‘Influences’ Part 3: Deep-Sea Creatures

You might be surprised to learn that this delightful creature you see above has a quality I want to emulate. No, it’s not the jagged teeth (this fish obviously didn’t spend the most self-conscious of its teenage years wearing braces and get nicknamed ‘Metallica’ by its own mother) nor is it the pink mohawk, but rather, its ability to go deep without being crushed.

Life, like an over-eager swimming coach, seems to like pushing people in the deep end. My swimming coach pushed me in when I was about nine, so I couldn’t say the feeling was unfamiliar when Life did the same thing a few years later.

And there were times, to be sure, that I felt like I was going to be crushed by the pressure of difficulty, but, as speakers at youth camps are wont to point out, we have internal pressure that opposes the external pressure. When circumstances weigh down like the Atlantic Ocean on your back, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4b)

Ha! I am that deep-sea fish.

I love it when songwriters dare to go deep, to take the pressure, to wrestle with God like Jacob (Genesis 32) and come away with a limp but a new light in their eye (no, not at all like the light in the fish’s eye; stop getting distracted), when they dare to pray a prayer like ‘take my world apart if it’ll teach me to love you, God’.

I look beyond the empty cross, forgetting what my life has cost,
so wipe away the crimson stains, and dull the nails that still remain,
so steal my heart and take the pain, take the selfish, take the weak,
and all the things I cannot hide, take the beauty, take my tears,
this sin-soaked heart, make it yours…
take my world apart, take my world apart

(Worlds Apart by Jars of Clay)

Or when they dare to admit just how filthy are our rags of righteousness before God:

I am a whore I do confess
But I put you on just like a wedding dress
and I run down the aisle and I run down the aisle
I’m a prodigal with no way home but I put you on just like a ring of gold
and I run down the aisle to you

(Wedding Dress by Derek Webb)

It’s not that I have a penchant for sad music. I have a theory that when Jesus said he was giving us ‘life in abundance’ he was saying we’d have the lowest of lows and the highest of highs, a good heaped serving of life, pressed down, shaken together, running over. I want to write songs like the ones above, unabashedly honest about our own sin, our inability to save ourselves, our undeniable suffering, but laced with redemption in the midst of pain, light greater than the darkness, hope in the midst of suffering, joy in the midst of mourning, salvation despite our helplessness. It’s just that only when I admit how low I’ve been do I see the miracle of how high I’ve been lifted.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morningand dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

(Psalm 139:7-12)

C.S. Lewis said: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” I don’t want to make mud pies or dip my toes in the little frothy waves, I want to go deep (Metaphorically, you understand; I have nightmares about sharks even here in Cambridge, miles from the sea) so I can say something deep. Or maybe just ‘look at all these pretty jellyfish. I hope they don’t get me.’

This is the third in a series. Read the others:
‘Influences’ Part 2: Jesus
‘Influences’ Part 1: The Music Of My Childhood

‘Young And Free’ EP — Press Release

Taryn Leia Prescott’s second release ‘Young And Free’ is a refreshing breeze on a warm July afternoon. Contagious melodies, tightly-crafted rhyming couplets and some pleasingly quirky instrumentation all combine with delightful effect in this catchy summer EP.

If previous release ‘Songs of the Bride’ was a meditation on marriage, then these five songs take the exploration of those themes of love and longing in a fresh direction. Still drawing inspiration from the twists and turns of her relationship with teenage-sweetheart and now-husband Peter, Taryn here casts a nostalgic eye back to the years before marriage, and the resulting collection of songs is an unabashedly enjoyable tribute to young love.

Opening track ‘I Am Here’ claims that “there have been days when my tale seemed a lazy man’s poem without rhythm or rhyme”, but the songs presented here are far from committing the crime of poetic laxity. Rather, the carefully crafted lyrics reward repeated listening and reveal an endearingly whimsical set of images. Take for example the confession in ‘All Your Time For Me’ that singing “love songs in the rain//… fills the ocean in my soul//with the downpour in my brain”.

But neither can Taryn be accused of being more a writer of poems than a real musician. She clearly has a gift for writing a memorable tune but also manages to avoid the pitfall of same-ishness that the songs of so many aspiring artists fall into. From the opening track’s doo-wop backing chorus to the melancholic violins which close the EP, there is a wide and wonderful variety of influences here on display.

