Heartfelt is the word to describe Christa Wells’ music. Wells’s music in its entirety captures the crux of any emotion whether it is joy, pain, grief, sadness, doubt, hope or love. The singer who admits her first forte to be songwriting has written for/with the some of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music industry including Natalie Grant (Held) and Plumb (Need You Now, How Many Times). She garnered more recognition when she bagged the Songwriter of the Year at the 2006 GMA Dove Awards for her effort on the song Held; a heartbreaking and inspirational song about the loss of a baby boy performed by recording artist Natalie Grant.
Wells has since established herself not just as a lyricist but also a singer by releasing two EPs and two full-length albums – the most recent album Feed Your Soul released this year. ‘Feed Your Soul’ gives more insight into Wells as an artist while staying true to her honest heartfelt lyrics.
In this interview with the mother of five, singer, songwriter she shares some of her songwriting patterns, details on her new album, the inspiration behind some of her work and what she is presently jamming to on her music player.
You are an incredible songwriter. What is your songwriting formula?
Thank you. I really don’t have a formula and have had songs come in all sorts of ways. But I do write on piano and tend to want my fingers on the keys before too long once an idea or lyric has begun. More often than not, some portion of the lyric is born first, but I never write a complete lyric apart from melody. Words get the thing in motion, but with each line, melody, rhythm and lyric shape and change each other.
When do you write the most? Night? Day? In the middle of cooking?
I would love to write more in the middle of the day. My dream would be to start at9am and write til mid-afternoon several days a week. But I have kids who are still at home during the day, so most often, I have to write at night or during windows of daylight when they have activities away from home. Only once have I written while cooking and that was when the start of “A Thousand Things” came to me while stirring soup. “On the Mountain” also began while I was driving home from a morning pilates class.
You co-wrote Plumb’s hit song ‘Need You Now (How Many Times)’. How was the experience like and did you anticipate how impactful it would end up being?
I had no idea whatsoever that this particular song would be so impactful. Mainly because I didn’t know Plumb would end up recording it herself. She has an amazing ability to communicate the emotion of a song. I’d written with both Tiffany and Luke a number of times before, but we’d never written as a trio. It was great, because Luke drove the chording and arrangement, Tiffany is so fast with melody and lyrical ideas, and I love to focus on words and phrasing. To see the song become something so much greater than the sum of its parts, though, is a complete gift.
‘This This Is Not Going To Break You” is such a powerful song and by the time it ends one feels a sense of serenity and peace. What inspired the song?
I had the opportunity to meet and get to know a young girl named Bonnie Kate Pourciau last year. She’d been on the return leg of a road trip with a girlfriend, heading home to Baton Rouge from the Pacific Northwest, when they stopped overnight in Aurora, Colorado. They ended up in the movie theater where a gunman, James Holmes, killed 12 people and injured 70 others. Bonnie Kate was one of the 70, shot in the knee. Her friends reached out to me to let me know how meaningful “A Thousand Things” had been to her family during that time. The more I saw of her courageous and graceful spirit, the more I knew I wanted to write a song for her on this album. So this song is for Bonnie Kate. But it’s also for the rest of us.
Have people walked up to you to tell you how your music has helped them through a situation?
I’ve been so grateful to have had countless people share their stories with me and tell me how they connected to one of my songs. I can’t tell you how encouraging it is, how much it means every time. Recently, I performed “How Emptiness Sings” for a large group and spoke with a man afterward who told me that he’d experienced sexual abuse as a child and was now part of a support group for men who’d been through that trauma. He said the song – which opens with “Brother, he’s suffered like a tree taken down, wept as he witnessed his dreams carved out, and how can a man just keep walking around with his heart full of holes,” – spoke so much to him that he was taking it to his group to share with the others.
Which song on ‘Feed Your Soul’ was the most challenging to record?
Well, instrumentally, the guys I worked with at Zodlounge make everything look easy, so I don’t know how they would answer regarding production. For me, vocally? I sort of remember “This Thing is Not Going to Break You” taking me longer than I expected, and I recall not feeling sure that I was nailing it. I felt the same way about “Come Close Now.” Maybe it’s because I believed in the songs themselves so much and wanted so badly to be able to communicate them well. I wasn’t sure my voice was right or enough for them. So the fact that those two songs in particular have connected so well with people is something I’m especially happy about.
Why “Feed Your Soul?” Why choose that as the album title?
Honestly, I was really reluctant to name the album that, because though I love that song, it wasn’t my absolute favorite nor the “single” on the album. But I wanted an intriguing title and something that really embodied the whole project and connected all the themes. As I listened through all the tracks again one day, I realized that I’d actually used the line “feed your soul” or “feed my soul” in three different songs without realizing it. And it hit me that it all comes down to that. It’s what we need, it’s the answer to everything, it’s what we tend to neglect. We do it through “truth and silence” and in community, loving and being loved. And those are the things I was writing about.
Your musical style is distinctive, do you ever get or feel pressurized to switch things up or alter your sound?
I haven’t been pressured, but honestly, I’ve been so on my own with my recorded work. My producers at Zodlounge definitely give input and shape the sound with their own choices as they play their instruments and build the tracks. I’ve let them run with that because I love what they come up with. But I haven’t had a label or a “team” saying, “Hey, why don’t you take this different direction and see what happens.” I’d actually welcome that because I know my strength is first in writing. I only started performing really in 2009, and it took me a while to “find my voice.”
What are you currently listening to?
I listen to a little bit of everything, really. My playlists are pretty varied and eclectic. But some recent favorites are Andrew Belle’s Black Bear album, Sanders Bohlke’s Ghost Boy album, Andy Gullahorn’s Beyond the Frame, and Imagine Dragons. I’m a big fan of female singer-songwriters, but lately, it’s been these guys! And favorite songs from these albums? I’ll choose Andrew’s “Black Bear,” Sanders “Long Year,” Andy’s “I Will,” and Imagine Dragon’s “Demons” or “Bleeding Out.”
Christa Wells new album Feed Your Soul now in stores nationwide.