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Sara Groves 

Sara Groves is without a doubt one of the most prolific songwriters of our day and has great vocals to compliment her music. In my recent conversation with her, she unveils the secrets behind her career as one of today's top female artists on the North American music scene.
 
As any truly creative painter, musician or writer will tell you, what separates the good artists from the great ones is the capacity to love passionately, feel pain intensely, shed tears without restraint and laugh from deep within your belly. Sara Groves' excellence as an artist originates within her childhood. 
 
"When I was a little kid the downside was that I felt everything. I know my mom said to me, 'Sara you can't feel everything.' I would get overwhelmed by everyone else's stuff. I couldn't just let it go," said Groves.
 
"I think part of the observer's life is you are going to observe things that are really hard and you are going to take them in and that (in turn) is hard. I feel a lot of my music is not just (sharing) my own secrets but other people's secrets as well." We should be quick to point out that she is not talking about exploiting confidences but rather creating music and lyrics around the emotions that other people's lives prompt within her. 
 
Groves' ability to be transparent and share who she is both in her personal life and in her music has been a double edged sword. It has helped her to create great songs such as the melodic "The One Thing I Know" from The Other Side of Something. Her capacity to be vulnerable has also at different times in her life complicated relationships with others. She said, "I think that I disclose at a pretty high level and I am comfortable with that." It wasnít that many years ago when she struggled with not understanding why others didnít allow themselves to be as vulnerable in their conversations with her. In her own mind, she constructed what she refers to as a disclosure scale. She said she has come to understand that what may not seem like a big thing to share for one person can indeed represent a huge step in vulnerability for another. She remarked, "It has helped me get along much better to realize that not everyone thinks out loud like I do."

One of the other secrets of Groves' success has been her ability to create great word pictures and to work with producers who, in her words, create "great photographs" of her music. Groves is not one of those writers who labor over stringing words together to match with a melody. Creating images are a way of life for her. "First of all, not all the songs are about me. I think that I part of the blessing and curse of being an artist is I can't turn my brain off. I am always pacing in my head," she said. The opening stanza for the song "Conversations" provides a great illustration of one of her word pictures;  

I don't know how to say this,
I don't know where to stand,
I don't know where to put my feet,
Or where to put my hands.
I've got them in my pockets,
My fingers are freezing cold,
They're wrapped around a ticket stub
That's four weeks old, 
In the past, she worked with producers Nate Sabin and Charlie Peacock but when the time came to enter the studio and record, Peacock had a scheduling conflict. She remembered wondering who she was going to turn to as a producer. "Charlie (Peacock) said, 'the best song photographer that you will find is Brown Bannister." Groves spoke enthusiastically about working with Bannister, "He is almost like a movie maker. It's like cinematography. I have never met anyone with such a sense of songs as Brown. He was unbelievable. We said we wanted to take beautiful pictures of the songs. We didn't want to prop anything up. We didn't want anything other than a really good picture, a good fixed photograph of the song. Brown was just phenomenal."
 
In speaking about all three producers that she has worked with Groves said, "I feel like I have worked with some of the great creative minds and that has been a great privilege. I worked with Nate on three albums and I worked with Charlie on The Other Side of Something. I felt like Nate really shaped the way I think about music and each producer that I have worked with has really added to the stew. I feel that the producer has such an important role. I feel like every producer has made me a better person and it has been a journey that way."
 
For instance, she pointed out, "Nate always has such a great sense of what a song wants to do.  He would never fight the song. It was a lot of trying to discover what the album wanted to be. I have always enjoyed that process of discovering what the album wanted to be. I feel that way about songwriting, so it was a good fit. I feel like songs already exist and (it is) like I am on an archaeological dig when I am writing a song (more of those word pictures!). I feel like the ideas are right there. It is like the idea is right around the corner and I have to get to it."
 
By comparison, she said, "Charlie is more like an artist. He has a palette. He has a canvass and he has paint. He comes at things a lot differently. He would set up the band and have them play through the entire song once then he would say 'change'." She recalls his instructions to the instrumentalists, "whatever you were doing don't do it again.' They (instrumentalists) would change everything about the way they were playing. It was more of an improv and it was more of a genuine or spontaneous creation."
 
Groves who composes almost all of her music at the piano hasn't been afraid to experiment with other instruments. At times she has incorporated strings arrangements with some of her songs. Add To the Beauty features Paul Franklin, a premier pedal steel guitar player. Groves described his work on the album as phenomenal. On one of her earlier albums, Sabin could be heard playing a harmonica. However, the moment she seemed to really clutch at as the ultimate prize was the invitation extended to Bill Woodsworth to play his French horn for "When It Was Over" the opening track on Add To the Beauty. Savoring the moment she said, "We were trying to find this particular sound that was oboe-like but not a clarinet or oboe. Carl, who does a lot of the arrangements for Brown, knew a man who played an English horn (Woodsworth). It is a very rare instrument to ever hear (at this point she broke into a rendition mimicking a French horn for me). He (Woodsworth) said, 'This is the most I have ever played. I usually only play a few passing tones in the orchestra." Groves concluded, "Those moments for me are the sugar on top."
 
"Loving a Person" represents the deeper more intellectual side of Sara Groves. "In my church background, and I think in the church backgrounds for a lot of people, (there is) a reticent to endorse others because they think (if we say) I love you then we are endorsing their life. I just don't see that as being a Biblical concept. I think people are afraid to love their neighbor, love their brother and love the people in their life because they are afraid they are going to endorse every decision, world view or life style that they have. God endorsed us while we were still sinners. He said, 'I love this one who is not following me and not doing the right thing.' I feel like that is what the song is about. Loving a person right where they are is Christianity." If Groves were penning these words, she would want you to know that this view serves as a reminder to her as well. In fact, she was struggling with some of these same issues when working through the writing of "Loving a Person." 
 
Groves made the point that loving people who have a different sexual orientation or have an addiction does not imply we are embracing their lifestyle or giving a nod of approval. "We are afraid to be just normal around people whose world view isn't exactly lining up with ours. We give them a sideways glance or start whispering." She also cautioned that we have to guard against prayer requests for others degenerating into a subtle form of gossip. "I don't think that is what God intended us to do. I hope the song challenges people to love people."
 
Now thirty-three years old and entering her eighth year in the music industry, Groves is enjoying life as wife to Troy and mom to Toby and Kirby. "I love my thirties, it is the best decade," she said, laughing. Comparing where she was in 1998 when she released her Indie album Past The Wishing to where she finds herself today she said, "I feel like I am more comfortable in my own skin."  Groves said the biggest change in her life is feeling comfortable with decisions about family and music whether they seem to be the popular choices of the day or not. 
 
To say that Sara Groves is a singer/songwriter seems a little understated so let's refer to her as she really is a gifted artist painting masterpieces as she sits at her piano. Just like the words to her song, "The One Thing I Know" she can say, "I can finally understand / The way you work in me."
 
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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