An artist who happens to be a Christian, not a Christian who happens to be an artist. That's the best way to describe pop-rock singer-songwriter Beki Hemingway, who will perform on June 22nd at Hope Presbyterian Church as part of the Hope Summer Concert Series. "Sometimes, we'll play in a bar and people will come up afterwards and say, 'Are you religious? You're spiritual,' says Hemingway. "But at the same time, people will come up to us in a church and say, 'What did you mean by that?'"
Hemingway, whose great-grandfather was a cousin of the famous Ernest, doesn't fill her lyrics with direct references to God or the church. She describes her music as "faith songs from a Christian perspective." The Chicago artist's playful pop songs are filled with ideas of eternal hope and everlasting love without sounding like something out of a church hymnal. In fact, several Christian labels have passed on her for not being "overt enough." Hemingway's sophomore album Words For Loss of Words hit stores June 2nd. Many of the songs were written shortly after the death of her father, so the lyrics tend to be a little on the dark side. But all have an uplifting message reminding the audience that the bad times won't last forever.
Hemingway says she generally writes about her own experiences, and most of the songs on WFLOW reflect situations she's been through and the emotions that went along with them. Of expressing grief and struggle through song, Hemingway says, "These are the things we really don't have words for. I think it's funny to say that because we try to put lyrics to these things. It's really hard to get to the bottom of it with words. 'Hope Is All I Have' probably sums up the album best. I went through the hardest times of my life making this CD with the recording situations and schedules. It just came through that hope is eternal, and there's nothing we can do about it. So as much as I was trying to capture down feelings, I wound up writing a song about how there's always hope."
Not all of the tracks mirror her life. The second song, "Only Thing Worse," is a completely fictitious break-up song. Hemingway and her guitarist/husband Randy Kerkman have been married for years, but they wanted to produce a song that was a challenge to write. "There's one song, 'Floating Away,' about people who are suffering from long illnesses and trying to die well. Someone came up to me at a church service and said, 'You know, I'm gonna find out tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure I'm dying of cancer. I just wanted to thank you for that song.' That's obviously rewarding," she says.
Hemingway's been in the Christian-music industry for over 10 years. At 16, she got a job at the Christian Artist Music Seminar driving artists to sound checks. The job gave her some insight into how the music business worked behind the scenes. She sang in various small bands for several years before joining the power-punk/rockabilly band This Train as a vocalist. She was with the band for four years before going solo in 1997. It wasn't her choice, though; the band went on tour without her. Rather than give up, she began writing songs and recruited her husband to play guitar. She released a six-song EP, rinse. repeat., in 1997 and her first full-length album, Too Much Plenty, in 2000.
Hemingway's uplifting lyrics and easygoing attitude have made her a name in the Christian-rock scene. She's down-to-earth and loves for people in her audience to come hang out with her after a show. "If I have one big problem onstage, it's that, some of the time, I think I'm doing more people-watching," she says. "I'm wondering about that person's day or thinking, Hey, I'd like to go talk to that person. I want to jump in the crowd sometimes and just go hang out with people."
She and Kerkman are currently in the middle of a "stripped-down acoustic" tour which began May 3rd and will run through the fall. The couple purchased a camper van on eBay and set out on the road.
After the tour, Hemingway plans to spend some time working on side projects. She recently recorded a song for a Styx tribute album. She considers it out-of-character but a good way to flex her abilities before starting a new album.
As for the Memphis stop, Hemingway says, "We did Graceland once, and that was awesome. I thought I was going to be the one who was all excited, but Randy spent the most money in the gift shop. He was like 'Ooh, can I get this?' We need to sell a lot of CDs this time so we can afford to go back to Graceland. That's what needs to happen."