Songwriter Interviews

Rebecca St. James

by Dan MacIntosh

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Rebecca St. James is a Nashville singer/songwriter/actress, by way of Australia. She's a Grammy Award winner for Best Rock Gospel Album in 1999 with Pray, and also a budding actor: She played the lead role in the 2008 movie Sarah's Choice.

There have been long stretches of time between St. James albums. In 2002 she released the praise music album Worship God, and didn't issue another studio collection until 2005 with If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something. It was a full six years before she released her next CD, I Will Praise You, which was worth the wait as it is filled with mostly brand new worship songs that find St. James at the top of her writing and singing skills.

One of St. James' most famous songs, "Wait For Me," speaks about abstaining from sex until marriage. In early 2011, she got engaged to Jacob Fink, which is where we begin our phone conversation.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I'd read that you had become engaged – have you set a date?

Rebecca St. James: Yeah. Engaged on Christmas and our wedding's the end of April.

Songfacts: Well, congratulations. And since we're talking about engagement, one of your most popular songs is "Wait for Me," and so I'm wondering now when you sing this song, does it feel different?

Rebecca: Absolutely! It's an entirely different experience singing that song now. The first time I sang it after I got engaged it was incredibly emotional for me. My fiancé Jacob's grandparents were actually there for that show in Colorado, so I think it added something to it having part of his family there. But as I was setting up the songs, talking about the fact that I'd written the song for my future husband and never knew for ten years of my life who that was going to be and now I do, the audience just responded with such warmth and love. And I started crying as I'm intro-ing it. And singing the whole song, it was just – I was fighting emotion the whole time I was singing those words. Because there's a part in "Wait for me" that says, "Waiting for the look in your eyes when we meet for the first time," and that was there when I met him. For the first time meeting a guy, there was something very, very special right from that first glance. I actually ended up asking him once, I said, "Did you know the lyrics of that song when we first met?" And he didn't. He knew some of my other songs, but not that one. He wasn't even aware that there should be a look when we first meet. It was just organic, so I love that.

Songfacts: And here's your fiancé, you've been singing to him and about him for years before meeting him. That must make him feel pretty good.

Rebecca: Yeah. I think it does. He's only actually ever seen me sing that song once. Most of our dating relationship I traveled a little bit, but because of his schedule he wasn't able to come out and see more than a couple shows. So it will be very interesting for him getting married in a couple of months, just knowing it's his song, there's a real beauty to that.

Songfacts: I want to talk about the new album, which I really like. I was listening to it on my way home from work yesterday and having worship in the car, which is a great thing. Especially in Los Angeles, as you well know, because traffic is crazy.

Rebecca: Yes, it's peaceful.

Songfacts: So I'll have you know it's very therapeutic.

Rebecca: It is.

Songfacts: It's a worship album, but a lot of the songs talk about worshiping God even though there are some rough spots in life. So I wanted to find out from you what kinds of rough spots did you go through that inspired these kinds of songs?

Rebecca: Well, there's been a tremendous amount of change in my life in the last five years, since I had another studio album come out. And so in that time probably soon after the If I Had One Chance album came out, I was pretty exhausted from being on the road at that point for probably 12 years straight, and needing just a break from the road for a while. So I was dealing with some weariness and just needing some rest away from all the busy-ness. So I think some of challenges of that, I was probably writing from that kind of place. The wait for love and for marriage were longer than I ever would have thought. That can be lonely and hard when you want to be married and that person hasn't arrived. Even moving out to California, it was so right and I saw the hand of God very much in it; moved from Nashville to California two and a half years ago. But doing that and stepping into film, which is a whole new world for me, I definitely felt a sense of calling in that it's kind of scary.

On and off in my life I've dealt with fear and God has challenged me on that so much, just on the principles of letting go and trusting Him. So all those themes are very present on the album. "You Never Let Go" is one of the two covers on the project. The lyric, "I will fear no evil, for my God is with me, and if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear?" is incredibly relevant on so many levels for me, because of the journey that I've been on the last five years. So I'm glad you picked up on that because it's a very, very present theme throughout the whole project.

But I think the bigger theme, the overarching theme, is redemption. That He brings wonderful things from that surrender.

Songfacts: I spent time in Nashville and it seems like it's much more conducive to a spiritual life, whereas Los Angeles, there's a lot of superficiality, especially if you're getting into the movie business. What were some of the challenges that you faced when you moved out here and how did you face those?

Rebecca: Well, honestly, I don't think it was really as challenging as what I hear it can be for a lot of people moving to L.A. For a lot of people I think it is a lonely experience, whereas I lived in San Diego for 9 months before I moved up to L.A. As soon as I was in L.A. I had a church, so I had that community. And then I also had lots of friends that I'd built from commuting up a day or two a week to L.A. from San Diego. And I also had a roommate. So I had built-in community and I really wasn't lonely. I didn't find L.A. a lonely place, which a lot of people do, I know that. So that wasn't my story.

