Musical Discoveries: This seems like one of those kinds of albums that you have been thinking about doing for a long time.
Ashley Cleveland: You are very perceptive because that's exactly right. I have wanted to do this for a long time. I had wanted to make a hymns record that where special to me that I could do with some sort of artistic distinction. I wasn't really going for a specific number, just enough to fill up a CD. (laughs)
Once I had twelve songs or whatever it started to take shape and that's when I made the record. Thank you for saying that there was some thought in it because there definitely was. There were many years of thought and of looking for the right arrangement. Most of the arrangements are my own but there are a couple of them that I kind of borrowed from others.
With literally thousands of hymns to choose from, what were your criteria for choosing the songs on this record?
Well, I think that some hymns let themselves better to a more modern treatment than others. So clearly that was a criteria for me. Although with some of them it kind of didn't matter. In the same respect there are a lot of hymns that are equally important to me that are not on this record because I felt like I didn't have anything that hadn't already been done or that I felt like stacked up with my arrangements on these other songs.
Of course, if I got those in place I wouldn't be adverse to making another hymn record. Like you say, there are quite a number of hymns and I love quite a number of them. The ones that I left off are just as compelling to me as the ones I left on. The only difference to me was that I felt certain ones had better arrangements.
This is your first album for Rambler Records, which is a new label right?
Yes it is my first for them. They are a new label but it is a part of BHT records, which is Blanton, Harrell, and Thomas. My association with Blanton and Harrell goes back many many years, clear back to when they were at Reunion Records. They were also my management for a number of years. I have a very long and happy relationship with them. So for me it's new but it's not new you know?
It sounds like it was very natural thing as well.
Yes. They have been incredibly supportive of me over the years and that's a great thing.
So this is not a one off album for them then?
I certainly hope not! (laughs) Not that I know of! I see it as the start of something and not an isolated incident.
The thing that probably most caught me off guard on this album was the duet with Steve Winwood. How did that come to be?
Well, he married a Nashville girl and they spend most of their time at his estate in England. Actually they have a lovely house here in Nashville as well and they sort of divide their time between the two places. Before his children got too deep into their schooling he gave his wife a year here because I think that she really missed Tennessee and her friends here.
While they were here, they attended the church that I go to. I had sung with him on a couple different occasions as a background singer, so we were acquaintances already. I got to know him a bit better while they were attending the church and the worship leader at the time asked me if I would like to lead worship on a Sunday. I said that I would and I thought we should ask Steve if he'd like to play as well. He agreed and came with his B3 and a double leslie.
It was just fantastic and really all we did were hymns. He told me at the time that he loved old hymns as well and that he collected old, really obscure hymns, and at some point he thought he might do something recording wise with them. I don't know if he will or not though.
I recognized a kindred spirit just in the love of the music so when I was recording, I was actually making another record, and we had some studio time and he was in town I asked him if he would come and play on the other record but also consider doing a duet with me and playing. He said that he would and we did it. Once I had it I knew that I wanted to save it for the hymn record that I knew I eventually would do. This was a couple years ago.
Is there a particular hymn on this record that means the most to you?
Yes. I think that my favorite hymn of all time is "Come Thou Fount" just because of the words. I love the melody as well. It's quite fantastic to me. I do so relate to the words and the story behind it. That hymn in particular I just love but you know I really do love them all. They have all touched me in a really deep way at one point or another, most of them more than once.
I'm curious about who you feel these songs will appeal to. Obviously you are a Christian that has had great success simply being who you are in both the world of Christian music and mainstream music. Do you feel that these songs/this record will appeal to people who are not Christians?
I don't imagine it would particularly appeal to someone who didn't have at least some sort of spiritual hunger or interest. But really who's to say? I have gotten letters over the years from people who are not Christians who really liked a particular song or record or "I love your voice" or whatever. That's lovely to me; the fact that they are open to whatever it is I'm doing. So as far as appeal goes there is a definite question mark there.
I do know this though; I have played these songs ever since I have been performing, for years and years. I can't tell you the number of times that I have played a hymn at a show and had people come up and comment to me afterwards, people who were not Christians, about how much they liked that song when they were a kid in church. Then they tear up and you can see that it moved them or reminded them of something that was precious to them. I hope that it does reach beyond the boundaries of the church.
I think that I really performed well on this CD but I am very aware that I take a backseat to the hymns. That's how I would like it be, so that's good! (laughs) In a way I'm very personally invested in this CD and in another way I am completely removed from it. I'm just sort of a vessel for these songs I think. I mean that very genuinely.
One interesting thing I have noticed though is that my Catholic friends aren't as into this record as my protestant friends. They grew up with a different set of songs! (laughs) I would have never thought of that but I have taken note of it. I have a friend, Beth Nielsen Chapman, who did an album of Latin hymns from the Catholic tradition and they love her album! (laughs) That's so cool! It's wonderful.
So how do you feel about going from making an album of songs that are hundreds of years old to seeing a song of your own performed on American Idol?
laughs) It's a little bizarre! (laughs) We had had a heads up because the company that administers our song catalog, which my husband and I co-wrote, had contacted us. My husband plays very close to the vest and never gets excited about anything until it is in the can and done and for sure. I on the other hand get excited about every little thing! A couple of weeks ago he very casually mentioned that Bug Music, the people who administer our catalog, had called and said that the people from American Idol had called them and had wanted the sheet music to the songs "Power of Love."
Of course, we don't have sheet music! (laughs) It would have never even occurred to us to have sheet music available for it! Anyway, I got really excited and I was like, "Oh my gosh! They are gonna use our song!" My husband was like, "Don't do that, I knew you were gonna do that! They are probably just considering it among hundreds of songs."
Of course I told him that I was sure that they were gonna use it on the show. Quite frankly, after I thought about it I figured he was right and had pretty much put it out of my mind. About a week later I walked in the door one evening and the phone was ringing. It was a friend of mine and she was like, "I guess you know that your song was just on American Idol!"
All of a sudden I was on the radar! (laughs) Really of all the ways to get on the radar it never would have crossed my mind in a million years that it could be done that way. The truly great part though was that my music became instantly relevant to my children. (laughs) I also thought that it was really cool that someone had brought the house down with a gospel song. I really was quite tickled by the whole thing. I thought that she was a great performer. It would have been crushing if she had done my song and Simon Cowell had told her how terrible the song was, but he didn't so it's great! (laughs)
Do you plan to tour for this album?
Yes. I am going out at the end of March with Jars of Clay. It was initially going to be six weeks long but there has been so much interest that it is now extended for an indefinite amount of time. They have also just done an album of hymns. This is very much their baby and they just kindly invited me along. I had worked with them on their last record, Who We Are Instead, which is one of my favorite records.
I really liked that record a lot so I know that we'll probably perform the two songs of that album that I did with them on the tour. I think that their idea for the tour is to do it like "in the round" where we all spend some time on the stage collectively and engage the audience as well. It's very much focused on hymns. It sounds great and it's one of the nicest invitations for a tour that I have gotten in awhile. I'm really looking forward to it.
Thanks for your time. It's really been a pleasure talking with you. Do you have any parting thoughts?
Not really, I think we have covered it all. Thanks so much.