"I remember playing my songs, getting off stage, and just knowing something was still missing. I felt a pull from God that I had to share my story, but I was fighting it. 'Are you kidding? I don't want to air my dirty laundry in public!' But God was pretty specific: 'No, I need you to share your story.'" - Lanae' Hale
To the list of musical monikers that includes such seemingly contradictory terms as "soft rock" and "rap music," we can now safely add the genre: deep pop. As a music industry outsider who pursued a nursing degree before coming to Nashville, Centricity Music's silky-voiced Lanae' Hale barely had time to adjust to her new surroundings before she found herself with a record deal. In the space of less than a year, Lanae' emerged as a purveyor of the sort of sophisticated, artful, accessible melodies that cemented the reputations of groups like the Cranberries and Sixpence None The Richer. In Lanae's case, however, there was also the added vulnerability of her own challenging life story filtered through her singer-songwriter sensibilities.
A 2007 EP hinted at the sort of honest, quirky fare the 24-year-old newlywed and Florida transplant had to offer. Now, her first full-length Centricity album, Back & Forth, makes good on that promise as an engaging collection of highly crafted melodic and lyric expressions. Eschewing standard pop cliches, Lanae' carves out her own unique and personable creative space on the new project, allowing her songs to unfold unexpectedly and with a strong dose of self-revelation born of her own sense of struggle.
Tag-team produced by Mark Hammond (Nichole Nordeman, Ashley Tisdale) and Allen Salmon (Seabird, This Beautiful Republic) Back & Forth is constructed with an underlying sense of "before and after." Some songs reflect the psalm-like intensity of a journey through the darker moments of life, while others celebrate the freedom, hope and redemption that ultimately follows.
"The songs on If I'm Broken aren't all autobiographical," Lanae' explains, "but they are the result of living through some desperate moments and some years of pain, and of making that journey with Christ to find hope and wholeness again. And there are definitely autobiographical elements in there too."
Several of Lanae's new songs, like Back & Forth with its wall of sound chorus, and Here's My Heart with its soaring sense of self-abandonment, reflect a tangible humility born of Lanae's recognition of her own daily dependence on God. Others, like the yearning, string-laced If I'm Broken, echo the moment of Lanae's own surrender to God. Woven through the entire project though, is the sense of a real person expressing real emotion. And for listeners, Lanae's willingness to be transparent in her art naturally seems to create a string of "me too" moments that beckons them into a place of redemptive honesty where their own struggles can be acknowledged.
"My story began in the church," Lanae' explains. "I grew up hearing about God's love and grace but I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that God could really love me. I thought I was never good enough or pretty enough or worth anything. So there was this constant fight in my life between the God I heard about in church and the world that was just devouring me on the inside."
At seventeen, Lanae' says "everything shifted." A long-time relationship with a serious boyfriend ended badly, and she entered her senior year of high school with all of her hidden emotions and insecurities finally beginning to spill out. She was desperate for a way to numb her feelings, and soon found one.
"I had never heard of 'cutting'," Lanae' says, "but I had reached the point where I didn't like who I was and I was tired of living. I knew you could die if you cut your wrists, so I found a vein and started cutting. But when you do that, your body can respond to the physical pain with a rush of endorphins that make you feel good for a while. So that was where the addiction started. It got worse as it went on. The cuts got deeper. When I didn't want to deal with emotions, I would just cut them away."
Lanae' tried sleep aids and alcohol as well, but it was the knives she kept hidden beside her bed and in her car that she most often turned to for immediate relief. The crushing cycle of shame and addiction spiraled for three years, until the night Lanae' found herself in her college apartment holding a handful of pills, ready to take them all.
"There was something deeper in my soul that just wouldn't let me do it," she says, "something that wouldn't let me die. I poured the pills out of my hand. I can look back at that moment now and know that it was God. Some time later I came across Psalm 147:3, 'He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.' It seemed too good to be true. I asked God 'Can you really do that?' because nothing else had worked and I desperately wanted to be healed. God was really beginning to use events in my life to break down my walls and reveal to me that I needed something more. Eventually, I realized how broken I was outside of Jesus. There was a moment when I finally fell on my face and offered the pieces of my life to God."
Even years later, that journey toward surrender continues to shape Lanae's approach to life and songwriting, as she seeks to describe an ever-deepening realization that God's love for each of us is personal and unchanging.
"The voices of condemnation and guilt that used to say 'You're worthless, you're a failure, you need to give up,' were silenced," she says. "Instead I began to experience what it meant to feel God pick me up. For the first time in my life, I knew what grace was."
The undercurrent of grace that now pervades Lanae's testimony also weaves through the songs on Back & Forth. And ultimately, it's the heart of that invitation she's intent on extending to the people around her.
"I want people who are suffering to know," Lanae' says, "that there really is hope on the other side of brokenness, because when I was struggling, I didn't have hope but I desperately wanted it. God worked miracles and literally saved my life. So if I can use the platform I have now to tell people that there is hope in Christ, and even beyond that there's freedom and life abundant, then that's what I want to do."