With its themes of empowerment and the impact of spiritual theology on gender inequality and politics, Eliza Gilkyson’s 20th album, Secularia — whose track “In The Name of the Lord” is premiering exclusively below — “was a tricky record for me to make,” according to the singer-songwriter.
“I actually started this record a couple years ago, and we went back to the drawing board many times,” Gilkyson tells Billboard about Secularia, which comes out July 13 and features guest appearances by Shawn Colvin, Sam Butler, the Tosca String Quartet and the late Jimmy LaFave. “How do you talk about something around which there is so much ideology? How do you write about spiritual matters without sounding preachy? How do you deconstruct the God archetype without throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Maybe that would be a better way to put it.
“So it was challenging. It was a subtle process that took longer than I thought it would.”
Gilkyson is nevertheless happy with the results — a provocative 12-track album that challenges established standards of thought with a gentle but philosophical perspective, including two songs composed from poems written by her grandmother. Gilkyson considers “In the Name of the Lord” to be “the most overtly political song on the record,” and one that defines much of Secularia‘s over-arching viewpoint.
“I felt if I was going to go into the spiritual realms I wanted to make it clear I was not embracing ideological, fundamental religion,” she explains. “All of those things are part of my foundation, but I had to make it very clear that there’s so much wrong in the world today that, in my mind, is based on religious ideology. We use it to rationalize the entire hierarchical system of dominance and subordination. So to me it was very important that I name the problem that so much of it is being done in the name of the Lord.” But Gilkyson’s anger is not necessarily directed at God, or a god.
“That’s so abstract to me,” she says. “I don’t think I’m angry at him/her/it. When I do that I’m objectifying it, and I don’t want to do that. I’m angry at what humans have done in the name of it, so my anger comes from how we’ve co-opted something and how we use the fear of mortality, this fear of hell, to manipulate people. So my anger is along the political lines, really.”
Gilkyson acknowledges that in the past she included “one or two of these” pointed songs on each album, but a combination of current events and feelings of her own mortality led to a greater concentration on Secularia. “I’m getting older,” Gilkyson says. “I feel like every record really counts for me right now. In the arc of a career I think it’s appropriate at this point to do something that really focuses on this undercurrent of the quest for self-knowledge, self-awareness. I felt like I should go ahead and give it its due.” And while it’s the right time in her life to do that, Gilkyson also recognized that it’s the right time for the world to hear Secularia‘s messages.
“The whole #MeToo movement gave me so much encouragement and was so inspiring to me,” she says. “When I started working on this two and a half years ago I didn’t have this sense that all of us are feeling this way — especially as women, this whole idea of really going down to the core of how we’ve been affected by a patriarchal God. It’s so indoctrinated. It’s everywhere, and it plays out in so many ways. So to see this is a movement is very encouraging to me. I’m so glad those things coincided with (the album).”