Lauren Daigle on Her Success and What's Next: 'I Want God to Speak Louder Than the Music'
Daigle chats with Billboard about her ascent up the charts, what she hopes to accomplish in 2017 & what's ultimately most important as her audience grows.
Christian singer-songwriter Lauren Daigle has experienced continued career growth over the past year, following a breakout 2015.
Her first full-length album, How Can It Be, spent six weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart, beginning May 2, 2015, and has sold 484,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen Music. Daigle co-wrote nine of the 12 songs on the album.
Her new holiday set, Behold: A Christmas Collection, arrived on the Nov. 5, 2016-dated chart and has reached No. 3.
Daigle has already rolled up four top 10s on Billboard's Hot Christian Songs chart. Her launch single, the How Can It Be title track, climbed to No. 5; "First" reached No. 2; and "Trust in You" became her first No. 1. On Christian Airplay, the songs hit Nos. 6, 1 and 1, respectively. (She added a holiday top 10 on Hot Christian Songs in 2015 as featured on Chris Tomlin's No. 4-peaking "Noel.")
Currently, on the Hot Christian Songs chart dated Dec. 3, Daigle's latest single, "Come Alive (Dry Bones)," ranks at its No. 12 peak. The 25-year-old Lafayette, Louisiana, native has received her share of accolades in 2016, including three wins at the 47th annual Dove Awards, held Oct. 11 in Nashville. The three trophies Daigle carried away included the biggest of the night, for artist of the year, as well as songwriter of the year (artist) and best pop/contemporary song of the year for "Trust in You."
She also garnered her first Grammy Award nomination, for best contemporary Christian album for How Can It Be. (The 2017 Grammy Awards take place on Feb. 12 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.)
Meanwhile, Daigle's touring schedule this year included her first arena shows, opening for Hillsong United, and her first headlining stint in October.
As 2016 winds down, Daigle chatted with Billboard about her whirlwind of a year, her Christmas plans, what's next and more.
What a year for you. You've really accomplished a lot. How does it feel as you look back on it?
It's crazy, as I actually listen to you say that and ask me about 2016, because I've been going non-stop. This whole year has been a lot of shock for me, honestly. I love that, too, because it's all a risk and the bigger the adventure is, the more fun it is. This year has been one of pushing boundaries, taking big chances and getting out of my comfort zone. I just feel like I am at the finish line for the year but there's more.
We're getting ready to go on a Christmas tour with for King & Country (beginning Nov. 29 in Tampa, Fla.) and I love those guys. They're such great guys, so when they asked, I was like, sure, let's go, because for me, it's all about, "Is this going to be a cool hang?" I'll be opening for them. In the past, I got used to staying home for the holidays, but now the tradition is being reset, to being on the road. Essentially, looking back on all of the work, I feel like with this upcoming tour, we're putting a stamp, the final touch, on 2016.
How Can It Be has now sold almost 500,000 copies. Did you have any idea when you recorded it that it would be received so well?
Really, no. I had no idea when we recorded it that it would be that big, not close. I didn't really know how well it would be received. So, when I hear you say that, that it sold that many, it just makes me shutter. It did feel larger than life when I was recording it. Something big was happening that I might not have been in control of. So now, looking back and hearing that big number, I think wow, 500,000 people. My hope is that all of them encountered the heart of God as I did. That's always my hope.
The new Christmas album, Behold, was produced by Paul Mabury and Jason Ingram, the same guys who produced How Can It Be. It has a real jazz feel to it, with the horns added to the mix, and it hit me, this could have been recorded in the '40s or '50s. Did that come from your Louisiana background, growing up with that influence?
Absolutely, it comes from my Louisiana roots. When I first moved to Nashville and started writing, I was aching to hear some good jazz and absorb it to enhance my writing process. I had a desire to create music with a sense of jazz history and I wanted to write and create music with a jazz edge to it. Along the way, I met Paul Mabury, who is from Australia and has sense of jazz and its history, so it was an amazing connection to have him as a resource and writing partner.
So, yeah, I always wanted to do a jazz album. I just had no idea that it would come in the making of a Christmas record. For me it all comes from being steeped in that love for New Orleans, walking through the French Quarter, late at night, and hearing the sounds of, say, a saxophone being played, coming out of nowhere. I love that. Someday I hope to do a jazz club tour.
The Behold album includes mainly traditional Christmas songs and one original cut, "Light of the World." "Light" was originally your chart debut in 2014, peaking at No. 16 on Hot Christian Songs. You wrote that with Paul Mabury and Paul Duncan, and I heard that you all wrote it over Skype. How crazy was that?
[Laughs] I know. I was sitting there in Louisiana and Paul and Paul were in Nashville. As the writing process progressed, I was thinking about the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments in the Bible, when God was silent for 400 years. There was stillness in the world, people were searching. I wonder how that longing was for people living then. To be honest, it kind of reminds me of today and the longing in people. As I think about those many years of silence, I think of the cry of a baby. We put these stories in a parallel position in the lyrics, connecting to our music and hoping for an ultimate connection with people, through God.
