Straight out of Chicago, vocalist Lindsay McCaul kicked off 2012 with her debut album on Reunion Records, If It Leads Me Back. JesusfreakHideout.com's Jen Rose caught up with Lindsay just before the release of her album to discuss touring, songwriting, her musical heroes, and... her favorite article of clothing...
This interview took place on: January 13, 2012.
JFH (Jen Rose): So as a relative newcomer to Christian music, what is one thing you would like everyone to know about you?
Ooooohhhh... huh... wow! You have totally stumped me! I don't even know! I guess that means I'm boring. I don't know. *laugh*
JFH (Jen): Haha... we can come back to it later!
Lindsay: Yeah... that is SO tough! Okay, can we come back to that one? I wanna come back to that question.
JFH (Jen): Okay! *laugh* How did you get your start in music?
Lindsay: Well, I grew up with it. My dad loves singing, so that's how I started loving music I guess. But when I was attending Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for college-- I had started writing songs when I was probably, I don't know... I think 12 or 13, somewhere around there. So I had just written and written, and when I was at Moody, when I was a freshman, this senior girl (who led worship in chapel) came by my room and she was like, "Hey, I'm about to graduate and I know that you write songs and you play the guitar. I need somebody to fill my spot when I graduate." And I was like, "I'm not a worship leader. I don't think that's such a good idea." And she was like, "No, I think you'd be a good replacement." And I was like, "No, no... I really don't do that." And she was like, "No, I really think you are. And I actually signed you up for two weeks from now, so you should start practicing." *laugh* Sooooo that was a little nerve-wracking, but that's how I started leading worship.
JFH (Jen): So you never really thought much about doing the signing and recording and everything? It was just something that you kind of fell into?
After I graduated Moody and was leading worship there, I came to my church in the suburbs of Chicago called Harvest Bible Chapel, and I was leading worship there and writing. A friend, this guy named Jason Ingram, also came up to Harvest to lead worship every once in a while. He calls it his church away from home. And he called me out of the blue one day and said, "Hey Lindsay, I know you write songs. What do you want to do with those songs?" And I was like, "Umm.... I don't know... sing them for Jesus?" *laugh* And he's like, "Well, have you ever thought about maybe working with a record label and getting some more use from your songs other than you playing them by yourself?"
And I was like, "Well... I don't know. Obviously I've thought about it, but I don't know how to do that." And he said, "Well, I can help you. Why don't you pray about it?" And I prayed about it.
So I went down to Nashville, and we just started writing songs together--Jason and I--and he introduced me to the people at Provident, which is where I found my record label home. So Jason was kind of the key piece in doing more of this kind of thing.
Lindsay: Well yeah, I'd thought about it. I'd always thought, you know... 'cause I wrote songs. I'd been writing songs for a long time. But well... you know, how many people get to do that? Tons of people write songs and sing. And how many people get to work with a record label? Not very many people do that. So I was like, "well, surely I'm not going to be one of those people that gets to work with a label and tour and do that, so I should just give that up."
JFH (Jen): Have you done any other albums before the one that's coming out this week?
But I had prayed about it. Like, "God, I would love to do that someday." When I was even in high school, I was thinking about it. Like, "God, if you want me to do that, then you just open the door." But I didn't want to just move to Nashville like, "Hey this is what I'm going to do!" if that wasn't what God wanted me to do. I didn't wanna decide for myself. I thought surely God is big enough that if He wants me to do that, he can make that happen, and he did!
For me, it was a huge faith-building moment to realize that we can trust God with the desires of our hearts because he knows how to get us. He knows how to fulfill those desires, and He will because He has given us those desires. So that was a really cool moment for me to see that God had fulfilled that dream for me, and I didn't have to push for it.
Lindsay: Yes, actually! When I was 17, my church in Florida that I grew up in, Calvary Chapel, helped me make a little 5 song EP. And then when I moved up to Chicago and was leading worship, my church here, Harvest, actually asked me to make a corporate, congregational worship album. So I was like, "Yeah, yeah that's great!" even though I'd never written a congregational worship song before. So they were like, "Well, why don't you take some time and write some worship songs and come back to us and show us your songs."
