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Stacy Grubb is in the process of creating a new gospel record. She has a bluegrass sound that’s haunting and tender, and when she sings a hymn, her voice feels timeless as the mountains. I got a chance to ask Stacy a few questions about her upcoming record. Click here for more info about the project and click through for the full interview.
RR: Tell us a little about how you became interested in singing.
SG: I don’t remember any particular “when” when I realized I enjoyed singing. I do remember being very young with a Dolly Parton tape and a tiny rocking chair I’d stuck a “Where’s the Beef?” sticker on. My dad didn’t allow us to listen to secular music at that time and Dolly had this all gospel album that I listened to while I rocked in that chair and sang along as best I could. I knew I didn’t sound great, but I wanted to.
I grew up in a small holler [editor’s note: That’s country for “hollow.”] and my great-uncle had a tiny little trailer there with a raised porch. He was never home, so I’d pretend that porch was my stage and I’d sing stuff I wasn’t actually supposed to be listening to, plus songs from church and stuff I’d made up. I guess that’s how I got it in my head that I wanted an audience. Other than a couple of karaoke stints, I never really sang in front of anyone until I was about 23 and joined my dad’s bluegrass band. About three years later, my husband and I decided to invest in creating a record. That was released in 2009 and I’ve been trying to promote myself as an artist since then.
RR: Who were some of your heroes in the music world when you first began?
SG: Well, that Dolly tape kicked off a lifelong love for her, her music, and who I’ve decided she is as a person. I’d spent my teen years listening to artists like Mariah Carey, The Eagles, Aerosmith, Russ Taff, Michael W. Smith, Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, and other folks who were popular at the time. But when I was about 21, or somewhere in there, my sister asked me to go with her to an Alison Krauss and Union Station concert at the WV State Fair. I went just as an opportunity to spend time with her.
I guess we spend our entire lives slowly getting to the bottom of the truth about God and letting go of the wrong things we thought were true.Stacy Grubb
I liked the group well enough, but hadn’t ever really invested in their type of music. O Brother was wildly popular at the time, so I was like most of America and getting a lot of exposure to bluegrass. I wasn’t prepared for loving the show like I did. Everything about it clicked with me. It was beautiful and so well crafted, but I also identified with their style as performers.
There’s an expectation of choreography and flashy presentation when you perform and I was never good at that. I’m still not. It was a sore subject because I was routinely told to dance more and move about the stage, but I felt certain it was possible to be authentic to how I am (and how I am likes sitting still) and still be entertaining. That AKUS show was my proof. They let their music and their personalities carry the show.
I’m not saying a flashy performer isn’t authentic, because some people are genuinely that way. So, from that perspective, AKUS was my hero. They’re not my only influence, of course, but if I were to single out an act that impressed upon me from the “entertainer” realm, it’s them. And the greatest thing of all is that my AKUS obsession led to my friendship with Ron Block who then urged me to come get to know the goings on at the Rabbit Room. Ron’s solo music and AKUS stuff he’s written has been literally life-changing for me. He’s a brilliant artist and person the way a beautiful light in a dark room is brilliant.
RR: Of all the venues you’ve ever performed, which is your favorite?
SG: I played the inaugural year of the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival. That was a beautiful stage with sailboats floating by in the sound behind us and OBX is my family’s favorite vacation destination. So, that one jumps out at me. I also enjoyed the Living Room in NYC just because the millennial crowd was a little in shock at my style of music and heavy Appalachian accent. It was funny to watch them not know how to respond. They were very kind and accepting. Then there’s a local church I played at with my dad for several years until the pastor passed away unexpectedly. I love the small country churches. The folks are like home no matter where you are, plus they always feed you and feed you well.
RR: Your new project is a gospel hymns record. What got you started down that path?
SG: Well, a gospel record has been a bucket list item for years, but they tend to get pushed aside as they cost the same to make, but don’t tend to generate as much payback.
