Well, today is a momentous week…. finally, my ‘Grace’ CD project has arrived!! I feel relieved, as well as quite erm… motivated to get these three big boxes of CDs out of my house and into people’s CD players. To help you understand the process and all it takes to make an album, I thought I’d outline what has gone into The Making of Grace…. a shameless celebration.
APRIL 2010: GRADUATING WITH AN M.PHIL: Oh, 2010. The most bittersweet of my life thus far…. marked with tears, celebrations and hopeful glimmers of God’s purpose in the midst of a changing season, moving on from pastoral ministry at a great church in Chatswood, Sydney. The big unsettling began I graduated from an MPhil at ACU. At that point I knew my recently forged research skills would prove as irrepressible as songwriting. Nothing in me wanted to stop pastoring or give up a cosy apartment in Camperdown – or for that matter the bakery across the road, where I sat and listened to ten years of Hillsong music on repeat, and administrated hundreds of church and chapel services … but we felt God was calling us on.
I followed up on an email from the amazing Dr King (a million thanks to Ursula for helping me gain enough confidence to reply) and after a long conversation, she encouraged me to apply for a PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary. After one serious conversation with Tim, five email threads from faculty later, and a half-finished application, I was sitting somewhere between Italy and England when I realised there was no going back. I was applying for a PhD.
OCTOBER 2010: We landed in Cambridge and I began to buy text books and read them… the application was mammoth – I completed it on January 14th 2011 with one last email and a badly written, hopeful exam attached. Tim sat in the lounge room of Dr Hutcho’s house waiting nervously, and we drank our favourite Italian lemon drink to celebrate.
FROM JANUARY 15th, 2011: I was caught between ‘what if I don’t get in?’ and ‘what if I DO get in?’…. both equally scary. It was around this time conversations with our friends the Hartmanns ended in their decision to help me record my first solo album. I really appreciate their generosity, and absolute faith in my gifting and calling….
FEBRUARY 2011: My manager and I conducted two timelines – one if I get in to the PhD and one if I don’t. I kept two calendars, one for Australia, one for Los Angeles. I’d never been to Los Angeles before… now I think about it, all kinds of crazy. We had to plan for the album as though it would be my main project, and as a side project. We selected producer Pete King who I’d worked closely with in the early years of United. He developed the distinctiveness of this band, and my friend Joe kept asking “what is Tanya Riches’ sound?”. I knew ‘Grace’ would sound eclectic, fun, deep, spiritual, quirky. We needed to compile songs ready to record in Nashville in July. So, I pulled out a file of unedited lyrics. I had thousands of songs, so that wasn’t difficult – getting them ‘polished’ enough to record, that was the task.
MARCH 2011: We decided I needed to get a job. And, mum was looking for a research assistant, so it was perfect. From early March through to late May I researched two hundred families – on the phone, and flying down to visit their houses in a nearby Australian city. The only thing these families had in common was that at least one member had a disability. Plane rides proved excellent places to pray, get out my Bible and songbook and scribble notes. This experience was profoundly shaping for me, redefining the songs I wanted to sing and to present to churches.
APRIL 2011: Tim and I recorded demos for Pete the Producer. Most are still on my youtube, along with songs I love but that didn’t make the cut for varied reasons. Every video demo caused an emotional eruption – we usually started early in the day and ended at night. We realised how BAD we were at “the online promotion thing”… We laugh so hard now looking back… there is a video where we FINALLY were happy, only to realise that no-one had taken down the peg-bag from the clothes line – it happily swings in the background behind our performance of the new songs. Neither of us had the energy to do it again, so we just blew out all the candles and went straight to bed. It’s harder than it looks to be an internet sensation!
Two of my songs, ‘Hear our Prayer’ and ‘King of Love’ were definite as songs published by Hillsong but that I’d never sung solo. We’d recorded ‘Jesus What a Beautiful Name’ in 2009, so decided not to include it, as I had so many new ideas. One plane flight, I decided to contact some songwriters to collaborate with a diversity of theological positions and expressions. This is maybe a decision some people wouldn’t make for their first project, but I’m glad I did. I enjoyed the process of writing with Scott, Trev, Ads, Jon, and Ben (and of course, Tim also features heavily in the songwriting credits).
