure to check out Beth Hazel Farris’ new album Life Is All Music in stores and at digital outlets right now! Also, check out Beth’s youtube page here! Also, below is Casting Crowns’ version of “Follow Me”, which Beth wrote! Enjoy!