My husband and I have been dealt a lot of hard blows over the course of the past four years. In 2012, our daughter had just turned a year old when a rapid decline in her health nearly killed her and revealed a disorder still undiagnosed to this day. The most dangerous side effect of this disorder is that it causes her calcium to rise to levels that, in ordinary cases, would be fatal. Thank God she’s extraordinary. Medical and travel expenses led to other hard times like cars being repossessed, our home going into foreclosure, and lots of things like that that fall apart when money is a problem. We were grateful enough that our daughter was alive that we just tried to keep our chins up.
This part is a little harder to discuss. Naturally, most people wouldn’t see a family with a sick child and say, “That’s your own stupid fault.” So, the compassion is abundant and the support carries you. Sometimes, though, things happen that are complex and misrepresented and all the people say, “They got what they deserved.”
In 2013, we were heading into the holiday season and talking about how we felt we were finding breathing room again when there was a knock at the door. Jason, my husband, was being accused of some scary things. I’m going to keep this short. We were tormented for the next two and a half years and it only finally came to an end when he accepted a plea that then led to a sentence of 18 months in a federal prison.
Yes, I’d love to share that story in its entirety one day, but I’ll keep this more brief than that would allow. On July 6, 2016, I left half of me at a federal prison three hours away from where I lay my head. I thought that day would at least mark the upswing of when the times finally started getting better. Unfortunately, hell doesn’t brake for heartache and still we face blow after blow.
All I’ve known to do is defy the enemy by trusting God’s hand in spite of everything. Jason and I have three children: Elijah, who will be twelve in September; Lyric, who cried into my lap as she faced her fear of turning five without her daddy a week and a half after we dropped him off; and Annie who will live out all her firsts in the absence of her daddy. She had just turned three months old the day before he entered prison. He’s now missed a quarter of her life.
We weep daily over this nightmare and I have no good answer when my daughter asks, “How many more sleeps until Daddy comes back?” I can’t reasonably explain to my son why this has happened. I can only say, “Let’s trust God instead of trying to figure this out.” But I also want to show them that we can praise God even from the valley. I want them to see that God commands our trust, not to be ridiculous, but because He knows life feels better when we trust Him with it. And because I want to thumb my nose at enemy forces, I decided to pursue creating a praise project.
It’s like when you’re eight and your older sister smacks the fire out of you and you bite your lip and suck back the tears and look her dead in the eye say, “It didn’t hurt.” This does hurt, of course. I don’t pretend that it doesn’t. Grief is a physical pain. It’s emotional warfare. It’s mentally draining. No doubt about it, this hurts. But singing is healing. God’s promises are comforting. His wisdom is empowering. I want it documented to Heaven and back that, though I’m in unfathomable pain, I know God loves us. I know He is working great things for us. I know our enemies will be crushed under His heel. I know we win.
RR: You’re working with Clay Hess. In what capacity have you worked with Clay before now?
SG: Clay and I began touring together back in 2010 or 2011. Jason started representing his band for booking when he formed it. It’s nearly impossible to get your foot in the door with bluegrass booking, so Clay saw I had shows I needed a band for and he was a band in search of shows. It’s not always an easy thing to put two “leaders” on one stage, but it has worked perfectly for us.
Eventually, we came together to make my second record, which I released in December of 2014. We also recorded a Christmas tune I had written and we released it around that same time and it’s been played for two holiday seasons on Bluegrass Junction (satellite radio). We continue to play shows together, though I haven’t been touring nearly as much as I did a couple years ago. The uncertainty of Jason’s situation forced him and me to lay music aside.
Clay is a multi-instrumentalist, but is known for his skill as a guitarist. His first professional gig was with Ricky Skaggs in the early 2000’s and Ricky has called him by name as one of the best guitar players to ever play. One thing I love about his style is that, no matter who he’s playing with, he’s recognizable. Yet, at the same time, he knows how to play to the style of the person he’s supporting. He’s played solos for my music that sound unlike anything I’ve heard him play for anyone else. I appreciate knowing that he’s aware of who I am when he plays with me. He’s also got one of the best vocals in bluegrass and I’m often praised for the way his voice blends with mine and mine with his. Above all, he and his wife are precious friends and solid believers and I value his guidance.
