Interview with Amanda Collins

Living in Nashville, when someone says, “I just moved to the area to pursue music,” there’s an inside voice of the listener that responds, “You, along with everyone else.”  It is that common.  Nashville is to musicians what Hollywood is to actors.  One or two might “succeed” while thousands of others . . . “don’t.”

So when I first met Amanda, who is gifted with a rare genuineness and light that everyone is drawn to, I immediately felt protective of her. Like an idiot, I was thinking of the odds…

Until I heard her music.  I ate a big piece of humble pie, and then I had to apologize to God because doubting her is like doubting Him.  Her faith is the backbone of who she is:  her life choices and her leaps reflect this, and therefore, her lyrics are saturated with hope.  As talented as she is lovely, God has bestowed her with gifts that she is using for His glory, and it is absolutely awe-inspiring to witness.  The cynic in me says that there truly is nothing new under the sun, but Amanda’s voice is unique and fresh, and her approach is creative enough that she does anything but “blend in.”  Even if I didn’t know her personally and adore her, I’d say that the Christian genre specifically needs her desperately.  But because I do know her, I’d say that there’s an audience that needs her even more so.

You see, Amanda is a smart girl.  I’m sure she is very well aware of the odds, but she chose to ignore them and put her faith in God anyway.  That, my friends, is winning.  I apologized to her when asking her to do this interview, saying Relate’s reach isn’t that big, but sometimes, even if it is just one person who listens and is inspired, then that is enough.  That one person, me, has already been touched, but it is my sincere hope that a few more listen and are encouraged in much the same way.

Relate:  First memory of music:

Amanda:  When I was younger I used to steal my older brothers cd’s and listen to them in my free time. The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot was the first record to really make an impact on me. I can’t even number the amount of times I listened to that record. 

R:  Name one song you wish you had written and why:

A:  Superstition by Stevie Wonder. It has such a simple message and I just love Stevie. That song always gets me on my feet!

R:  Tell us about a favorite song of yours that you’ve written and your source of inspiration.

A:  I’m always very critical of my own writing, but if I had to pick it would be my song called You Know. I had a lot of crazy things going on in my life when I wrote that song. Many crossroads ahead of me and I was super stressed out. The message of the song is just to let go of all your worries. God has it under control. Even if you don’t know the future, it’s all gonna be ok. 

R:  Tell us about your latest single (did you help write it, how does it differ from other songs you’ve done, etc.)

A:  My latest single is called Flight, and I had an absolute blast recording the song. I wanted to step out and do something outside of my comfort zone. So I collaborated with a rapper. I came up with the idea and wrote the song all in one day. I wrote the music to the song, I wrote the lyrics to the hook, and then I left two open verses for the rapper friend of mine to work his magic! It was such a crazy and fun experience. It’s a synth/pop/rap song, needless to say it’s very different from anything I’ve done in the past. 

R:  If you could work with anyone in the music industry, who would it be and why?

A:  NEEDTOBREATHE hands down. Not even a question. I absolutely love love love their style of songwriting and performing. Plus, I kinda have a crush on the guitar player. 

R:  What made you decide you wanted to pursue music?

A:  I honestly don’t remember the exact date, but it just hit me one day. I was fresh out of high school and I remember sitting there one day, thinking about the future and what I was going to do with my life. I hadn’t been writing songs for very long at that point. Singing and writing music was a huge passion of mine and there was a point that I just knew I wanted to keep doing it.  

R:  What has been the best thing about moving to Nashville? What has been the hardest part about moving here?

A:  The best thing has been the PEOPLE! I haven’t been in Nashville for more than 8 months now but it already feels like home. People have been so kind and welcoming. I will forever be grateful for that. The music has been alright too!!

The hardest part has definitely been leaving family behind in New England. I miss my brother and sister in law so much! They are my best friends and I miss them like crazy. I’m glad they are only a short plane ride away. 

R:  How has your faith helped you the most?

A:  My faith is everything. God has been by my side through it all, it’s only because of Him that I’m able to do what I do and pursue my dream!


R:  What advice would you give your thirteen year old self?

A: I would tell myself to play piano a lot more! Take practicing more seriously. Work harder. Ignore the haters. Don’t give up. 

R:  What is your definition of success?

A:  Doing what you love to do. Doing what you feel called to do! Always doing your best at whatever you do. 

Just for fun-pick one in each pair:

-beach or the mountains

I love them both! but if I had to pick…beach!

-pizza or hamburgers and fries


-high heels or boots

-shopping or hiking

-book or movie



Please visit for more information and be sure to get her latest single “Flight.”  Like, right now.


Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins

Cimorelli’s New Album Might Be The Best Yet


Written by:  Jill Sheets

Cimorelli’s newest album has just been released. Even thought Alive is not their first album, it is their first pop/Christian album. The Cimorelli sisters wrote every song on it. (When you think they cannot get any better, they do!) Personally, I think Alive is their best album so far. It’s catchy and upbeat; it shows off their strong vocals and meaningful lyrics. They have worship songs, but they also tackle hard issues like worthlessness and addiction. These inspirational and uplifting songs will get stuck in your head, especially when you need a certain message.  It is hard to pick my favorite song, as I love them all. Each song speaks to me in a different way, and I’m sure they will for you too.


