“It feels absolutely insane,” says Lauren Daigle of her second-ever Grammy nomination for her single “Trust in You.” The 25-year-old contemporary Christian artist was nominated for the first time last year for her 2015 debut album, How Can It Be, which was the No. 1 Christian Artist on Billboard’s 2016 year-end chart. “Trust in You,” off that same album, is now nominated for best contemporary Christian performance/song. The Lafayette, Louisiana native, known for her soulful alto, chatted with Billboard about her jazz roots, love of Amy Winehouse, and her determination to break misconceptions about modern Christian music.
What does it mean to have “Trust In You” nominated for a Grammy?
The funny part is that it’s the song I was most reluctant to put on the record! I remember saying, “I’m not a fan of this one so much,” and they were like, “It’ll be fine, we’ll make it cool, don’t worry.” When I played the record for my grandmother, she said, “Oh, that’s my favorite song.” So I was like, if this song is on the record just for her, it’s worth it. Then when the label was like, “We want to make it a single,” I was like, “Have you lost your mind?” But all these people started writing in, saying, “I didn’t know what I needed, but I played this song all through my chemo and now I’m healed,” or “We played this song the entire time my sister was in the hospital”… It’s kind of crazy because the one thing that I’d so longed for, for my grandfather, is what’s coming through this song. Now, I enjoy it.
How did you start making music?
When I was 15 I had this illness and was basically housebound for two years. I loved to sing, that was a passion, but it just wasn’t a reality — here in South Louisiana, as much as people love music, and as much as it’s a part of our culture, it’s always kind of the b-side of life. That’s what you do for a passion or a hobby, but not for a career. But when I was sick in bed, I was having like, dreams and visions about different career stages and different awards, and the Grammys was actually one of them. I saw it like it was real. I started thinking like, am I having cabin fever? I kind of thought I was losing my mind there for a second. As time progressed, I just thought, “If I’m supposed to do this, God, you’re just going to have to make a way for me to get out of bed and make it happen.” Slowly but surely doors started opening.
Were the artists who inspired you growing up Christian artists?
When I was younger, it was definitely all the powerhouses — Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone. Also Adele and Aretha Franklin — I always loved the very sultry voices. As I’ve gotten older, my love for jazz has increased. When I was about 18, I really started diving into Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer Trio and some of those things that have jazz elements but also a pop feel. My producer is actually a jazz musician. I talked to the label, like, “I know that Nashville has kind of their straight and narrow way of doing things, but I really need to be with someone who loves soul, loves jazz, loves blues and understands it.” So they found this guy from Australia, and he really helped me kind of build my affinity for jazz.
Where did your love of jazz come from?
In South Louisiana, every single thing we do is jazz or zydeco. We grew up going to Randol’s and dancing every Sunday night, going to Frenchman Street in New Orleans, but it really started to come out when I realized I didn’t have it anymore. When I moved to Nashville, it was kind of a devastating blow. I was thinking, “Okay, this is Music City, this is gonna change my life,” and I got up there and the first thing I did was asked all the music people I was surrounded by, “Ok, where’s the jazz?!” They were like, “what are you thinking…” That was when it hit me, like, I just left the greatest place in the world for jazz. I think because of that longing, it grew so much more. So for Christmas, we put out a jazz Christmas record. It definitely has a New Orleans kind of sound.
Were you always aiming for Christian music, or did you want to make pop music as well?
When I was sick, I told God, “Whatever you do don’t send me to Christian music, I don’t want to be associated with any of that.” Of course, that’s where I land. He had to show me more of what I actually cared about, through the process. I definitely don’t want to only make music in the Christian genre. I want to expand, and kind of dive into whatever else is in store, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love what I get to do as well. I’ve always been friends with anyone and everyone, so I didn’t want all my friends to think, “What is Lauren doing going into Christian music? This is so bizarre.”
Defining what’s “contemporary Christian” can feel a bit arbitrary — you could argue that Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book fits, but it’s categorized as hip-hop.
When I listened to [Coloring Book], I was like “Oh my gosh, this is amazing!” And hearing what he did with the record, how he made it and how he did it on the financial end — just giving it away — I was like, “Okay, this is rad. I don’t know who this guy is, but I want to meet him!” Like, that’s the essence of soul, the whole point is for music to be this unifying thing. When you see people taking that leap that he took, I was blown away.
What’s the biggest misconception about contemporary Christian artists?
That’s definitely a question I always ask myself. There’s often so much division as far as Christianity goes; certain people say one thing, someone else says another thing, and it can swirl into chaos. What I don’t want the outside world to think is like, “These people are judgmental,” or “They think they know better than we do.” My desire is for everyone to know that there’s just hope and love for every person on this planet. I definitely feel like some of the common misconceptions are that the music can be judgmental, or the music can be too happy, that there’s not enough talk about real life. I hate that that’s associated with it. When you look in the Bible, that’s definitely not how it is. There’s all kinds of scandalous things that take place! As a Christian musician, I’m like, “Come on, let’s step it up a little bit and talk about things.”
Going into the recording studio, were you thinking that you’d work outside the box? Or was that unconscious?
It definitely wasn’t conscious. Being from South Louisiana, we’re just kind of rootsy. When I started singing in Nashville and in the Christian world, one of the first things I heard was “Oh, your voice is super sultry, that might get you in trouble.” I was like, “Or that might be the best thing!” [laughs]. I can’t fake this Christian thing; I just had to experience something real. At a certain point, I went to my A&R guy, and I was like, “I’m kind of at the point where I’m going to pull my hair out. I can’t just cheese this whole situation up all the time. I need this to be authentic and what I believe in,” as far as a sound goes. And my producer really let me be hands-on. He would always say, “Lauren, we’re not going to compromise based on what the need is from the label, or what the need is from the Christian market, or anything else. That’s not what this is about. We just want to make good art. Why not take risks?” I just kind of leaned into that. I definitely don’t ever plan on compromising, and if that means I’m rebellious, then so be it, I’m all for it.