Tony Cummings reports on daughter of Brown Bannister and wife of Drew Holcomb, ELLIE HOLCOMB
The release in February this year of the album 'As Sure As The Sun' by Ellie Holcomb has thrust the daughter of top CCM producer Brown Bannister and the wife and bandmate of hitmaking Americana man Drew Holcomb into the spotlight. Her album has received extraordinary acclaim from the music critics. Allmusic website called it "a superb, often stunning debut," Worshipleader described Ellie's style as "an uplifting, light-hearted acoustic feel, gently blurring the lines between light pop and country," while Newreleasetuesday enthused, "This is truly a great album and a moving and prayerful worship experience."
Elizabeth "Ellie" Bannister was born on 12th September 1982 in Nashville, Tennessee. It would be an understatement to say her home was a musical one. A year before her birth her father, Brown Bannister, had recorded his first, and as it turned out his only, album as a singer/songwriter, 'Talk To One Another', for NewPax Records before switching to audio engineering, recording and production where over the next three decades he went on to produce a huge array of hit albums including Grammy winners for Debby Boone, Amy Grant, Bruce Carroll, Petra, Steven Curtis Chapman, CeCe Winans and Third Day. As a teenager Ellie caught the music bug. She told Scripturetomusiccollective website, "I grew up in a musical family, so as soon as I learned three chords on the guitar I started writing songs. It's always been a way for me to process life. I coped with a lot of heartache through song for sure, but I can remember times all the way back to high school when I would just use song to sing to Jesus. I have also grown up writing songs with my family, which is one of my very favourite things to do. All of us love music, love singing and love writing, so a lot of times growing up, it was a group effort. It's now become a way for me to remind myself of what is true."
While attending the University of Tennessee Ellie met a fellow student who was also writing songs, Drew Holcomb. Ellie commented, "He was my best guy friend that I swore I'd never date. I always tell people that it's a great idea to marry your best friend. We have a blast together. During our first year of marriage, Drew was gone for over half of the year. I was teaching at the time, a job that I loved, and would drive or fly out on weekends to sing with him. By November he asked me if I would be willing to quit something that I loved doing to join him on the road as a background singer and utility musician in his band. I love him more than teaching, and had always wondered if I could pursue music as a job, so we took a leap of faith to pursue a dream. It's been a wild ride, but it's been totally worth it."
Through constant touring Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors became nationally popular exponents of Americana and such albums as 'Passenger Seat' (2008), 'A Million Miles Away' (2009) and 'Chasing Someday' (2011) all sold well with the latter breaking into America's album charts. In 2011 Ellie took some time out from The Neighbors to record a solo mini-album based on the Psalms. 'Magnolia' went to number one on the iTunes Christian/gospel charts. Ellie spoke about the project, "It all started with trying to memorise Scripture. I was encouraged to do this by an older woman we know, and I found it to be incredibly life-giving to remind myself of what was true, but it was also pretty hard to actually keep verses memorised. On the other hand, I can sing thousands of songs without even trying to memorise them, so I started spending time reading through the Psalms and writing afterward. It was a beautiful season for me to carve out time to do this, and I love thinking about how God might use his word that's woven into these songs to bless people."
The success of 'Magnolia' took Ellie by surprise. She told Jesusfreakhideout, "That first EP, we went in the studio for three days and recorded it. It's been such a cool story because people kept asking for more and more CDs. For the first batch, I'd burn each CD and put them in a jewel case, and then there was a little brown paper bag with a sticker, and I'd pray over each one. You know, it just makes the heart beat fast to think about God's word encouraging his children. It doesn't come back void. And that's what I've found. . . memorising Scripture just changes me. So I guess that was resonating with other people. I needed to print more CDs to give all my friends, and I'm on the road with the band and would be like 'Guys, we need to pull over and go to Office Depot. I gotta get more jewel cases and CDs.' So my husband Drew is a very pragmatic man, and he said, 'No no no, we're gonna put this on iTunes.' So I just prayed over the wav files and we released it on iTunes.
"I was hesitant as all get-out to do that. And sure enough, that first EP with me and a guitar singing God's word went number one on the Christian iTunes chart. But we didn't do any promotion! I was just crying, not because 'Aahhhh it's selling so well, ahhhh we're number one!' Not because of that, but because I was thinking 'Oh my goodness, more people are hearing these songs and it's just God's word going out into the earth and he encourages people through this. I can't believe I get to be a part of this!' The whole time. . . even though that was so exciting to me, that's the thing that drove me to keep releasing music. 'Cause I was like, 'No, no, people don't want to hear this,' but the songs were encouraging me. I was writing what I needed to believe was true. I was writing the truth that I forgot all the time, and maybe this will encourage somebody else."
