For the last five years, The Gray Havens have been making theologically mature, artfully produced, Inklings-inspired music. The husband/wife duo of Dave and Licia Radford have grown a steady following through albums like 2015’s Fire and Stone and 2016’s Ghost of a King, and now they are preparing to release their latest record, She Waits, on October 5.
Listen to the song below, and then read our interview with Dave Radford (who you may remember from the fifth season of American Idol) about the song, the album, the artist’s life, Narnia, and more.
We are premiering your new single, “Storehouse,” today at TGC. Tell us about the song. What do you want it to communicate about God and life?
Writing for the past two records has more or less happened in two stages. The first stage is simply “capturing” onto my phone or documenting melodic and/or lyrical ideas as they come to me throughout the year. When it’s time to get serious and write for a record, the next stage is sorting through the (hundreds of) memos to see which ideas are still inspiring, sometimes even a few years after they were first recorded. A lot of ideas at this stage are just half-formed melodies sung to some kind of incoherent gibberish. “Storehouse” was a rarity in that a fully formed idea came all at once. I think I just heard it in my head and sang out loud, “I’ll go, to the storehouse I’ll go, to the storehouse of mercy I’ll go.”
Because sorrow for sin and the need for repentance is such a constant in my life, and in the life of any believer, it wasn’t hard to know at the 30,000-foot level what I wanted to say. Ultimately, the song gets at the inner thought life and behavior tied to cyclical temptation and sin, but also the hope of grace and forgiveness we have in Christ.
She Waits is the title of your upcoming album. I love that title, and I love the title track you released late last year. What can you tell us about the album?
This was the first of our records where I set out with a definite theme in mind. I told Licia, “I think I want to write a heaven record.” Heaven has been a consistent theme throughout our songwriting. It is such a deep well for inspiration for us. That wasn’t always the case, though.
I think I was saved at 17 years old. Growing up, I’d heard the gospel proclaimed clearly by my dad each Sunday from the pulpit, but it wasn’t until a series of events in high school that I really sensed that I needed a Savior and that Jesus is Lord. Even then, I didn’t really think about heaven much at all. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I experienced a major paradigm shift that has lasted to this day. I remember doing laundry in my dorm room (a rare occurrence) and listening to a Randy Alcorn talk on heaven. What was once ethereal and abstract all of a sudden started becoming real and concrete. I’d never heard anyone talk about heaven like that. It made me excited, hopeful, and expectant. I started seeing heaven everywhere in the Bible and began to view things in light of eternity. Everything became more weighty and somber, but also much more hopeful and joy-filled. So I guess you could say this album, She Waits, balances both aspects of this tension during the “in-between.”
Musically, how has The Gray Havens sound evolved?
When we just started out, we called ourselves “narrative-pop-folk.” Our first EP was released around when Mumford and Sons were big, and that “folk” element seemed present enough to include in the label. I’d say by the time we finished our last record, Ghost of a King, the “folk-ness” started to fade. I might call She Waits something like “narrative-cinematic-pop.” Sound can be hard to describe. It can be like trying to describe the color blue. You just have to see or hear it. Perhaps the biggest musical difference between Ghost of a King and She Waits is the lead instrument changed from acoustic guitar to piano. Maybe because of that, or because of the subject matter, She Waits feels more hopeful. We’ve had Ben Shive as our producer for both albums. I don’t know a better producer or musician. He makes the songs come to life.
So far you’ve released four singles from the new album. Will you release any more singles before the album is out?
We have one more single to go called “See You Again.” It’s really a funeral song and what I’d want Licia to remember if I were the first of us to die. It was partially inspired by Tim and Kathy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage. They write, “Most people, when they are looking for a spouse, are looking for a finished statue when they should be looking for a wonderful block of marble. Not so you can create the kind of person you want, but rather because you see what kind of person Jesus is making.” They go on to say that in heaven, we’ll finally see who God was making us to be all along, and we’ll say something like, “I always knew you could be like this.” And that’s exactly what the song gets at. It’s a song of hope you might play at a funeral to remind everyone that it doesn’t end at death. We live forever, and we’ll see each other again in the new Jerusalem.
Your music captures waiting, longing, discontent, and Sehnsucht so well. The specters of Eden and heaven are very present. Would you say your music is about the “in between” tension of life, the now and not yet? How does music and art generally lend itself to capturing this idea?
Definitely. C. S. Lewis once described joy as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction,” meaning the wanting of this one thing (which he would ultimately discover to be heaven) is more satisfying than the having of anything else the world can offer. That description resonated deeply. I tried getting at that idea directly in a song called “Far Kingdom,” but the same theme exists throughout many of our songs.
