In 2003, Jennifer Knapp left her career as a successful Christian artist and didn't perform for 7 years. Now Knapp has rekindled her music career identifying herself as a gay person of faith. She has released a folk album called "Letting Go," and she'll perform in Dayton next weekend. WYSO's Juliet Fromholt spoke with Knapp about her return to music.
Juliet Fromholt: In talking about the creative process and transition from being a faith-based musician and really excelling in the Christian music market, when you started writing again, did you change the way you were writing songs at all or was basically the same process?
Jennifer Knapp: In a lot of ways I haven't changed the way that I write at all. I think the irony of it was when you're writing for a genre like Christian music, I think one of the things that we forget, and I think even the Christian music community forgets, it's really the only genre of music that holds its category solely based on its lyrical content. And what I mean by that is when you start to write a song, you may be writing about a normal everyday occurrence but the goal at some point is to put in some kind of thought about the Christian experience that has to be very specific either making some kind of commentary on God or on church. Not that those things aren't valuable, but for me what was really frustrating the first time through is that I had to learn to change my writing into that. Every time I sat down to write something, I kind of had to begin with the end in mind, always thinking about how this was going to come out the other end sounding like a Christian song. That something I found ultimately a little bit limiting. I think now even if I want to engage some kind of spiritual concept, I feel like I have the freedom to do that. So the process I think in terms of laying off and then coming back is that I actually had to unlearn some of that, unlearn some of this expectation that when I got into a song that it had to go someplace theologically or go someplace spiritually.
JF: Do you think that spending time in Australia, in an unfamiliar place, really taking yourself out of the element of familiarity, really helped that learning process?
JK: Yeah, absolutely and not just culturally speaking. When I moved, it was a move in so many different ways. I was creating new friends every day. Most of my friends had no idea who I was or what I did as a career. In fact most of them thought I was a professional Playstation 3 player. When you kind of wipe the slate clean, it really made me go through this process of having to question who I was and who I wanted to be. I mean spiritually that happened. The part I didn't expect as much was culturally, you know - what did it mean to be an American, and what does it mean for me to now be an Australian? And what do I identify with about Australia that makes it a second home for me. I think giving ourselves new experiences to live through and work through really create a lot of potential opportunities to learn not just things about ourselves but about other people and how other people do things and bring a perspective to the way that we live.
JF: When you're going to be here in Dayton, I know that you're doing two things: a show at Canal Street Tavern and an event that's part of a series that you're doing called Inside Out Faith. Was this something that when you decided to go back out on the road you said right from the start that you wanted to be a part of your tour experience, this outreach through music and storytelling? Or was it something that once you got more comfortable with being back out on the road you decided to do?
JK: Absolutely in no way, shape or form did I imagine myself doing. The fact that I had to come out of the closet on a public level and claim my sexuality was more of a consequence of integrity that I felt like I had to do with the community that I felt like I've had and the people who've listened long term to my music and understanding that there were people inside that community, especially inside of the concept of Christian-based faith that sometimes have the perspective that homosexuality or LGBTs aren't necessarily welcome inside the church. I've kind of found that to be both true and untrue on so many different levels. But from my own personal experience, I didn't even know what that meant in terms of the future of my art or how people would take me in a public place. I just knew at a certain point I'm a musician. I'm an artist. I like to create music, and I like to be able to share it and I want to be able to do that. I didn't really fancy my sexuality fitting into it that much, and I didn't want my faith to influence it that. I think I under-appreciated that impact that it would have in terms of the faith community that I had participated with in the past on both levels. You know, why wasn't I creating art for my faith anymore and how could I consider myself a person of faith by being an LGBT. I think that's definitely evolved, and the people who've traveled with me on this journey over the years have identified with that experience. Inside that community are people who are people of faith who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered who have found a sense of community at a certain point in a song, and they've asked me to speak about that experience. I kind of put it off for a long time. I didn't really know what my own experience was to be able to talk about it adequately, but you know a year or so into it, kind of being able to get my bearings and reassess what my own faith experience has been and how the church community responds to people like me who are of same-sex orientation has really impacted me mostly just because of people sharing their stories with me out on the road. For me it's just been a real honor and a privilege that people keep asking me to tell my story, that it's evolved to the place it is today.
Jennifer Knapp will perform on Sunday, October 9th at Canal Street Tavern. Earlier that day she'll appear at Christ Episcopal Church in Dayton as part of her Inside Out Faith series.