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Sarah Kelly on 'Living Hallelujah'

By Jennifer E. Jones
Associate Producer The wild abandon with which Sarah Kelly sings her worship songs may surprise you. It certainly surprised her. Just a few years ago she was content to play worship music and teach young people how to write their own songs. Now as Gotee Records' new golden child, Kelly is wowing critics with her raspy, passionate vocals. I spoke with the self-confessed "rock artist who loves to worship" about Grammys, marriage, and what it means to be a "living hallelujah."

JENNIFER: So you guys are in the studio?

SARAH: We're recording the next album right now. It's refreshing to get back in there. The material, I think, is so strong. At least I feel it is. I guess every artist thinks that.

JENNIFER: But that's good. Sometimes when you're in the middle of the process you get writer's block, and it's not flowing.

SARAH: No, it's definitely flowing. It's very classic rock-ish. You know my voice has that rasp to it. So it can go in that direction. We're having fun pushing the limits.

JENNIFER: What was it like working with tobyMac on this album? Did he work with you on the first?

SARAH: He wasn't involved on the first one. That album was done as an indie album and sold out of my trunk so that my church wouldn't have to pay me. That was the whole reason for Take Me Away. I sold a lot out of my trunk going from venue to venue and working with worship teams. Toby did help me get a good mix on it and some good art work. But he told me, 'I don't want to mess it up. I want to keep it just as it is.' So that was a big compliment.

JENNIFER: Yeah, especially coming from him.

SARAH: He's one of the true artists that we have in this industry. The man is creating at all times. If you go into the studio, he's not just recording -- he's designing his t-shirts, writing songs, thinking about his label. He's just always creating. I have so much respect for that guy.

JENNIFER: You were on tour for most of last year.

SARAH: The first part of last year we weren't touring at all but then, after that, it got nuts. It's been a lot of shows in a short amount of time. I was out on tour with Jars of Clay and Paul Colman Trio, and now I'm out with Bebo Norman. I'm looking to have a couple of heavy touring years coming up. I love my band. Me and my husband got this system going down. We invest in seeing each other quite a bit.

JENNIFER: Do you have to make a conscious effort to work on your marriage as well as your tour and your album?

SARAH: Absolutely. We've been married for seven years, and when we got married, I'd never held a mic in my hand. Needless to say, this guy didn't know what he was getting into. It's a day by day thing. He is such an inspiration, and I respect him so much. I wish every girl could have someone like him because he makes you feel so beautiful and so treasured. Honestly, there's been a couple times when I thought to myself, is this really what I want to do with my life. He is the one who keeps it going when I can't see straight. God gave me the right husband to accomplish this.

JENNIFER: I was reading some of the things that happened to you last year: most albums sold by a debut artist off of Gotee Records; making everybody's top ten list for 2004, and now a Grammy nomination. How excited were you to hear about that?

SARAH: Toby called me and said, 'Congratulations', and I said, 'Thanks Toby' [because] I heard that Worship Leader magazine nominated me as one of the top new worship leaders of 2004. That was so cool to me, and I thought that was what he was talking about. But he said, 'No, honey, I'm talking about the Grammy nomination.' This is exactly my response: 'Ha ha, Toby! Give me a couple of years on that one. You must have got one though.' He says, 'Yes but you're up for the same one.' About ten minutes later I figured out he's not joking. At that point I think I lost all feeling in my hands and feet. It's such an honor to be recognized by your peers. It's about the biggest compliment a musician can ever get.

JENNIFER: Well, the album certainly deserves it.

SARAH: That means so much. The whole focus of the album is Acts 16:25 that says at about midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God. And [when writing this album] I was in the middle of some hard times that I didn't understand. I tried to use Paul and Silas as a role model to worship through it and not just avoid it. Those songs were my sanity.

JENNIFER: One of the songs that is my favorite is "Living Hallelujah." What exactly is that, and how does someone live hallelujah?

SARAH: It's wanting every attitude, every action, every motive, everything about me to be glorifying to God. I don't want to be so into the music that I forget to live it. I want the way I'm living my life, the way I treat my husband -- I want it to be living hallelujah. I think that is what worshipping in spirit and in truth is. Truth is what you really are. Are we really living what we're saying?

JENNIFER: I was in chapel today and someone mentioned that verse. I thought, half the people here, including myself, don't really know what that means.

SARAH: The truth is my favorite. That's what I feel my role is -- to be brutually, uncomfortably honest. My story isn't one that you would pin up on your prize Christian storyboard. It has very sad, unfair, wrong moments but I'm worshipping through them.

JENNIFER: This is a great message for the youth, isn't it?

SARAH: Yes, it really is. They get it though, especially the college age. They want the truth, and that's why I love that age. That's where I've invested most of my life... I have a lot of college students across America who call me 'Auntie Sarah'. I helped a lot of kids write their first song. My job is to inspire them to be honest before God. That's a real Christian life.


For more information on Sarah Kelly, go to her Web site.

Purchase the Grammy nominated Take Me Away on

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