Track Listing:

  1.    Your Name Is Forever
  2.    One More Night
  3.    Alive
  4.    Never Let Me Fall
  5.    The Love Of A Man
  6.    My God Is Here
  7.    Hope For It
  8.    Kick The Habit
  9.    Find Me
  10.    Love Song (Over Me)

I had been waiting a while for this CD, and it was worth the wait. I cannot wait to see what Cimorelli does next. If you are interested in learning more about this sister group you can go to the links below.


Interview with Amanda from Ray and Remora

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins

amandaI have to be honest-I agreed to review the record Startle it Up simply for the reason that I liked it.  Surprising, I know.  I like to make things complicated and choose albums that have this overwhelming truth that I hadn’t realized before I listened, or it has to inspire me in some profound way.  And while this album may have the potential to do these things if I dissect it enough, I didn’t want to.  I just wanted to enjoy it.  And I did, every time it played.  It even had the chance to pass my “shuffle test:” if a song was randomly picked while I listened to my iPod, would I skip the song?  The answer was a resounding no-instead of hitting next, I turned it up, and I would smile as soon as I heard it.  With all the discord and the chaos in the world, we all need more things to make us smile, right?

Fresh and light without being pathetic and airy, Startle it Up addresses some tensions revolving around various statuses of relationships.  When Amanda begs to be listened to, she doesn’t sound whiny, when she sings “we just have to find it,” you believe that you will, and when the lyrics bleed transparency, there’s still just enough mystique that leave you wanting to hear more.  I adore this album for sounding different, yet familiar.  I love that this album isn’t fluff, yet it doesn’t make me feel burdened.  Startle it Up is an escape that I didn’t even know I needed until I heard it.  

Relate:  What is your first memory of music?

Amanda:  My first memory of music is probably my Grandpa singing lullabies. We moved to Portland shortly after I was born to live with him.  I don’t remember much from childhood, but I do remember him singing me to sleep, “I gave my love a cherry, that had no stone.”

R: 1994 was an EP of covers, and this album, Startle It Up, is a full-length of originals.  Which one was your favorite to create and which one was more challenging?

A:  Startle It Up is definitely my favorite, we really became the band “RAY & REMORA” with this one.

1994 was fun but it was like a “nice to meet you” project with Dan. We were just fooling around in the studio, recording Kazoos with lots of effects and since we weren’t a fully-fledged band yet, it was less serious. We were just two nerds in a basement playing with computers and instruments.

The “challenging stuff” for me isn’t the recording or music making; it’s all the business matters. After an album it’s a lot paper work and emails. That sucks the life out of me. If anyone wants to be my intern, I’m hiring!

R:  How soon did you know that you wanted to create a second album and that it would be your own creations?  Was it right away or did it take awhile for you to decide this?

A:  As soon as the EP was out and receiving some interest, we started playing live shows. Since the EP was only six songs we had to add some material from each of Dan and my prior songwriting repertoire. From then it was inevitable that we would make an album of originals.

R:  In twenty years a young band wants to cover one of your songs.  Which song do you hope they choose and why?

A:  I want to say “It’s Just” or “Soft Brown Heart”, these two are extra close to me, personally. But, as I will not be the young band member in 20 years… Whomever decided to cover one of our songs, I hope they choose whichever song(s) they connect to the most and that they make it their own.

R:  If you couldn’t be a musician, what would you want to be instead?

A:  I will never not be a musician! But if I had to have a side gig, which I do, it would be making art. I’m a collagist of objects and images.

R:  Best source of inspiration when you need to write a song? Do you use personal experiences or do you use what you see going on around you?

A:  I draw mostly from personal experience, which is sometimes outside actions happening around me, observing them and then trying to understand all the sides of what’s going on. A lot of the songs that I write are about understanding how people talk to and act towards each other. It’s hard to explain one’s self and actions perfectly all the time, where everyone’s coming from emotionally or physically. I struggle with it a lot, on both the understanding and acting side.

R:  How do you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard you before?  

A:  I keep getting asked this and then I say, “ummm… it’s indie pop rock?” But I’ll let you listen and choose your own words.

R:  What is the biggest hope you have for your music?

A:  My biggest hope is that music will be able to support me and keep me happy till the end of time. If it doesn’t do that then I just may have to find something new. But, it hasn’t failed me yet and I don’t intend on letting it, so watch out world! Ray & Remora & Amanda & Glen are coming for you!

Willow Steps

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins
willow-stepsA little longer than a minute ago, I wrote a review for a band called Dear Indugu.  I didn’t remember right away what they sounded like, but I remembered that their music had affected me.  That almost goes without saying; I generally won’t write a review unless there’s a significant take away.  Regardless, the impact was enough for me to agree to write a review for Jesse’s new adventure:  Willow Steps, music unheard.  Seriously, that rarely, if ever, happens because what if I hate it?  It’s difficult to stay true to Relate’s mission statement, “inspiring teen girls” if I don’t have positive things to say and something of quality to write about.  I mean, right?

