Popular music is the voice box of culture; it tells our stories in present tense. And every day, new voices chime in with perspectives either generic or poignant, chaff or wheat. As a culture, we're listening for the real thing: we want the hope, and we want the song to resonate. Once in awhile, we get what we long for. Once in awhile, someone like Bethany Dillon comes around.
From the first listen of her self-titled Sparrow Records debut it is obvious that Bethany Dillon possesses the rare gift of balance between flowing lyrics and moving melodies. With a voice equally at home with soaring strings and mandolins as it is with upbeat electric guitars, Bethany has an accessible sound all her own: She is the exuberance of Michelle Branch and the weightiness of Aimee Mann. As she sings in "Move Forward": My eyes are soft and wise. They tell a story.
Bethany's story is one of Christ and music. Growing up in Bellefontaine, OH, music was a form of daily conversation in her family household. She learned early the value of its power to create community. "I have sung since I learned to talk," she says. "At family gatherings, everyone plays music. The musical roots go really deep."
Deeper than musical roots, however, was the commitment to Christ. "I grew up in a Christian home," Bethany explains. "God was very near to my heart at a young age. I wanted to passionately and ardently follow him."
Bethany's passion for God translated directly into her passion for music. "There's a quote in my room that says: 'Good music makes you homesick for a place you've never been.' Sara Groves humming with a piano communicates more to me than a pulpit. Music unearths things that have yet to be unearthed," Bethany muses. At age 10, she discovered the music of Jennifer Knapp, and immediately wanted to learn how to play guitar. "I was convinced I should be a rocker chick," she jokes.
Little did Bethany know that God was about to honor her dream. After recording an independent CD in her home, her music landed in the hands of EMI CMG’s Vice President of A&R Brad O'Donnell. Bethany and her family then met with the label, on "a day that would go down in history," she remembers. She knew, without a doubt, that God had orchestrated a perfect partnership. O'Donnell agrees. "I sat down with her family and listened to her pray," he remembers. "I could tell that Bethany possessed a rare honesty and genuineness as an artist. She had no agenda. That day, she was just 'being'. I knew that hers was a higher calling, and [EMI CMG] wanted to be a part of that."
In five short years, Bethany Dillon has developed a unique songwriting style, combining her committed study of Scripture with the experience of a maturing young woman. "Every line, I've poured myself into," she explains. O'Donnell is amazed by her skill: "Bethany is a deep well of creativity, which is the hallmark of a great artist," he says. "You can see in her a holy ambition."
Bethany feels a strong calling to speak to the heart of women: "I want women to know that God has placed a crown of beauty on their head," she says. And so she writes songs of longing and empowerment, struggle and victory. "I want my music to come from a place of rawness and honesty," she explains. Songs such as "Beautiful" are both confessional and resolute, as Bethany sings about "fighting to make the mirror happy," only to realize that "You say who I am is quite enough."
It is this same vulnerability that makes her music so accessible to all ages. Already, Bethany has developed quite the fan base amongst teens. "The people who come up to me after shows are girls in college and high school. And every night I have a good conversation with girls my age. They relate to the music because I'm not singing about being fifteen five years ago. I am fifteen." Also, Bethany can relate to what it means to be a teenager in the context of family. She is the middle child of five, with an older brother and sister and two younger brothers who were adopted into the family after coming to live with them ten years ago.
As she embarks on such a promising journey, Bethany Dillon is embracing her story with purpose and vision. “God is teaching me that it's not about me. I need to be faithful, and He will speak through me. I'm not going to worry so much about being successful or relevant." She goes on: "I want to awaken in my generation something that's been dead. I want to make the Word flesh and blood for my generation, to show them that living out the Gospel is something greater and more mysterious, with more adventures than we've learned." She strives to unearth what has yet to be unearthed.