Most of us dream of a career hiatus, an extended period in which to contemplate, recalibrate and breathe. But seven years is a long time, especially if your job reflects your passion. When singer/songwriter Jennifer Knapp, began her "brutal yet essential self-imposed exile," she wasn't sure she'd perform again. Now, this former Christian artist, returns to the music scene with a new album and a fresh perspective. And if you're a Larry King viewer, you know she's also unveiling something more personal: a new (to her fans) sexual identity.
WCT: (Windy City Times) How was it to sit in Larry King's hot seat, answering questions about your sexuality? JK: (Jennifer Knapp) Unnerving, especially when you have five cameras six feet away from your face, but I appreciate his approach. He pretty much asks whatever he wants. When somebody goes for your throat, you know where they're aiming. I love that about him. It was a good experience, one of the first major times I had to address my sexuality publicly. It was certainly a challenge, but having gotten through Larry King, I think I can get through anything!
WCT: You're incredibly private. What's it like for you to discuss something so personal?
JK: I never do anything unless I've worked out the worst-case scenario and how I think I'll respond. So when I realized I'd probably release another record, I anticipated it would come to light and I'd have to talk about it. I spent a couple of years just preparing myself for that, finding peace within myself, or I don't know if it's peace so much as courage to just man up and get it done. I had to weigh [whether I wanted] music enough to run that gauntlet before I got on a plane and came back to the states.
It's a challenge, but tons of people are showing up to my shows and sharing stories and experiences that are similar to mine. In particular, people of faith who had the challenge of reconciling faith and sexuality in environments that didn't always support the two together. You find a sense of community in being able to share that with other people. Just [understanding] the dialogue's importance is motivating.
WCT: Growing up, did you always want to perform?
JK: My road into doing what I do was almost an accident. I didn't pick up my first guitar till I was 18 years old, a music education major in college. Through my teen years I did a lot of short story, poetry and creative writing, but it wasn't until I got to college that I realized I could integrate all of that and have a pretty good time.
WCT: Describe your writing process.
JK: You know those little poetry magnets you put on the fridge? No, I'm kidding. Mostly I pick up my guitar and I just start playing. I don't really write music at all unless I have my guitar in my hand. If I try without it, I'm kind of missing a limb.
WCT: Your hiatus from writing must have been difficult then. Did you find other creative outlets?
JK: I thought I was trying to quit the whole thing. Kinda cold turkey, I sold all my gear, didn't buy a journal for years and just refused to do any of it. With all my traveling, I ended up taking tons of photographs and just looking at the world in a different way. As I look back, I realize I never really stopped my creative process. I'd be having my afternoon coffee in a coffee shop in Europe and drawing the cobblestone streets, if that doesn't sound cliché. But the space away from the spoken part of language allowed the sort of incoherent expression, taking pictures and drawing, and I'm grateful for it.
WCT: Since your return has your fan base changed?
JK: Initially, I didn't see the connection between the Christian records I'd done in the past and the music I'm doing now; I didn't know if it would translate or if I'd changed so much that they were in no way alike. The funny thing is, a lot of [fans] say they love my music and know me from that Christian base, but also say, "I don't listen to a lot of Christian music." The kind of audience I've had a dialogue with for so long are just thinking people. Those people still find that spiritual experience through my music. It's personal, and it leaves room for them to insert their stories. The dialogue is still the same, just not necessarily centered around the conversation of the church.
WCT: Were you always aware of your attraction to women?
JK: Not really. My sexuality was on the back burner. From the time I became a Christian in college, having had a religious experience and starting to write about my faith and going on and performing in that mode, I was celibate. It wasn't until I had time to myself that I even began to explore that option. Once I met my partner it was just a journey like so many people who fall in love take. You don't know if you'll make it or what it means but you love that person and you want to figure out how that's supposed to work.
WCT: Is there a conflict between living a Christian life and a gay one?
JK: Falling in love with a woman wasn't something I anticipated, but at the end of the day, when I'm by myself there's very little conflict. I'm still on the same spiritual journey that I entered into 20 years ago. The harder conflicts are the pretty typical questions, what will I do? What will everybody say? Certainly, there are conservative Christians holding the line that homosexuality and being a person of faith are incompatible. At the same time, so many other people of faith like the Episcopals, United Church of Christ and the Methodists do a really great job of including all the people who come to celebrate and worship and share and learn. Those Christians don't necessarily get the headlines, but they're there. The struggle for me was figuring out where my new perspective was going to lead me. It was scary for a while but my faith didn't magically wane the second that I fell in love with a woman; it's still there and it's very much compatible.
Interview by: Sarah Terez Rosenblum for Windy City Times