RR Interview: Rebecca Reynolds

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Ron Block’s new album, Walking Song, released two weeks ago, and although it has Ron’s mug on the cover, there’s another person that’s responsible for the lyrical content inside. Rebecca Reynolds, long-time Rabbit Roomer, joined up with Ron to co-write most of the songs on the album. I spoke to her about what it was like to participate in a collaborative artistic endeavor like Walking Song.

You began this journey simply by reading The Rabbit Room and contributing to the discussion once in a while. In fact, you weren’t even aware of who Ron Block was at the beginning. How exactly did a sometime Rabbit Room commenter end up writing lyrics for a big-time album?

Hmm. Well, it’s not my natural bent to think about music in terms of “big-time” or “small-time.” My mom has an undergraduate degree in music, so I grew up surrounded by all sorts of songs. Some of my earliest memories are of her sitting at the piano for hours upon hours practicing [Dmitry] Kabalevsky or [Robert] Schumann.

In my home, music was not perceived as a business, rooted in what was popular or influential. It was seen in terms of a language used by people to communicate ideas. It was kind of an unspoken principle in my home that a song used simply for business was a prostitution of art.

Growing up, we listened to classical records or turned the radio to “A Prairie Home Companion.” We attended folk music festivals. Mom would break out an ancient plainsong or one of those early experimental digital pieces like “Celestial Soda Pop” from Ray Lynch’s Deep Breakfast. However, I almost never heard rock, pop, or country. Those sorts of music (and the concepts of charts, popularity, etc.) were introduced to me in bits and pieces as I became more integrated with teenage culture. I was never one of those kids who knew much about the top ten.

When I’m getting to know someone, the music they like is important to me, because it tells me about the dialect of their personality. It is a venue for knowing their soul. But I care very little about whether their music or mine is popular.

So, as far as I can remember, I never had aspirations to “be” any sort of name in the music world. I wanted to write songs, because I felt like I needed the other half of my voice. I walked around with an uncomfortable sense that I was half an artist in this regard. Lyrics would come, but I could not make music to match them. That was very frustrating.

Ron and I became friends via RR theological discussions. I knew he played guitar, but I didn’t understand the music business enough to realize all of what he really was—and I’m glad now that I didn’t. My context for pursuing art making was delight, the ache to express, and hunger for beauty. I needed someone to play and discover with me.

I tease Ron sometimes about being my Annie Sullivan. I was caught in darkness and silence, and he gave all the words stuck inside me an outlet. You hear about supernatural healings, the mute being given speech and the blind sight. That still happens, I think. At least it did to me. My patron saint just happens to play the banjo.

You and Ron worked closely together for this project. What’s the collaborative process like between the two of you?

I think it is a very unique gift we have been given. He and I are very similar in personality. We have read and loved many of the same books, and our core values are nearly identical. We share a native tongue, and that is not something people can create. Decades of separate lives wove that language into us, and we realized this similarity instead of creating it. This means we don’t have to mess with a lot of the translation many artists encounter when communicating with one another. We can hit the ground running.

There is a line from an Andrew Peterson song that says, “A thing resounds when it rings true.” Creating with Ron is like that. We share an artistic alert system that says, “Yes. This is it!” or “No, that is not it.” So, creative dialogue is very fluid. Very easy.

Also, because we are fairly divided in our tasks, there is zero competition. He trusts me with words. I trust him with music. We’ve both lived enough life to value respect, affirmation, patience. We help listen for one another, speaking out snags we notice, but there is never any serious struggle for power or identity. We are wholeheartedly for one another.

You know, Ron’s already been successful, and I don’t care much for becoming known. I’m content in the shadows. This allows us to focus on art for the sake of art, which is incredibly freeing.

As the record began to move past the writing stage and into the production stage, you had to give over your contribution to the musicians. What was it like to watch the record actually being made?

Well, that’s funny. I had never been around record production, so I didn’t know enough to worry.

Actually, production kind of made me mad at first, because I wanted to keep writing songs. We had written 40-50 songs that first year, and I hated the thought of that creative flood stopping, just to make some CD. I’m horrified now looking back at some of the things I said to Ron during those months.

“Who is Stuart Duncan? Sheesh. Just get some fiddle player, I mean, you live in Nashville. Surely there is more than one person who plays fiddle there.”

But as Ron sent me bits and pieces of the growing thing, as I saw him move into the role of composer instead of just creator/musician, I was humbled. I began to hear layer after layer of beauty emerge. I didn’t know who Jeff Taylor or Jerry Douglas were before I met Ron, but I heard their instruments make the ocean sound like the ocean. I heard the magic of a fiddle that makes stories come alive. The work of their hands made me cry with joy. Same with the other creators who contributed to the album.

