A last minute addition to the Cross Rhythms Okehampton bill, SUE RINALDI has just released a breathtaking new album. Sue talked to Mike Rimmer about her music.
Ever since her time singing with Heartbeat, Sue Rinaldi has managed to garner a great deal of respect for her ministry. I still remember her performance on Yoof TV's A-Z Of Belief fielding the most antagonistic questions about her faith and proving to be a worthy apologetic. Always her music has exuded a passion for God and yet she also understands about engaging her culture in a thoughtful, compassionate fashion.
Here is one woman of God who never seems at a loss for something to say about her life, her faith and the state of the world. Her albums may come around with the regularity of a Leap Year but when they do, they are essential listening. 'Promise Land' reflects the way in which the musical landscape has changed since the release of her solo debut 'Love Eternal' but it also seems to find Sue with some provocative thoughts in post-Diana Britain. From the moment the album popped through the letterbox at Rimmer Towers, it had been almost glued to the CD player and the songs provoked a number of questions and now the opportunity to ask them!
Mike: It's been a long time since 'Love Eternal'. You must be
the least prolific worship leader in British Christian music when it
comes to releasing albums. Why the long wait?
Sue: "I personally find that there is this 'conveyor belt' mentality that tempts you to release an album every year. Somehow if I did that it is possible that the songs could become weak and the sound unoriginal. It's been four years since the release of 'Love Eternal', four very busy and important years, allowing me to develop musically and artistically and eventually produce an album that has substance."
Mike: You co-wrote a lot of songs with the wonderful Caroline
Bonnett and then she produced the album. Tell me something about what
you appreciate about her talents and on a personal level, her
Sue: "I first met Caroline back in the '80s when she had just started out as a solo artist and I was based in Southampton and had just given up accountancy to do music full time. Both of us were with Pioneer network churches and we met at a rainy, muddy campsite - the usual place for an open air Christian festival! Since that first meeting we kept in touch - after all, there weren't many women doing what we were doing. After I left Heartbeat I moved to Cobham and that was where our friendship really took off. It was very refreshing to have a friendship with Caroline based on who we were as people and not based on what we did! We were quite clear that we wanted to be friends first and if that then led to any musical collaboration, then so be it. As time went on we shared a house and now we own a house together and find ourselves musical partners as well as companions. I really appreciate her incredible musical abilities - she is a great pianist and keyboard player and a sensitive vocalist but also one of the best songwriters in this country. I think working with her has brought out musical depths from me that were hidden. She has encouraged me to be real and not simply follow musical trend but strive to remain authentic. She has stretched me to find originality and emotion within a song."
Mike: What about writing together, how does the process work
between you? Do you get into a room together and write or do you start
songs and Caroline finishes them?
Sue: "I love writing with other people - it enables me to go places with a song that I wouldn't necessarily go to if I wrote alone. The songwriting process with Caroline was an incredibly natural one and happened in a variety of ways. We would go upstairs to our studio and I would play her an idea and she would comment into it and then we would develop it together. Another time she would set up a loop and play some chords and we would experiment together, musically and lyrically, and see what would happen. The track 'Promise Land' came together in quite a different way. I was downstairs working on some lyrical ideas -unknown at the time to Caroline. I then heard this beautifully moving music weaving its way through the house. My rough lyrics seemed to fit with what she was playing, so I rushed upstairs and it appeared to have potential and so we worked on it."
Mike: What about recording the album itself? What memories do
you have of the sessions?
Sue: "We actually recorded the album in a barn which belongs to friends of ours who live just outside Stratford-Upon-Avon. The location was ideal, beautiful countryside, lovely accommodation, gorgeous food and our friends who own the barn that is attached to their house are really supportive of us as people and totally behind the concept of 'Promise Land'. We then kitted out the barn with recording equipment supplied by Neil Costello who engineered the album. The ambience was fantastic. But we worked hard, very hard in order to record 11 tracks and mix them within 22 days! Every day we knew that the presence of God was with us, energising us and inspiring us and every musician that played and sang on 'Promise Land' contributed something very special to the songs and overall sound."
Mike: 'Promise Land' seems less like a worship album than some
of your previous work. Do you perceive a blurring of the boundaries
between being a Christian music artist and a worship
Sue: "We live in a world that is obsessed with labels and always has to define what it is that people do and are! These boxes can be very claustrophobic and this whole 'worship' box is frustratingly restrictive. Every song on 'Promise Land' is worship, however every song might not be able to be sung by a collective body of people. People always ask me the same question, 'What are you? A contemporary music artist or a worship leader?' Well, I'm both, all the time."
Mike: What sort of producer is Caroline?
