Listening to good music offers us many things: a fun escape, new perspective, words to describe our feelings and, sometimes, a better understanding of what it means to be human.
Dove Award winning artist Ellie Holcomb’s sweet spot is instinctively combining the right measure of each.
Performing both as a solo artist and with her husband’s band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Ellie told Hope 103.2’s UNDISTRACTED podcast she’s always gravitated towards music that reflects “authentic community”.
“It’s one of my core values”, Ellie said.
“And generally, writing a song is a way for me to get to deep water in conversation pretty fast.”
On Ellie’s new album Canyon, she “gets deep” into the times of life where dreams don’t come true and things don’t go to plan, but tells of how joy can be found in the midst of that.
“I went on a counselling journey these past couple of years, visiting some of the deepest pain and the deepest wounds in my own story,” Ellie said.
“It’s not my normal – I generally try to avoid pain – and I realised [although] I’d addressed some of these wounds in counselling before, I’d never let myself grieve. I’d never let myself lament.
“There was a part of me that was scared that if I just let myself be sad about some of the wounds that I carry in my own story, some of the mistakes that I made and some of the prayers that didn’t get answered in the ways that I wanted them too. I thought it might kill me.
“But as I [went there] and let myself simply breathe in some of those broken places, I encountered the nearness and the tenderness and the kindness and the empathy of God.”
The title track especially articulates that journey, inspired by a trip Ellie and her family took to the Grand Canyon where she saw our lives as being like the weather-battered rock walls of the natural wonder: something that has endured so many changing times and seasons and yet, still stands.
“After this past year, where we’ve all just lived through trauma after trauma and loss after loss, we all know what it’s like to have our hearts split open like a canyon,” Ellie said.
“But there in the very pit of the canyon – in the deepest part of it, there was a river running through.
“I love this sense that God moves low. And I really do believe there’s this current of living water, there’s a current of love that runs deeper than our deepest ache.”
Having been willing to face her pain, Ellie said has made her more able to “sing songs of sorrow” but to also “sing songs of joy because there’s this sense of knowing that whatever suffering we’re in the midst of, it’s not the end”.
The song Color, which Ellie co-wrote with Needtobreathe frontman Bear Rinehart, overflows with that joy, as it sings about finding the goodness of God “in the stained glass church of ordinary life”, capturing how our everyday experiences can feed into the richness of our spiritual experience.
“For me there’s been a shift,” Ellie said.
“I’m a person who grew up in the church, in a spiritual, religious environment and there were so many beautiful things about that but there was this sense of a separation [between] life and church.
“It has been such a beautiful thing to see the beauty, to see spirituality, to see even pain and lament can be integrated into this sense of knowing that we are beloved.
“I have encountered a presence of love and peace that doesn’t make any sense in some of the sorrowful places, and, in some of the mundane places. I just can’t shake it, and I’m really grateful.”
Ellie’s new album Canyon is out now. Listen to her full UNDISTRACTED interview with Laura Bennett in the player above.