The eclectic Nashville singer-songwriter tells us how God uses various stories all around her to power the music she shares.
Though she dabbles in a variety of songwriting and musical styles, Katy Kinard would tell you that at her core, she's a storytelling singer-songwriter. The stories she tells come in various genres and flavors, and they run the gamut, from her own radical testimony to the lessons she's learned as a caregiver, to the character of God she notices from nature.
Katy is always finding inspiration in the world around her--particularly when taking road trips, as it turns out--and this Nashville-based artist released her latest collection of stories and thoughts on July 8. Titled God of Fireflies, the project is as diverse musically as it is thematically, with the common thread holding everything together being the goodness of God.
In the midst of touring, I was able to get to know Katy a bit more by tossing her some questions about her background, her songwriting process, and Mother Teresa.
Katy, tell us about you. You live in Nashville. From there originally? Married? Kids? Hobbies? Weird fact?
I originally moved to Nashville from Woodland Park, Colorado... to be a country music star! I grew up in Arlington, Texas, and we moved to Colorado when I was 12. As for hobbies, I would say boating, gardening, baking and cooking, playing volleyball. On that same note, one of my favorite things to do--AND a weird fact--is something my sister and I do together every year. She'll save up recordings that remind her of past memories we've had, save snippets of scenes that remind her of trips we've been on, or just things she can't wait for me to see (the tiniest houses ever built, etc.) and when I see her twice a year, we literally bunk up in her room and marathon-watch all of these things with pizza and cookies, and then I fly back to Nashville.
How'd you get started in music? Raised in a musical home? When was the moment you knew God had called you to this?
I had no idea Christian music existed until Nashville--besides Amy Grant and one Ray Boltz tape. I thought the 200-plus album CCM collection my friend showed me was scary, like some sort of cult. Then I heard artists like Nichole Nordeman and Jennifer Knapp and Chris Rice on the radio and suddenly loved this newly discovered genre and felt called to be a part. My passion at that time was Jesus anyway; He turned my life around and my mind was far from human romance then, so I was writing more songs about Jesus than anything else.
Most people can still hear a country/folk influence in some of my songs. The focus on lyrics, melody, and a clear story from '90s country has shaped that emphasis in my writing for sure.
I started writing songs in sixth grade, but I didn't grow up in a musical home. No one else was in any way involved in music, but my mom had studied piano performance in school, and these days she plays piano at her church and my dad is the song leader--which is all around adorable.
What's your secret identity, and how does the Lord use it to make you a better singer/songwriter/artist?
I've been an in-home caregiver for late-life care for 14 years now! It's actually an equal passion of mine. I really love my job. Believe me, though, it can be either the best job in the world or the most challenging and frustrating. But it's very rewarding. I also realize being a paid caregiver and going home to my other life is very different from people who are family caregivers and do not get paid. Those are the real heroes. God has taught me a lot about perspective and compassion, and also how to better handle conflicts and try to remember that I am the servant. Because I care about my own comfort way too much sometimes. Most of my songs are sermons to myself, and I'd be way better off if I would remember to live by them!
Your new project is God of Fireflies. It's your fourth album, although people are still discovering you. How have you grown as an artist since your first project?
I used to be more hasty about finishing songs and being done with them. Now I pretty much obsess over every line and word, making sure no line or word is a "throw-away." My favorite songs of mine are always the ones with unique perspectives that I've never heard put into songs, and I would say about half the songs on each album of mine fits that description.
So although I feel I've grown as an artist, I can still look to some of my older songs and be amazed at the perspective and some of the analogies. Is that vain? I'd like to think it's objective, though, because I just don't feel like I came up with them on my own.
On the album, you have a song called "Be Like You," which is dedicated to Mother Teresa. What has her story meant to you personally?
Actually, I'd say it's dedicated to mothers, and maybe specifically stay-at-home moms. It's a true story about a conversation between Mother Teresa and a mom visiting from the U.S. She just gives a profound reply to a lady who was basically gushing at how wonderful Mother Teresa's life was, and how she could never be like her.
But I will say, I read that book that contains Mother Teresa's personal letter--it reads like a diary--and although she never wanted those to be seen, I loved her honest expression of faith vs. doubt vs. perseverance. She wrestled a great deal inwardly, and she didn't often feel loved by God. But she lived out one of my favorite verses. I usually preface MIcah 6:8 with: "(Even in strong doubt) 'What does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" So you just keep moving, keep serving, keep walking with the Lord.
