I’ve been listening intently through your project, “The Garden.” What were some of the inspirations for the songs?
Well, it’s kind of a two-fold thing with this album. I did a lot of writing out of a season where my sister lost her baby at seven and a half months pregnant at the same time that I was still pregnant with Canyon. And so, it just was really a difficult season…uncharted waters as we celebrated Canyon, but were also grieving with my sister. It was very difficult and I found myself just really having to just really lean into the Lord and not get offended at Him not healing her, but just have to worship through it and trust that He was going to make it beautiful. You know, we don’t always understand everything we go through. I just really fought to not let it steal from my worship. So, I just wrote a lot out of it. The first song I wrote out of that experience was “I Will Sing.” It was like two weeks after finding out. I just really started watching God show me that He was up to beautiful things and that He was going to turn what looked so dark and so terrible into something beautiful…and He has done that. It’s been similar to what it would be like in a garden when you just look around and there’s beauty around you that God has planted. God’s planted things in our lives… if we’ve allowed Him to. They bloom at the right time… what we need and exactly when we need it. The other side of it is… we wrote a lot with our church home here in Nashville. You know… local church, just writing for our congregation and watching these songs start to take flight. It’s been really sweet.
WM: What is your church there in Nashville?
Kari: We’re a part of The Belonging. Our pastors are Henry and Alex Seeley. They were both at Planetshakers for a long time. The church started three years ago.
WM: You mentioned your one-year old son Canyon. How has becoming a mother affected
Kari: Yes! I love it! It’s like my favorite job… my favorite role. It’s so sweet being a mom. The way that it’s changed me? I actually feel a lot more settled. There’s a lot of time that I’ve just got to sit and be and play and not be in a hurry. I feel like it’s changed my worship leading in a way to just like… slow down, just rest in the moment of God’s presence… to just wait there and not be in a hurry to move on to something else. The moments seem sweeter.
WM: What has God been speaking to you lately?
Kari: I really want to feel ready for this upcoming tour and I don’t want it to feel like a concert. I want His presence to come strong every night. Last night I was just asking Him for more language in my worship leading. A lot of times as worship leaders, we can get stuck in a routine of “filler words” that work, you know? I’ve just been asking Him for more language that will come from an overflow. I literally wrote in my journal last night… I felt like He said, “Intimacy gives language.” Which just means that I need to get to know Him more! So, I can sing more about His goodness and sing more about Who He is not just about what I want Him to do. You know? Just as a worship leader, I want more language. I was just like, “Thank You Lord! Intimacy gives language.”
WM: How can the readers of Worship Musician pray for you and Cody?
Kari: You know, we’re about to go on tour. I’m really gearing up for that and having a baby now… it’s a LOT more work! Just strength, really, and to feel rested before we head out. We’re at the end of a three-month hiatus from being on the road and I kind of like it! So, I just need strength!
WM: Again, listening through your record, a song that is really resonating with me is “Lover of my Soul.” What are some of your favorite songs on the record?
Kari: Yes, “Lover of my Soul” was fun because we got to write with Martin Smith on that. I mean, I grew up listening to Delirious. His songs were so helpful to the church and writing with him was so fun!
I really love “Fall Afresh.” It just works really well in church. It’s a cleansing type song when we sing it. I love that! I’m excited to see what “O The Power” does. It’s written from the perspective of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. You know, just in those final moments when He knew what was about to take place, He was crying out to the Father, “If there’s any other way, take this cup from me. But, not my will but Yours be done.” He was full of emotion! I can’t wait to see how the church grabs ahold of that one.
And, “The Garden.” I think that song will have a lot of significant meaning for people. I really love “Speak to Me” as well.
WM: Other than your music, what songs in worship are speaking to you right now?
Kari: Well, “What a Beautiful Name.” I love that one. And, I actually recorded “Here as in Heaven” from Elevation Worship because I just love it so much. I love the shift that happens in the atmosphere of worship. Um… I love anything Bethel. So, whatever they have out is being worn out at my house right now! I can’t wait for Amanda Cook to come out with something new too.
WM: I have seen you play guitar live when you were on tour with Chris Tomlin. Are you starting to play more instruments live?
Kari: You know, that was before I married my husband, and he can play any instrument and run circles around me! I haven’t played guitar since I got married… I mean, he’s just so good, I’m like, “Why bother?!”
WM: Do you bring out any instruments when you are writing?
Kari: Yes, I’ll sit at the piano a little bit. The guitar… kind of, but I like the moodiness and how the piano just resonates well. I can just sit there and hold a chord and just keep writing. So, I’m more of a piano writer.
WM: Your career has spanned the globe and you’ve performed in many places. Is there a venue where you would long to sing?
Kari: Well, it is a dream to do a night that is my own night at Red Rocks. I’ve gotten to be there with other artists, but not my own night. So, that’s a dream for me.
WM: Obviously, with the recent past, our country has suffered some stressful times. I believe your song, “Heal Our Land” is a very timely song. Where did that song begin?
Kari: Yes! Cody and I wrote that song with Brooke Ligertwood and her husband. All four of us wrote that song. It’s one of those songs… the chorus, Scott Ligertwood had for a few years and he was like, “I think we should just take a stab at this idea.” We wanted to just write with the church in mind about unity and lifting our voices together and the power that comes from a congregation setting, you know? God comes in our individual spaces and living rooms or whatever, but there is something powerful when we are together as the church and are worshiping. So, we were just sitting there writing and all of a sudden, Brooke just started in on that bridge and I was just SO moved. It was just very timely and very much straight out of scripture. It felt really special then and really every time we’ve done it so far. I actually sang at an inaugural event the other night and sang that song. That was really, really special. I’m just amazed that God helps us write things…you know, we wrote that song nine months ago and it’s so timely now.
