Interview: Egypt Speaks

\"\"When it comes to art, poetry is one of the purest forms you’ll find. Most of your favorite songs can be looked at as poems or started as just that and Spoken Word is a genre of music that’s largely underrated and whose world is vast when you really look at it.

Egypt Speaks is one of the hottest rising artists and a Christian Spoken Word artist at that and her latest record- Cathedrals just released and she took some time to sit down with us to talk about the album, her faith, today’s Church, her experiences with Camp Electric and much more.

On Cathedrals, you showcases a few different instrumental genres. What determines the style of track that goes with each word piece?

I am a huge music nerd. Most of what goes into a song’s composition are my feelings when I sit down to produce the track. The poem and its lyrics will determine the mood. The mood will then create the feel for the instruments. From there I go to town on the music and build on the destination that the selection is aiming for.

You also have guest appearances from ToddeFunk of Tobymac’s Diverse City, Quese and Danny Shipley. How did these come about and did you have certain tracks in mind for each one?

Yes! I knew that I had to kidnap Danny and Quese for a track. I also knew that this album was going to be a little different musically. I am a huge fan of Danny and his guitar playing so immediately called him asking to write together. I was both surprised he answered and surprised that he said yes. He’s an incredible player and a versatile composer. He then turned around and wrote “Promises” in the span of about ten minutes. Next thing I know he was over at the studio and we were chopping it up. As for Quese, I actually enjoy writing worship music outside of the poetry, but often don’t get a chance to share it. When I wrote “As I Am,” I knew the track was lacking a different voice and Quese was my first call. He killed it!

Todde was that curveball and a surprise. I had this idea for a funky track and was banging my head against a wall trying to write that bass line for it. What I was thinking wasn’t complicated but it needed a feel that I just couldn’t figure out.  I remember thinking “It sure would be nice to have somebody who knows what they’re doing try this. This track needs some funk” and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I realized I could just ask.

I mean, he’s got Funk is his name right?

Tell me about your experiences with Camp Electric. What is it and how did it help you grow as a writer and musician?

Camp Electric is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me, both in and outside of music. I remember the first year I went. I was super intimidated by the massive amount of talented kids that were there. I was afraid to speak in class because I didn’t feel like I was good enough to be there, but I quickly learned that was not what this was about.

I was challenged as both a musician and a writer, but I grew more as a person while I was there. For example, my favorite class is taught by Timmy Rose from the TobyMac band my first year. We literally didn’t touch our guitars the entire time. He talked about fly-fishing and the importance of humility in this particular business. That lesson really stuck with me, and I have those notes pinned to the inside of my guitar case years later (and I personally blame him for my new found love of fly fishing).

Every kid and instructor there becomes family. I learned that being a musician is so much more than playing, it’s the attitude, it’s the humility, it’s the “hang” before and after the show; I learned things that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else.

Because of that camp I grew as a follower of Christ and as a servant of God. That’s the root of anything I do, so of course when my relationship with God improved, my intentions in my artistry as well as its development became pure. I didn’t want to be a rock star anymore. I didn’t care about the lights or the shows, I cared about showing love like those instructors did with me and being that person I needed when I was younger.

Major shout out to Gabe Dunlap, Carpino, Nix, Eric Van Zant, Timmy Rose, Brandon Bagby, Bernard Harris, Paul David, Aaron Battle, Juan Devo, Maj, Keith Everett, Benji Cowart, Tony Hooper, and everyone else the works to put Camp Electric on. I can promise you I wouldn’t be touring, writing, or making music at all. Paul, Keith and Brandon especially ignited my interest in audio production and engineering which is currently my full time job. They helped me figure out that my passion isn’t to become some well-known musician and tour all of the time. My passion is serving God and others through music, and to encourage and mentor. I never would have figured that out if I hadn’t have gone to camp.

This is your second record but you’ve been writing for a lot longer than that. How have you seen your art and lyricism evolve and improve since the beginning?

Fun fact: Cathedrals is actually my 6th release and my 4th album. The ones before that will hopefully never see the light of day ha. Thankfully there was nowhere but up to go from that first EP. I think it just took some time to mature and have more experience in life. Once I was able to better communicate what I was thinking, feeling, or seeing in my writing the overall quality improved and grew.

