We had the opportunity recently to speak with Egypt Speaks about her new album Cathedrals. She shares some insight behind the inspiration for the album, what it was like collaborating with her grandmother and Todde Funk, and some of her favorite tracks from the album. Read the exclusive interview here!
Stephanie: Is the term “cathedrals” a metaphor for something?
Egypt: Yea! So I was on tour down in Texas right on the border and I kept seeing all of these huge cathedrals. Giant churches on every corner and each of them were so well crafted and designed that the building itself was beautiful, but they were all empty. I don’t think that there were enough people to fill them but by the look of it you would think that the town was full of worshipers. It wasn’t. It made me think about the Cathedrals that stand empty both figuratively and literally. I feel like a lot of the times the church builds these grand ideas, buildings, or theories with none of the light that they are talking about taking up space in the middle. There could be one on every corner, but if they are not making a difference then what’s the point? This whole album is about the challenges that we as a body of believers face and hopefully will provide a different perspective on that.
S: Where did you draw the inspiration for this album?
E: The crazy thing is that I have had this album written for almost two years. The ideas were all down, poems plotted, theme figured out and it literally sat on my computer when Heroes and Villains and Letters and Scars came out. It wasn’t really a choice either but it was born out of a super emotional space for me. I had a moment where I was watching things happen within the church that were not very Christ-like. I saw believers do things that made those who did not know Christ run in the opposite direction, but I also noticed that it was a pattern. I had just turned 18 when I finished the writing for it, and that was also a funky season of having all types of bright ideas and changes I wanted to see but being looked down on for just being a kid. It’s a mix of good ole teenage angst yes, but a prayer for hope and healing too. I’m just afraid that the church has hurt and forgotten about a ton of people, and not been the light we have been called to be. This album is my attempt to recognize that, but to also change that behavior in myself.
S: You got to work with Todde Funk of Diverse City on one of the tracks. How was that experience?
E: So every once in awhile I have these super weird ” Did you really just do/say/see that?” moments. This was one of them. When I wrote the track “Word Play”, which he’s playing on, I was sitting on my bathroom floor thinking about that bass line and realizing that I couldn’t play what I was hearing. I actually changed my mind about asking him maybe 10 times before I actually settled on trying. I knew that I was on tour with him the following month and thought “I know he’s not going to agree to this but, he could” and shot him a text expecting him to say no. He agreed much faster and easier than I was expecting ha. So the NewCity Tour found me hooking up my studio rig to record his bass line and trying to not freak out. He was super cool about it, and the music came out really well. Seeing that level of musicianship work is one thing, but getting to see it come to life on a project of yours is awesome. It was also cool to think that he believed and liked what I was doing enough to want to be a part of it, and was for sure humbling. Loved working with him on it.
S: What is your favorite poem on this album?
E: That is probably a tie between “Orphan, The Choir” and “Sometimes I Like the Silence.” That answer also changes based on the day. “Orphan, The Choir” because its meaning hits incredibly close to home on good days, and “Sometimes I like the Silence” on the bad ones.
S: Are any of these poems especially meaningful to you?
E: “Orphan, The Choir” hands down. I wrote that on a tour where I was the only Christian artist on the tour. Now, that’s not to be confused with being the only Christian on the run, but I was the only person with a gospel message in my music/poetry. With music it’s pretty easy to hide that. You could play louder, or find different songs, or add a really long guitar solo but I’m a poet and the whole act is what I’m saying. Anyhow I was in this weird position of bringing a message that most people did not want to hear, in a space where that could make me really unwelcome, really fast, but I didn’t want to hide the fact that I was a Christian. I believe in a love that transcends space and time and that won’t change based on what space I find myself in. Anyhow, I had a number of people find it hard to believe that I was a Christian and it freaked me out. I didn’t know if it was because I was doing something wrong or what but I’m not sure if that was a good thing. Turns out that it wasn’t because I was doing anything wrong, it was because I wasn’t judging them or avoiding them for where they were. I saw a whole lot of drugs, alcohol, and other things that may not necessarily have been the most legal or moral but I wasn’t treating them like a plague either. I was told this by a drunk guy I got to share the gospel with in Oklahoma. His main issue with God was that he couldn’t find Him in the people that say they represent Him and that broke me. Like what have we as a body become so that those in the dark don’t recognize the light or warmth of love when we come around? What did we pollute it with so that fear of what we will say or do overshadows who we serve? He genuinely thought that because I was a Christian I would act as though I were better than him, and that the stage I was given would be my buffer to “block out the heathens” which got me thinking. How many times have I used my platform as a way to rebuff people? Or come across as though I was better than someone else because of my current line of work? Of course I would never mean to do that ever, but now that they already thought of me as an outsider and a judgmental force due to my faith I wanted to make sure that’s not how I came across.