JFH (Jen): So is what you find comes more natural than writing worship songs? Writing the story songs for yourself?
So I did. [I] went away to Michigan. They had a camp out there, so I spent a couple days there writing. And I came back, and I was playing my songs for some of our worship leaders and our pastors. After I played my songs, they were like, "Um... well those are nice songs, but those aren't... congregational worship songs." So I was like "Oh nooooo!!!" They said those were more story songs. More CCM Christian songs.
So I was like, "Ohhhh.... that's not good." And they said, "Well that's okay. We'll still help you make an album to bless our church." So we did. We made a CD of just my songs, which is actually what Jason Ingram had heard when he came up to lead worship in Chicago.
Lindsay: Yeah, for sure. Definitely the story songs. Those come out of, you know, any different season that I'm in, I usually find myself thinking about writing a song about it. And actually, usually I feel like God will remind me of a person in the Bible that experienced a little bit of the same situations that I've experienced. Does that make sense? (Jen: Mmhm. Yeah, totally.) Like "Take My hand" is about Peter on the Sea of Galilee and that realization we all come to every once in a while that we aren't in control and that we need Jesus to be with us, to receive him. And my song "If It Leads Me Back" is about Job and his suffering and his decision -- even through extreme difficult hardship -- he still said to God, "You give and you take away and blessed be your name." And that's what I wanted my response to be to the Lord through every situation.
JFH (Jen): And it just makes all those stories seem more real and alive when you look at it that way. It's like you grow up and they're stories, but when you're going through it...
So a lot of my songs come out of seasons where I'm thinking about, like, "Okay, God, this isn't something that I would have chosen for myself, but obviously you've allowed me to go through this season, so what are you trying to show me? What am I missing here? I wanna learn whatever you want me to learn in this situation, because obviously that's why you brought me here. So don't let me miss it." And then he'll kind of bring a story or a truth from his Word to my heart to just remind me that someone else has gone through something like this before. That is really comforting.
Lindsay: Exactly! I remember hearing the story about Lot and his wife and their family fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah, and when I was in Israel, I think two years ago, I was leading worship for this trip that my church did over there. And you went up to this mountain called Masada in this ancient city, and our tour guide was pointing to these mountains in the distance, and he was telling us that's where Lot and his wife and their daughters fled Sodom and Gomorrah. And I was thinking about that story. I've heard it a million times growing up about how God said, "Flee Sodom and Gomorrah. Don't look back." And Lot's wife looked back. And she turned into a pillar of salt. And so I'm standing there remembering that story and thinking, "Man, she was an idiot! What was she thinking?" And then! Right then God was like, "Lindsay... you do that all the time! You look back at the past and you look back at things that you wish you could change or dreams that didn't come true or shame that you have... you're always looking back at the past." And all the time God has called all of us forward to the future. He said in Jeremiah 29:11 "a future and a hope." So that's how my song "Say My Name" came to be. That moment where one of these Bible stories I've heard so many times, God brought to light in my heart, you know?
JFH (Jen): So how would you describe the sound of your new album to someone who might not know your music?
Lindsay: Hmmm... well, the sound I would hope is... kind of acoustic? Well it's not really all acoustic. I guess... pop... acoustic pop.
JFH (Jen): That works!
Lindsay: But it's not all acoustic. *laugh* That's not a very complete summary. What would you say it is?
JFH (Jen): What I like about it... it's very refreshing to hear an album that's acoustic, but not really folky acoustic?
Lindsay Right, well that's a problem I encounter, because every time somebody asks me that question, usually the answer is acoustic pop and they're like, "Oh, do you like folk music?" and I'm like, "No!" *laugh* It is not folk.
JFH (Jen): Well after I listened to it for a while, I started hearing the stories behind the songs and hearing that the lyrics really stand out to me. It seems like very much a songwriter album. But it's not flashy. I can tell that songwriting is your thing.
Lindsay: Yeah, that's true. And we try to be intentional about that. Like, one of my favorite artists is Sara Bareilles. I feel like she is such an incredible songwriter. So I wanted to write everything on piano because she writes everything on piano, but I don't play piano! So I wanted Jason to start piano. And he was like, "Lindsay... you are a guitar player. You need to stay true to that." So we tried to be really careful.
