Mike Rimmer had a lengthy chat with US rock band BARLOWGIRL and found spiritual maturity behind the squeaky clean image.
The three sisters of BarlowGirl can be an excitable bunch. Drummer Lauren, bassist Alyssa and guitarist Becca are in London for the first time and they are clearly enjoying themselves. Alyssa reports, "We went on a big bus tour, like the double-decker thing. So we saw the entire city." Lauren adds, "And we got to take the Tube." Becca throws in, "We took a tour of Westminster Abbey and we went to Buckingham Palace. I think we did everything! But we're gonna go see the Tower of London today so I'm really excited about that."
I joke that they'd better behave themselves or else they might end up being inmates in the tower and try to explain about executions and what a Beefeater is! This is inevitably lost in translation but it's good to see the sisters having so much fun. Our previous encounters have taken place in hotel rooms during Gospel Music Week in Nashville so it's good to have them on home territory. The interview was originally scheduled to take place in a Starbucks but on arrival, the background noise and the smallness of the coffee house meant that a change of venue would be needed. At my suggestion, we decamped to the London branch of Wesley Owen, where I knew from previous experience there was a basement meeting room that would be suitable. It's a sunny summer's day so the lack of air conditioning isn't ideal but we chat happily.
Fans of BarlowGirl might be surprised to hear that forming a rock band had never really figured in their thinking as they were growing up. "It was one of those things that God was calling us to do since we were born but we didn't realise that until we were a bit older. We'd all play our own instruments at our church but it was an overnight thing where God was like, 'This is what I have for you.' We started writing songs and then we got signed six months later or something." In fact the label signing and launch of BarlowGirl was so quick that when the band arrived in Nashville, they were a little embarrassed talking with other bands. Lauren remembers, "People were like, 'How many shows have you played?' And we were like, 'Nine.' They're like, 'YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!'"
As told elsewhere on this site, they did have Superchick doing some advance publicity for them as well with their song in tribute to the sisters, "Barlow Girl". At the time Superchick's song was released the trio didn't have a clue that God would open the doors for them to be signed. Alyssa remembers, "It was really cool. When that song came out we were in a season where we were wondering what God had for us. We felt we had this important message that everybody needs to hear. It was one of those things that was really humbling and really encouraging at the same time."
The success of their debut album has meant that fans and record label have been hungry for a follow up. Having established themselves as a band who have opinions and high standards, they've been boldly speaking out about purity and in their private lives walking the talk. Becca points out, "I think some people were even anticipating 'Another Journal Entry' wondering what we were going to do for the second one. Are we gonna grow? Are we gonna stay the same? What are we gonna sing about?' Because we were known for so many stands that we had taken that were bold at times."
The girls have certainly gained quite a reputation in the time since the release of their debut. Travelling down to London on the train, I met an old friend who asked me what I was doing. Having not heard of the band I asked him to imagine a band comprising of three young Rebecca St Jameses! I tell BarlowGirl the story and Becca responds, "Awwwh, that's so sweet! She is very sweet. She's a very dear friend of ours. That is a very high compliment. We got to tour with her February and March of this year and just fell in love with her! Absolutely!"
There are plenty of similarities. Both the band and St James tour with their families closely supporting them. Alyssa says, "When we toured with her, we found out that there are so many similarities in our lives. The things that she has walked out in her life, five years ago, we're doing that now. So it was cool how God has blessed us with someone who's already walked this journey a little bit."
Like all new bands, BarlowGirl have launched with a desire to make real contact with those who appreciate their music. Again, like many new bands they have had the luxury of being able to chat with fans after the show and really minister one on one with people. However with success comes challenges to this way of ministering. The way the public treat the band inevitably changes and the sheer numbers coming to gigs precludes the band from chatting to everyone who wants to meet them. Becca explains, "It's hard because the size of the audience is growing and you can't talk to every person. You can barely say 'Hi!' You just give them your autograph and go, 'Hey, how ya doin'?'.'Hey, how ya doin'?' And for me, because I'm a one-on-one person and I'm more of an introvert, it is so hard. But I do try to find a moment of my time where I can at least pull one person aside and get to talk to them. I share my struggles with eating disorders from my past on stage and a lot of times girls come up to me and will be like, 'I have the same struggle too.' But then they'll just keep walking. So a lot of times I'll just grab those girls and pull them aside and talk to them. But it is hard that I can't spend time with everybody. But God has brought up opportunities that I can have one-on-one time with at least a few people at a show."