The overall sound caught me a little bit by surprise.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t acoustic folk.  Even though that’s exactly the way Jesse described it…it wasn’t what I imagined it would be.  But really, it was better than I could have hoped for. I love a girl and a guy’s voice blending together. It is always such perfection, and I think it’s always such an underused and under appreciated element in today’s music scene.

Now, for the lyrics.  The first song, “Lovers Recipe” is pretty great. I adore the nod at the baggage and brokenness we bring to every relationship.  I agree that no matter how we try to move away from our past, it changes who we are, no matter how minutely, and we bring that to each new partnership that we try to create.  What a great song.  And as the previous band’s musings did before this one, I put this one in my pocket to ponder and consider from various angles and, honestly, these really are my favorite type of songs.

With the second and third, song, though, I felt myself getting a little annoyed that I had so eagerly agreed to write a review.  I considered, several times as the lyrics unveiled themselves to me, of saying nope, nevermind, can’t do it.  Even though I hate backing out of anything.  But there are all these sexual innuendos.  And, wait a minute, is that a drug reference or two…or three?  I can’t condone these things.  They only lead to bad places.

There’s that moment of wanting to turn it off.  Of wanting to hit the rewind button, even if it means an “I changed my mind” email.  To be fair, I don’t.  I don’t quit things.  And certainly, there’s got to be something positive, even if it’s covered by negative.  I just have to work harder than normal to unearth it.

And then the last song plays, and I find that I don’t have to work for it at all.  “A Truth” is the type of song I pray bands would write.  There’s a lot of speculating, a lot of wondering, a lot of pondering.  But then there’s lyrics like “From an airplane window/Looking out on the world/A canvas for some creator”… “Because we all pretend there’s no meaning/Well, there’s meaning.”  There is a conclusion made here with the simple, yet beautiful and profound lyric “I believe in a truth too big to see/Look in any direction/And you’re staring at infinity.”  The song evolves from wondering to a proclamation, and I’m running around with my arms in the air screaming “Yes, yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”  

This song is the face of bravery.

I am reminded as I listen again and again, how much more “A Truth” means because of the songs that precede it.  Rarely, if ever, are we born with faith.  And if we have to meander through darkness, through treacherously rough terrain including drugs and promiscuity and awful choices, how much more profound the light must be once we find it.  I am reminded God can create something positive from even the worst circumstances, and that even though bad choices lead to bad places, that doesn’t mean we have to stay there.  The take away here for me is to never, ever give up on anything or anyone.  How impressive it will be if other listeners can walk away with the same hope.

For more information, please visit

Hollis Creek Revival: In the River

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins
hollis creek revivalI was drawn to Hollis Creek Revival immediately; ten seconds into my first listen of  “Wildfire,” I knew this was a band that I wanted in my daily musical rotation.  A somewhat tamer version of Needtobreathe, they are in that same southern rock, earthy, organic vein.  This is music I can’t get enough of.  And while they sound great, even more importantly, their lyrics are treasures; morsels of truth that both comfort me and inspire me to live closer to Him.

Their press release explains that the band recorded In the River with the intent for the first half of the album to have a more modern feel while the later half to have a “more vintage, retro” sound.  Overall all, the record is cohesive, and there isn’t necessarily a fine line where they flipped a switch from one approach to the other.  At least, that wasn’t audible to my ears, anyway.  But what I did notice is the first half of the album has a general, upbeat motivational perspective, like a bird’s eye view of the world, and the second half has more of an introspective and personal feel to the songs.  It has a “hey, world, this is who we are as a band and how we feel” introduction to a “and, hey, by the way, since you are still listening, this is WHY we feel the way we do.”  It’s pretty ingenious, actually.  They’re so forthcoming, and I feel like I could be friends with these guys since we have so much in common.  I adore that transparency.

“Wildfire” is brilliant.  Both the song and the video are both so seriously good.  Anyone who has a smidgeon of wanderlust will love the song; anyone with a call to missions will understand the embers they speak of.  While understanding this earth is not our true home, God reveals himself in the sunrises and the sunsets, the majesty of a waterfall, the constancy and power of ocean waves.  He’s everywhere.  Anyone who says miracles don’t exist anymore hasn’t taken time to wonder at the complexity of butterfly’s wings, the act of breathing… But once that perspective of amazement has been adopted, it’s just so overwhelming; the desire to get out, see more, to share more, to tell others!  This song tells of that passion.

“Home” and “Violin” stand out to me as well.  They’re both slower songs, one near the beginning and one near the end of the album, but they tell stories in the great way that timeless songs often do.  “Home” is not what you might expect-it’s about being in the presence of heroes and ancestors and legends who set a precedent, and without them, your life would look completely different.  The name Hollis was the name of the lead singer’s grandfather, and this song is another bow at reverence for lineage that made an impact.  “Violin” tells the power of music and the bonds it can create.

