Photo courtesy invasiongroup
Jennifer Knapp was once a beloved Contemporary Christian Music artist, with multiple Grammy nominations to her name. Her willingness to write songs about faith that faltered and was anything but perfect shone brightly against a backdrop of overly-produced CCM schlock. But in 2004, she walked away from her career. Journeying through the wilds of Australia and her own mind, Knapp eventually resurfaced nearly seven years later. Her announcement of why she left sent shock waves through religious circles and beyond. It wasn’t just that she was tired and overworked and needed a break; she’s a lesbian.
These days, Knapp still writes songs full of honesty, but rather than singing about Jesus exclusively, she talks about everything the world has to offer.
“In my first career, behind the scenes, there was pressure to live a certain way,” Knapp recalls via phone from her Nashville home. She performs at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4, at Musica in Akron. “[In making Christian music], I wasn’t interested in propaganda. I was always wanting to talk about the faith. Back then, as an artist, I was willing to look at that. But at a certain point, it felt constrictive. It was offensive to me to say that the experience that I have is the experience you should have. That’s not to say that all people who write about their faith are engaged in propaganda. I’m still on the same journey; it’s just the language I use has changed.”
Knapp says she’s thrilled to get back on the road this fall (including a stop in Akron next month), playing songs from both career 1.0 and career 2.0, as she calls the two halves. This time she’ll be out on stage not just with her acoustic guitar but also with Louise, her electric guitar.
“How do I get inspired to play songs that are 20 years old?” Knapp asks. “Part of that story is with my fan base. In the time I’ve struggled to go back to these, my fans have told me that these songs have been pivotal to their lives. At the same time, I’ve been tired of playing it the same way. So changing up the instrumentation is key.”
Growing up in Kansas in a non-religious home, Knapp didn’t find God and the guitar until college. As detailed in her autobiography Facing the Music
, she always knew that coming out would mean alienating some of her fan base.
The Christian church itself is divided on the subject of homosexuality, with some denominations allowing openly gay pastors and others preferring parishioners and pastors alike remain steadfastly in the closet. That’s why Knapp founded the nonprofit Inside Out Faith in 2011 to open the dialogue between the faith and also LGBTQ+ communities. In order to speak on the subject of religion even more intellectually, Knapp went back to school, just recently finishing up a Master of Theology degree at Vanderbilt University.
“It’s true; I’m a theologian now,” she says. "I think some people in my classes, knowing who I was, were surprised that I could actually read and write. The idea that I was capable of being intellectually engaged — I think some people were surprised that it was a legitimate."
Although she did release her sixth album, Love Comes Back Around,
last year, Knapp hasn’t been touring much as of late thanks to school work. But with that done and the new tour about to unfold she says she can’t wait to live inside these songs again. “It’s my deepest look at love yet,” she says of the album.
And here, plain and simple, you can see a maturation in her work. The classic alto croon is still there, but it's now deepened. Her guitar work, always bold and strong, is even more masterful. If you listen deeply enough, her faith still cascades through the lyrics, just not overtly so.
So who’s coming out to the shows to hear these songs? Some fans are those who just like singer-songwriters, but she says there’s no doubt she has a core following.
“Standing the test of time are people who love music,” she says. “Especially in Ohio, I’ve gotten to know people. It’s weird when I talk about my fans or audience; that’s too cold a term for the audience I do have. I will say 50 percent of my audience has been with me for 20 years. We don’t like to talk about it, but we’re getting older.”
Jennifer Knapp, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, Musica, 51 East Market St., Akron, 330-374-7676. Tickets: $20, celebrityetc.com/musica/