Eddy Efaw and I have had the great privilege of welcoming many visual, musical, and literary artists to the campus of the Harding Academy of Memphis where we work for the Institute for Faith & Arts. Eddy began the program a few years back and Andrew Peterson was our inaugural guest. Since then we have continued to welcome incredible craftsmen and women to share their craft and faith.
I recently had the chance to interview the ethereal-voiced Jillian Edwards, who was our IFA presenter this January.
Rusty Woods: When did you decide you wanted to make music? Growing up, did you think about being a musician?
Jillian Edwards: I don’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a singer. I’ve always wanted to make something that is hopefully beautiful. Both my siblings and my parents all grew up singing together a lot.
Growing up, from an early age, I felt a calling on my life to sing but I also had very real stage fright. My twin brother, Cole, has always been able to talk to a stranger and is comfortable out in front, but I was always more reserved. In fact, when I was younger, he would play up front at church and I would sing backup—which was something I was comfortable with.
One day at a church event he turned things on me and put me on the spot. He was playing lead at the event and, pre-planned, turned with no warning so I wouldn’t have time to think of a way to back out and said, “And now my sister is going to play one of her songs!” I vividly remember shaking, but looking back that was the breakthrough moment.
After surviving the spotlight there I began asking what steps I could take to become more comfortable singing in front of people since this was what I wanted to do. So that is when I got a job at Potbelly, a local restaurant, singing during lunch hour. That is where I got used to playing in front of people singing random country songs. Then I went off to college and started playing at Common Grounds Coffee Shop doing open mic nights.
College is when I started doing little shows and then put out my first EP.
RW: You mentioned being shy in high school earlier and some of your songs focus on insecurity. I was wondering if, even though you’ve conquered the stage fright, insecurity is still a theme in your life?
JE: Who said I’ve conquered stage fright? [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t think I’ve conquered it as much as learned to channel it into a positive energy that propels me in front of people. But thanks for saying I conquered it, it’s so legit sounding. [Laughs]
As far as insecurity, any time I write a prayer in a song where I’m at the end of myself or fed up with myself and need to lay it down and get it out, usually it’s because of insecurity. Sometimes it has to do with things like, “How am I gonna get paid next month?” Music is just an up-and-down, unpredictable business.
Also as a woman and as a human there are insecurities the Enemy can use on every level to cripple your gifts. There isn’t a specific insecurity, just more the human struggle we have to lean into and lay before God.
RW: I can hear that theme in some of your songs. One that comes to mind is “Sink My Feet.” We can all find ourselves in that theme and that song whether it’s “Does that boy or girl like me?” or “Am I going to make enough money to make ends meet this month?”
JE: Thanks, that’s what I hope out of that song!
RW: So we are sitting in a high school right now and you are in your twenties, married, and have a career. Is there anything looking back you wish you could say to high-school you?
JE: Oh wow! Um, I generally had an awesome high school experience. It had a lot to do with having a twin brother and a sister who was two years older at school. I had a great church. I went to a big public high school.
I guess I would tell myself to not worry about the general petty things 16-year-olds worry about. I suppose I’d say “Everything feels like a big deal at that age but nothing is a big deal.” I guess I would tell myself that now too. [Laughs]
RW: I spend a good bit of time around high-school kids right now who all have great gifts. However, at this stage of life in particular students may know they have certain gifts but not be able or willing, due to insecurity or fear, to let those gifts loose in the world. Are there any songs in particular which were more difficult for you to release to the world for those reasons?
JE: Yeah. Especially my early songs, which I still sing, are more that way. Although it’s harder now to write that personally because I am trying to balance my own thoughts and make music my living. That brings a complicated dynamic. However some of those early songs were more personal and written without feeling as much of that pressure. Does that answer the question?
RW: Yeah, for sure. You are making a living with this so you want it to connect with people in a way that honors that. In both your old material and your new stuff you seem comfortable with what people hear.
JE: Yeah, absolutely, and not that it’s less personal now that I have chosen it as a career path. It is just more complex when it’s framed that way as far as the factors I must consider.
RW: Is there a song or two on the newest album on for which you’d like to share some of the background?
JE: So Daydream was my last album or EP . After that I released two songs in October . One of those is called “Slow Burn.” It’s about me trying to put words to God’s voice as he is talking to me in this season I mentioned earlier of just like career path and how I am hoping for the next step or to do better and grow. All jobs and life-situations are in some way like this.
In my world, at times, you have to just work as hard as you can and trust that things will happen. Sometimes it feels like just meeting the right person will help you get from this point to the next.
“Slow Burn” repeats the words “You are right where I have you, you are right where I have you” because sometimes I just need to hear that. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting more and being more successful. “Slow Burn” is about trusting God and that I am the me God created to do what I am doing. The song is about how slow the process of getting to where you think you need to be can feel and being okay with where you are.
RW: So you are a professional musician and spend time touring around and are also married to a musician (Will Chapman of Colony House) who spends time touring around. How does that work?
JE: Yes, it’s crazy! [Laughs] Will, my husband, feels called to do what he is doing and people in the world need to see him live out his calling. I have that exact same understanding for me.
I think if we didn’t have that rock of a foundation as our purpose it would be a million times harder. That foundation is what brings us both joy. It’s just too hard for us to do it otherwise with all the closed doors and uncertainty if we don’t believe we are meant to do it.
It’s also huge that our family and the circuit of people we lean on think and live the same way. Will and his brother, Caleb, are in the band. Caleb’s wife and I are the same age and so when he’s out of town, both our husbands are out of town, and she is one of my best friends. Will’s mom and dad [Stephen Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman] have modeled a marriage that shows this can work.
We also have a “21-Day Rule” that we can’t go more than twenty-one days without seeing each other. If it goes that far either he or I are getting on a plane.
RW: Last question: What’s next?
JE: I’m a writer for Razor & Tie, which takes songs I write and uses them on TV and other media outlets. Right now in 2016 I am writing as much as I can either for me or for Razor & Tie. So I can’t tell you what the next step is as far as a studio recording goes. I’m sure I’ll record in the future but for now I’m just trying to write some good music. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.