Whether it is learning trust over time and realizing God is never late (“You’re Right on Time”), learning to let the pain go by turning burdens over to Him (“Weightless Yesterday”), or realizing God is always waiting for us to seek Him (“Like Brand New”), Hollis Creek Revival use their gifts to create an album that brings both comfort and inspiration.  The last song, the hymn “What a Day That Will Be,” reminds us of the bigger picture…getting to heaven, but all the other songs do an amazing job of encouraging us find joy in this life by remaining connected to the truth.  With that as our focus, there is no reason we should let not live our lives like a “Wildfire.”

For more information, please visit:


Zeke Duhon: Zeke

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins
zekeduhonThe lyrics “You want to move at the speed of light/I’ve got somewhere to be tonight” open Zeke’s song “Gravity” and his six song EP.  And that it is all it takes; in less than six seconds I am absolutely in love with his voice and his charm.  Zeke sounds instantly familiar, but I’m demanding to know why my iPod isn’t chock-full of music like this.  He stands out yet he fits in; I swear I’ve heard “Gravity” a million times in my life, but every time I listen, I love it as much as I did the fist time I’ve heard it.  It is absolutely inexplicable, which creates quite the conundrum because it’s my responsibility to explain, and I can’t. I just know that I am beyond smitten with this release.

“Faith and Hope,” the first single, and “Always is Now” are my two favorite songs to listen to, but all six tracks are incredibly solid.  While “Gravity” and “Best Mistake” help him fit in with the crowd (besides his exceptional musical talents and songwriting skills, Zeke seems pretty normal-these songs prove it, but more on that later), “Faith and Hope” makes him stand apart.  He does a fantastic job of pointing out the ironies of the world and begs to have “something I can believe in.” It is that searching and wanting that gives me hope simply because he isn’t looking inward and believing the only thing he has to believe in is himself.  Also, that guitar solo.  It’s solos like that that make me love music more than poetry; the instrument conveys all his confusion and all his searching and all his longing…it could have been the entire song, and I would have understood it all; he wouldn’t have had to sing a single lyric.  And, if I needed another reason to adore this song, and I didn’t, but he gives it anyway, he asks “what is hope without faith?”  Think about that, will you?  The song lingers, as it should; I can only pray it spawns more than thoughts.

“Always is Now” is kind of depressing.  It focuses on the now.  And loving with all intensity and purpose and focus in the immediate moment.  It’s about not thinking about tomorrow because that isn’t promised to us.  It’s a pretty intense song, and I say it’s depressing only because I wonder what had to have been lost before this song could be birthed. While it may be a warning to us who haven’t experienced something incredibly painful, it’s songs like these that are more meaningful once that hurt has been felt.  I love the maturity of this song.  I adore its intentions.

So, back to “Gravity” and “Best Mistake.”  These are songs about relationships; about realizing feelings aren’t always mutual or even-matched and needing to flee. Or about knowing something isn’t good for you and wanting it anyway.  I call them “normal” only because we’ve all been there, that confusing space of hearing both the heart and the head and ignoring reason. Ironically, these songs are like gravity to me; I love listening to them even if I don’t necessarily agree with all of the lyrics.

These songs stick with you.  Instantly.  They’re embedded in your head for all time, I promise, and it only takes one listen.  This isn’t a bad thing, especially when the songs travel to your heart where they belong.  Because it is there that the lasting impressions can do some good (“Faith and Hope,” I’m looking at you).  Zeke may be a newcomer, but he’s like an old friend, and it’s just a matter of time that his talent makes him a friend everyone knows.

For more information, please visit, and be sure to download a copy of his ep today.

Jon McLaughlin: Like Us

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins
john-mclaughlinI’ve been a fan of Jon for over seven years, but it wasn’t until I saw him in Nashville a couple of years ago that I gained new appreciation for his talents.  He had released Promising Promises and went on tour…just him and his piano.  Jill and Kate (formerly known as Kelly Clarkson’s background singers) opened for him.  When Jill (or was it Kate-I don’t remember) talked about him, she said his voice is amazing.  I remember sitting there thinking, you’re praising his voice?  Until that night, he was the piano man for me, and I was in love with his lyrics. Really, that was enough for me.  But then he came out to perform, and I was kind of overwhelmed.  It wasn’t just that she is so right-his voice really is amazing.  But there was this realization that he can do all three-sing, write, and play that piano-so incredibly well.  There was nothing for him to hide behind-it literally was him and his piano-there was no supporting band.  And he was flawless.

And he still is.  Like Us reveals a more mature Jon, one more focused.  The album is more cohesive than his others.  When I talked to him in August, he referred to “Down In History” as slightly “schizophrenic,” and it is only because of a few embellishments, maybe some time changes.  And there is the song, “Thank God,” that abandons his piano and focuses on acoustic guitars (and a uke?) that is seriously flirting with country territory, which makes it stand out.  But sonically, this album is solid.  His piano playing is still at the forefront, and he has some alluring jazz elements that shimmer throughout, making it fun to listen to while keeping it from becoming predictable.