I’d say music and story make the everyday more real. Good, beautiful stories plunge the reader into a fictional world in such a way that when they come out again, they perceive the real world with more clarity and joy than before. As G. K. Chesterton put it, fairy tales “make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”
Music, art, and story all possess a peculiar power to awaken wonder, sorrow, joy, longing, and worship, in a way that is hard to replicate elsewhere.
Music, art, and story all possess a peculiar power to awaken wonder, sorrow, joy, longing, and worship, in a way that is hard to replicate elsewhere. Lewis was a master at this. Narnia was not an escape from reality. In many ways it felt somehow more real. Through story, Lewis brought true things to light that were either previously undiscovered or had been veiled by the familiarity of the everyday. Narnia increased my joy and delight in God and his good gifts. It taught me about his great sacrifice, friendship, courage, and faithfulness in ways that mere knowledge of them never could. This is what we’re trying to do through story in music.
What is the songwriting process like for you and Licia?
I usually liken our songwriting dynamic to a gladiator in the Colosseum and an empress. I’m like the gladiator, except I’m fighting songs. When I get done fighting the song, I have to present it to the empress, Licia. In real life, she’s gracious and encouraging, even if she doesn’t like it. But to me, sometimes, it’s like she’s got this ominous thumb parallel to the floor, wavering between good or bad, deciding if the song will live or die. It usually dies, so I have to go back and fight again until it lives.
For She Waits, it would be an understatement to say it didn’t work out as planned. The recording process was supposed to be done 11 months ago, and we just finished a couple weeks back. This record was, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The plan was to record the tracks first (while I would in theory, be finishing lyrics to be added later). But the lyrics didn’t come. The recording deadline came and went. Months passed. There were times I was sure we wouldn’t finish. I was incredibly discouraged. Thankfully, God answered our (many) prayers and gave us all the lyrics, whether through bursts of inspiration, long walks with our producer Ben Shive (who was a tremendous help), or during a dreaded co-write session. I really don’t enjoy co-writing, but I couldn’t have finished without those hours spent hashing things out with some really talented individuals.
If you could offer advice to young Christian musicians seeking to improve their craft and make music that connects with audiences, what would you say?
First, write a good amount of music that you really wish existed in the world; songs that you would listen to over and over again on your own, even if they were never released. Maybe 15 to 30 songs like that. The music has to connect with you on a deep level first, otherwise you won’t have enough of a reason to push through when things get hard, which they will. Once you have songs, do a Kickstarter and record the songs with a producer who believes in your music. Then release the album as singles on Spotify for a while (maybe three to four songs) before releasing the full project. If you want to be a touring artist, get good at reaching out cold to lots of places where you might be able to play. Play lots of shows. Play anywhere you get asked to play. Then, if it seems like God is continually opening up doors, keep going.
What are the joys and challenges of making music for a living? How has it shaped your marriage and family life?
If I could graph it, the challenges would be on the x axis and the joys on the y. Challenges are the norm, but there are spikes of joy mixed in that make it all worth it. There are a few unique challenges to the artist lifestyle. One is not having a set rhythm to life. At times, it feels like you’re constantly in “transition” from one thing to the next, never able to fully achieve momentum at one thing. Traveling and life on the road can be depleting, and having an energetic 3-year-old boy on the road makes it a bit more interesting on that score. Last, there are many days spent doing administrative things in front of a computer, and large gaps can exists where music really isn’t part of it, and you start to wonder if it’s all worth it. I’ve actually thought more about quitting lately than I ever have before. I’ll bring it up with Licia, and we’ll pray about it, but we still feel like it’s what God has called us to for now.
The spikes of joy usually happen in the studio (when we’re recording a song that has finished lyrics), performing live and talking to people who have been encouraged by our music, and getting to be together as a family all the time. It’s special to be able to watch my son, Simon, grow up every day and to have the flexibility to play with him whenever. Licia and I love being able to work together. We’re a good team. She’s good at a lot of things I’m not good at, and vice-versa.
What have you been learning about God recently?
Our church is going through Luke, and the more I read, the more I’m convinced (as in, further convinced) you simply could not have made Jesus up. There’s just no way. He’s too real. I recently discovered that Jesus calming the storm in Luke 8 is my favorite miracle account. Maybe it’s because I love storms. There have been lots of huge, lightning-filled clouds around our house lately. The thought of Jesus speaking to a storm and the storm obeying is awesome in the true sense of the word.
A good definition of heaven is the immediate presence of Jesus forever.
I think a good definition of heaven is the immediate presence of Jesus forever. Reading through the Gospels in a more concentrated way is making me more and more excited about spending eternity with Christ. Peripheral things like community and no suffering and relationships and new creation sound phenomenal, but they’re pictures of what being with Jesus is like, and the real thing is even better.