JFH (Jen): That's totally fine. So what is your personal creative process like? Do you start with music or words? What's your preferred method?
I think there's only maybe one or two songs that feature piano more than they do guitar. In that sense, it's more acoustic-y because we built everything off of guitars, but I think you just can't always tell that in all the songs. Yeah, I think you're right. Songwriter, acoustic pop. Anyway! *laugh* Long answer to a short question.
Lindsay: It varies. It can go either way, but usually I start with song lyrics. And things start kind of coming, usually when I'm trying to fall asleep. That's the honest truth. *laugh*
JFH (Jen): Of course.
Lindsay: I'm laying there and I'm like, "Oh I can't wait to get a full night of sleep!" And my mind is thinking and racing and then all of a sudden I have these lyrics. And I'm like, "Aw man! Now I have to get up and write these down!" Because I don't want to forget them. I'd be bummed about that. So I usually... but it's not always at night. Sometimes it's during the day.
JFH (Jen): While you're driving? *laugh*
Lindsay: Yeah, exactly! Then I have to get out my little voice recorder... yes. So I usually start with the lyrics, and I'll try to sit down and write a melody. Or if I'm in Nashville, I'll try to meet up with Jason or some of my other friends that are really great with melodies, and we'll get together and try to figure out, try to hammer out the key parts of it.
JFH (Jen): Do you have a favorite song on your new record?
I'm more of a lyricist. I like writing melodies, but my favorite thing is that lyrics are like a puzzle to me. I feel like there's gotta be a way to say something here that will mean this, but you can say it this way. And how many words can we fit in here? It's kind of like a puzzle challenge for me. And it's funny 'cause some of my songs come really fast, and I'm done in a day or something, and some songs take months. But I just have to let them sit there and come back to them again and again and see if anything pops into my mind. My main thing for songs is what am I saying here? What is the story behind the song? I wanna make sure the songs are relatable so someone who isn't in my exact situation or my friend's exact situation that I'm writing about can still be like, "I know what she's talking about. I've been there." So that's the most important thing to me.
Lindsay: Hmm... I'd probably say "If It Leads Me Back" or "Take My Hand." Probably "If It Leads Me Back" because it almost didn't make the album. (Jen: Oh!) Yeah... that one almost didn't. And that's the title track, which is funny. So we were trying to think of a title for the album without "If It Leads Me Back" on there, just as a ten-song CD. And I was praying about it and thinking about it and asking people about it, and we got a couple ideas but nothing that I was really feeling was a good fit. And then I had always loved "If It Leads Me Back," that song, and I wrote it with Cindy Morgan, who is one of my songwriting heroes. So that was special to me, but also just the song to me, I feel like it's kind of--like I said--it's about Job and his response to God, and Cindy and I had been talking about how we want our response in every season that God brings us to and allows us to go through to be, "God, I trust you, and if this is what you want for me, even if it's the hardest thing I've ever gone through, I still trust you and I want it to lead me closer to you."
JFH (Jen): Okay, so you mentioned Sara Bareilles. What are some of your other favorite musicians?
So then, as I was thinking about the whole album and, you know, every song on the album is kind of like a snapshot of a season of my life or one of my friends' lives, and so that just made more sense to me that, in all of these songs, the thought behind each song is "God, I just want You to bring me closer to You. I want it to lead me back to You. If I'm running away from You, lead me back to You. If I'm having a hard time with something, lead me back to You, and let this be a season or a situation that draws me closer to You." And so that is the theme for the album. So then I was like, "Well that's good, 'cause I've always loved that song and I still want it to be on the album," so we went to the record label and asked them if I was allowed to do an eleven-song album instead of a ten-song album. So that's how. Yeah, "If It Leads Me Back"--I love that song. And it's a piano song! *laugh*
Lindsay: Oooooh, okay... Steven Curtis Chapman is my all-time favorite. I think he is just a genius, lyrically. And Nichole Nordeman. Those are my top two. She is... man, that woman...