Lyrically, he still has me smiling in wonder, or my heart breaking, in equal measure.  I am not a love song fan.  I think I had immersed myself in them so much in my youth that I kind of wore myself out.  I roll my eyes a lot when I hear many of them.  I might even gag at the most obnoxious of them (“My Heart Will Go On” is the worst offender.  Please…just don’t).  And in the hands of anyone else, some of these lyrics, I’m namely looking at “Before You” and “I Am Always Going to Love You,” would be they syrupy sweet drivel that makes my stomach turn.  So, yay!, if you like that kind of thing.  And, yay!, even if you don’t, because when Jon McLaughlin sings songs like these, you suddenly wish someone would write songs like this for you.  Or, you have that person in mind you’d love to sing them to, if only you were like Jon and could sing songs such as these without looking like an idiot.  He, by the way, never looks like an idiot.

Truly, though,his songs of longing and loss and remorse that will solidify my adoration for him as a writer.  He saves the most heart wrenching for the end of the album, and they are, in my opinion, his best. “Let Go” and “Walk Away” are perfection.  I’m not even going to try and explain them.  Just listen.  And then listen again.  You won’t be able to stop yourself.

Like Us is Jon’s fifth album full length album.  I’d like to say it’s his best, but I can’t do it.  Not because I don’t love it, but because all his others are so good, it’s hard to fit this one into a slot position above any of them.  I do hear him improving, if that’s even possible, and evolving, which is even more important.  My favorite thing about this album is the realization that he’s getting better with time.  The piano on this record has me mesmerized in ways that I haven’t been enchanted since Indiana, and that’s super exciting.  I don’t think this guy has revealed all his cards just yet, not even five albums in, which is a good thing.  It’s a promise there is even better yet to be revealed while I enjoy all that he has already shared.

Buy Like Us on iTunes, and catch him while he’s still on tour.  Visit for more information.

Silfa, A Fairy Tale Review

Written by: Jill Sheets


silfaHave you ever wondered what it is like to meet a fairy and for her to get to live with you for a while?  In the book “Silfa, A Fairy Tale” you will be able to see what it is like to know a fairy. Or maybe you wonder what it is like to be a fairy.  In this book, you get to see both sides!

“Silfa Fairy Tale” by Susan Nadler is a wonderful book for any age or gender. This beautifully written book keeps your attention from the very start with characters that are well developed. The author fills the book with wonderful descriptions, so you are able to visualize with vivid imagery and imagine being in the make believe world Nadler describes.  The book is filled with beautiful artwork that is extremely captivating.  It is a quick read, so be ready to be sad when it is over!

If you have not read the interview with Susan Nadler, check it out.

Tamara Laurel: Runaway

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins

Tamara Laurel: RunawayCountry music generally isn’t my thing.  While I will listen without complaint, rarely do the songs resonate on a deeper level than, “Oh, this sounds good.”  So when I listened to Tamara (her pronunciation rhymes with camera) Laurel’s newest release, I was pleasantly surprised by the feelings her songs immediately woke within me.  While I love how she doesn’t use strategically placed steel guitar to fit the “country bill,” nor does she force a twang that simply isn’t her, I adore the fact that she constructs all her music around the stories she tells.  The deep strings splash crimson longing and remorse and poetic phrases like “eyes like mid-July” evoke all the reasons why I listen to music at all and why I am helplessly drawn to songs that speak to the darkest shadows of my heart.

The seven song album begins with “Whiskey.”  While love is once again compared to an addiction, I appreciate the track for her recognition of what isn’t good for her.  The momentum of the song is the best part, however; while the beginning is seasoned with a sense of sadness at the acknowledgement of needing separation, the music builds, representing not only an immediacy, but a freedom.  It sets the stage of a woman who realizes her weakness but refuses to stay there, and it’s empowering.

What follows “Whiskey,” however, is truly what sets her apart from most artists.  And to be honest, I didn’t agree with all that Tamara explores.  “Come On, Come On,” as incredibly enticing as the song is, is nothing more than physical attraction.  She alludes to intimate relationships that transpire way too quickly, and the resulting heartbreak may be of her own making.  But the depth of her analysis, and her honest introspection, create the most precious realizations.  There aren’t many songwriters out there who are this fearless.  Tamara is poetic and beautiful and tragic, but best of all, she is completely real.  The song “Unraveling” will follow me around for the rest of my life; while she promises there is nothing to regret, the song is saturated with mourning of a lost love.  It is hauntingly beautiful…my favorite kind of lovely.  The theme of this album is freedom, but all of it is hinged upon a blossoming courage that only grows in the light of strength.

