Welcome to Season 2 of the Love Good Podcast! To open our new season, Jimmy sat down with Ellie Holcomb, a very special woman and musician whose wisdom pervades the conversation. A Nashville native, and daughter of acclaimed producer Brown Bannister, Ellie brings a needed perspective to the table regarding the normalcy of Nashville and its people – even in the midst of so much creation and fame. Topics including motherhood, mental health, being rooted in prayer, and honing a sacramental imagination arise during this joyful conversation between friends.
To start, Jimmy asks Ellie what it’s like to be a Nashville native, as natives are rare. “It’s my home,” Ellie replies, smiling. “Nashville has always been a friendly city. . . I remember when we got our first starbucks in Greenhills, [and] dancing in the district. My dad was in the industry so I grew up in studios as a kid and began singing background vocals at an early age. Music feels very natural – I’m not enamored with the music life – and I like that there’s something normalizing about just seeing regular people making music.” Ellie goes on to describe how, while the comparison game can rear its head here and there, Nashville does celebrate its people: not just in the music community, but at large.
Jimmy asks Ellie to share about how she and her husband, musician and frontman Drew Holcomb, met. Ellie laughing describes how Drew was her best guy friend in college – the one she swore she’d never date. But, after a series of heartbreaks – which Drew gave her space to heal from – she agreed to go on a date. “What was the first date?” Jimmy asks. “It was a really strong first date,” Ellie replies, “Patty Griffin at the Ryman.”
Jimmy shares how he once overheard a group of highschool girls at a concert declare their resolve to break up with their boyfriends upon seeing the relationship Drew and Ellie have. The conversation switches to relationships and the pressure to be “dialed in” in highschool. Ellie interacts with alot of highschool students, and her first songs were the typical – yet comforting – break up songs many young women gravitate toward. During her college days, Ellie would write songs in her dormitory stairwell – in part, because of the acoustics; and also because it allowed her roommate to sleep. “Girls who were drunk or crying would line the stairwell where [I was singing]. I learned then that music connects our stories and I’ve always loved that,” she says. “I hear about many broken relationships – I have that in my background too – and sometimes I’d get discouraged hearing these stories. How can we help people know that this doesn’t have to be this way?” Ellie then reflects on how simply living a more engaging, approachable life – a life that invites others in – we can lead by example.
Branching off from this, the conversation turns to a season in which Ellie and a friend of hers were trying to find ways to cope with depression and anxiety. “[We were asking ourselves] how do we fight against these lies? We saw that we needed something to anchor us – something deeper than just positive thinking. When anxiety and depression set in, they feel like they’re your only reality. So we started memorizing scripture – these promises that speak to the darkness. I love that [the psalms] doesn’t brush the suffering and brokenness of this world. As we started memorizing it – we’re not very good at it truth be told – it started changing us. It didn’t change our circumstances – it didn’t take all the depression away – but it gave us solid ground to stand on when the shame storms rolled in.” This was the seminal point for what came to be a time of intensive song-writing for Ellie. In a 9 month period following this encounter with the psalms, she had written about 45 songs. The encouragement of friends and family won out over her hesitation, and she ended up recording the songs and making several albums from them.
Ellie reflects on this extremely fruitful season in her life. “At the time I was coming alive in a way I’d never before. I was in intensive counseling, learning it was okay to not be ok, realizing I had become a liar first to myself and then to everybody else because I wanted to avoid pain. I found that as I entered the pain, I encountered love there. And mercy. I was feeling fully known and understood maybe for the first time, and still accepted and loved. [It was] a freedom I never knew existed. It was scary but it brought me to life.”
(the remaining portion of the interview will be transcribed directly)
Jimmy: You’re cutting into what’s been the source of joy in my life. To recognize the mess and imperfection and see our poverty and need, but to hold it up in the same light as unconditional love. It’s liberating.
Ellie: It’s like “Oh! I can be a mess.”
J: My older brother’s passing had a huge impact on all of my concepts… the more I let myself feel those things and allow the suffering to unfold, there was a joy I’d never even had access to before.
E: Sometimes the pain is so deep you’re like – that’s gonna kill me. But at the center of this story of infinite love, there’s tomb.
J: And it’s empty.
E: It’s empty. You can’t skip the dying and the grave. If beauty unites us all – I’m pretty sure pain and suffering do, too. Everyone knows what that’s like. So does God. That’s a profound mystery. I wrote Red Sea Road out of seemingly senseless loss. I don’t need to understand it – there’s an empty grave, so ashes are not the end of the story. Even if I’m sitting in a pile of them at any given time.
J: We released that album to all of our patrons. It’s a great reminder of humanity. It pulls back a veil. There’s a seemingly senseless season of loss… but it’s covered in hope – always forward. I’m assuming that’s something to do with the book you’re reading: Every Moment Holy. Seeing the divine beneath and within all of it.
E: One of the things I love about this book – it’s liturgies for the ordinary. Morning coffee, losing something dear, planting flowers, changing diapers. Planting seeds in the ground changes my perspective on rain. So any book that shifts my vision to see the sacred is something I love. I wrote a kids book called Who Sang the First Song? It loosely follows the creation story, not so much how, but why. My kids are always asking me things about the physical evidence around us of what’s eternal. Picking up breadcrumbs along the way.
J: the eternal appetite – do it again just for the joy of it. What’s the children’s project, how can people get the hands on it?
E: Who Sang the First Song is on ellieholcomb.com. I think it’ll be other places too – but I’m not sure. Just go looking for it. It was a question my daughter asked me – she asked, “Who sang the first song?” and when I asked her who sang the first song she said “Dolly Parton?” [laughs] My hope is that’ll help little hearts carry around big truths.
Buy Ellie Holcomb’s brand new book Who Sang the First Song
Enjoy Ellie’s book recommendation: Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey
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