Let’s talk about the title track- “Cathedrals.” Is it a call to the modern day church to go back to where it started or a plea to god to make your faith stronger when you fall and pure like Jesus was? Where did this song come from?

It’s both. The whole album is both a plea and a prayer. It is a prayer for my faith to be pushed to grow, but also for the church and its followers to take a good long look at what they are doing. I’ve been sitting on this batch of poems for awhile.

When Letters and Scars was released last year, most of these poems were sitting on my hard drive, but I did not want to release them. I was afraid of how it would sound if it came across like I was challenging the church. As the year went on, though, I kept seeing and hearing of situations that shouldn’t be happening or an issue.

Then I was on tour in January and saw this old empty cathedral right on the US-Mexican border. It was gorgeous, but totally empty, and in an area where the buildings were covered in bars to protect from crime and homeless walked the streets. I looked around and realized that this wasn’t the only church building here.

If, as a church, we are called to love the homeless, and the criminal, and the broken, then wouldn’t our presence have an effect on those things? Was this building there just to show how well we could contract walls, or was it there as a beacon of hope?

Now, I have no idea that congregation’s story or their impact, but I did challenge mine. I did not want to be an empty pew, and I wanted to treat people as sons and daughters of God, not just a tally on a communications card. That’s what this album and that poem is about.

“Sometimes I like the silence” is a cool change of pace- there are no instrumentals on it. Was this something you wanted to do from the start?

Yes. I had this terrifying realization that I could not sleep without noise. I had to be listening to music, there had to be something happening and it was affecting my prayer life. I can’t listen for God if I can’t hear myself think you know?

I realized that I was getting burned out from all of the running around I was doing and taking a break from all of the noise was a must. That poem, and the lack of instruments is that silence that I realized I needed to grow with God, and the lyrics are the painfully honest truth of what happens if that type of quiet is not allowed.

You’ve said this album is an open letter to the church. How do you feel about the modern day church as a whole? Do you feel like things are where they need to be or do you feel like there is work to be done? Why did you feel like an open letter was necessary?

I feel like the church has come a long way from where they were, but there is still a ton of work that could be done. I live in an area where there is a church on every corner, but we still have hunger problems in the community.

I have been to places where the town has more mega churches than actual citizens, but there are still children in need of shoes and clothes next door. I feel like we have gotten comfortable where we are both in terms of giving and our roles in the community. I had to ask myself the question of “if these churches disappeared would I really notice any difference?”

In a perfect world, the answer would be yes, however I am afraid that our roles as Christians have been reduced to showing up on Sunday mornings. Complacency is the door to a stagnant relationship with God. We have to keep pushing through social issues, poverty, and challenges that our communities face but not by ignoring them. We have to step up and be the change and progress that we are looking for. As long as there is hunger, injustice, or needs in our communities, we still have work to do.

“Word play” has some of my favorite lines- Getting down to business without the need of witnesses where cathedrals aren’t just buildings and their pews excuses. All I want is a straightforward conversation where my questions can be asked.

Atheism is the only nonprofit organization

Where did these lines come from? I feel like they are both very important talking points for people of faith and people without faith.

I can be very, uh, sarcastic at times, but I also have heard that sarcasm is the only time that people are actually telling the truth. In this case, what are meant as jokes are actually a painfully true commentary of what believers will sometimes mean in their words.

“Word Play” is just the wish that we could say what we mean rather than dancing around the topic.

We absolutely have to talk about your Grammy experience. Tell me about getting that first ballot nomination and invitation to this year’s ceremony and what was the actual ceremony like?

I feel so bad for Pastor Wayne Nale. I knew that I would probably be able to be submitted that year, but there are all types of red tape your work has to jump through to get listed. I mean, I’m just a kid that writes and records stuff in her bathroom right? The Grammy’s are only for real artists and I am for sure not a real artist.

Welp, I was sitting in Pastor Nale’s living room and saw first round come through and let out a squeal worthy of a four-year-old girl and that was that.

The ceremony was cool! However, what I enjoyed more than the actual ceremony was getting to meet and hang out with people. It was weird because during the first ceremony (There are two. One in the morning where most of the awards are given out, and one in the evening with all of the hooplah) everyone was mixed in together. Both nominees and random poet people. I think the best part was getting to sit with Casting Crowns. Juan was one of my Camp Electric teachers, so it meant a lot to be there and be around them for that. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. That, and my grandmother came. She’s funny at home, but when you add the 73 year old to downtown New York city on music’s biggest night of the year, you know you’ll have stories to write home about.