And she really is my favorite kind of artist.  Her songs create stories that my heart understands, and the hiccups and imperfections reflect a humanness that creates bonds more than it caters to isolation.  I had read her bio and knew that she had to conquer fears that could have prohibited her from realizing her dreams.  I had listened to the songs where she uncovers bravery that uncage her from a lifetime of unhappiness.  So it really should not have surprised me how inspiring she is.  But she did, surprise me, that is.  I hope that you listen to her music and uncover the same strength I discovered.  I hope you read on to find a similar inspiration that I found.

For more information, please visit


Relate:  First memory of music:

Tamara:  I remember being in a car seat in my dad’s car.  Both my parents were in the car, and I remember the song “Sweet Dreams” by Heart.  I remember listening to that song, and while I was maybe 2 or 3, I was asking questions about the lyrics.  I remember my parents thinking that was super weird.


R:  Name one song you wish you had written and why:

T:  Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio.”  She’s talking about how her mom wants her to do all these things, and it eludes to her mom pressuring her to get married, trying to get her to settle down and she just wants to run off.  It’s a really cool story.  I just like that she wrote this song about a wild character-this girl who goes against what everyone wants her to do.  She decides she’s going to drive off to Atlanta and live out this fantasy life.  It’s a fun song.  You should listen to it.


R:  If someone was to choose only one song from your album Runaway, which one would you want it to be and why?

T:  I wrote for a long time for this album and we had a ton of songs to choose from.  We narrowed them down to seven songs.  The night before we were to track demos, I wrote “Runaway.”  It happened in 15 minutes.  That night I was like, “Oh, I want to record this song instead of one of the other ones.”  I played it for the producer and the band, and everyone agreed.  So it bumped one of the other songs and made it onto the album.  I think that alone gives it just enough significance-that it happened at just the right time to make it.

It also tells a story and is kind of an anchor for the album.  It tells the story of the transformations I went through where you can be in a situation where you’re unhappy or not treated well, and you kind of hold on because you’re afraid of change or afraid that letting go will bring more pain or you’re just afraid of the new.  This taps into sometimes the only strong thing to do is completely run and start over and work with your circumstances rather than fighting them.

Because of the message of the song and because of the way it appeared, that would be the song I’d want people to listen to.


R:  What can you tell us about the inspiration for this record and why you wrote these songs?

T:  I had a couple years where wild things were happening, and I’m a firm believer in experiences and saying yes to life, even though there are consequences involved, and this has given me a lot of great songwriting opportunities.  I’m always drawn to the formation and solution of romantic relationships.  This album is really me growing up and deciding to take charge of my life and not caring what anyone thinks and sticking up for myself.


R:  I read that you had terrible stage fright and it was one performance at the House of Blues in LA that changed everything for you. This is a two part question:  why were you so afraid to perform solo and what was it about that experience that gave you courage?

T:  I sang in musicals growing up and would kind of hide in the chorus.  I could still sing, but I didn’t have to own anything; it wasn’t really my fault if it didn’t go well.  I think all stage fright is essentially fear of failure and fear of not being able to control your circumstances.  I didn’t grow up learning how to proficiently play music-I’m not one of those virtuosos.  I couldn’t grow up taking voice lessons or anything like that.  Everything I’m doing, it’s just what I think I should be doing.  I learned to play guitar from what I learned on YouTube.  I think I was just insecure about that, and I was terrified to go onstage.

Before that House of Blues show, I couldn’t eat; I was so nervous and sick.  I knew putting myself in that situation where family and friends were in town and it was a big crowd-there was a lot on the line.  I didn’t feel I had a choice.  I had to get up on stage.

There’s a theory that people with really big fears like fear of flying, for example, or fear of performing like I had, that if you expose yourself to it and force yourself through it, you can completely wipe away a life long fear, which is kind of crazy.

I knew that night if I got on stage and it was terrible, it was only going to be a terrible half hour of my life.  And if it wasn’t terrible, then I had just changed everything.  Luckily, it ended up being great, and after that, I was like, I just played at the House of Blues, I can play at these little shows.  I think that’s why it had such a profound impact.


R:  Do you still ever battle nerves or doubt and how do you overcome them?

T:  I don’t get nervous for most shows, I get excited.  I get nervous for filming videos, so I still deal with that.  I think the nature of being an artist is experiencing life.  It’s a really crazy experience to write something extremely personal and put that out there.  Not only are you telling your life story, but you’re also singing to it and composing chords around it, so it’s just very…it can be a very scary place to be.

I think that is the really cool about being a musician, especially nowadays with the internet, is that, the further you go along, the more people you connect with and those doubts are kind of quieted.  I’ve heard from a lot of people who have been helped by the things I was afraid to say because they were afraid to say it or feel it as well.  I think that was good for me to push past the doubts and keep going and be grateful for the experience to do music.


R:  What is it that you love most about music?

