This week, Jimmy sits down Dave Radford, frontman and one half of the husband-and-wife band The Gray Havens. Dave shares some of his backstory (including how he and his wife, Licia, met and struck up their relationship), the evolution of his identity as a musician, and the main (and surprisingly simple) impetus behind the first few songs he ever wrote. Other topics that arise include Tolkien’s and Lewis’ influence on Radford’s imaginative process, as well as the fundamental thesis that is woven throughout the band’s latest album, She Waits.
To start, Jimmy expresses his excitement over The Gray Havens, and then asks Dave to share a bit about his back story. Radford was from Ohio, originally, and then moved to Chicagoland in high school, which is where he met his wife. Jimmy offers that he was just in Joliet IL; and Dave brings up a story of how he once went paintballing in Joliet. “I got shot in the face – through the mask,” he says.
Jimmy asks about the shift from the Midwest to the South. “We came here because I was part of a dueling pianos band that we started in Chicago,” Dave explains. We would play weddings and corporate events. Once I transitioned out of that, there was nothing work-wise keeping us in the Chicago area. We were coming up on making our last album, and knew we’d have to be in Nashville for about six weeks: so we just made the move. The difference is night and day. The sense of community – the understanding shared amongst touring musicians. I much prefer the weather here.” Jimmy agrees: plugging into a community that’s already established shows your seriousness about pursuing a career in the industry.
“How did you and your wife meet? What’s the back story?”
They met in British Columbia, through a mission trip. Licia, his now-wife, was a team leader. He was immediately impressed with her, though they didn’t meet up until later. Their first three or four dates didn’t go great, such that they had decided to “just be friends”. Dave’s mom, however, was a big fan of Licia and quietly set up a way to make sure she came around frequently: she offered her free guitar lessons at their home. Additionally, they were involved in the same circles at church, and so a friendship was formed.
Dave’s mentor happened to also be Licia’s youth pastor, and he strongly encouraged Dave to pursue her, saying he hadn’t met many women of her caliber. Other mentors he mentions include Andrew Peterson and his wife Jamie, who founded the Rabbit Room.
“What are some of the platforms you’re engaging in now? What are you reading or listening to?”
Dave mentions a book series called The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson. “The world-building is what draws me into the story. Each book is longer than the next.” He says that many of these writers take their cues from Tolkien – he’s the standard bearer for fantasy.”
Jimmy tells Dave he would put him in a distinct musical category, almost like he puts Tolkien in a distinct artistic category. “There’s something captivatingly beautiful and human about what you’re doing,” he says. “How do you ride this line of being at once deeply rooted in something much bigger than you – your faith – but also engaging people where they are? Your approach feels very human to me.”
“Anytime my name is in the same sentence as Tolkien, I just kind of… well, it’s not a good comparison.” He laughs. “A backstory of how I got into writing music: after I did the American Idol thing, a friend approached and asked if we could write a song together. I’d never done it before and didn’t know how. But that opened a door for me. I was already going to go to school to be a choir director. But right before going to school, I had that first taste of songwriting. This was a great gift, because there were very few Christian writers I liked. Their music wasn’t embedding itself in my life – I wanted to listen to Paul Simon. So I had a deep longing to see music made that I liked myself, that had echoes of what is true. Nobody was writing about that in a way that was enchanting to me. So I just started to write songs that I would want to listen to.”
He continues. “There were a lot of bad songs. I’d write songs in the dormitory basements when I was supposed to be doing homework. I would text a friend and ask them to come listen to what I had written and then gauge their reaction as I played. So, I probably started late, compared to most: but it was before social media. It was very much a contained, organic, slow growth. All this to say, I wasn’t going for any market. I just wanted to write something that I would be excited about.”
Jimmy brings up the new album, She Waits, which Love Good recently sent to patrons in a seasonal shipment. He mentions how in a couple of weeks, Love Good will be hosting a listening party to enter into the album more intentionally. He brings up the divine spark that characterizes genuinely good art and specifically mentions the song “Not Home Yet” from the album and how it stirs a transcendent longing in him every time he listens. He discusses how difficult it can be to straddle the tension of the “almost, not yet”. What can a song like this say at this time of the year, when family joy and family tension, memories both good and painful, are arising for many people? What inspired the song?
“This song might be the hardest to write, looking back on the process,” Dave says. “The album ended up taking a year to complete because of the lyrics, which didn’t come as readily as we’d thought.” The song was originally called “Two Trees Betrothed,” but it morphed many times in many different directions. The one thing that kept sticking was the “Not Home Yet” idea. “The record could have been named Not Home Yet, because that’s the sentiment of it all. We have a foretaste now of everything that’s to come; but, as Tolkien would say, it’s an echo of a song you’ve never heard. C.S. Lewis once defined joy as an unsatisfied desire more desirable than any satisfaction. So just the wanting of this one thing is better than the having of anything else.”
He goes on to describe the first time he was hit by the idea of heaven as being the fullness of our present reality. “Our music carries this embedded longing. The song tells the story of a person coming to faith for the first time – the veil being lifted from their eyes and seeing ‘this is real’ – and yet at the same time, experiencing true anticipation.
Jimmy then asks the burning question everyone’s been wondering: Who is the ‘she’ on the album?
Dave answers: “The ‘She’ on the title track is creation. Creation’s freedom occurs the moment it beholds a redeemed population of sons and daughters. On track two, it’s a wife waiting to be reunited with her husband. On Three Birds in Babylon, the she is the Church entreating unbelievers toward belief.”
In closing, Jimmy asks Dave to describe the children’s book he recently wrote and released, called Gray Flowers, which is an exploration of the nature of grace. “How can people continue to support you, the album, and the book?” Dave says – “Buy 27 copies of the book. Share the record with friends. Spotify, Apple Music, and our website.”
Enjoy Dave Radford’s media recommendations: Storm Light Archives by Brandon Sanderson
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