Have you ever been in the midst of something…a moment in time that is so unique, so, dare I say, magical that you just know, no matter how hard you tried, you’d never be able to replicate it?
Well that is what I experienced this past week in Bentonville Arkansas just off a country dirt road at Haxton Road Studios as I recorded my very first, full-length worship album.
As I write this I am currently sitting in an airport terminal bawling as I reflect with a full heart on the events of this past week.
I’m so moved for so many reasons. Because, the truth is, when I set out on this journey almost two and half years ago, I never dreamed that I’d be where I am now, having just wrapped a week of recording my first album. I guess that’s a testament of the transforming work of Christ, that when a seed is planted and a surrendered heart is conceived, He who begins this work, will, in fact, carry it on to completion[i].
The journey has also been long. From the day I wrote my first worship song to the weeks that followed, where 2 or 3 songs were born per week, I fell more and more in love with each piece of work even more than the last. At the time, the songs were for me; prayers, essentially, and exclusive to my relationship with Christ and the struggles and hurts I was enduring, as well as the recurring theme of letting go and surrendering; the “not my will, but what You will, not my will, but what You will.” And the songs flowed, and the dreams were molded and shaped, and who I am in Christ was chiseled and refined with each new song and each new lesson encapsulated inside that song.
And then came the confirmation, as I began to share these pieces of my heart with friends and family, and the undercurrent of the harmonious theme continued to stir as words were poured into me by friends and family, words such as “anointing” and “called”. It’s quite the humbling moment when you nonchalantly say to a friend, “hey, wanna hear this song I just wrote?” and afterward you look up and that friend is bawling and affirming you with, “I just got chills…Kayla…I can sense the Spirit moving…He is at work in you.”
Then the next step of surrender came as I walked away from the security of being signed and let go of a pop EP that was on the cusp of completion to pursue this calling, followed by more months of writing, and confirmation, and “wow, maybe I should make an album…maybe these songs aren’t just for me.” And the months of planning and facing obstacles and opposition and all of the moments anyone who sets out to do something great faces that makes them want to turn back, but they keep pressing on toward the goal because something deep down inside keeps telling them to forge ahead. And the confirmation continued as I stepped out in faith to share my story and ask the biggest favor I could ask of my friends and family, to take a leap of faith with me and support me, and the overwhelming support I received through launching a kickstarter and at the single release concert.
Then after that intense momentum and the high of all of that confirmation, I settled back into the mundane and retreated back into hiding to prepare for the album through prayer and planning, making rough recordings, charting songs and all of the other things that go into preproduction, all from the quiet place where these songs were originally birthed. And the doubts arose as the enemy tried to creep back in with “did God really say that[ii]?” coupled with my own insecurities of “am I really good enough? Will people even like these songs?”
I’d like to tell you that the couple of weeks leading up to leaving home to set out to a place I’ve never been, to work with people I’ve never even met before were spirit-filled and, I don’t know, magical…but they were not. My closest friends will tell you I was struggling because I felt like I was supposed to feel a certain way but I just felt sort of…numb. Again–more of that opposition from the Enemy.
The Monday before I left I realized that I needed more prayer support now than I probably have needed during this entire process. So I reached out to my friends and just shared the truth about what I was feeling and asked for prayer for a revived spirit.
Because it was a Monday and Mondays are always crazy, never mind it being the Monday before I was heading out of town, there were a few people I just didn’t get to reach out to for prayer support. But that didn’t matter. For “the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words”[iii]
A friend text me the next day to tell me that she had a weird experience the day before. She described it like the scene of Home Alone, where the mom wakes up out of a dead sleep & realizes she’s forgotten her son at home. She said The Spirit stirred her in a similar way & it was as if suddenly she felt an overwhelming need to pray for me.
It’s crazy how the body of Christ works like that. We are all members with one body[iv], like conjoined twins, connected & bearing each other’s burdens. That’s the beauty of the bride of Christ.
10 songs. 5 days.
So I set out to Bentonville AR, waiting to feel whatever it is I felt like I was supposed to feel but resting in the knowledge of the covering blanket of prayers being prayed over me. Although I made sure I was well stocked with books & things to occupy myself with during my flights, one of my sisters in Christ encouraged me to just be quiet before The Lord during my travels. When I found my seat on my first flight I felt an impression from The Lord, not to pray for my travels, or myself, but rather all of my kickstarter supporters & friends back home who were lifting me up simultaneously. I don’t care how spiritual you may think you are, I think if we are all being honest, most of us would struggle to just pray for three or four hours, but that’s exactly what I did & I’m so thankful The Lord impressed that upon my heart. A while back my dad encouraged me to, not just pray for the process, but to pray for those who would hear the songs and be impacted by their message; to intercede for those I’ve never even met before. That reminder rang true as I peered out the airplane window and prayed blessings over those who have gone out on a limb to support and bless me, some of whom I have yet to even meet.
So I arrived in Bentonville Arkansas and stepped out into the sun, and, I have to admit I felt a little bit like a vampire since I’ve spent the past 5 months buried beneath mounds of snow and encased in the winter darkness; my eyes had to adjust to the light & warmth.
Within 15 minutes I was at my destination, about to meet the people I’d be making my first record with. And I’m happy to say I was received with nothing but love & acceptance as the Greenhaw family opened up their home & hearts to me. I was even greeted with a gift bag filled with goodies to get me through the week as I settled into my new living quarters. Then, after a quick meal, we settled into the studio & began the last round of preproduction, taking notes and making the final changes and decisions for the instrumentation and song direction.
