Sara Groves: An Interview with a Fighter
By Jennifer E. Jones
I waited patiently in the green room of Kempsville Presbyterian Church. The star performer for that night’s concert was late, but honestly I hadn’t really noticed. As I sat on the couch in the plush room, my mind was somewhere else.
I was thinking about my mounting schoolwork and the difficulties my family was going through. I was still nursing wounds from a few broken relationships, both professionally and personally, and a pesky knack for perfectionism had me particularly feeling less than adequate that day. Needless to say I wasn’t thinking much about the interview.
I did not recognize her at first. Sara Groves looks nothing like her pictures. Her auburn, black-streaked hair was casually pulled into a ponytail, and her bulky sweater had suede patches on the elbows. She looked like one of those unassumingly brilliant girls in my college English Literature classes -- which isn’t far off.
She rushed in, apologetic for getting caught up in a conversation about home schooling. I did not mind. Seeing her was an instant reminder that I was in the presence of one of the most talented singer/songwriters in the Christian industry. Her albums tell stories about her relationships with her family and with God. Both go up and down but, through it all, she finds a sense of purpose that she conveys through sweet lyrics and gentle strides on the piano. Nobody does it like Sara Groves, and I felt a little better just being in the same room with her.
Right away, I was curious about her a trip back to her alma mater, Evangel University, where she received the Distinguished Outstanding Young Alumnus Award and performed for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
“It was a great honor,” she said, scooping her legs up onto the couch. “Evangel for me was a great place to integrate my faith and learning. That was a launching point for what I’m doing now. It was great to go back and say thank you.”
A pat on the back from her university is just one of many kudos Groves has humbly accepted over the last year. Her most recent album, The Other Side of Something, topped many ‘Best of’ lists in 2004, including CBN.com, Christian Music Today, and CCM Magazine. Everyone seemed to love its blend of the simple and the divine. Yet, when this year’s Dove Award nominations came out, her name was noticably missing.
“I’m very comfortable in my own skin,” she explained. “I feel like I know what I’m supposed to be doing. That may not be the most commercially successful thing, and that’s okay.”
Clearly, Groves sings to the beat of her own drum, seemingly unaware of what else is going on in the industry. During the recent pop worship trend, she said she was never able to write the typical, run-of-the-mill praise song like “Open the Eyes of My Heart”. “I just haven’t felt that release,” she said. “I prayed, ‘Lord why won’t You let me write worship music?' And He keeps telling me, ‘Let me define normal for your life.’”
It was the first nugget of truth I received that afternoon, which wasn’t surprising considering who I was talking to. Sara Groves wrote the inspirational, analogical song, “The Boxer”, for her latest album that compares the Christian life to a boxing match. “When you said this was a fight / You weren’t kidding,” Groves sings softly over a deep bass line. I had listened to it more than once that day, hoping that the rhythms and the words would sink in.
“The Boxer” was the result of a collaboration with producer and musical genius, Charlie Peacock, but the spiritual road that led to the song's completion was more complex.
“In 2002, Troy (husband and manager) and I hit a wall,” she said. “We decided to clear the calendar and come off the road in 2003. I was pregnant with our second son and exhausted. But by the time I realized I needed some room, we still had another eight months of bookings. So that year was [all about] getting enough energy for what was just ahead.
“My heart wasn’t in it. I figured out how to just push play, go through a concert, and still come across as sincere. There are times in your life when you have to do that, and ‘The Boxer’ came out of that.”
Groves was also in a faith struggle at that time. The pressure of expectations and chaotic schedules coupled with raising a family on the road had her whispering to the Lord what would end up being a song a year later, “When you said this was a fight, you weren’t kidding.”
She knew she had something special and sought the help of Peacock. In the studio, he let the band jam for 60 minutes while Groves sang whatever came to mind. “What would I say if I were in this position,” she recalled. “I used to know how to bob and weave and get out of the way. Now these punches are landing on me. I don’t have any energy. You better throw in that towel. I’m getting tired out here.”
Peacock took the smooth, jazzy dreamworld that the band composed with Groves airy vocals and cut 60 minutes down to five. “He created such an emotional landscape,” she said.
You can hear it in the song -- the taunts of the opponent; the feeling of the room beginning to spin; the organ reeling with every blow. And I could see it in my life -- the jabs of the enemy, saying I couldn’t make it.
Perhaps I had lost my fight. But I was snapped back into reality when she said, “When you go to the corner and you’re beat up, everyone has that person [who] whispers, ‘Do you know who you are? Do you know what’s God’s given you to do? I think you’re forgetting… Greater is He that is in you.’”
Those words rang through my head. In a moment, I was absent from that plush green room with the singer/songwriter and found myself in the corner, arms resting on the ropes, getting a pep talk from my coach. I was suddenly seeing what I really knew all along.
And Groves understood. She had been there before. “I’ve lived that. [I’ve said] ‘Really Lord, I’m done… I’m tired of the battle between good and evil. I think I’m going to just go live now. Thank you.’ And then I go back to that corner and realize that I can’t do that. I have to go back in there and fight.”
Wisdom from a true contender. I soaked up every word from this mentor unaware and later that afternoon wandered out of the church with a focused mind. I was ready. It could be done. All I had to do was “bob and weave” and remember her singing, “I can’t just know it I’ve got to feel it / And I can’t just feel it, I’ve got to believe it / And I can’t just believe it, I’ve go to live it.”
Got comments? Jennifer E. Jones appreciates your feedback.
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