At the beginning of 2013 Ellie released her second EP, 'With You Now'. Explained Ellie, "I was doing these women's conferences and women kept asking for the songs." But a more ambitious recording project was being planned. Drew and Ellie decided to appeal directly to Ellie's growing legion of fans to make a high quality full length album so a Kickstarter campaign was launched. Admitted Ellie, "I felt like I was gonna throw up the night before we did Kickstarter. I kept telling my husband and my manager, 'No one's gonna do this. We need to lower the goal from $40,000 to 10 at the most.' I remember my husband asking me, 'Ellie, do you believe in these songs?' And I said, 'Well, I believe in God's word, and God's word is in the songs, so yes, I believe in these songs.' Then he said, 'Well, we need to try.' And then we hit our goal in three days. We'd set the goal for 50 days and I basically cried joy tears for 50 days straight."
Ellie's producer/engineer father was an obvious choice to produce what was to be 'As Sure As The Sun'. The other producer involved was critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Ben Shive. Ellie told journalist Matt Conner, "I've always loved Ben's music. When my dad and I were dreaming up who we would want to partner with, we figured we should get someone outside the family. Ben was our big dream kind of guy. He is able to create a sonic landscape unlike a lot of people, and especially, unlike a lot of producers I know, he's a musician and a writer and an artist himself. To have him as a part of the team making these songs was our dream. The fact that he said 'yes' was a joy. It was an unbelievable experience. I will say this, the first time I went to the Bee Hive, that little building behind Baja, I wasn't even sure I was in the right place. And to walk in there and see The Rabbit Room in that back corner, I literally felt like I had discovered a mythical place that had come into reality. I've followed them on Twitter and read articles they've put out and love what The Rabbit Room stands for, collectively, so to see that, I just said, 'This is going to be so good.'
"I had just finished reading The Wingfeather Saga, which Andrew [Peterson] wrote, and so to have Andrew in there from time to time reading with a writing group or whatever, I just felt like there was a celebrity next door whom I was also friends with, so I couldn't believe I was there. I was like, 'How did I get here? This is like some mythical, wonderful, creative space, and I am so glad to be a part of it'."
Ellie spoke about 'As Sure As The Sun''s haunting title track. "It's based out of Hosea 6:3, which says, 'Let us acknowledge the Lord. Let us press on to acknowledge him, for as surely as the sun rises, he will appear. He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.' I've said this before, but I'm a worrier. I know I'm not supposed to, but I worry about a lot of things. If there's one thing I've never honestly worried about when I'm falling asleep at night. . . I never worry 'Is the sun coming up in the morning?'" It's kind of a sure bet. And that's how sure God says his love and his mercy are. So it's just like this tangible promise that every morning I'm reminded of. His mercy doesn't end. His love never fails. See, the sun came up. That's how sure his love is.
"I wrote that for when I was kind of dreaming about this little kid we were getting ready to bring into our family. I wanted it to say what I would want her to know in the deepest parts of her being, and it turns out that's just what I need to know in the deepest parts of my being too! So that's been a sweet one to sing over my little girl, because I feel like I'm singing it over my own soul at the same time."
Ellie told Rockingodshouse what she hoped 'As Sure As The Sun' would achieve. "My prayer for these songs is that they would just refresh the hearts of the saints. Most of these songs were written out of places where I needed to remind myself of the truth that I so often forget. Many of them are tied to walking either through seasons of drought or doubt in my own life or walking with dear friends of mine who have faced some unbelievably intense trials over the past few years. So I would say almost all of them are sort of like what David does in the psalms; he kind of bosses his soul around," she laughed. "'Be still my soul, awake my soul, remember who God is, remember what He's done' - that's really the reason I started writing music, to remind myself of these truths that sometimes are really hard to believe, whether you're facing a season of doubt or a season that just feels dry and where God's voice feels silent. These are heart cries from me to hang on to the light in the midst of facing great darkness. Every song that I write is kind of sit in God's Word and say 'Help me believe that this is true, I think it is, it probably is, it doesn't feel true right now. I believe, but help my unbelief'."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.