I began to regard my co-writer with a new kind of awe. He was pulling a two-dimensional thing into three-dimensions and four. I hated the time that took, but I was thoroughly enchanted with the results. I still am.

You’re a pretty prolific poet. Was this your first time writing lyrics? What’s the difference between writing poetry and writing lyrics?

Density. Flow. Where vowels and consonants hit. I’ve always loved the oral element to poetry, and my MA is in Storytelling. So, I have a natural focus on the sound of literature. However, my early songs were way too dense. Ron has helped me with this. He’s a great teacher.

Let’s talk method. How do you write? Are you disciplined or easy going? Are you deadline driven? What’s your methodology?

I cannot not write. I know it doesn’t work like this for every creator, but I’m one of those people who can only survive life on planet Earth by means of hovering with my Lord over life’s chaos, shifting words on paper, and speaking order through the darkness.

Writing is certainly work for me, at times it is painful. But I cannot avoid it any easier than I could avoid prayer. That process is one of the most spiritually intimate things I ever do. It is a must.

When I read about people procrastinating writing, trying to find time for it, complaining about how hard it is, etc., I am baffled. That is not a critical statement, I just don’t understand that mindset. I need to write more than I need to sleep or eat, and often do.

I have a full-time job, and I have three children. So yes, I am what some folks would call “disciplined” or “driven,” a.k.a. “willing to be exhausted.” But that is not a matter of performance or deadlines. It is a matter of passion for a central idea that must be caught before it fades. It is a matter of a question which must be sorted through. There is an urgency inside me for art that could never be inspired by external demands.

The record is out now. The details are all finished. The CDs are shrink wrapped. What now for Rebecca Reynolds?

Well, school starts next week, and I’ll be teaching a full load of literature/philosophy courses to the best teenagers on the planet. My husband and I are also praying about moving to Dublin to help with an arts/faith project. And there are some new record ideas in the works, as well.

Walking Song is available at The Rabbit Room Store.

Profile photo of John Barber

John Barber is a music lover, film nut, husband, and father. Last year he set out to watch 365 films in one year, and he lived to tell about it. That means he's seen more bad movies than we even want to think about.


16 Comments

  1. Peter B

    What Ron said (about her being an ideal creative counselor) is true in spades. Some of us know this firsthand.

    Great interview, John. Becca, keep writing (as if you could stop).

  2. Brenda Branson

    I love this interview! This is my favorite line: “I’m one of those people who can only survive life on planet Earth by means of hovering with my Lord over life’s chaos, shifting words on paper, and speaking order through the darkness.” What an amazing gift God has given you, Becca! So thankful for you.

  3. Sally

    I know there’s some guy’s picture on the front on this CD, but in my mind it will always be Rebecca Reynolds’ CD.

    Great interview.

    And Becca, until you write your book, this will suffice. It’s you.

  4. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Great interview. I wouldn’t have a record without Rebecca. It would have been another few years for me before I eked some tunes out of the rusting apparatus.

    Instead, we made song after song in abundance and picked 11 that fit together in a folky-bluegrass mix from over 40 new songs.Other songs will show up on other records in the future.

    The day Walking Song was released we finished the last song for the next record.

    Her creativity doesn’t stop, and she’s taught me mine doesn’t have to, either.

  5. Loren Warnemuende

    Just got the album yesterday and I’m on my second listen-through. It’s absolutely beautiful. I’m looking forward to sitting down and working through the lyrics without interruption.

  6. Sally

    I have to apologize. I put my initial response to this post a little hastily. It’s just that I’ve been so excited about this album. Ron, I hope you know that I was not serious in referring to you as “some guy.”

    What I love about every interview I have read about this album, whether Ron or Rebecca, is that each one acknowledges the collaboration. It so obviously is a team.

    Regarding this album, though, these are the kinds of conversations that have occurred in my kitchen since receiving it —

    Child: Who’s this?

    Me: It’s Rebecca Reynolds.

    Child: Ummm…. That’s not Rebecca Reynolds.

    Me: Okay. It’s Ron Block singing songs written by Rebecca Reynolds.

    Child: Oh.

    Different child: She sounds like Kate Rusby.

    Me: That *is* Kate Rusby.

    Child #2: I thought you said it was Rebecca Reynolds.

    And so it goes.

  7. Becca

    Sally, you are making me laugh. Thank you for being my friend. (And Ron is the sort of person who believes the best of people. It’s just who he is. You have no need to worry.)

    Thanks to everyone for your encouragement. And John Barber, thanks for asking great questions.

