In the opening lines of “In The End,” the spirited but poignant unplugged track that wraps her latest album Hurricane, Natalie Grant puts it as plainly as she ever has in dealing with the troubling storms we all face: “Can’t catch a break/You’ve had your fill of old clichés…”. Emerging from a dark, spiritually challenging time in her own life, the multi-talented singer/songwriter—a Grammy nominated, five time GMA (Gospel Music Association) Dove Award winner for Female Vocalist of the Year – breaks through the well worn and cheerful, but not completely truthful, phrases that often leave those who are struggling in need of more.
Natalie and I sat down (with her daughter, Sadie, on her lap) and talked about what went into her new album. The ups and downs of life. Times of depression. Times of joy.
After reading this, you'll hear what Natalie has always been and still is passionate about. Christ and His work.
John: Natalie, it’s been a while since you have had some new music. Would you mind sharing about your new album, Hurricane?
Natalie: I’ve had a lot of life happen in those three years. I think if you look back just even at my releases over the past 14 years, I’ve never made records quickly. Those artists that can turn around records every 18 months, my hats are off to them. I don’t know how they do it. I’ve always usually gone about two years, but this is the longest I’ve ever gone between a release. I knew about a year ago that they were going to come to me and say, okay, it’s time to start making a record, and I literally at that point thought I’m just going to say, fine.
Bring me ten songs. I’ll sing them, whatever. I just don’t have space in my world for this right now. What’s funny is that it sounds like such a cliché, but it’s so true that when we’re completely at our end and thinking, “I’ve got nothing, I have absolutely nothing in the well,” God shows up and always says, “Okay, I finally have you where I want you, and you’ve got nothing, but I’ve got something.” I ended up writing more on this record than I’ve ever written on any other record.
John: I was going to ask, to say, I think I read that you wrote about eight songs or so; is that right?
Natalie: About eight out of the ten tracks, yes.
John: What is that like compared to other records?
Natalie: It’s way more … I’ve always written about at least half, but to write 80% of the record is more than I’ve ever done before, and those songs--those eight--were really my songs. Sometimes I’d be in a co-write situation, and even though I was in this, these songs were really birthed out of my own personal journey over the last three years. I think when I came into this process so empty, I had given birth to my third child and went through a lot of post-partum depression.
That’s something that I didn’t give a voice to for a long time because first of all, I think that there is a stigma—or was in my mind--that women want to stay in their pajamas and eat ice cream all day if say they have post-partum depression. But I soon learned that that is not true, that it is a real problem and a darkness that can overtake a woman, and oftentimes as a Christian. I think we’re so ashamed to say that we are struggling with depression, because somehow it’s going to reflect on our faith or our relationship with the Lord, but then throw into the mix being a Christian artist where you’re supposed to have your life together and get on that stage and sing your encouraging songs about the Lord. Where you’re expected to say all the right Scripture verses, and I think that I put some of that undue pressure on myself, but really, I think, I enabled myself to stay in that pit for longer than I even needed to.
I really struggled with a lot of depression after the birth of Sadie and found out that a very close family member was struggling, not just with drug addiction, but with heroine addiction, which was tearing my family apart. Three months after that, my father had died of cancer. It’s been quite a journey the last three years and a testing of my faith like I’ve never faced before, and so these songs have really come from a deeply personal place.
I feel like I’ve always had songs that have been like that for people that are connected because they’ve been about a real life story or journey, but typically, they’ve been about someone else’s story, like “Held,” which was written about a couple who lost their baby and “In Better Hands,” which was written about a little boy and a fire. All of them were personal stories, but they weren’t my story. These songs are my stories, and I think that’s what really makes this project different for me.
John: Do you think, be it a man or a woman, married or single, that one has to go through some form of wilderness or hardship in their life to really understand what it means to be that close, to identify that closely with Christ?
Natalie: Absolutely. I think that the challenge is finding the closeness when there isn’t the hardship, because in our human nature, we’re just wired in our fallen state to do it on our own, and we’re wired that when things are going well, somehow we don’t “need,” or we don’t think we need the Lord quite as much. We don’t recognize, I think, our need for Him in the good. In the bad, we cling to the Lord like never before. I think the more hardships we walk through, the more we experience our faith at a deeper level; it’s what helps us understand that faith when we’re actually on the mountaintop.
