Nashville's JILL PHILLIPS may be fairly unknown in the UK but that's changing fast. The singer/songwriter spoke to Mike Rimmer.
April saw American singer/songwriter Jill Phillips trawling up and down the country from Minehead to Skegness to share her unique musical gift with those Spring Harvesters fortunate to see her. Jill's latest album 'Writing On The Wall' is her best collection yet and although she is becoming better known in the USA, she enjoys playing for new audiences. "I think there's something nice about people coming in with no expectations of what they'll hear. If they like it, then they're pleasantly surprised! With us, we have the whole hour and a half just to do what we feel like we want to do that evening."
On 'Writing On The Wall' Jill manages to mix acoustic pop music with thought provoking melodies and some more dramatic moments. The opening cut "Wrecking Ball" really sets the scene thematically for the whole album. Jill shares, "The song talks about how God uses difficult circumstances to build our character, to makes us stronger and to make us more aware of him and more reliant on him. I think when things go easily for a long stretch, you start to get desensitised to your need for him. You start to slack off in a lot of ways, or think, 'Maybe part of the good things that are happening to me are because I'm good, or because I'm doing something right.' Then when things come apart, or when you hit obstacles you realise, 'No, every good gift is from God and I really need him in these circumstances.' It reminds you of how weak we are and how we really have to rely on him for everything."
That theme of discovering God in the hard times works its way into many songs on 'Writing On The Wall' though Phillips confesses that it wasn't deliberate. She reflects, "When we looked back over the songs chosen for the album, it was a theme that seemed to keep coming up. I think part of the reason is that my dad was very ill during the making of the record, so my family was going through a very difficult time. I was trying to balance that with making the CD. He passed away last June and so that theme definitely showed up in the songs. They just talked about how God is present even in the midst of those kind of situations."
One central lyric for the album is in the song "Grand Design" where Jill sings, "I feel the pain but it still doesn't change who you are." She explains, "That song was very much inspired by my situation with my dad. The Bible even says, 'Don't be surprised by the painful trials that are happening to you.' Things are going to happen and we shouldn't be surprised by it. We shouldn't go, 'Oh woe is me!' Because the truth is, even Christ himself wasn't immune from pain. Anyone who's seen The Passion Of The Christ knows that, or anybody who has read the Gospels knows the kind of suffering that he endured. But the good thing about Christianity is that it promises that we are never left during those times, that we are never forsaken, that he will always give us enough strength to get through, that he will always sustain us. And he never gives us more than we can bear."
In an age when it seems as though so much CCM is glossy confectionery, it's good to find an artist who is willing to sing about more challenging issues and blend reality and hope together. Jill concludes, "There are always those difficult times and the Bible says, 'Weeping lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning'. So there always is that rest from the pain, that 'peace that passes all understanding.' But I think we shouldn't expect as Christians to never have to face these kinds of things, it's part of life. I have difficult times like anybody else but there is something that keeps drawing me back to God. Even in the midst of the times with my dad, I never doubted God. I never thought, 'Where is God?! He must not exist.' I think it's just more of asking how do I get through this time? What do I need to pray for? What am I lacking in, to get me through this difficult situation? Times like that increase your faith. I wish it didn't work that way! I wish it wasn't that we had to go through difficult things for our faith to be increased, but a lot of times that IS how it happens. You look back over a situation in your life and you look at what he's brought you through and where you've come from and you can look back with such thankfulness. It makes you more aware of his presence."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.