JFH (Jen): Oh, I love her.
Lindsay: Isn't she just amazing? I mean, Steven Curtis Chapman and Nichole Nordeman both have my favorite songs. I feel like they understand so well how to craft lyrics. Like what I strive to do lyrically, they have. You know, I want my songs to be reflections of their writing, I guess.
JFH (Jen): So speaking of the upcoming tour and tours past, I think somebody mentioned to me that you toured with Sanctus Real and The Afters recently?
Let me see, who else do I love? Um... well definitely Sara Bareilles. Brandon Heath... I love Brandon's stuff. I think he's a great writer too. I'm a big fan of Meredith Andrews! (Even though she was my roommate.) I think she's amazing... she really is. She has one of the most humble, genuine hearts, and her music does reflect that, I feel like. And I think Matthew West is a great writer. Um... I'm not saying this because I'm on tour with them, but I love Casting Crowns. They have incredible music and they are incredible people to match up with their songs, so... yeah!
Lindsay: Uh huh, yup! That was on Casting Crowns' fall tour.
JFH (Jen): Oh, all of them, okay. Do you have any fun stories from the tour you want to share?
Lindsay: Ohhhhhhhh man! Okay, let me think about it. Well, my favorite memory... my husband and I shared a bus with The Afters, and our favorite thing to do at night -- have you ever seen that show Wipeout?
JFH (Jen): Yeah.
Lindsay: So we rapidly became obsessed with that show on our bus. And fortunately, we had Tivo on our bus -- which is amazing to me, it blows my mind. But we had it on our bus on our TV there, and so we would tape it and it was like a race to get to the bus. Like, everybody was like, "Okay time for Wipeout!" *laugh* And so we got on the bus after the whole night was done -- we'd wait, you know, after our show, and to meet people, which we love doing -- but we'd run out to the bus and all get on there and get our pajamas on, and then we'd just watch Wipeout. We would watch it until like 2 or 3 in the morning. There was no shame there. We would stay up super late and watch as many episodes as we could fit in. So that's a good memory.
JFH (Jen): You inherited, like, a dozen brothers from that tour. *laugh*
And the last night of tour is called Prank Night. I'm sure you've heard about that, so... bands pull pranks on each other. So, for my song "Say My Name"... I'm up first. I was the first artist out on the stage and so I was... Jen, I was shaking. I was terrified of what they were gonna do to me, 'cause, I didn't have brothers growing up. I only had sisters, so we don't pull pranks. Girls don't pull pranks, other than like, "Oh, I bought you a shirt. Yeah, haha surprise!" You know, like that kind of thing. We don't do mean pranks. So... I had no idea what was coming, and they knew that I was scared, so they all built it up. All of the guys built it up, so much, like, "You better watch yer back today." And I was like, "Noooooo don't say that!"
So then during my song "Say My Name," alllll the guys -- Casting Crowns, Sanctus Real, The Afters -- they all came out on stage behind me. I didn't see them for a second, and then I turned around and they're all behind me. So during the song it says, "Say my name," and every time I said that during the song, they would shout, "LINDSAY!" at me. *laugh* And I'm like, "Ohhhhhh my gosh, you guys are crazy." So that's a good memory for me. They're really funny guys. They're all just the sweetest guys. I feel like they're all brothers to me.
Lindsay: I did. I had no brothers before and now I have, like, fifty of them. *laugh*
JFH (Jen): Now that makes me think the last night of the tour is always the best night, probably for every tour.
Lindsay: Wellllll.... it is, kind of... it's the funniest night. The problem is everybody gets so excited about pranks. Like Casting Crowns did a good job, 'cause they're like, "Look. We also have a concert to do tonight. So we can't only be doing pranks to each other." So they had a rule that you can't go out on stage and pull any pranks during serious songs because that would, you know, ruin the moment, which I was thankful for because most of my songs are serious songs. *laugh* I was like, "See, off limits!" But they were like, "No way."
JFH (Jen): Oh my gosh! How much toilet paper would that take?
So yeah, it was really funny. The thing I felt bad about was the people who came to the last show not knowing it was Prank Night -- which is most of the people -- and then you're like "Surprise! We're committing pranks allll night" Some of them must be like, "What? We wanted to hear songs!"