T:  I think my favorite part is all these crazy things that fit together.  You have an idea for a song, you write the song, record it, play it live, make a video for it, all these crazy parts.  For me, the one thing that really gets to me is when I start to write a song, there’s usually a feeling of calm and knowing it’s going to be a good one.  Your brain is working so fast, putting this puzzle together, and you can’t get it on paper quickly enough.  I love that.  It doesn’t happen often.  I’ll write 60-70 songs in a year, and only 7 songs that are “good enough” to make the record.  It’s a really rare, fleeting feeling, but your brain is kind of solving this perfect fusion between melody, harmony, and lyric, and it’s really cool.  Every song writer I’ve talked to describes this feeling as well.


R:  If you could tell your thirteen year old self one thing, what would it be?

T:  Believe in yourself more.  Own who you are, even if it’s a little different than other people, because one day those things that make you slightly different will make you really happy and will let you live the life you always wanted to live.

And don’t be in such a rush to grow up.


R:  What is your definition of success?

T:  I think I felt successful when I got on stage at the House of Blues, and I think everything from that point on has been icing on the cake, so to speak.  I was so scared of it; it was a world I didn’t know if I belonged in, and that House of Blues show…that’s a memory that’s once in a lifetime.  I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren, and that was a highlight.  And after that, then I’ll make an EP, after that I’ll make an album and I want to play guitar on the album, and I want to release the album, and play these shows and make a music video.  I think I try to have no expectations so everything is fantastic.

In general, the definition of success is doing your best while being good to others and constantly pushing your boundaries.


R:  Pick one of the two:  beach or the mountains?

T:  Mountains


R:  Jeans or maxi dress?

T:  Jeans


R:  Bowl of ice cream or bag of potato chips

T:  It kind of depends on the day…bag of potato chips


R:  Chick flick or suspenseful thriller?

T:  Suspenseful thriller


R:  Piano or electric guitar

T:  Electric guitar



Interview with Jon McLaughlin

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins
jon mclaughlin newMusic sustains me in countless different ways. Most of my favorite songs can be lumped into categories more than genres; there’s music I run to every morning, music I listen to that always captures my imagination and inspires me to write, music I worship to, music that I love to turn up really loud and sing along to in the car, and music I listen to because it understands me. Precious few artists make it into that final category, and even fewer fit into the playlists that cover all those needs.

Jon’s music always does.

I started listening to Jon in 2007 when he opened for Kelly Clarkson’s My December Tour.  The album and the song Indiana resonated a little deeper than most records do.  Maybe it’s because I am a native Hoosier.  Maybe it’s because, I, too, orbited around a piano my entire childhood (even when I wasn’t playing, it was always in prominent display…beckoning me or mocking me, depending on my mood).  “Indiana” the song put to music how I felt about…everything.  The insightfulness of “Beautiful Disaster” solidified that I had jumped on a music bandwagon and I wasn’t getting off.

I can’t name a favorite song from Promising Promises, but the feel of that record makes me choose it over and over.  It’s not so personal as it is joy from listening.  When Holding My Breath came out a little over a year later, I didn’t write a review.  I felt like I was still basking in the beauty of Promising and couldn’t absorb a record I wasn’t ready to hear.  But, now, a few years later, and I can tell you “Oh, Jesus,” in all it’s honesty and confusion and praise, cannot be matched by any other “religious” song I’ve ever heard.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, emotionally, “Doesn’t Mean Goodbye” contains such equal amounts of heartbreak and hope that it will be the inspiration for every breakup scene I ever write, and not one of them will look the same.

Jon’s new album, Like Us, will be released October 9th, and this time, I couldn’t be more ready to hear it.  He has a preview on his website at where you can hear the new track “Before You.” This precursor to the interview is supposed to be a write up of how great the track is, and it, you know, turned out to be nothing more than me rambling about how great he is in general.  Ah well.  I mean, if you haven’t been convinced by the above gushing, a few lines about this song from my humble opinion isn’t going to do it.

Getting Jon’s perspective, though, could be the very nudge you need.  He was generous with his responses about his favorite songs (his and who he’s a fan of), how this all started, and why he keeps doing this music thing.  So finish reading and then go listen.


Relate:  First memory of music?


Jon:  I grew up going to this tiny little Methodist church in my home town and they had an old piano.  After the service, I was that annoying kid, you know, after everyone left the sanctuary, I would go back and play and make up songs.  I would just sit at that piano.  This was before I was taking piano lessons; I would just kind of bang out whatever.  I’m sure it sounded terrible, but I used to do that every Sunday.  I think that’s what started this thing and lead to taking lessons.


R:  What do you love most about music?


J:  That’s a tough question.  I think what I love most… I mean, being a musician, music takes on a lot of forms in my life.  There’s writing, and there’s recording, there’s obviously going to shows.  I think my favorite aspect is playing live.  There’s nothing better.  If I don’t go on tour for awhile, I start to get antsy and have to get out and be up on stage and play some songs.


R:  Name one song you wish you had written and why?


J:  That’s a long list.  There are a lot of songs I wish I had written… like Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”  It’s probably my favorite song of all time.  I think it’s genius.  I love that song every time I hear it.  It’s probably the most impactful song on my life.  I think I was four or five the first time I heard it, and I loved it immediately, and it’s kind of a weird for a five year old to love that song.