The ‘Young and Free’ EP is being released on the 31st July, in celebration of the first anniversary of Taryn’s marriage. It will be available for free download from her official website www.tarynleiaprescott.com, together with all of her other recordings. Why such generosity? Because, as Taryn muses on her blog, “the best things in life are free” — or better, she suggests, “the best things in life are gifts”.

Track List:
1. I Am Here
2. Thought Train
3. Waiting Is What I Do
4. All Your Time For Me
5. Meant To Be

Release Date: 31st July 2011

‘Influences’ Part 2: Jesus

“To the ones that think they heard
I did use the “J” word
Cause I ain’t too soft to say it
Even if DJ’s don’t play it…”

Ohhhh yeah.

DC Talk managed to combine radical, gospel-centred, Jesus-loving Christianity with all the ‘coolest’ elements of music of their time (nota bene, if you will, the smooth blues notes the synth is pounding out in the intro, the gritty distortion-guitar riff, the tongue-twizzling rap) in a way that reassures me even now, in times of doubt, that Christian music can be Very Cool.

My theory: if you do it right, singing about Jesus is The Winning Formula. If you want to be the cool, rebellious rocker/rapper type, nothing’s going to get people’s goat more than going on and on about Jesus. Observe the “I don’t care” attitude in this song:

“What will people think
When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak
What will people do when they find that it’s true
I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak
There ain’t no disguising the truth

(Jesus Freak by DC Talk)

If you’re the soulful, heart-on-sleeve type, some of the Old Testament prophets mastered that genre long before Chris Martin. Believe it or not, this song – abounding in guitar-playing prowess, gorgeous harmonies and lyrics that make your heart swell – is straight out of the Bible. Yes, indeed. The reading for today is Micah 7.

“How miserable I am
I feel like a fruitpicker who arrived here after the harvest

There’s nothing here at all
There’s nothing at all here that could placate my hunger”

(Equally Skilled by Jon Foreman)

If you’re making ‘fun’ music, there’s no better joy-drug than knowing you’re saved by grace – now that’s something worth jumping up and down about.

“Give me love, give me liberty, disco
The place everybody in the family’s found
On that day we will all be happy people
When love, liberty, disco’s in town”

(Love Liberty Disco by the Newsboys)

I mentioned earlier that it’s important to get the balance right. In my eagerness to invite people who listen to my music into relationship with God, I need to be a real person, not someone who puts up a facade to make Christianity look good, because Jesus saves real people. Real broken people. That’s why, in ‘Songs of the Bride’, I express both joyful worship and heartfelt anguish, and in ‘Young and Free’ (the 5-song EP of love songs for my beloved) I don’t mention Jesus explicitly, but express, rather, a worldview shaped by my faith.

Suggestion 1: The words ‘Christian’ and ‘cool’ really shouldn’t even be in the same sentence.

Suggestion 2: There’s nothing cooler, really, than being a Christian.

Both are true. Go figure.

“Holding these truths in tension I stand
Songs on my tongue, guitar in my hand…”

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This is the third in a series. Read the others:
‘Influences’ Part 3: Deep Sea Creatures
‘Influences’ Part 1: The Music Of My Childhood

Incessant Intensive Practice Day

One of these days, I just might drive my neighbours crazy.

I’m recording another EP, “Young and Free”, at the Hub this Thursday and Friday, which means that today is yet another Incessant Intensive Practice day for me. I wonder how many of the cacaphonic trills and off-tune flourishes of songs in need of more practice are audible through this thin floor. I wonder if they think those rich notes caused by me striking the piano keys with my forehead (an important part of a good practice session) are a creative take on a Dracula theme song or Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Next week, as it happens, we’re also getting a saxophone. We thought the neighbours would enjoy it, you know.

So, since I really should get back to practicing, I’ll just leave you with a sneak peek of the lyrics I’ll be taking into the studio with me, complete with ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ and even ‘toot-toots’ where I’ll be singing them! Enjoy.

‘Young and Free’ Lyrics
All Your Time For Me
Thought Train
Waiting Is What I Do
Meant To Be
I Am Here