It was really funny though. Mark Hall tried to toilet paper our bus. And one of The Afters caught him mid-toilet papering. *laugh* So he came out of the bus like, "What's going on?" and he sees Mark Hall and a couple other guys in the back, you know, toilet papering it, so... those are the kind of shenanigans going on.
Lindsay: I have no idea. I never saw it because The Afters cleaned it up before I got back.
JFH (Jen): That is so great! *laugh* Okay, I guess I should ask a serious question. What has God been teaching you lately?
Lindsay: Oooooooh.... that is a good one. The biggest thing, even this past fall, I feel like God has been showing me is that He is completely sovereign and trustworthy. He's really been taking me through Psalm 121, which is, "I lift my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth." And the whole psalm has been special to me, but the biggest thing about that verse is that it says that... I feel like I'm that person, you know. "I lift my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from?" I'm looking around, and who's gonna help me in this situation? What's going on? And who's in control? I'm not in control, obviously, because this isn't what I was wanting for my life. And then the next verse says, "My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth." That is a huge statement right there, that God created Heaven and Earth, and He is our help. That is where our help comes from. That's a crazy statement to me! That little verse is huge in what it's implying. That God, the Creator of everything still wants to help us, to be our help in time of need when we're looking around looking for answers, that God is right there. All fall that's been special to me.
JFH (Jen): That's amazing. Did you ever think of your thing that you want everyone to know?
And then when I was in New York this past week, one of my friends suggested that I go see the Dead Sea Scrolls in Times Square. I'd seen the Dead Sea Scrolls before, but my husband hadn't. So I was like, "Okay, we should go see them." They're a really, really important part of our history as believers and the history of God's Word on Earth. So we went to go see them, and the one psalm in the collection of these ancient Hebrew manuscripts was Psalm 121. So I was just stunned standing there, just crying. I love that God does that when something is so special to us. I feel like He brought that psalm and that ancient manuscript to New York City for me. I felt like that was God saying, "See, I am showing you this. I am in control of every situation and I'm sovereign and I am with you." What a huge, crazy thing that God would do that for us, that He wants to be our help.
Lindsay: Yes. I mean, I don't actually know if I want everyone to know this... it's a little embarrassing...
JFH (Jen): Well, it's going on the Internet! *laugh*
Lindsay: Yeah... well, I have this very impressive collection of hoodies? (Jen: Oh okay!) I kind of collect hoodies. It's a little embarrassing. I think I have, like, thirty.
JFH (Jen): Why is that embarrassing? You live in Chicago!
Lindsay: *laugh* See? Okay, thank you, Jen, that's true. I do live in Chicago. I actually use my hoodies all the time, but I do have like a million of them. I don't know why. I think it's because I grew up in Florida, and I never really wore hoodies, but they always looked so warm and snuggly and... you know what I mean? They just looked awesome and I was like, "Someday I'm gonna wear hoodies!" I don't know why, that's totally lame. But as soon as I got up to Chicago I was like, "Yes, bring them on." So I still buy them at random concerts or wherever I go. I have a Sanctus Real hoodie, for example, from the fall. And a Casting Crowns hoodie! I guess I need to get an Afters hoodie.
JFH (Jen): Oh yeah, for sure! So, pullover or zip up?
Lindsay: Um, well both. I have both. Preferably pullover. But I have lots of zip ups too. *laugh* I can't believe I'm telling you this.
JFH (Jen): Hey, I love hoodies. As soon as the weather drops to anything in the 60s or 70s or whatever, I'm getting my hoodies out. Sometimes I wear them indoors, because my office is so cold! *laugh* I get it.
Lindsay: Exactly! They're so useful. The hoodie is under-utilized. My favorite article of clothing.
JFH (Jen): So what's your favorite hoodie in your collection?
Lindsay: Oooooooh.... my favorite hoodie is probably one that I got in Israel. It just says Israel on it, and I love it. It's blue. Yeah. It's very comfortable. As are all hoodies.
Lindsay McCaul's debut solo album If It Leads Me Back is available now!