Sarah Masen: The singer/songwriter from Detroit

Thursday 1st August 1996

One of the more erudite singer/songwriters to emerge onto the CCM scene is Sarah Masen. Jan Willem Vink spoke to the new American singer.

Sarah Masen
Sarah Masen

There's something more compelling about Sarah Masen than the simple fact that she's the first artist to be signed to Charlie Peacock's new label Re:Think. In fact, her self-titled album needed only a few of Charlie's wide range of production twists to expose its class. More than anything, Sarah Masen, a Detroit-born 20 year old, is a true artist in her own right, one who invites the listener into her world to celebrate love and redemption, communion and grace...

The connection with her illustrious album producer was made on the internet. Sarah's father asked her brother to e-mail Charlie Peacock because he needed some answers regarding the publishing side of Sarah's debut independent release The Holding'. "I have no answer to your questions, but could you send me a copy of the album," came the response. The rest is history. Sarah was soon invited to come to Nashville and Charlie's plans to start a record company on his own were pressed fast-forward.

Sarah's music has been described as pop alternative and is written from a background featuring influences as varied as Rich Mullins, Keith Green, 10,000 Maniacs, Over The Rhine, Victoria Williams and Julie Miller. Sarah's live performance has elements of the innocent approach of the last two artists, although most of her music comes from more of an intellectual background, discussing life, relationships and faith, in stark contrast with the angst-driven, dark and cynical approach you can find in a lot of the alternative music today.

In fact, Sarah started out writing songs when her own relationship with Christ began taking shape. Comments Sarah, "My parents became Christians when I was six. When that happened, they made me go to church and started teaching me about things they were learning, what it means to have a relationship with Christ. When I was 16 years old I really decided that I wanted to find out for myself what it means to have a relationship with Christ, what grace meant and what salvation was and that was also the same time that I started writing music, basically from a Christian background. But faith didn't really become my own until I was about 16."

Music presented Sarah a tool to communicate with her Creator and came at the time she started to find out what faith meant for herself. "I had an understanding of all of the Christian terms, like what grace meant, what redemption meant and what salvation meant. It was much more progressive than it was a specific event, that all of a sudden my life changed. But I do associate it with music, because that's when my struggle and my journey to know God became vocalised, because my music at the beginning was discovering what it meant to commune with God. Dialoguing between the Creator and the created."

Continues Sarah, "I have an independent album that I did abut two summers ago, when I was 18. All of the songs on that album were very personal. It really wasn't addressing the community, as it was my dialogue with God. It was a journal of what I was going through at the time."

I ask Sarah about the sort of topics she tends to write about. "Nowadays it's been topics about relationships and what love really is, is it a commitment, is it a feeling. It's about exploring what it means to have communion with God and communion with the saints, the body of Christ. There are some other topics too, I've been really reflecting on grace. I have to be humble and say God has been teaching me about grace. That's been really difficult, but it's made for some good lyrics and thoughts that were provoked by conviction and grace and hope and relationships that people have. They were springboards for those thoughts."

Sarah is still studying, with a major in English Literature and a minor in History. "Literature has expanded my world," says Sarah. "I've become culture conscious and in that way it's made my understanding of God bigger and that's been through literature. Solzhenitsyn and Shakespeare even, and Chinua Achebe, they have really expanded my world and how I communicate through my lyrics.

"Chinua Achebe is an African writer from Nigeria and he wrote about the British colonisation. It's sort of psychological how it affected his village; the British people came in and disrupted the way that these people were living. And it's never been the same. When the British came in they also brought in Christianity and they taught these people who were very community oriented the salvation of the self. They lost this really great virtue in that Ebu tribe. That kind of thing makes me think about our religion in the United States, the culture of self, as I explained before. In that way literature has affected that and in other ways it helps me articulate my thoughts better. For instance Shakespeare was such a great communicator, he would make up words and just reading those kinds of things helps you find more words that really will prove to express yourself more accurately. That's great if you can really communicate to people. The better you can communicate, the better understanding in relationships you can have."

Sarah wants to be more than being just a good communicator. I ask her to define her personal mission statement. "I really want to leave with people the message of Christ, which is love and hope and I would like them to be encouraged, challenged and to think about the quality of their faith, like I am hopefully. I would like them to be excited about relationships and the things that God is teaching me. I'd really like them to feel welcome in my world and who I am and maybe we can share these experiences as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, or as brothers and sisters in the human race." 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 Jan Willem Vink
Jan Willem Vink is a regular contributor to Cross Rhythms and lives in the Netherlands.


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