Singer/songwriter Jennifer Knapp hits the stage at Hotel Café in Hollywood on Saturday night in support of her latest release, Set Me Free. Knapp’s impressive career spans nearly two decades. She’s sold over a million albums, been nominated for Grammy Awards, and has received praise for her work as an artist and stance as an LGBT advocate.
As she prepares for a handful of West Coast shows, Knapp opened up to atombash.com about song writing, life after coming out, and her thoughts on reality music competition shows.
Hotel Café was the first show you played after your hiatus- a lot has changed since then. What are you feeling going into this show?
Jennifer Knapp (JK): I’m actually pretty keen to revisit Hotel Café and not have my knees shake like a wet cat. Remembering back, it was pre-coming out, overcoming years of musical atrophy and just generally wondering if I had any purpose in the world. Well, I’ve answered all those internal questions and am grateful to know there’s a reason why I’m having such a great time being back.
Your live shows are very conversational- does the dialogue in between songs change at all when you’re playing a venue like Hotel Café as opposed to a church?
JK: If I’m in a church these days, the conversation I’m having is overtly LGBTQ advocacy and not typically geared toward entertainment. So yeah, there’s a big difference. That being said, taking any stage these days, I always try to be myself. Playing clubs is a true joy because I get to do what I truly feel made to do, to get lost in a song, sing my heart out and try and deeply connect with people.
At this point in touring is the set list set in stone- or does it change from show to show?
JK: Of course, I’m playing the bulk of the Set Me Free record right now, but what older songs that pop up can vary night to night. I like to listen for the conversation thread for the night—to discover what our collective narrative is going to be. Sometimes fans insist on pulling out some real oldies and talk me into taking a risk on things I haven’t played in years. Anyway, when it comes to club dates, I don’t think I’ve ever done a carbon copy, even when I’ve tried!
Do you write when you’re on the road?
JK: Rarely. I tend to write in manic bunches and in my nesting places. If I ever complete anything on the road, it’s most certainly because it’s pestering me to be known.
If you had to enter the music industry today would you ever consider doing a reality music show (i.e. American Idol or The Voice)?
JK: God, no! For me, participation in music and creativity suffers greatly when forced to compete against other creations. I mean, how do you pit a Picasso against a Warhol and say one should be rewarded more greatly than the other? I often wonder: could Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan or even Nirvana win one of these competitions today?
I’m not saying these shows are bad necessarily, but I don’t think they are indicative of what drives people to continue to create and become musicians as a lifelong inspiration. These shows are making rivals of entertainers and not necessarily inspiring creativity. I’ve never fully related to being a musician driven to entertain the masses, but rather felt more compelled to be a “dream catcher” of sorts. There’s no doubt in my mind that deeply creative people can be hugely entertaining, but maybe, in the thick of competitions like this, you don’t necessarily nurture the real human dream?
Your music has helped so many people who are coming to terms with their sexuality- were there any specific artists/bands whose music helped you during your process?
JK: Most of my deepest learning and spiritual connection is rooted in the intellectual realm. I read a ton, from Rilke to Karen Armstrong to Nouwen and more. History, theology and art, they all inform my journey and confidence. If there’s any measure of success, it’s when all that esoteric, heady stuff becomes so engrained that it transforms from nerd-dom and comes out the other side of my brain in the form of poetry.
Set Me Free was fan funded what was that experience like for you and do you think you’ll go down that route with your next project?
JK: I was really nervous at first. I had always had it in my mind that crowd sourcing was a fall back plan or, somehow, lacking in professional credibility, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I went into it at first thinking that this was just some kind of economic choice, but it turned out to be much deeper than that. I was in tears of gratitude most days, not to just for the gift of funding the recording, but even more so because I’m getting direct encouragement to keep creating from the very people who have confidence in my voice.
I’d love to go down this road again, but I do worry about social network and crowd sourcing fatigue. I worry that what can be a beautiful reciprocating experience could turn into a new form of panhandling, which is the last thing I’d want my audience to feel. But really, like all artists, I’m at the mercy of listeners. If there’s still a place for me, it is at the mercy of those who long to hear what I’ve got to offer.
You’ve accomplished so much in your career is there one thing that’s still on your career bucket list?
JK: Sure. I wouldn’t turn down a Grammy or a tour with Tracy Chapman. But mostly, I miss playing on a regular basis with a band. It can get lonely, if not boring, just playing with yourself all the time.
The Christian community has come a long way in their support of the LGBT community, but obviously there’s still a lot of opposition. What do you think it’s going to take to continue to change minds?
JK: My strongest belief is that what is required is not change as much as it is courage. The courage for straight, allied Christians to stand up in public for what they have long held in private. That God loves what we were created to be. Christians who really care about loving the world around them really need to step up and start visibly and vocally loving with abandon.
When I came out 6 years ago, I found it frustrating that my Christian friends were supportive in private, but silent in public. They feared the social and even professional costs. Some still hold back because of this. Meanwhile, LGBTQ people keeping taking the hits and the church looks more and more anti-gay.
Faith communities can talk all they want about how loving they are, but nothing makes a bigger impact that walking along side those who are on a journey. Jesus did it and it was a costly venture. Why should any of us expect anything less when we do the same?
Finaly… what was the last song you downloaded?
JK: Indigo Girls, One Lost Day, their latest album.
To buy tickets to her performance at The Hotel Cafe: click here
To buy Set Me Free on iTunes: click here
For more on Jennifer Knapp: click here