WM: Looking ahead to your upcoming tour, how does your song set on tour differ from when you’re leading at home?
Kari: Well, I wish they weren’t any different! But, at church we don’t only do my songs. The tour is just a little more of the songs that I believe people want to hear from the new album and just some older stuff that they connect to from over the years. But, we definitely have some spaces in there where we can just chill and wait on the Lord. It’s not like so routine and so “stuck-to-tracks” that we can’t wait and just have really special moments. I always feel like every single night is just a little different. I mean, there’s different people, there’s different needs, there’s different… you know, things the Lord wants to say. What I do is, I put all of the more congregational songs together so that it just feels more like a church setting.
WM: Thinking of gear… do you have a microphone you are more comfortable with?
Kari: Yeah, I have a Sennheiser SKM 5200-II with a Neumann capsule, and the microphone itself has a talkback button on it. It’s called the “Command” function. That has been so wonderful for me as a worship leader… to be able to communicate with the team. In a way, I feel like that is my instrument as well because I’m able to communicate so well with the team and not have to make them read my lips!
WM: What in-ear monitors are you using?
Kari: I’m loving my 1964’s.
WM: Are your band mates on tour also with you at your church?
Kari: Yes they are actually. My drummer has been with us for eight years now. We haven’t always been at the same church, but we are now. It really feels like an extension of church on the road.
WM: I have some questions from other worship leaders. Many of them are centered around your vocal health and training and techniques. What are some vocal preparations you do?
Kari: I have a voice coach here in Nashville and I have vocal warm ups on my phone. I try to do 20-30 minutes of it every day so that I’m geared up and ready to go. And… I love Throat Coat® tea. If I don’t have the Throat Coat® tea, I will just have a hot water with lemon and honey. I’m not real strict about much other than yelling. I really try not to yell in loud environments like a hockey game. If I’m in places where it’s just so loud, I try not to try to talk over really loud music. Years ago, I got some nodules in my throat because of talking loud in situations like that and so I try to be really careful about that now.
WM: What is your comfortable vocal range?
Kari: As far as keys? Oh man… I don’t know! I don’t like to be constantly singing above a high C#. But, my favorite keys to do songs in are like… Ab, F#, or D. It’s really weird to me. I don’t know what it is with certain songs and me. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t just do every song in the same key! I don’t like the key of G. I have a break in my voice that goes from chest to head voice and G is not my favorite key for that!
WM: Thinking back to the song “Victor’s Crown.” Can you describe the experience of writing with Darlene Zschech and Israel Houghton for that song?
Kari: For sure, I was in Australia and I was spending some time with Darlene at her studio. It’s on the central coast and was just a really beautiful experience. Just to be with Darlene was a beautiful experience! Writing was like the icing on the cake, you know! We kind of just talked a lot that day, so the writing was kind of slow. But, we kept the voice memo thing going and what was cool was, a couple of months later she was like, “Hey, will you send me that voice memo. I really think we started a good idea. Israel and I are together and we just want to take a look at it and try to finish it.” So, I sent her like a 45-minute voice memo and they sat and listened through it and picked out the parts in between our “girl talk” and they finished it out and it turned into such a beautiful song. Such a beautiful anthem! It just really made me realize that nothing is ever a waste of time. We just never know what is being captured, just by talking through life stuff. I think a lot of times songwriting is really like a Bible study. You’re sitting and talking about what God has been doing; the goodness of God, and what He’s been speaking to you and you begin writing out of those places. Even if we don’t finish the song, I always walk away so full and lifted up in my spirit. It’s very special when the song is actually finished…we’re like, “Yea! We actually finished something!”
WM: Any advice to young or new songwriters?
Kari: Yeah, I would just tell them to always keep a voice memo going through the entire writing session. Because, sometimes you’ll land on something and you won’t think it’s that good and you can go back and listen to it and find that there really is something special. Also, come in with a couple of ideas when you’re coming together with other people to write. It really kind of takes the stress off of just going in empty handed. The times we come in and there are already ideas going… “God’s been saying this” or “I have this little melody going”… It kind of goes with the Scriptural principle that “people die for the lack of vision” (Proverbs 29:18). Just going in with a vision and prepared is always better than having no vision at all.
WM: Lastly, would you pray and speak a word over the worshipers (readers of Worship Musician Magazine) as they are serving in their churches, writing songs, and seeking God’s leading in what they are doing in their ministry?
Kari: God, I just thank You, for everyone that will be impacted by this article. I just thank You for our churches. I thank you for leadership. I thank You for our pastors. God, I pray that You
would just encourage these worship leaders… that You would strengthen them… that they would feel a drawing to go to a deeper place in their walk with You, because I know that we can’t lead people where we haven’t been. So God, I just pray for a hunger and a thirst for righteousness and a drawing in by Your spirit to go to a deeper place in our heart, so that we have a richer language to pour our hearts out to You and to not get stuck in routines or what works… or the charts… or the graphs… or the top songs that are out there. But that You would help us to hear Your voice and what our congregations need to hear. Maybe that means we need to be writing the songs. I just pray for sensitivity to Your voice and Your strength to fulfill the calling that You have on our life. We are honored to get to do the work of the ministry and I just pray that you’d bless every single person that’s in pursuit of Your heart. In Jesus Name, Amen!
Originally published in Worship Musician Magazine, March/April 2017. Used by permission.