That one would be on there and “A Little Bit of Everything” by Dawes.  They’re one of my new favorite bands.  They’ve been around for a little while…I think I first heard them back 2009 or so.  They’ve got this song on their second record called “A Little Bit of Everything” that I think is one of the most amazing songs ever written.


So there you go, both an older song and a newer one.


R:  If  you could pick one song from your catalog to give someone who had never heard you before, which one would you choose and why?


J:  These questions are hard.  A song from the new record called “Down In History.”  I feel like it musically touches on all the different styles that I play.  You know, kind of a schizophrenic song.


An older song of mine called “Indiana” that has always been one of my favorites.  I think that it’s my best efforts lyrically; I really like those lyrics and think they stand the test of time.  It would be one of those two songs.


R:  Tell me about the new album Like Us and how does it differ from your previous recordings?


J:  The first album I put out called Indiana-this record is kind of a mix between Indiana and my second record OK Now.  I recorded it with the same producer-Dave Barnes who I recorded with OK Now with.  He is an amazing producer and has worked with Dave Barnes, Parachute, Switchfoot…tons of great records.


It’s very piano based, which is my second record is really guitar based, and I kind of got away from my sound a little bit.  So, this one is a good blend.  It’s very piano based, but there’s a lot of other sounds there.


Every song on it is a relationship song.  Obviously, I’m  not breaking any new ground by writing songs about relationships, but I wanted to write a record that sort of touched on as many different emotions as I could.  Not just straight up love songs like “oh, I’m falling in love kind of song,” which, there are some of those, too.  Once you get in a relationship, you go through all kinds of different emotions and different experiences.  I wanted to write a record that touched on a bunch of those different experiences.


R:  Most embarrassing moment onstage?


J:  I was in Knoxville, Tennessee, back in 2008, I think, and I said, “So great to be here in Nashville, I love your city.”  I felt so bad and immediately caught it and said, “I’m so sorry, I love you Knoxville.”  But it’s tough hard to recover from that.


R:  Best compliment a fan has said to you?


J:  Someone recently wrote in on Facebook with a really long beautiful letter that they’d written.  It was kind of a sad journey where her husband had died and she was getting remarried.  All these songs throughout my catalogue had helped her along the way.  Like the songs that had helped her when he died and my song which I just put out, called “Before You” is her and her new guy’s song.  It was a really cool letter explaining how my music had helped her through all these different stages throughout her life which is great.  It’s kind of the whole point-to put music out there that means something to somebody so to get a letter from somebody saying that not only do I like this one song of yours,  but these four or five songs have really helped me throughout the past four or five years.  That is one of the cooler letters that I’ve gotten.


R:  Out of the three things you do so well-writing, recording, or performing, if you could only do one of them for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?


J:  Performing/playing live. I like all the other aspects of it.  When I go out on tour, it’s amazing, but then by the end of the tour, I’m ready to rejuvenate, go see some other bands and get filled up again.  Then I start writing, and then start recording, then you’re ready to get back on the road.  It’s a good healthy cycle.  If I had to choose, I’d say playing live.  If I never played live again, there’d be a void in my life.


Being on stage, playing my songs, hearing people singing it back has always been the greatest thing in the world.  I remember playing in Grand  Rapids, MI, back in 2007; that was the first time I saw a crowd of people, eyes closed, singing one of my songs.  I’ll never forget it.  It was amazing.  It was almost ten years ago, at this tiny little club, but it’s definitely the end game.


R:  “Oh, Jesus” is your only overtly Christian song on the full length albums.  What prompted you to record it for Holding my Breath?


J:  It wasn’t calculated.  People ask me about this song a lot.  I’m a pretty outspoken Christian-people know I’m a believer.  People who have followed my music know I don’t have a lot of songs like that on my recordings, but I included it because I wrote it and I liked it.  It was a culmination of a bunch of general feelings…how things work, why are there huge tragedies in the world and these small victories.  We choose credit for somethings, but not other things.  Once you start dissecting it, it gets really overwhelming.  There are no answers in the song.  It’s really just me talking to Jesus about all these thoughts.  I never thought I should take Jesus out of it or if I should save it and put it on a full length Christian record.  It wasn’t calculated.  I’ve gotten a great response, and I’m definitely grateful for that.


R:  Congratulations on the birth of your second daughter!  What’s the most important lesson having children has taught you?


J:  You can survive on no sleep at all.  It forces you to become very, very selfless.  I think we’re selfish innately; you just kind of look out for yourself until you have a baby.  The world changes.  Your independence changes because there’s this little person you would do anything for without even thinking.  Learning how to be selfless and make decisions that don’t just benefit yourself anymore because you’re thinking about your little baby girl.


R:  Like Us will be your fifth album; what do you hope to accomplish through music that you haven’t already achieved?


J:  The goal is to simply that I hope new and more people will hear the music and be turned onto it.  As an artist, I feel like I have something to say, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t put these records out.  So I hope the music will spread and mean something to more people.