One of my absolute favorite songwriters and biggest influences in music is Jon Foreman from Switchfoot. Every once in awhile, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch an after show where he comes out and plays his own music in some really, really random places. I watched him play a set on top of a trash can once which was crazy to me that he 1) could stay up there that long without falling and play and 2) how personal that made the lyrics. The love that I hope to convey in my poetry is personal and in your face, and just as raw as a random Californian dude standing and singing on a trash can. So, just to see if it would work, I ended all of my sets that tour with this song where the hook repeats “Don’t forget me, I’m still singing”. I remember playing this song at a venue in a tire shop in front of the craziest crowd I have ever seen. These guys were moshing and pitting like it was an MCR/ For Today reunion show but gosh they were hurting and it resonated. I was standing on top of a work bench outside of the main stage and singing this song at the top of my lungs with an acoustic guitar. For a moment, if only for that moment we were honest with ourselves and those singing around us. We were afraid of being forgotten by a choir that may not sing for us anyway, but that night we weren’t alone because others were singing too. For me, as a believer and an artist, I sometimes feel left out of certain circles or groups just because of where I am, or what I don’t do, and I feel pretty forgotten. Even though I know that I’m not, it’s hard to remember sometimes. I can’t pretend to know about them, or speak for them, but I know that song opened conversations about what type of choir wouldn’t forget them and helping them to get plugged into a positive circle that would remember them. To understand love, you first have to be loved, and that was the opportunity to show it. That song when I sing it is a promise that yes, I can hear a big broken choir singing and I don’t care if they’re off key. It’s a promise that I won’t forget them.
S: On “Sometimes I Like the Silence,” you speak about the difficulties of touring life. How do you keep your faith strong and remain grounded while on tour?
E: For me, faith is the easy part. I am pretty well grounded in what I believe and thankfully it is a foundation that has not been shaken, but is often tested, which isn’t a bad thing. My poetry is usually a prayer that I’m working through. They are questions that I’m asking and things I’d love answers too. Really, you are just listening to me reason through existence and my personal prayers. I’m thankful for the tests though. If nothing is ever strained you’ll never know if it holds. Same with faith. If it’s never pushed I would never grow and tour for sure is one big push.
S: What is your favorite part of touring? Least favorite? How does touring differ from what you always dreamed it would be?
E: Favorite part? The people. I’m an extreme introvert everywhere else except for the road. I love meeting new people and trying new things. Talking up a storm is also part of my job description so if I can get out and explore, maybe find a good burger, and meet new friends I’m in total heaven.
The least favorite part? It gets incredibly lonely if you’re surrounded by people that you’ll only get to know on the surface for a short time and then leave. I always say I leave parts of my heart with every show, but that gets complicated when you start playing a lot of different places. I’m also on the road more often than I’m home, which is a huge blessing, but at the same time I miss a lot. I’ll come home having missed birthdays, that new bridge construction/demolition, or hey by the way someone gave birth to a baby! You also miss building relationships and tour life is really hard to convey to someone else who has never done it or is not interested in trying. So that’s tough but when I do get to be home I try to be as present as possible. I’ve got a core group of friends that actually live down the street that keep me sane and of course my pet bearded dragon.
S: How did your grandmother feel about being featured on your album?
E: You know how you see those memes on Facebook that talk about what your family thinks you do vs. what you actually do? It felt like I was living that ha. She thought that recording vocals was as simple as saying it once and it was done. At around take 23 though, I think she started to realize that it is a little time consuming but she still enjoyed it. It was also fun to watch her play with all of the recording equipment. For a person who just got her first smart phone maybe 6 months ago, she caught on pretty quickly. She loved getting to use her “nanaisms” in a way that told her that I understood what she meant with her imparted wisdom and that I wanted to include her in something. Especially after the Grammys and her getting to come and see what all went on, it was just cool to have her be a part of something that’s a big deal to me. It’s just funny now that one of the “featured artists” is my 73 year old grandmother. She was actually fan-girling over being included on an album with Todde. I gave her full artist rights. Meaning if I win anything for it she gets credit, and she’s officially received her first royalty check. In all, my Nana is cooler than your Nana.
S: What is the story behind “The Gospel According to Nana?” How did that track come about?
E: My grandmother has these things our family had lovingly dubbed “nanaisms”.
A phrase that, though sarcastic, usually has a larger meaning of truth and a life lesson behind it, always from Nana.
So we grew up with these things. Things like “you’ll be up a creek without a paddle if you don’t put those winter boots in your bag” or “keep your head down and your mouth shut”. For me, when I was younger it was just annoying and felt like she was nagging me, but under the massive amount of sarcasm she’s injecting into every sentence, she truly means well by it. That and with 73 years of life under her belt she knows a thing or two about a thing or two. This poem is just my finally realizing that.
S: How has your relationship with her shaped your journey in life?
E: She is the source of my sass, my capacity for patience, and really was the first person to teach me to love unconditionally. In a lot of ways she is the biggest reason I do what I do, and she pushes me to get better at it. She also collects homemade soap so sometimes I feel like she only wants me to go places so that I can bring her different scents. Pretty sure that’s the only reason she’s ok with me touring ha.
S: What message do you hope people take away from this album?
E: Three main things. The first is that they are not alone. There are so many other people struggling with what you’re struggling with. So many people have felt the pain of rejection and loss, but to know that there is hope for change and healing. The second thing I hope for is that believers might take a second to check their hearts. Have they built a cathedral that stretches towards the sky and looks ornate on the outside but has empty pews and cob webs? Do they occupy a space that is no better because of their presence and the light they have? Or are they cultivating a garden that can be used to feed the hungry and guide those needing the love of a Father they may not have ever heard of. Lastly, to those who feel as though their voices aren’t heard, or that they are singing for a choir who only cares about numbers in their seats, I promise you I still hear you, and that I’m listening. I believe that you were created for a reason and are under the grace of a love that doesn’t care where you’ve been. It’s been pursuing you for a long time and while not all of Christ’s representatives are the best representations of that love, there are some genuine people out there that are waiting for you and we promise that we won’t stop searching.