Canadian CCM veteran Carolyn Arends returns with her brand new album RECOGNITION. The artist who brought us "Seize the Day" and "New Year's Day" offers 12 new songs. Standouts include the rollicking "Becoming Human," "Without Music (feat. Amy Grant)," "Pool of Tears," and the soul-bearing "To Cry for You."
Arends has released 14 albums and is the author of 3 critically-acclaimed books. 15 of Arends' songs have become top 10 radio singles on the Canadian pop and US Christian charts. Arends has earned 2 Dove Awards, 3 Juno Nominations, and was recognized as the West Coast Music Awards' Songwriter of the Year. Her prose has been recognized by The Word Guild, The Evangelical Press Association and The Canadian Church Press Awards.
Q: Carolyn, thanks for doing this interview with us. It's been six years between your new album and your previous effort, how have you been?
Hi! It's been a full six years! I've been working with an organization I love, Renovaré, overseeing an online and in-person program in spiritual formation. I've continued to use music as a "language I speak" in that role, but I hadn't been writing a lot of new material until the past year or so. On a more personal level, life with my husband, Mark, and our two young adult kids, Ben and Beth, has been full and good. A harder journey has been related to losing my mom in the fall of 2018-we were very close, and the grief has been tougher than I expected. But of course, that's all part of the reality of living a fully human life.
Q: What prompted you to make this new album?
Soon after the pandemic hit, I experienced a fresh creative wave. I think it started with something called the Covenant Awards-my song, "Seize the Day" was inducted into the GMA Canada Song Hall of Fame. During my acceptance speech (which was over Zoom, in light of quarantine), I shared with my fellow musicians (many of whom rely on being able to travel to provide for their families) that I sensed the pandemic was a form of exile. I quoted Jeremiah 29, where God speaks through the prophet to encourage those in exile to "plant gardens and seek the welfare of the city." I suggested that for musicians, "planting gardens" might mean writing songs, or at least cultivating the conditions in which songs might grow.
After I gave that charge, I thought maybe I should follow it! I began to spend more time listening, praying, being still. After several years of not writing much at all, songs were coming fast and furious, and I ended up creating not one but two new albums (RECOGNITION, plus an acoustic worship EP called IN THE MORNING.) Getting the music recorded was made possible by folks who supported a Kickstarter, which was incredibly encouraging.
Q: Why did you call it RECOGNITION?
The title comes from one of the songs on the record, "Almost Didn't Recognize You." Really since my first album ("I Can Hear You," all the way back in 1995!), I've been working with the theme that "God speaks into and out of the thick of our days" (in Frederick Buechner's lovely phrase.) I am trying to help myself and others get better at recognizing God "clearing His throat" in all the ordinary stuff that goes on around us every day.
Q: You are the only songwriter I know who references Pinocchio and King Lear in the same song! From reading the lyrics of your new songs, your songs are meaty and thought-provoking. Does song writing come easy for you? What inspires you to write?
Thanks, Timothy! Songwriting comes in fits and starts for me. I hate to admit that, especially because when I teach songwriting I tell students to have a regular practice of writing, whether or not they feel inspired on any particular day. And I still believe that is the optimal approach. But my life is full, and it's structured in such a way that I kind of have to get ambushed by a rare and powerful creative wave to really get writing. In retrospect, those waves usually come after seasons in which I have been living more prayerfully. It also helps if I am reading great books and listening to great music.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers who want to write with freshness and also with depth?
Well, I really do believe input and output are completely linked. So folks who want to create meaningful art should be exposing themselves to meaningful art as much as possible. And then I would also say to do lots of rewriting and to never settle. If something feels like a chiché, keep digging for fresher expression until you find it.
Q: On this album, you got to sing with Amy Grant. What was it like recording with Amy?
I love Amy. She's every bit as kind and generous in person as she seems in public. When I was working on the song "Without Music," I kept hearing Amy's voice on it, so I reached out through a mutual friend and asked her if she'd sing on it. I was beyond delighted when she said yes. I grew up listening to her, so it just seems so right to have her on a song about the enduring power of music.
Q: One of my favorite songs on the record is "To Cry for You." Tell us what's the story behind this song?
As I mentioned, I lost my mom in 2018. I knew it would be hard to lose her, but I wasn't prepared for how disoriented my grief left me feeling. I spent about six months fighting tears, telling myself that people go through much harder things and I should just get over it. Then, I was asked to sing at the funeral of another mother, the wife of a drummer friend of mine. At the service, her young adult son, Jordan, stood up to give the eulogy and said, "If you're wondering if Jordy's going to cry, of course I'm going to cry. It is my honor to cry for her." With just that one phrase - "It is my honor to cry for her" - my tears and my grief were reframed. I realize that when we deeply mourn someone, our grief, as hard as it is, is a holy and beautiful expression of our love.
After I wrote "To Cry for You," I wasn't sure if I'd ever publicly release it, as it is so vulnerable. But now I'm so glad I did. The video for that song has been viewed nearly 500,000 times on Facebook, and the notes I get from people about how their own grief has been reframed are profound.
Q: Mark Buchanan is one of my favorite speakers and authors. One of your songs "God's Speed" was inspired by one of his books. Tell us why do you resonate with Buchanan's book "God Walk" and how did that inspiration become a song?
I'm so glad you know Mark's work! Isn't he the best? I loved the idea in God Walk that God is much more patient than we are, and that we need to slow down to move at God's speed. That's also a major theme in my work at Renovaré-that we shouldn't get discouraged if the deep, healing, and transforming work God want to do in our lives takes time. So I wrote the song to help me-and other people like me-slow down!
Q: How do you wish these songs will impact the lives of your listeners?
I'm always blown away when I realize a song I've written has become a companion for someone-that is helped them become a little more alive or a little more awake to God's love and presence. If RECOGNITION can do that for a few folks, I'm thrilled!
Q: How can our readers learn more about you and your music?
You can find me on the usual social media outlets, or the best way to get connected is through my Weekly Arends Digest, which you can subscribe to at carolynarends.com/sign-up. Thanks!