The Gray Havens Interview
Dave and Licia Radford, known musically as The Gray Havens, are making the kind of music you don’t know you need until you hear it. There seems to be such need for story to infuse the artistic expression of the Church these days. The narrative arc imposed by the Gospel and subsumed throughout everything is far too easy to ignore when art becomes an industry. Into this many-pooled river of truth-telling sub-creation step Dave and Licia with this year’s stellar release, She Waits.
The Gray Havens’ new project ventures into sundry territories of timbre, boasting polyrhythmic strata on multiple songs and even braving Persian modality on the instrumental segue “Crows.” Also featured is a fantastic appearance by Humble Beast rapper Propaganda. With all this, She Waits has a decidedly more mature and darker feel than some of the band’s previous work. Dave even admitted in a video to fans that some of the music was written during very difficult times. In addition, he was kind enough to sit down and answer a few of our questions about songwriting, life, and She Waits.
Foundling House: When Christians make art, there’s hopefully a good amount of considering the audience that happens. In this consideration, art tends to fall on a spectrum; it stretches from being evangelistic (sort of introducing truth where the artist sees a lack of it) to being more encouraging or even chastising for those who already know the truth. Where do you find your songwriting living on this spectrum?
Dave Radford: Much of my experience with song-writing is simply trying to create the kind of music that I wished existed in the world. I had an audience of one, the “one” being myself. If I did that well enough, hopefully it would resonate with other people. I think to a certain extent, both believers and non-believers need to be evangelized, encouraged, chastised, etc…The writing tends to be more narrative and literary, so our audience seems to slant toward the bookish, nerdy, and thoughtful, but we have also had one cool person say that liked it too, so we’re expanding.
FH: You and Licia are fairly recently parents (in that your son is still quite young). How have you guys kept your family grounded while being in and out of town?
DR: I don’t know how grounded we are to be honest. I think it’s just being really intentional while we’re home about spending time together and trying to connect with folks at our church.
FH: The obvious question is perhaps to ask what music you both like. It’s not a bad question. There’s a literary, adventuresome quality to your writing, though—never mind the fact that your band name is a Tolkien reference. So let’s go with books. What have you both been reading?
DR: I’m currently re-reading The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson and also listening to Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire as ready by Jim Dale (totally worth it if you haven’t listened already!). Licia just finished Tramp for the Lord by Corrie ten Boom and loved it. I prefer listening to sermons over reading theological books, but I do some of that as well. Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne is the best I’ve read in recent memory.
FH: You’ve done an amount of explaining your lyrics to fans in videos. When do you reach the point when you find yourself preferring some obscurity—that is, preferring that listeners labor a little bit to approach a lyric?
DR: I think it’s about serving the listener. The answer to this question depends, I think, on the type of music. For a while I was a bit insecure about explaining certain lyrics, but, in general, we’ve found that most of our listeners enjoy the stories behind the songs, so we share them.
FH: You had mentioned that the writing period for She Waits was marked by some difficult challenges. What were you going through? How did the struggles work themselves into the writing and production?
DR: It takes me a very long time to write lyrics. We had successfully kickstarted an album, scheduled studio time, and written furiously up until arriving at the studio only to have two finished songs ready to record. The plan then became to write in the morning, record during the day, and write again at night. We had six weeks scheduled. By the end of that time, we were nowhere near the finish line. A year later we completed recording. During that time, there were a lot of emotional rollercoasters. I remember a particular low point where I kept thinking “Lord, why did you call me to something I can’t do?” Six moths later the record was done. God is good.
You can purchase She Waits and other albums by The Gray Havens at their website. The band is currently on tour with special guests Jess Ray and Chris Renzema. Find out when they’re coming to your town and make plans to be there. You’ll be all the better for it.