Sue: "Caroline has a great ear for music and for the components within music - chords, harmony, melody, EQ... She really is a great producer and I hope that 'Promise Land' is the first of many albums that she produces. She is also good at bringing the authenticity out of the artist and players. Seeing that there is so much plagiarism around, this is probably one of her greatest assets. As a vocal producer, she's alert but wants the performance more than the execution."
Mike: If you've held off from recording a new album until you
felt you had something to say, what do you believe is the message at
the heart of the songs on 'Promise Land'?
Sue: "'Promise Land' contains songs of hope for a world that has lost hope and songs of love for a world that is crazy for it. It is also vulnerable and honest about my life and thoughts. The world is ready to worship. That's obvious as you look around and watch the personalities of music and sport being elevated as present day icons. My dream is that through 'Promise Land' people encounter God." "I guess my heart is to see revival (whatever that means) break out in the middle of society, where the people are - in the office block, in the pub!"
Mike: Tell me about the song "Promise Land", inspired as it
was by the death of Princess Diana. Where were you when you heard of
her death and how did you respond in the days afterwards?
Sue: "Caroline and I were at her parents' house after attending her brother's wedding on the Saturday. When the news broke early on the Sunday, we spent the day huddled around the television for reports and updates with feelings of shock, sadness and almost disbelief. What really affected us was the way that this news affected the world. Soon after, Caroline and I took a walk around Buckingham Palace and Kensington Gardens and observed the thousands of people, young and old, deeply impacted by Diana's death. The flowers were not only a magnificent sight but the fragrance was intoxicating. Since the death of Jesus has any other death had such an overwhelming impact upon the world? Why? Why did people feel such grief? Why did people search within themselves and feel such a void? Many seemed to touch and revisit their own personal sadnesses and losses whilst mourning Diana. The song 'Promise Land' was an attempt to chronicle this event but also to encourage us to 'dare to hope for better days'. Even in the bleakest of times, there is the promise of hope. I have really taken this song to heart because early this year my mother died of cancer - in fact the week after finishing the album she died. It challenged me to the very core when I reread the words I had written to describe the song on the cover inlay, 'During times of immense sadness is it possible to find hope? I'd like to believe it is.' For me the tragedy of Diana's death paled in relation to the pain and grief I felt because of the loss of my mum. But somehow this pain made the song and the sentiment even more real, however bitter the taste."
Mike: Do you feel as others do that it has had an affect on
the nation in terms of indicating that emotionally the British are
capable of loosening up? Spiritually or prophetically what are your
feelings about it months later?
Sue: "Historians and sociologists are now talking about this post-Diana age - it seems a significant watershed for the British people. I'm glad that the present environment allows us to be real and show emotion rather than bottling it all up and pretending that all is okay. This whole incident shows that this is a hurting, searching world and that people are looking for the spiritual and the eternal. This is a big challenge for those of us with a Christian faith. Are we speaking the same language as the people? Are we where the people are? Or are we hiding in our buildings waiting to be visited?"
Mike: Musically tell me about the vibe on the album. I love
the overall feel with the marriage of Mark Edwards' loops with some of
the other element. What did you have in mind when setting out to
Sue: "I love elements to fuse together and make something new. This was really our intention with 'Promise Land', to mix together 'live' with loops, strings with up front guitar. We looked to Mark Edwards to create a backdrop of loops and industrial sounds which could then be merged with the live instruments. A couple of the songs are totally live which is really exciting. I also wanted the album to be representative of my band, and so my guitarist Dan Boreham and drummer Mikey Randon appear on many tracks. They have an originality about them and immense skill which I wanted to feature on the album. Caroline plays keyboards in the band and sings and obviously her handprint is all over it too."
Mike: Because music has changed in the time since 'Love
Eternal', this album has more of an edge. What music have you been
listening to in the intervening time that has struck you?
Sue: "I have a very wide musical appreciation and living with Caroline has educated me even further into many other styles of music. Basically I just love music that has soul. We have recently been listening to Roni Size, Bjoik, KD Lang, Talvin Singh and the Asian Underground, Afro Celts, Shawn Colvin, Kevin Prosch and Ryuichi Sakamoto."
Mike: I love "Redemption Street". Since your days in Heartbeat
you have been talking and singing about revival. Have you visited
'laces around the world where it is happening? What are your
Sue: '"Redemption Street' is loosely based upon a series of meetings called Sowing The Seeds Of Revival, hosted by Gerald Coates and Pioneer, which have been happening at Marsham Street in Westminster, London since last year. However, it also introduces the possibility that in these thirsty times a door to revival can open up anywhere...in your town, in your school, in your street, in your home. I haven't visited Toronto or Pensacola - what is happening there and other places is great but guess my heart is to see revival (whatever that means) break out, where the people are - in the office block, in the pub!"
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