John: Those are good words. I think a lot of people forget about that as they encounter Jesus. I think they think that to some extent, being a Christian is all kind of the rose-colored glasses syndrome, that everything is hunky-dory and fine.
Natalie: I think that that could be an entire interview for another day. Honestly, my soap box is because there’s so much false teaching that’s prevalent in our culture and especially in our nation that if you just have enough faith, if you just are a good enough Christian, then you’re going to not have any health issues. You’re going to have a big house. Your marriage is going to be perfect, and if somehow those things are not well in your life that that has some reflection on your faith in Jesus. I think that that teaching, which is especially prevalent in the United States, has done so much damage to the believer’s walk with Christ.
John: Natalie, as an individual, if I or my wife were to open up to a close friend, we know that a lot of times, what we share if I’m sharing with another brother in Christ, what I’m sharing is very personal, and it usually stays just between the two of us. It seems to me that what you have more or less outlined on this album is that type of conversation where you’re just kind of allowing everyone to see what’s been going on in your heart. What is that feeling like to know that people are going …
Natalie: When you say it like that, it’s not so fine! [laughing]
John: I’m sorry. I don’t mean to scare you, but to some extent, you’re throwing yourself out there to say, here I am. I’m a follower of Jesus, and I’ve seen that wilderness. What is that like?
Natalie: Yes. You know, honestly, it has been very scary, and it would have been a lot easier just to have them bring me ten really nice, say all the right Christian cliché songs that would have pushed all the right buttons and gone number one on Christian radio, but I think there is so much beauty in the wrestle. Do you know what I mean? In the struggle. And in the dialogue of honesty, there is such beauty in that, and I’ve only discovered that in the last several years that the more honest and transparent I become, the greater connection people seem to have to my artistry.
I feel like it started when I allowed myself to start talking about how I struggled with an eating disorder. I started to have this connection, which went so far beyond a song. I loved that. I thrived on that because I felt in that, I found my ministry more than just a musician but having something that I felt was going to be lasting fruit. I think that in finding my own voice, and I say this all the time, giving voice to the depression I was facing, that is when my healing started. I think that oftentimes, when we’re facing hardship or we’re walking through the wilderness, it’s almost easier to stay there than … I know that sounds backwards, but it’s … I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but …
John: You are.
Natalie: Sometimes it’s easier to stay in our mess than to actually get out of it, and the things that we know we need to do to get out we almost run from because we become so used to being a victim and all that. It’s just easier to stay there. For me, when I started to give voice to what I was facing and be honest and real in my own life, it became more than just, oh, I’d write some good honest songs. It actually is where I started to find my own healing, and I have to believe that having the courage to be honest will help others do the same thing.
John: Now for the record, I’ve listened to the album I think three or four times since I got it yesterday morning. For the record, this album is not a sad album. This is not a dark album. You certainly are confronting those things, but there’s a string of hope that goes through every single song on this record, and it is powerful.
Natalie: Thank you. I giggle when I hear that because it thrilled me because that is what I think is the mark of this record is that I’m going to say all the stuff that I went through. You’re going to listen to this record, and I think it just bursts with hope, and that’s what’s so, so just amazing to me about what God did through the process. I can say, listen, I have these songs that are full of light, even like full-on pop like “Closer to Your Heart,” the opening track, sounds like it could be on Top 40 radio, but the lyric says, “Here I am once again crying out on the floor,” so it still has this lyric that is this weighty heavy lyric to this really full of hope track and music.
That’s what I wanted because that’s the result of hope to me. It’s not that in the moment everything is right and perfect, but it’s that’s why I’m singing these songs because that’s what I was living. I was singing these songs because that’s where I know I was going, and I was going to get there, and so I wanted the song and the record to reflect the truth that hope is what keeps the light on in our darkest moments.
Hope is what keeps us taking one step forward and continuing to move. Maybe we’re barely crawling, but we’re moving forward. I feel like hearing you say that that’s what this record sounded like to you. It really does make me giggle with joy because that’s what I wanted it to be.
John: That’s awesome. Natalie, you are a wife. You’re a mom. You’re Dove Award winning. You’re Grammy nominated. You’re an actress. You’re a philanthropist.
Natalie: [laughs] Who are you talking about [laughing]?
