Holly Starr: An American pop princess with a serious faith

Friday 12th August 2011

Tony Cummings recounts the short but eventful career-so-far of Nashville-based HOLLY STARR

Holly Starr
Holly Starr

The eminently catchy "Undertow", a recent addition to the Cross Rhythms radio playlist, brings into the spotlight Holly Starr, a teenage singer who has been making steady progress since she launched onto the scene in 2007. Holly spoke about how a girl from a small rural town with a population of fewer than 6,000 - Quincy, Washington - was to become a high profile recording artist working with Dove Award-winning producer Rusty Varenkamp (Tenth Avenue North, Meredith Andrews) and opening for acts like LeAnn Rimes. She told the cmaddict website, "I started playing on my worship team when I was in seventh grade at our youth group in town; it's just a small church. They needed a musician and they heard that I played the piano. I was really scared about it but I joined. I started playing the piano, without singing. Then in the middle of being in youth band, my seventh and eighth grade year, I started taking voice lessons from my piano teacher. She was a songwriter, so she actually encouraged me to write songs and taught me how to accompany myself.

"So I started writing songs and since I was in the youth band they just kind of wanted to play the songs for me with the band. That was really fun - hearing the songs for the first time. Eventually our youth band, we played together so much every week and it was just the same group all the time that we ended up deciding we could travel and do music if we wanted to, the little bit that we could in Washington. There's a couple of small churches in the Seattle area that wanted some help leading worship at their church because they were new. They knew me through this website that I was on called Track 10. I was on there and they heard about me and we went over and led worship. We started calling ourselves the Holly Starr Band because we were playing the songs that I wrote and we were a youth band and stuff like that."

Holly recounted how producer Brandon Bee (Stacie Orrico, Lanae Hale) heard some songs the Holly Starr Band had put on MySpace and contacted Holly offering to help her further her career. Exclaimed Holly, "That was really, really cool - just having someone believe in me. So my parents and I went over to Seattle and met with him. And that's when my first record was recorded - over in Tacoma when I was 17."

The album, 2008's 'Embraced', showed Holly was an excellent singer, sounding a little like Brooke Fraser and Michelle Branch, able to handle both pop rock uptempo songs and devotional ballads. Eventually Holly relocated to Christian music's epicentre, Nashville, Tennessee. There the teenage singer was introduced to CCM hitmaker Rusty Varenkamp through a friend of a friend and an immediate connection was made. "I just instantly fell in love with [Rusty]," said Starr. "God's peace just entered that room. I walked away thinking, OK, if all my questions and worries and fears about everything that I'm supposed to do next were just solved, that's the God we serve. That was way too easy, way too powerful."

Holly Starr: An American pop princess with a serious faith

The feeling was mutual. Producing Starr's second album was one Varenkamp eagerly took on. Said Rusty, "Holly's music and artistry definitely stem from who she is inside. She's passionate about connecting with the heart of the listener, which makes the production easier. On 'Tapestry' we tried to balance her conviction for truth with music that is relevant to her audience."

When released, some media pundits criticised 'Tapestry', particularly for the Auto-tuned pop of "Undertow" and the liberal use of the vocoder on the pop rock "Holding On To You" but found they couldn't resist the acoustic "Take Me As I Am" with its honest depiction of spiritual failures ("I'm supposed to be in love with you/Why do I fail you all the time"); "What Is Love" inspired by meeting children on Holly's mission trip to El Salvador organised by Compassion International; and the haunting "I Love You Anyway", a re-recording of a song which originally emerged on Holly's 'Embraced' debut. Before its release, Holly was asked why she'd called her album 'Tapestry'. She responded, "I was trying to figure out a title that I could call the record that would express the fact that this is a picture of the last years of my life. In summation, these are little threads, I guess, little pieces of my life that God has been moving in. A couple of years back, when I started writing songs for this record (which was a long time ago), he started to reveal himself to me in the Bible, in a way that I couldn't have even expected or imagined and it's so powerful to me how intimate he is through a book. I don't even know how to describe that but it's like these are his very words and the God of the Universe is right in front of me all the time. So, that just became really, really powerful in my life. And so I started writing songs about how humbled I was at God's power and his greatness, and his simplicity, and my heart just totally wanted to surrender to him.

"So this whole project is about that, I guess you could say there's a theme of that going through it. But really, I want to capture that's where it came from; this is a picture of all the stuff that's happened since God revealed himself to me, in the Word of God, so powerfully. One of managers, she was like, 'Holly, why don't we just call it "Tapestry"?' In relation to that, the definition of tapestry is two threads coming together to create this picture, and the horizontal thread and the vertical thread, and the horizontal is held by the vertical. And I'm very much, like, the thing is our life is so horizontal but our relationship with God is so vertical and that continually leaning on him, the picture that can be created is more beautiful than we can ever imagine. So that's kind of where that came from." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


Reader Comments

Posted by Beth in Seattle @ 15:13 on Aug 12 2011

Why are you saying "Short but eventful" have you not been aware of Holly's tour schedule. As she is traveling all over the US I would say we have not heard the last of this amazing "Real" example of what a walking, talking Christian artist should be all about. I think you should apologize for that title! Wow....what support!

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