  8. Matthew

    Great thoughts, I’ve always loved hearing the details behind the scenes and it has only grown since I discovered writing. Sadly I’m one of those procrastinators that you don’t understand Rebecca, and reading your comment makes me wonder why I do this. I love to write, and now I get simple ideas that I know can lead to greater things, yet I don’t write. I get home at the end of the day and next thing I know the evening has gone by. I’m still editing my re-worked first work (which I finished up months ago) and very slowly piecing togther other works. I will say sometimes I need to step back and let thoughts crash together, more often than not three different ideas for books end up becoming one (at least in my head).

    “I was caught in darkness and silence, and he gave all the words stuck inside me an outlet.”
    – I can relate to this, sometimes I feel like there’s a whole universe in my head that I would love to dive into, yet I always hold back. It can be frustrating at times, but God guides through these times. I’m glad you found your outlet and as I think all us RR’s are. I can’t keep the album off my playlist. Lighthearted at times and encouraging the rest, please keep it up. You may need to inform us of the backstory for “Colors” sometime Rebecca, the lyrics to that song are somehow haunting and mysterious, I love it.

  9. Becca

    Hello, Matthew.

    I’ve never seriously worked on an extended project like a book, so the comparison might be unfair. Reentering a larger project likely involves different sorts of battles.

    Part of the reason I don’t procrastinate (most of the time) is because I need writing so much. My husband has been a pastor for about ten years (he just resigned two weeks ago), and we’ve been in some sort of ministry for almost twenty years. There have been many stressful, lonely, deeply painful situations that I have had to work through in private.

    Writing provides a way for me to manage that. Even if I don’t write about what is happening at that particular moment, words provide an escape, a balm, an opportunity to connect with the deeper rhythms of good old things. Have you read Pete’s books _Fiddler’s Gun_ and _Fiddler’s Green_? I’m not sure what to do with situations that would break your heart without turning them to beauty somehow.

    If I were writing a big book, however, I could see how stepping into those snarls might be a little less like breathing and more like training for a marathon. Applause to you for the fight you’re fighting!

    I’ll try to sit down soon and jot down notes on “Colors.” Several folks have asked, and it would be fun to explore a bit. 🙂 Becca

  10. Dan R.

    I was wondering what happened to that song “Everything Broken, Everything Beautiful.” Seeing/hearing that on the RR months ago is the first I remember hearing of this project, and I was really looking forward to any cd with that song on it. Then I found that it wasn’t on this one! Now that I know there is more to come, I really hope it won’t be the last I hear of that song.

    And I can see where it wouldn’t really fit on an album with the rest of these songs, but it’s still so good! If nothing else, than bravo to both of you for that specific product of your collaboration.

  11. Esther O'Reilly

    Isn’t “very unique” like “very pure” — a thing either is or it ain’t, no “very” about it? At any rate, Rebecca is both unique and pure.

  12. Becca

    Dan R: That is one of my very favorites, too. Don’t worry. We haven’t forgotten about it. 😉

    Esther: Your words made me smile. I woke up today in an ugly, dark mood, torn about some scary changes pressing into our lives. It was good to read your comment and be seen in a better light than I deserved.

  13. Matthew

    Becca,
    I have read Pete’s books and loved them. I read both out loud to my wife actually. Its a hard and good practice actually, hardest book I read out loud was Woman in White and the Moonstone (topped even Tolkien if you leave out the elfish). Collins sure puts down a mouthful to read.

    I’m sorry to hear of your struggles, it seems our lives can’t be without them. God works His marvelous grace through them though. I spend many of my mornings these days (when I think the most and write the best when I’m not procrastinating or having to work my real job) agonizing over wanting more than my current profession. Seems selfish on my part, how much more are the struggles of my brethren abroad. In the end after much prayer for contentment in Christ I sit back calm and quiet knowing God’s presence is the real thing I crave. Anyway, I digress, I pray your family’s life will see a great calm.

    Thanks for the music, pretty much every album I’ve gotten here at RR has been a great encouragement to me. My efforts to learn an instrument have been sad at best, but music inspires me to write and while books are a long hard process, shorter stuff is coming more and more. There is something wonderful and awe inspiring about words, I’ve known it all along, but now I’m more intimate with that notion.

  14. Bob DeGray

    Dear Becca,

    I know it’s long after this post was posted, but I couldn’t find any other way to speak to you. I have been listening to the album non-stop for weeks, and to everything else I can find, including everything on your Youtube channel. I just love your lyrics. They are compelling, enticing, and allusive. They make me think and they make me smile.

    My new favorite song is the Donna and Joe Murray version of ‘Hail Thou, My Soul’s First Sun’

    I’m really looking forward to the next album with more of those mysterious 40-50 songs you’ve done with Ron.

    ‘Thank you, Lord, for those you have created to create!’

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