What’s interesting about this part of the process is it’s, yet again, another layer of surrendering & letting go as you place your “babies” into the hands of strangers and let them guide the direction, and trust their instincts and judgment calls. At this point in the process every artist has two choices to make:
1.) you stubbornly stick to your guns & don’t allow room for growth & evolution, or
2.) you trust the people you’re working with and open your mind to the way others receive your art and where they could potentially take it beyond where it has already been.
So I relinquished control where control needed to be relinquished and gave away the reigns. One of the very valuable lessons I learned early on as a song-writer was learning which hills to die on. There will be times when you as an artist have to fight for your way because if you don’t, it will distort the vision, and other times where the same would happen if you don’t relinquish control and let someone else make the judgment call because their view of the vision isn’t skewed by your personal bias.
Now, I don’t recommend relinquishing compete control in every situation and with everyone you team up with on a creative project, because that’s just not smart, but this was special, because I wasn’t just at some random recording studio in Arkansas with a bunch of strangers. I firmly believe that God handpicked these people and preordained them to have a huge hand in this process. And what’s more, they understood the vision.
I’m reminded of the recent movie Jobs in the scene where Steve Jobs, played by Ashton Kutcher, blows up at his staff because they created a word processor without fonts. And one could look at that and say, “wow, cool your jets, why are you getting so upset?” Or, you could look at that and clearly say, “No, he was right. They didn’t have his passion, and more importantly, didn’t understand his vision.”
Well I’m so thankful to say that that was far from what I experienced at Haxton Road Studios. My producer, Neil Greenhaw, recording engineer Ryan Ceola, drummer and co-producer Jeremy Weldon of The Jordan Howerton Band, along with all of the other musicians who played on the project put so much thought and care into their roles and contributions. They clearly saw the vision and cared about every single facet of the process. The truth is, I’ve recorded in a lot of studios, from Chicago to Nashville, and I’ve had some good experiences, but this one by far takes the cake. It is an understatement to say that the Greenhaw family put the “hospitality” in “southern hospitality,” because they took care of me and genuinely cared about the project. What’s more, they are just as invested in this album as I am. Neil & his family did everything to make sure I was taken care of this week. From home cooked meals to his constant look in my direction during tracking followed by the question, “are you happy?” to the last night, where he took Jeremy & I out to Ruth’s Chris to celebrate the completion of the album, and prayed over me and my future with this album. Again, you are not going to find another producer anywhere who would do that.
I remember in college in my Recording Technology class we were taught that sound engineers do not comment on the music. They are to do their job and stick to the script and focus on sound and sound alone. So there’s something pretty incredible when you’re comping vocals and your recording engineer turns to you and says, “Kayla…THANK YOU for writing this song.” That tells me that this album is so much bigger than me.
Because the fact of the matter is, anybody can write a good song. Anybody can write the right chord progressions with the cleverest lyrics, a good beat, and a catchy melody. But that wasn’t the goal here. My goal in Prayers & Songs was to make music that changed people. Music that escorts people to the throne of God where all there is left to do is sit and be silent and weep in awe of God’s goodness & majesty. And I know, without a shadow of doubt, we accomplished that this week. Each person who played a part in the process is a Believer & encouraged me in their appreciation for the music. Probably one of the most humbling compliments came from David Ervin, who played B3 & accordion, when he commented on how much he liked my chord choices and progressions and how different they are. Coming from someone who can play as well as he can, directing a comment like that toward me, and I don’t even really consider what I do “playing piano,” was pretty cool.
Another unique part about this week was that trust was another underlying theme. Not only did I entrust this album into the hands of people I had never met before, they trusted ME. In addition to opening their home to me, they asked me to lead worship at their church, Grace Hills Church on Sunday morning! (Which was such an incredible experience in and of itself and really made the week that much more special.) There aren’t words to describe the preordination when a church begins a series on being FOUND and invites their first ever guest worship leader to sing, and asks her to sing one of her original songs, which just so happened to be called…Found. Pastor Brandon Cox even documented the way The Spirit moved in the services that day here.
And again the further confirmation came when a woman and friend of the Greenhaw family felt impressed to pray over me after the services, and there was that word again: “anointed.”
“God has anointed you,” she said, ”may these songs go out into the world and change lives.”
Afterall that is the ultimate goal.
Handel said it best when he said, “I should be sorry if I only entertain them, I wish to make them better.”
And that is my hope; that lives will be changed by this album. Because lives were changed this week. MY life was changed this week.
The moment that really did me in was when I was recording lead vocals on “Gethsemane.” Neil, being the caring producer that he is, paid attention to every detail, and made sure that I was comfortable all week. So that morning, he set up the vocal booth to my liking, complete with dimmed lighting, candles & hot tea. It was the first part of the day and I was really still waking up when we hit record. I began to sing through the song not really feeling much at all, like one would hope or expect, but by the time I got to the bridge I couldn’t even sing because I just lost it.
"Not what I will,
but what You will
Not what I will,
but what You will
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done”
And that is the summation of this whole process; this journey The Lord has taken me on, and really, the adventure of this life. God plants a seed, gives a dream, and then asks for it back, saying, “Do you trust Me?” And so I will continue to commit this album and my future into the hands of my loving Father, because after all, it is the desire of my heart that, no matter what happens with this album, “Thy will be done.”