RR: What is your vision for this project as a whole?
SG: I’m trusting that, if it’s in God’s plan, it will come together. My hope for this record is to have it to give to Jason when he’s home again and when we’re the parents of grown children who are grieving through the pains of life, we can say, “Here. Listen to this. Remember how God moved during this time.” And by then, we’ll be looking back at all the blessings that came from this. We’re smack in the middle of this storm right now and it’s from this place that I want to openly praise His name. I want to lay this hurt wide open, but I also want to let the makers of the hurt know that they’re not stronger than God. I don’t believe them over Him. Two years from now, I want to listen to this record and know even more than I know right now that God is so, so good.
RR: What are a couple of songs on this record that mean a lot to you? Why?
SG: A full track listing hasn’t been selected, yet, but there’s a tune I grew up on which is the twenty-third Psalm set to music by a Christian artist from the ’80s named Keith Green. Prior to Jason’s sentencing, I’d been experiencing anxiety attacks for several months (while I was pregnant) and I tried to treat them by simply singing in the shower for a little while. This tune popped into my head one day and I sang it for 15 or 20 minutes straight. I climbed into bed after that shower and called up Facebook and at the top of my newsfeed was my dad’s most recent status update, which was the twenty-third Psalm in its entirety. I’ve been slowly digesting that Scripture ever since, applying it to things going on.
Another is one I wrote with you as one of your Facebook songwriting challenges. The lyrics, which you wrote, talk of how God is present even in the bleakest of times. Making the drive home from “fat camp” (our codeword for prison), I was playing music from my phone’s playlist. Having kids in tow, I was continuously cutting down the volume to talk with them and would go miles and miles in silence. Siri was guiding me home, though, and a couple times I’d hear her just well enough to know she was talking, but couldn’t hear what she was saying. When I cut up the volume, this song was playing. This happened not once, but twice. I definitely felt like God was making His comfort known.
I have hymns I’m considering, as well: “It Is Well,” “On Christ The Solid Rock I Stand,” “Morning Has Broken” to name a few. Everything I’m choosing has been significant to how God has moved throughout these trials.
RR: What is the biggest wisdom you’ve gained over the past five years?
SG: Maybe that trusting God is the most healing and calming medicine there is. I’m physically and mentally unhealthy when I chase control. And that that is why He says, “Trust me.” I used to think it was almost like a mind game that He would allow atrocities and then say, “It’s okay. Trust me.” After a massive anxiety attack during my pregnancy when Jason told me he’d decided to accept a horrible plea deal rather than fight the charges in trial, it just clicked for me that my entire countenance was good when I chose to trust Him. And it was then that I understood a little more about who God really is. I guess we spend our entire lives slowly getting to the bottom of the truth about God and letting go of the wrong things we thought were true.
I think I’m also learning a bit about how damaging it is for me to always be at the ready to fight. I live with my dukes up. That’s still a work in progress, though.
RR: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
SG: Thanks for the opportunity to share what I’m doing, to have a platform to kind of address what it’s like when evil wins over good for a time in your life. Also, many in the RR community are already aware of what we’ve been going through and you guys have been right on it. I have no words for how necessary the help has been. I’ll never be okay with all that has happened to my family, but I’d be a liar if I said nothing redeeming has come of it. God is using it all for good—so neener neener, Satan.
Rebecca Reynolds teaches Classical Rhetoric and Philosophy of Faith in eastern Tennessee, and is a contributor to the Story Warren website. She’s the author and illustrator of the pediatric series From the Medical Files of Dr. Phineas C. Bones and collaborated with Ron Block as the lyricist for his critcally-acclaimed album, Walking Song. She lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, with her husband and three children.