Beckie Weadon traveled to Nashville to meet up with songwriter and artist CHRISTA WELLS
Thanks to the emotionally powerful hit song "Held", featured on Natalie Grant's big hit album 'Awaken', a small mountain of praise, not to mention a GMA 2006 Songwriter Of The Year award, have belatedly arrived for Christa Wells. Now with her debut independent album out in the US the Christian music world can hear her haunting singing style (which has been compared to Sarah McLachlan and Sara Groves) as well as appreciate her consummate songwriting craft. 'Frame The Clouds' has been described as "a rich, deeply compelling lyrical journey through themes of forgiveness, devout love, overwhelming loss, tangible faith and everlasting hope."
At a coffee shop in Christa's hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, I met up with this 35 year old crafter of songs. She said, "I'm intimate with the stories and inspirations behind each song I write. They are more real to me than they could possibly be to another artist and are perhaps best suited for my own delivery. I want to tell these stories. I just want to say something that is true and that matters to the audience and to me."
Christa has admitted that in the past stage fright had for years kept her from performing her own songs. That has now changed. She explained, "I was always so worried about my looks, my hair, my dress, that I couldn't focus on the music. Then one day I was performing at a music camp and I heard (in that small, but loud inner voice) 'IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU - it's about the music and the listeners'. It totally changed me."
One of the many memorable songs on 'Frame The Clouds' is "You've Got A Home". Said Christa, "This song was written for a friend who is not a believer and I want her to know that no matter what, she has a place to go." Other highlights are "All The More" ("my best effort at wanting to be Irish. It was written about my husband as a testimony true to our relationship") and "Weightless", which was inspired by the idea of long-carried guilt and how the memory of her unkindness to a girl at school has stayed with her.
'Frame The Clouds' is deftly produced by Zodlounge Music - the Nashville production team consisting of Todd Shay, Brett Vargason, Brian Unger and Tom Michael - with whom she has enjoyed working in the past. Among the special guests on the project are CCM star Sara Groves, piano maestro Michael Omartian, Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (otherwise known as Plumb) and Todd Smith (of CCM hitmakers Selah).
Christa was born in Texas, she and her family moving frequently as her father was in the military. She grew up utterly absorbed by music. "Music was always 'the thing' for me - I loved melody-making and wordplay as a child and began playing the piano in early grade school. My first attempts at actual songwriting (not counting the nursery rhyme tunes I created when I was six) took place when I was about 15 and in the midst of a depressing high school experience, and they weren't great songs. But, at the risk of sounding cliche, a door to another universe opened for me with that first song. . . I found a place in writing where I'm at home - in my own headspace - and I can roam freely and explore and play with the pieces of a lyrical and musical puzzle until everything fits. It still feels that way. I studied English Education and Music Industry at college in Indiana and gained a lot in the way of experience there, but the bulk of my growth as a songwriter has been and continues to be the result of doing it. I'm not all that interested in being an 'artist's artist', though I value the knowledge and insights of other writers. I'm more interested in creatively communicating stories and questions and discoveries - anything true - to people who are interested and willing to listen."
Christa continued, "In 1994 I married the love of my life, Toby Wells, and we've brought five babies home since then, both through biology and adoption. Both are challenging and beautiful. The children are also challenging and beautiful." In fact, a song on 'Frame The Clouds', "My Best Remedy", is "the first song written about/for my children."
In between raising her family Christa recorded a Christmas EP for the benefit of American military families and in 2006 recorded an independent album with her sister Mandy Rogers who, as well as being another singer/pianist, paints and teaches art at university level. The Rogers/Wells album 'A Rogers/Wells Project: So Much To Tell You' was a finely crafted set. Said Christa at the time of the album's release, "I think we needed to do this project because we've loved some of these songs for so long and because some of the newer ones needed to be written and possibly could only be sung by us."
As it turned out, it was Christa's composition "Held" which, when recorded by Natalie Grant, finally turned the spotlight on Christa. Being both emotionally-impacting and exquisitely tender the breathtaking song about the death of an infant climbed the CCM charts and crossed into the mainstream. The song impacted tens of thousands. Said Christa, "'Held' took on a life of its own. It defied odds and expectations, and I hear new stories to this day of what it has meant to people, which is really very humbling. I recently had a man write to me about his wife who has been sentenced to several years in prison, asking me to write to her with the lyrics to 'Held.' I'm sure Natalie's heard even more. It's awesome to get to be a part of something bigger than yourself."
Now Christa's own album is finally out. She makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina along with Todd and her five children, not to mention a dog and a cat. Despite such considerable demands, Christa is now keen to perform the songs on 'Frame The Clouds'. As she once said, "Something has drastically changed inside me. I used to join bands, but actually loathe being on the stage, or having to talk especially. But now, what I see when I get up there are the faces of the people who have come to listen. And I just want to say something that is true and that matters to them. That matters to both of us."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.