Holly Spears – Traditional Hymns with a Contemporary Style

Abbie Stancato of Rocking Gods HouseHolly Spear’s latest project is a revival of hymns which are the staple of many worship services today. She has a very distinctive voice and vocal style. Holly exemplifies the type of up and coming artist I enjoy promoting. Although her recent EP song selections are classic hymns, her approach is fresh and contemporary. Holly has a wonderful heart and has the ability to project the depths of her emotion and soul into each song.

It is a delight to interview someone who exemplifies and reflects a passion for Christ in every aspect of her life. Holly is setting the foundation for a long term career in the Christian music industry. She is good enough to succeed and wise enough to persevere.

I spoke to Holly at her home in Florence, Kentucky.

Holly, why is your new CD comprised entirely of older, public domain hymns?
I’m getting back to my roots. I grew up in a little church in Wana, West Virginia. These songs are a selection of the hymns I sang, or heard my dad sing, as I grew up. They are the very foundation of who I am.

What’s been the reception for the new CD?
“This Little House of Mine” has been doing relatively well since the day I released it. I dedicated the song to a seventeen year old girl from my local community who tragically passed away. Her name was Sydney Rush; she was coming home from “Young Life” and, unfortunately, drove into a tree. The song has been a help to the entire community, and I am very humbled to get to be the one to deliver the message of hope to them.

Your sound is very much contemporary Country, yet you’re a Christian artist who doesn’t live in Nashville. How’s that working out for you?
I live in Northern Kentucky directly across a bridge from Ohio. I did live in Nashville two separate times. We recorded my current and previous three projects there. But I discovered that being so far away from home, I lost myself. Nashville is great for networking, and I love to go there to work and get inspired, but I feel more like myself back home in Kentucky around my church family.

You toured with Blessid Union of Souls a while ago. You also released your last project as an independent artist. Are you still independent?
Yes, I’m still independent. I have my own record label called “Girl on a Mission Music, LLC.” Touring with Blessid Union early on in my career and working with the lead singer on writing helped me to hone my craft.  I took what I learned from him and others, from books, and from a “Berklee Music Business” course and set it all in motion.

As an independent, how do you promote your music?
I just recently attended the Dove awards in Nashville, and Chris Tomlin said something like “the Holy Spirit is my marketing plan.” That completely describes me; I market by asking God for guidance and direction.  And then I find a way to do what he says.

On several occasions I’ve been blessed with a silent donator, so I’ll use the money for a publicist or several local newspapers. It just depends on the situation. I utilize Facebook for invites to events and concerts. I ask people who attend my shows to sign up for my email list and ask them to “Like” me on Facebook. The trick is to continually interact with people, to keep them engaged with not only your music, but your life and your story. Music is all about connecting with people.

You have a degree in audio and video production. How did you apply that knowledge to this project?
I understand production, but I used Mitch Dane on this project. Some things you just need to leave up to the pros. I sent him some scratch tracks with just my vocals and guitar that I recorded on my laptop in Kentucky. He listened to them before I traveled down to Nashville to record with him in his studio (Sputnik Sound). The first day of production we played through the songs and changed some of the structure to make it all sound polished.  Then he brought in amazing musicians and backup singers to bring it all together. So on this project the only A/V knowledge I really brought was I used Garage Band on my Mac laptop to get him the original ideas. He took it from there.

My degree helps me to better understand how to record, what to expect during the process, and how to generally structure my material. I did apply my production skills on the music videos we’ve made: “Watch Over Me,” “Country Roads” and “This Little Light of Mine.” I helped storyboard the last two videos and came up with part of the idea for the first video. I have a very good understanding of video editing, but I haven’t used that skill in a while because I’ve just let the pro videographers do the job for me, which is nice.  I have, however, created a few lyric videos for my music. I enjoy the process of creating, so it’s fun for me.

You have a very unique voice. You understand how to apply your voice to a song and translate that in the studio. How did you develop that skill?
When I worked with Eliot Sloan, the singer from Blessid Union, he taught me about songwriting, particularly arrangement, and how to make a song my own. I’ve learned how to place all my emotions into a vocal track. I literally live out the song. Eliot taught me to put myself into the song, not just sing it, but experience it. The songs of this EP were extremely humbling.

There were times in the studio while we were recording “How Great Thou Art” that we had to stop, because I was crying as I pictured singing it as I bowed at God’s feet. Sometimes it becomes a challenge to get through a song because of the emotional attachment.

How does that affect you during a live performance?
I’m usually a little nervous when I start, but once I begin, I feel this amazing freedom.  The only time I stop to think about what’s going on around me is if the band messes up. (laughing) The rest of the time, I just enjoy it! I do, also, during a live show live out the songs, so if I have a sad song, I don’t end with it to leave me down. I typically try to end with a happy, upbeat song to leave a bounce back in my step after the show.

What would you like people to know about this project?
It really means a lot to me. All the pictures on the CD are of the church (Wana United Methodist) where I grew up. The cover displays a red hymnal, which is the book we sang from every week. Audience of One is the title because I was racking my brain as to which audience I wanted to cater my next project to—folk who don’t know Jesus or music fans who already follow Jesus. When I prayed about it, the phrase “Audience of One” kept coming to mind. And God used that to remind me that HE is my audience and that I should record something that would please him and let him take care of the rest.

This CD is also special to me because my dad sang in the choir (and still does). He always encouraged me to sing in the choir. Even though I was very shy growing up, my dad continued to invite me to participate in the choir. I would go up and stand with him, holding on to his leg, but not singing much because I was so shy.  As I grew up, I would sing more and more. So it was so exciting to come back to sing these songs at the church for the CD release as a recording artist. To be center stage, standing out in front of the choir instead of hiding behind it in the back row, and to see what God has done in my life was very humbling and encouraging. I am very thankful for my dad’s encouragement to sing, my mom’s help in getting the instruments and musical equipment I needed to start out, and the church for helping to implant a foundation of Biblical truth in my life.

All I could think about when I moved out at 18 years old was the city and touring the world, so it was also exciting to return there and involve my small childhood community of Wana, West Virginia, and my roots. I was so thankful that they were all part of the video “Little Child of Mine.” I am eternally grateful!

My mission is to reach people who don’t know Jesus, in a non-bible thumping way, by with the Love of Jesus nonetheless. And to encourage those who are Christians on their walk to continue walking confidently in their true identity. For this CD, I’m hoping that a fresh version of these powerfully written songs will rekindle the fire in others.

You have a fiancé; how much is he involved in your career?
Right when I wasn’t looking, I met my now fiancé, Doug, at the church where I lead worship.  He ended up being in the small group I met with every week during the church service. He is extremely supportive and an awesome teammate.  He constantly serves and protects me when we’re at my shows and at home. In many ways he’s pretty much my opposite, which makes us compliment each other nicely.  I’m creative and he’s business/process minded. He loves to travel with me, and often takes the initiative to help do the things I can’t do well.  I’m so thankful God placed him in my life just at the right time!

What’s in your future?
I really feel called to do what I call a “Slumber Party Tour.”  I want to reach out to women’s groups, share my story through my songs, and help encourage them on their journey. I will also continue to lead worship at my home church, The Vineyard in Florence, Kentucky. I’ll also be taking some Biblical studies courses online through the Vineyard along with my fiancé.  Doug and I are getting married in June of 2014. So, I would say what’s in my future is God, music, marriage, family, and friends!