It's a very hard town to break into a new art arena. I had an advantage with the film stuff because of my music. People were more likely to allow me to be a part of their films or more open to my involvement because of music. But if I had come to town without any kind of music history, I think I would have had the door slammed in my face all the time. So I really know that any opportunities that I've had with book writing or films have largely come from that music platform and the doors that God has opened up there, first of all.

But even still, with all that, there were doors closed that were disappointing and hard. And sometimes you get your hopes up from a meeting and you think, Oh, well, probably an opportunity to glorify God through a movie is going to come of that. And then it doesn't. So you take the good with the bad. I've been involved with five or six different films in the last few years out there including Sarah's Choice as the lead role.

Songfacts: Did Los Angeles influence the music that you created on this new album?

Rebecca: Yeah, actually, dating my boyfriend at the time, now fiancé, he was very musical and just up with everything. He's given me this musical education, which is amazing. And he's a California guy, born in Colorado but grew up in California, surfer. So I think being in L.A., going to shows in L.A., and then him educating me definitely probably opened my eyes to different styles of music that then would come into writing, because generally you talk about music at the beginning of a writing session, just so that you're all on the same page, and knowing the music street that you're wanting to be on. I think some of the programmed elements were definitely coming from things that I was listening to.

Songfacts: What kinds of things have you been listening to that you think, whether intentionally or unintentionally, seeped into the new album?

Rebecca: It was indie stuff that I was listening to at the time. The bands aren't super known.

Songfacts: Were you listening to KCRW at all?

Rebecca: Thanks to my fiancé, yes, I did start listening a bit to them.

Songfacts: Well, talk about your producer, Mark A. Miller, what kind of directions do you think he moved you in? Did he have a vision for how he wanted this album to sound? And what advice did you take from him?

Rebecca: Well, the thing that really established the creative trust with me with Mark early, early on, the first time that I met him, he said, "I'm just praying that if we're meant to work together, that God will show me that I can be a good student of your ministry. And then if He says that I can, then I feel we've got the green light, if you've got the feeling there, too." So the fact that he was praying about being a good student of my ministry, I was just so blown away by that. So it was just a really beautiful trust. And I think that he'd been on the other side of the microphone like me, that his being in Sawyer Brown, there's a lot of empathy and a lot of trust and understanding. So that was really awesome.

I come from probably more of a programmed background. He comes from a very organic background musically. And so the two of those perspectives coming together on this album I think created a really unique sound for me. Generally, the rest of my projects, my producer and I will spend just months and months on the front end working on programming and creating the sound. And then when the musicians come in it's just kind of adding to that. Whereas the approach was completely different this time. It was going to the studio with a blank slate, have the musicians play and be inspired in the moment, and then adding programming later. So it's a real different sound, I think, because of that difference in approach, and due to Mark.

Songfacts: Has Hillsong been an inspiration to you?

Rebecca: Yes, big, big influence. I grew up in Australia, and the whole Hillsong's kind of worship revolution was happening, it was beginning at that time. I went to that church for years in Sydney.

Songfacts: I didn't realize that.

Rebecca: Yes, huge influence. And then really, when I listen to worship in my own personal life, most of the time it's Hillsong.

Songfacts: I think it's a Psalm that talks about to sing to the Lord a new song. And a personal frustration for me is that I hear a lot of worship music, but I hear a lot of people just recording the same worship songs over and over again.

Rebecca: Exactly.

Songfacts: And what I like about your new album, although there are a couple of great covers, they're mostly new songs.

Rebecca: Totally right.

Songfacts: And that's kind of what Hillsong does, they continually create new music. And so was that part of what you wanted to do? Did you want to give your listeners some new worship songs to sing instead of maybe the same old things that they've already sung a hundred times?

Rebecca: Yeah. We were very intentional about making sure that the bulk of the album was brand new songs. Because we tweeted out, actually, to my audience and just said, "Hey, what would you like to hear?" And the response we got back was, "Please don't just make another album of covering all these songs that we've heard before and you're just doing your version. We really want fresh worship songs." It was very intentional, and I love that you picked up on that.

We spoke with Rebecca on February 8, 2011. Get more at
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Comments: 3

  • Steve from AustraliaPray is an awesome song.
    It reminds me of an Aussies 90s Indie band The Clouds.
    Very cool
  • Godfrey 4m Zambiaits intresting 2 hear that u r marrying or married. Am js blown away by how you bring out Godly music with such sensitivity and emotional touch. Since 2006 when i first heard "God of wonders" and now 'God help me'. U inspire me 2 listen 2 gospel music. May God bless u n mark.
  • Eric from CincinnatiI've been a fan of RSJ for over a decade, since I heard "Don't Worry" for the first time.
    Congrats to her and her fiance! I'll be interested to see how her career changes after marriage and (possibly) children -- Will she be a working mom, like Francesca Battistelli? Or will she put family first and her career on hold for a few years, ala Adrienne (Liesching) Camp?
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