CONVERSATION: Nichole Nordeman
Leaving a legacy
Some may know Nichole Nordeman for her hit songs, such as
“Holy,” “Legacy” and “Brave.” Since her first album, Wide Eyed, released nearly
a decade ago, Nordeman has collected nine Dove Awards — two for female
vocalist of the year. Most of her awards were garnered at the 2003
presentation, which was the same year her son, Charlie, was born. Assistant
Editor Jennifer McClure recently spoke with Nordeman about the impact
motherhood has had on her life as well as pressures within the Christian music
tpe: In 2003 you took a break from music. Was this in
conjunction with the birth of your son, Charlie?
NORDEMAN: Yes. It was his first year. It was at the height
of when things were taking off for me. I had just finished a successful record
and won a bunch of Dove Awards. In many people’s eyes, it was crazy if not a
stupid decision to step away when the momentum was really building.
I’ve seen female artists take babies on the road with
nannies and make it work. But I felt that wasn’t for me. So I just stopped. I
slammed on the brakes. I don’t think I sat down at my piano for a full 12
months. We just got to know Charlie, and he got to know us. I wouldn’t trade
that time for anything.
tpe: How was your transition back to a music career after
not playing the piano for an entire year?
NORDEMAN: It wasn’t like the next day the phone started
ringing like crazy again. We just slowly built up. By the time we finished
recording Brave, I felt I at least had some semblance of balance in my life. It
never again will be as crazy as it was before Charlie in terms of my scheduling
— because it can’t be.
tpe: Is there dissonance between your identities of mom and
NORDEMAN: I could write a book on the tension. It’s really a
challenge. I don’t think I’m different from any other working mom out there
who’s just trying to correctly prioritize. Some days I really feel like I have
things in balance and perspective in a way that honors God — my family
does come first and my work second.
Other days, I beat myself up because I made a decision or
committed to something I shouldn’t have, and it wasn’t the best choice for my
family. But you just have to pick up and move on and try better next time.
tpe: You’ve written about the pressure to look like you’re
an artist who’s not a mom. How do you respond to that?
NORDEMAN: It helps that I live in Dallas. I pretty much
don’t get recognized. I can just look like a mom most days, and I usually do.
Right now, I’m in my sweats with a ball cap on. I took Charlie to school this
morning along with the other moms.
So I don’t feel on a regular basis, like maybe I would if I
lived in Nashville (Tenn.), I have to leave the house looking done. But those
moments still creep in: the photo shoots and the Dove Awards. All those things
where I stand in the closet, shake my head, and think, I don’t know this person
who I’m about to dress up as.
tpe: You once wrote an article about the danger of idolatry
within the Christian music industry — that image does matter. What will
it take to bring change?
NORDEMAN: It starts with the individual. In order for me not
to care so much about how I look on a CD cover, I have to stop caring about me
as much. I think the responsibility doesn’t rely with the industry as a whole,
but the industry is comprised of individuals.
I think all artists, all labels, every spoke on the wheel
that puts the machine in motion — everybody needs to step back and
evaluate on a personal level how much does the role of image and beauty play in
my life on and off stage?
tpe: When did you want to have a career in music?
NORDEMAN: It’s funny. I never had aspirations to do what I
do now. Songwriting was my way of journaling. If I was struggling with
something in my faith, it would come out in a song. If I was in a relationship
and having boyfriend trouble, it would come out in a song. I never felt
necessarily called into a ministry or into the music industry. I just knew
music would always be part of who I was.
tpe: If you never aspired for this, how did you get your big
NORDEMAN: After college I moved to Los Angeles and was just
a little bit — or actually very — directionless. I entered a
songwriting contest sponsored by the Gospel Music Association. I had absolutely
no idea of what GMA was or what it did. It turned out to be a big nationwide
scouting event for singers and songwriters. That’s how I met the individual who
eventually gave me a record deal.
tpe: What do you hope to accomplish through your music?
NORDEMAN: I don’t know that I would use the word accomplish.
I’ve never felt I was anything other than a storyteller. I love to talk about
what God’s taught me and is teaching me. The places I’ve tripped up, slipped
up, and wish I could do over — the good, the bad, and the everything
spills out in my songwriting. That’s all I’ve ever felt called to do.
tpe: How do listeners respond to your songs?
NORDEMAN: People like permission to be themselves. I know I
do. When I hear music that makes me feel like I don’t have to be perfect, but I
can just be myself and come to God just as I am, right where I am no matter how
unattractive that particular spot might be, I think people are drawn to that.
I’ve had people say to me after concerts, “Thank you for
writing that song. That’s right where I am.” Or even, “For writing that one
line in that one song. It’s really relevant to my life right now.” That’s
nothing I can take credit for. It’s just kind of where I was when I wrote the
song, and God used it to say something bigger to someone else.
tpe: You have a platform to share your faith and talk about
God to thousands. But how do you stay active for Christ in your everyday life?
NORDEMAN: Everybody is just so different. I’m a relationship
person. The easiest way for me to allow people to see Christ in my life is to
create a relationship with them first so I have a jumping-off point. I’ve never
been someone who feels like I have the gift or ability to articulate my faith
so I could walk up to a stranger on a subway and lay out the basics. Praise God
for the people who are gifted like that, because I know people come to Christ
that way every day.
tpe: Is there one song that you’ve written that has had the
most impact on your life?
NORDEMAN: A life song for me has been “River God.” It was
the last song on my first album. It’s a simple ballad about a stone that sits
in the river and over time has to endure the different currents, the frigid
waters, and all the things that come with being in the bed of a river.
My heart as a person, not just as an artist, is to have the
wisdom to just stay in the river, to welcome the different circumstances that
in the end are trying to smooth out who I am.
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