The title track of the album, "God of Fireflies," is all about God's little reminders of His loving creativity. Was there a day or a moment that inspired this song?
Yes, I was just thinking one day about the purpose of some of these things in creation. Most have a very clear purpose, while other things in creation could simply be for our enjoyment and amusement. I like to think of that. I understand that even in the case of "helicopter leaves," for instance, they are seeds that travel and plant themselves to make more maple trees, but God didn't have to create them to spin like helicopters and be so much fun for children! I just love things like this. I enjoy the simple and whimsical things in life.
Stylistically, you move between a classic piano-driven, contemporary sound, to even into a KT Tunstall sort of country-tinged sound. Talk about what you're going for, musically speaking, as an artist.
I have a lot of influences and struggle with choosing songs that are cohesive for my albums, probably because I hate throwing songs out that don't fit but have a great message/perspective. In this day and age where people love all genres and have dozens of stylistically-varied songs in their phones, I guess I don't feel so bad offering variety--especially in concert.
I went to go see one of my favorite artists one time and was so bored, because even though I love deep, introspective lyrics and they were all my favorite songs, it doesn't make a great concert to sit through two hours of minor-key deep thoughts and then leave. It's heavy. But that's my favorite style to write. So I like to mix up the minor-key heavy songs with whimsical folk, lighthearted pop, or like one of my albums, a touch of Latin.
You have a lot of great influences listed. Have you met or worked with any of these fine folks over there in Nashville?
I would love to collaborate with the artists I've mentioned, but we don't travel in any similar circles and I've only met them as a fan. I work very part-time at WAY-FM and so I've met many CCM artists over the years at the station and working various radio events.
Bob Hartman from Petra brought me out to play at his church, watched the first time I ever led worship and he was so encouraging, insisting that I make this my niche, although I also enjoy modern worship. I have taken his advice and felt like God has moved so much through the hymns and their powerful stories, and I'm grateful for his direction and what he saw God doing in that first service. Billy Smiley from Whiteheart produced my Lullaby Hymns album and did an incredible job.
Kenny Davis produced this last album. One of his accolades is being a drummer and producer/songwriter for The Rhett Walker Band, and I couldn't be happier with his creativity and genius on "God of Fireflies." An up-and-coming artist Becca Bradley played cello for one of the songs, and my best friend sang backup vocals. She's a solo artist and part of the duo Chasing Summer. I couldn't be happier with those who have helped make this vision come to life.
What is your process when it comes to songwriting? What are some tips you've picked up over the years?
In Nashville and L.A. and anywhere there's a booming music industry, serious musicians co-write. I do not, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I know I should. I've tried, but I just enjoy the process on my own, and I write almost everything when I'm on road trips or driving to and from work. Don't worry, I'm not holding a guitar and a notebook.
The words and the melody come at the same time, but I'm a slow songwriter. I might write one line in one week and then decide to change it the next week. The reason I love writing when I drive, instead of sitting at a desk in an office, is because of the fluidity of trees and cars going by, the changing of weather and nature all around. It's inspiring to me and invokes creativity. I later put piano or guitar to the song. Most musicians write with an instrument; I just never have.
Now that God of Fireflies is out, how can people be praying for you?
People can be praying that these songs get out there. Not just me going to different cities here and there, but digitally, streaming or otherwise, that the songs will get out there to the people that need them the most. I know some of my songs are just lighthearted and fun, but the ones that could seriously help shape perspective and hope... those are the songs I pray God will send out into the world like little fireflies, lighting up someone's world and putting the wonder back in his/her life.
I know what my favorite songs from my favorite artists have done for me in times of very real doubt or hurt and like the prayer of Jabez, I want God to enlarge the territory of these songs' influence. I would love prayer for this.
Anything else you'd like to add?
If anyone struggles with doubt and has the time to read a long testimony, I share my story of how I came to faith--a 180-degree turn from being a troubled teen to being the poster-child Christian on fire for God, to having serious doubts, to becoming nearly atheistic, and my journey back to God. It takes patience to read, but sometimes the best thing you can discover is that someone else has been where you've been and that there's hope on the other side.
Marcus Hathcock is the called Live With Marcus at CCM Magazine. He is a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader from Boise. He is a singer and songwriter and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.