Co-writing is a LOT of fun. Some people hate it – but I thrive on it. Ads and I had written with Speaking of Sarah, my former rock band – we picked up where we left off, hence ‘Grace’ and ‘In The Light’. Ben and I had never met before… we sat and chatted for hours until we realised we’d have to make another appointment to get a song down. He challenged me on clichéd worship forms, and we debated out every verb – “dirt is a good word there” – “Noooo! dirt is a YUK word” – he won – the result is ‘Amongst it all’, the Sarah McLaughlin sounding track Pete and I were looking for! Trev and I wrote an entire song, then scrapped it, and started again. I loved that we could take that risk, and the song we ended up with is Matt Redmann-esque. Scott and I emailed lyrics back and forth and when we recorded the demo in his kitchen our good friend Phil was so blessed – it was his favourite from day one. So I was happily shocked when Nathan Tasker agreed to sing a duet. My very last appointment was with Jon, and I brought a much-loved idea I’d kept … he brought it to life, and we really felt God’s presence!
MAY 2011: We needed to record demos properly and travelled to Woodwind Studios in the Blue Mountains. Jake Nauta became our faithful comrade in arms. We recorded sixteen songs in three days with the literally incredible Dave Holmes… Dave Sheerman brought his camera and super artistic skills, and ‘Maranatha’ the DVD was born…
JULY 2011: I flew to the USA on July 2nd with the demos and lyrics in my computer. I had three days to set up a house and no car, so a friend drove me to Target. He had two hours, and I had a list. I lost track of how fast I was moving…. Greg later demonstrated what it was like and I almost died laughing. Dr King helped me select a bed… I have no idea how I would have gotten by without her.
Then, I flew to Nashville for three weeks. We got up at about 8:30am every morning, and headed to the studio… it was a LOT of fun… but of course, hard work. One morning, we found my hero David Crowder outside the studio door, and I lost it – so if the song ‘Grace’ isn’t as confident sounding as I’d hoped, you know why. Dave Crowder was listening, and I heard him drumming along through the door. Later that week, Missy Higgins and Butterfly Boucher were at Nashville’s local organic restaurant, The Turnip Truck (I decided the word Turnip sounds offensive, and so created a special Australian insult reserved only for friends “hey you turnip Pete! pass me the raw almonds”). We finalised twelve songs (Tim saved ‘In The Light’ with a 3am skype call and a nifty key change), laid the song beds, and recorded with a killer band only Pete could pull together. Then, I sung my vocals on top, and left Nashville with things 75% done…
SEPTEMBER 2011: Pete continued to layer the band and vocals so we corresponded by email and skype. We’d done this for Tim’s album – but Tim was in Australia, I was in Los Angeles and Pete was in Nashville. We reviewed to make sure things sounded right every couple of days. Then mixes. We did three times through most songs until we were happy. Then a week of mastering (as I read Kenneth Latourette’s comprehensive history of years 0 -1500 for the PhD). Things slowed down in December when we hit constraints we hadn’t anticipated – my visa being different externally and internally, for example meant staying in the U.S. until I could get home. There were hundreds of little hurdles to cross – legalities, contracts, licensing rights – it was never-ending.
JAN 2012: My neighbour Elisabeth and I chatted about possibilities for graphic design. I described what I wanted but only had a mess of ideas. Within her studio, I found a little picture of a flower that grows in my father’s garden in Sydney. I remembered its centre tasted like honey (who knows how I found this out?!). She had written underneath it ‘The Mourning Flower’. I felt this was SO right for the project – bittersweet, insecure, fragile and resilient all at once. The strength of the songs was forged in the suffering I’d seen. We went back and forth with ideas, finalising a design in January.
MARCH 2012: I suddenly realised that I had to get all the final bits of the album done, and sent off to the printers during my end of Winter quarter deadlines!!
APRIL 2012: ‘Grace’ is released!!!
It’s been a fun journey… so to those who helped, played, engineered, edited, photographed, encouraged, supported, dreamed and brought coffee – thanks!!! I hope that these songs are a blessing in Australia and overseas. I hope you like them – and I pray I can move the boxes out of my apartment quickly and begin to plan the next fun project, as any artist I already have new imaginations rising to the surface…