John: Natalie, some people look to you and say, obviously, you have it all together, and I think from the testimony that you just gave, you would say, hey, yeah, I am doing those things, but at the same time, I’m also normal. What would you say to the mom who has got babies at her ankles right now, and she kind of feels like she can barely get through just one day, let alone juggle small group, Bible study, nursery duty, church, all those other extra things?
Natalie: For me, it’s one of the reasons as well that it’s important to me to be so honest and transparent, because I feel consistently in my life like there is this myth that surrounds me that I have it all together, and I get asked about this all the time. “How do you do it all?” I’m like, I have no idea because if you would have been at my house today, you’d clearly say that I don’t have it all together [laughing]. I might do a lot, but doing a lot does not mean that we’re doing a lot well.
I feel like in my own life… I can only speak from my own experience… most days, I fall flat on my face and something struggles, something fails, something isn’t quite what I hoped it would be. I fall in bed at night, and by the grace of God, He wakes me up the next day, and I try it all over again, and hopefully what I learn is that I can’t do it without a personal relationship with the Lord, and that’s aside from trying to plug into the Lord with my husband or trying to make sure that my kids are learning the Bible verses.
All of that aside, I’m talking about just me and Jesus, and if that means 15 minutes when I can hear my kids at 6:00 am in the morning on the baby monitor, for 15 minutes, nothing’s going to happen to them. If they’re kind of crying in their crib, if they’re talking, they’re going to be just fine. I’m going to take 15 minutes for Him, or even hit the floor to cry out to God and say, “Okay, I do not have the ability to do what I need to do today on my own, but if You called me to it, then You anoint me to be able to do it.”
I have to believe that that’s true, and I have to believe that He’ll equip me to be able to do it. Some days, I feel like empowered like, yep, He did. Other days, I feel like He forgot me today. Clearly, He completely forgot about me today. You know, that is a daily process, and I think that right now in my own life, I’m figuring out that there are just some things that we just have to say no to and that that fear of disappointing someone or … I think that that’s a constant fear, especially in women, that oh, well, if I say no to this or that, well then this person will get upset. Whether it’s my kids or this or that, my job, or my husband. There are just some things that we have to learn to say no to, and I’m trying to learn that same thing right now.
John: Good words. All right, real quickly, just a couple of bullet questions here. On “Born to Be,” you have a duet with Gary LeVox from Rascal Flatts. What brought that about?
Natalie: He was awesome. You know, I wrote the song with Brett James who’s a great songwriter. He wrote “Jesus Take the Wheel” and just lots of other incredible songs, and when we wrote it, also with my husband, I just immediately thought this needs to be a duet. I actually had somebody else in mind from the CCM world, and I was like, okay, I think this person would be great on this, and he said, “You know, I think that Gary from Rascal Flatts would be great.” I was like, well, yeah, that would be great, but I don’t know him [laughing]. What’s going to make him want to all of a sudden be on a Christian record? I didn’t really know his story about in the last couple of years, he has rededicated his life to Christ, that he, and his wife, and his mom, and their daughter all got baptized together just last year …
Natalie: And has had this real rebirth of his faith in his life, and his story, his testimony is really quite beautiful. Brett knows him well because he’s written a lot of Rascal Flatts songs, and so he sent the song to Gary, and he fell in love with the song. What I didn’t know is that he was a huge fan of my music, and so he said it had always been on his bucket list to sing with me, which just sounds funny, but it was so easy. I guess it was just meant to be.
John: That is incredible! Natalie, what is on your bucket list?
Natalie: [laughs] I want to see the Great Wall of China. I’ve never been to the Orient and … well, I’ve been to Asia because I’ve been to India, not really close to Asia, right? I’m a failure at geography, so don’t judge me.
John: Join the club.
Natalie: I want to see the Great Wall of China. That is near the top of my bucket list. Let’s see what else is on my bucket list. I would love to do a duet with CeCe Winans. She and Whitney Houston were my vocal heroes growing up, and I’m a huge fan of CeCe’s and just everything about her. My other bucket list item would be to really teach my children to swim [laughing]. I’ve put them in swimming lessons twice, and they still can’t so I think I’m going to have to get in the pool with them and really help them figure it out.
John: That is so awesome. I love that for a bucket list idea. That’s great. Natalie, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I really appreciate it.