You gave the song a different treatment on this album than its first recording. And it was originally released on a compilation LP by your label, Centricity Christmas: Joy to the World. Did you want to give it a home on one of your albums?
Yes, for sure. As the performing of the song evolved and I was also evolving, I wanted to put it on the new album and give it a whole different sound from the original.
In 2015, you toured with Chris Tomlin and sang lead vocals on "Noel," which he co-wrote for his Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship LP. When I talked with Chris about it, he said that during that part of the concert, when you'd come out for "Noel," that it would just stop the crowd. What is that like for you onstage?
Wow. First of all, that tour was revolutionary. It let us cover so much ground. There was something so exceptional about that song. But here's the thing, some people come to a concert to be entertained. Some come hoping for a Godly connection. For me, as an artist, I feel the weight that I want to be able to deliver on what they're there for. So, in a moment, such as performing a special song like "Noel," and absorbing the audience's reaction, in those moments, I can actually feel the weight lifting off my shoulders and it's freeing. For me, those moments, that's the best place.
I feel tired just asking about all of the work that you did in 2016. Do you have plans to take a break and re-energize?
Oh yes. You know, with my team, we always talk about whatever the project is before saying yes or no. The question is, "Is this something that just moves us an inch or will it strengthen the marathon?" The entire journey has to be treated as if it's a marathon, not a sprint. You know, I have been stretched this past year, and admittedly in need of a break. I want to be really purposeful when I do my next album. I never want to just fulfill a contract obligation.
So in order to do that and do it with determination, I have to rest. So yeah, I am taking most of January through April off in 2017. There will be a few appearances in that time frame, but for the most part, I'll be taking time to evaluate what's next.
You're a Christian artist who seems to have a large sense of faith. As you get more and more popular, how do you keep it all in check and not let stardom take over?
I think and pray about that a lot. Fundamentally, I have a team of people around me who are all friends, but aren't afraid to challenge me or disagree. And I question myself as well. It's healthy. For instance, if I want to buy something, I have to ask, "Do I need that, whatever it is, or is it simply the desires of wanting to be a star and extend it with materialism?" When I go back to Louisiana I want to be the same person that my friends remember me as. It's so important to me.
We made a decision that when we go out on the road this time that we'll stay in inexpensive hotels. We try and make choices that will keep us grounded.
Have you met many artists that you have especially connected with?
There have been plenty, and Amy Grant comes to mind first. When I got to Nashville, she was just very supportive and giving, and she's just so down-to-earth. She definitely inspired me. I hope to be like that.
Would you consider a duet or collaboration of some kind with an artist outside the Christian music community?
Yes… do you know anyone? Seriously, my heart is to just go forward as far as I can, making music that I love and seeing where the journey takes me. In many ways the past year has created a blank slate for me, in that I am open to anything. It's pretty exciting.
I saw you in Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena (July 20), opening for Hillsong United. What was that experience like, playing a big venue and opening for an act with a huge following?
It was a fun, amazing and challenging. The first leg of the tour definitely pushed me to step up my game, which is great -- you want that. By the time we did the second leg, I was centered and felt it all kick into gear. It was an incredible experience.
In October you did a short run, headlining a string of shows for the first time. Was it daunting at first, and what are your tour plans for 2017?
I went into the headlining tour with the intention of just digging my heels into the ground. I learned a lot from the people that I have opened up for so far and feel that doing a few concerts as a headliner set me up for 2017, being ready for anything. I am honest with myself in that I'm not as far along as I seek to be yet. So, I look at it this way: that the stage is my experience to take from and be ready for the next round. I want to just see where it goes.
As far as next year, I will be doing two tours, but details aren't final yet.
How Can It Be led Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart for six weeks. Congratulations, that's quite a ride, especially for a first album. What are your plans for recording a new album?
Truly, I am stunned that the album is still selling. I just think, "What in the world is going on?" And, yes, I am writing and preparing for the next album. I want to be a good steward and make sure what's in my heart is what God wants, and then once it's done and released, at that point it's up to God and what he does on the back end. I sincerely find joy in not knowing.
How and when do you write?
I love co-writing. That whole process is a challenge in that good writers are pushing you. I am constantly writing and lately I have been writing solo.
Wow. I wasn't aware. So guess what, I take that as a challenge.
What is your hope for people to get from your songs, to take away from your music?
I have so many things on that list, but simply, love. My hope is that people experience the music and, in that, something works in them, that they realize how exceptional they are. Maybe that it inspires them to do something great in their own lives. I want God to be speaking louder than the music.
Finally, what are your Christmas plans?
It's been a fun, crazy year, so I want to go home and see some friends. I'm goin' back to the swamp.