Alyssa finds it frustrating as well. "I think it's hard because of the amount of people and you don't want to let people down. That's what the hardest thing is. We never want people to ever see us as 'rock stars' or people who are untouchable because that's not us. That's so not us girls. So that is the hard thing. We don't want people to have a bad perception of who we are because of how quick things have to be or how we don't get as much time." Lauren adds, "We always do signing lines. That's a big thing for us. Just so we can meet the people and talk with them. And lately they've been cut off after about an hour and a half. We hate it! We used to sit there for up to three hours and sign after a show and we just can't do that anymore. We have flights to catch now. Our schedule's a little bit tighter than what it used to be. Sometimes you fly out right after a show. So that's been pretty difficult for us. It's been a challenge. We feel very bad. We spend most of the time apologising because we never want people to not feel valued. Especially people that have taken the time to come and see us in our show and then stand in line and get pushed away. That is something that is very, very hard for us."
These days the girls tend to communicate through the message board on their website where they have a number of people moderating and answering questions about the subjects that push the band's buttons, "purity, not dating, more about the Lord.anything," describes Lauren, "We're there as much as we can be and we have set up people that we trust, our friends in our lives, that also answer those questions that have similar perspectives as what we do. It's an amazing community. There are about 5000 kids on there."
The fact that the group have called the album 'Another Journal Entry' is significant since a lot of the songwriting has come directly from their own experiences and devotional lives. Alyssa shares about "I Need You To Love Me". "This one came out of a very difficult time actually," she says simply. "I'm the middle child of the family so I don't know if it's a middle child thing but I've always struggled with the concept of unconditional love. I mess up.a lot! We're gonna mess up. One day in my prayer time I just remember giving him my list. I would always give him my list and my prayer time would be like, 'Lord I've messed up again. I promise I'm going to fix things.' And I remember one day he just said, 'Alyssa, just sit there and be quiet. I want you to sit there and let me love you. I want you to sit there and feel what it feels like to be broken and in a place of hurt and brokenness and of sin and to stop and just go, "Okay God, you change my heart. You love me no matter what. I'm not gonna try and fix things on my own. You fix me."' I sat there in my room and cried like a baby as I felt what unconditional love really felt like. I journalled over and over, 'I'll let you love me. I need you to love me.' And I brought it down to the girls and I said, 'This is what I'm going through! This what I'm trying to learn!' It's such a simple concept but something that has taken me a while to get. And they said, 'Let's write a song about it. You're in it and we're with you. Let's go!' So we sat there and wrote 'I Need You To Love Me'."
The trio were brought up by Christian parents who taught them how to get alone with God and the girls learnt to appreciate the discipline of journalling the lessons that God was teaching them. Becca remembers, "My mom would always train us that in the afternoons there was this quiet time that you're gonna spend by yourselves. She would always give us picture Bibles and whatever. So she started that in us when we were like two, three, four years old. And as we got older she began introducing new things. One of those being journalling. Dad was the one actually. He has boxes of journals in our attic of his walk with the Lord and his journey. It's an amazing thing to be able to look back and see, okay, these are all the things that I've gone through. This is what God has brought me through and have them all in your journals."
The girls share some of their secrets when it comes to developing a devotional life. Lauren shares, "You have to make it a priority. You have to do it with a purpose. I think journalling, for me, my thing was, if I just pray I fall asleep or my brain goes everywhere else and I think about everything else that I have to do today and I can't just focus. And I know that's terrible to say because you're praying to the God of this world and you can't focus! Journalling helps me stay focussed. I know what I'm saying, it's like writing a letter to God. Just tell him about your day. Tell him about what you're struggling with and then look up things in Scripture about it. I think a lot of times we feel condemned about our prayer life because 'it's not good enough' or 'God didn't speak to me enough' and it becomes about rules."
Alyssa takes up the theme, "You start to make these lists of what you think a prayer time should contain and what you think the results should be. We put ourselves in these boxes. If I don't have this result I haven't prayed today. So I think, my advice would be not to put limitations and restrictions on your prayer times. Just let it be a relationship with your heavenly Father and grow in that with him. Don't condemn yourself. Just let it be and pray that it flourishes and grows. It's a relationship."