You’ve done a few shows with non-Christian artists and bands. How are those shows for you compared to the Christian shows? Does it affect your songwriting?

Performance wise, it doesn’t really impact the message. It does however make a difference in the delivery. I got to head out for a month as the only Christian artist (not to be confused as the only Christian) on the run.

We played in bars, venues, and in one case a tire shop. Some of those shows became my favorite performances because of how honest and open I could be about my struggles because I knew they would not judge me for it.

That honesty started a bunch of conversations that planted seeds in both my heart and theirs. That part for sure impacts the writing. I feel like before those experiences it was easy for me to judge, or in many cases look down on others for their lack of faith. Now that I understand it though, I can start that conversation from a place of understanding of their struggle and my own.

“The Gospel According to Nana.”  I love this one!!!! Did she want to be on a track or did you ask her?

I actually asked her about it when I realized that one of the poem ideas included her “nanaisms”. Once I realized that I was going to have to do my best impersonation of her, it dawned on me that it could just be a whole lot more fun to include her in that.

After I asked she was all for it! She was kinda of excited to be included on a release with Todde so there was some slight bribery involved ha.

“Promises” really reminds me of DC Talk. Tell me about working about Danny Shipley. This is one of the more traditional tracks on the album. Did you have the entire idea written before he came in or did he bring stuff to the table?

Danny is probably my favorite session player out there. He’s got an ear for melody that is unmatched and is the most honed I’ve seen in awhile. He’s also a really good friend. I wanted to write something a little more rock-styled, and he was a no brainer to connect with. I had produced one of his songs earlier last year for his upcoming release and figured I trusted him enough for this one.

He actually came with the song and I wrote the poem around it. It was a great collab, but he said that if we are DC Talk then he calls dibs on being Kevin.

You’ve played and been on shows/tours, became friends with numerous big names- Tobymac, Switchfoot, NewSong, etc. How have these people helped your songwriting and as a lyricist?

Some of those people, much like Camp Electric, are the main reasons that I even wanted to tour or make music in the first place. Guys like Rico Thomas, Micheal Anderson, Todde, Deigo Brawn, Chris Townsend, Bernard Bell, Meastro, Brandon Bagby, Jon Foreman (especially Jon Foreman), literally anybody from the TobyMac and DiverseCity band are the ones that push me the hardest. I go and watch them play and come home with new ideas to try running through my head. I look to them for ideas on how to become a better player and leader.

I listen to their lyrics and essentially pick them apart, almost like I am studying for a test, ha! I also know that if it comes down to that I can pick any of their brains and every single one of them are so gracious in sharing what they know. They are all so talented and knowledgeable that just seeing them play is enough for me to go home and spend the next several days figuring out what on earth I just saw. I’ll never forget seeing Danny Gokey’s band play for the first time and staying up after the show trying to figure out Miguel’s solo and how on earth Meastro had arranged the performance so that I could translate that into what I was doing. It’s a feeling that causes a ton of humility, but also an excitement to make me want to grow and learn from them. It helps that they are also some incredibly cool people, and I think that is most of the influence. I mentioned before that being a musician isn’t just about playing well. It’s about who you are when the lights aren’t on. As crazy as it sounds I don’t look up to them just for their playing ability or for their music. Anyone can practice and improve, anyone can be passionate, but it takes a special kind of person to be that proficient in their craft and still humble and teachable. I look up to them because of their servant’s hearts and because of their relationships with God. Mom used to tell me to surround yourself with people who love Jesus more than you do, so that way you’ll be pushed to grow in your relationship. Well, if any one of the above let me stick around I think I’ll be ok.

“Ruins” is the only song you really sing on and showcase your vocals. Why did you decide to go down this road as a Spoken Word artist?

I am a wanna-be band member trapped in a poet’s body I swear ha. I have always wanted to be in an actual band, but for this season am not. I do however have a massive amount of band equipment in the studio that wasn’t being used. It was during one of those moments when I was writing this album.

I had been listening to a ton of Crowder’s American Prodigal album and his intro and outros were for me, the most memorable part. It was fascinating what a bit of melody could do for the message. “Walls” and “Ruins,” which are my intro and outro tracks, were born from that fascination.

-Reggie Edwards