After amicably departing from Flyleaf in 2012 to concentrate on her family, some may have forgotten about ex frontwoman Lacey Sturm, whose trademark screams, high notes, and astounding lyrical acumen made her a mainstay in the alternative subculture of the early aughts. Today, she continues to serve as a force to be reckoned with in alternative rock in 2020.
Her 2016 solo album Life Screams saw Sturm become the first female to top the Billboard Hard Rock charts. She also recently released the powerful new solo track ‘The Decree’ and even a collaboration with Breaking Benjamin on an acoustic version of ‘Dear Agony’, both of which give fans a message of love and individualism that continues to draw her legions of fans while tying in a bit of an old school Flyleaf vibe. Her solo efforts do not make up a worship album and get to the heart of a theme she’s passionate about — exposing the brutal honesty of the darkness of life while offering hope, love, and ways to live a life drenched in light.
Through this new band, in which husband Josh Sturm plays guitar (and is her primary songwriting partner), she has been able to explore this theme further and tap into the reason she loves rock (“It makes me feel free.”), while making music that stays true to her and finding a way to make Christian Rock “feel real.” This exploration of new musical paths has also led her to ponder something that Sturm has never been asked about: why there are no love songs throughout her solo career and the entire Flyleaf catalogue?
As open and raw in conversation as she is in her music, I had the chance to catch up with the rock artist over FaceTime where we discussed why she’s never written a love song, her ability to address darkness in her music, and her theory on why some are averse to Christian Rock:
I noticed that Flyleaf and your solo album have no love songs in their discographies. Is romance not a subject you like to write about?
“It’s so funny you caught that! I’ve never been asked that. I said that to my record label when I signed that, I’m never writing a love song. We’re so let down by the propaganda in movies that say It’s not realistic to life. I saw that movie where a lady had her arm cut off by a shark, and they have to invent a love interest for the movie. Romantic love isn’t the point of life. If it was, children wouldn’t be more alive than we are in adulthood. They’re so much better at joy, forgiveness and are much more full. We get so trapped by romance, and there are four kinds of deeper love that we should look for. Agape (God’s love and a form of love that encompasses the others) has so much depth. If we go after that one, we’ll find such a depth in our souls. That’s what we should look for.”
Your music has always addressed the duality of being a Christian- that darkness exists alongside praise and worship. Why has that been a central theme of your music?
“When I had this encounter with God on the day I tried to commit suicide, which was the darkest day of my life, it was the most illuminating day. The closer we come to death itself, the closer we have to come to God. Death is the central piece of faith, and God became sin itself on the Cross. When I first became a Christian, there wasn’t a lot of music that dealt with that. Christianity didn’t feel relatable because it didn’t seem like Christians dealt with the things I dealt with, or they hid it, as far as I knew. God handling it gives people the freedom to not deal with things that they struggle with. But, if you go to an AA meeting, you’re told that you can’t do this on your own. Unless you know the darkness, you won’t appreciate the overcoming. The reason why a lot of people fall away from their childhood faith is that they don’t see the darkness dealt with. I talk to my kids openly about whatever they ask, and I think that’s what’s missing in family conversations and is why people fall away from their childhood faith.”
What advice do you give to your individual fans who are struggling with depression and finding their sense of spirituality and place in the world, as you were?
“I’m thinking of Kristin Dvorak, and I wanna tell her particularly, that she’s not an accident or a mistake. She’s a gift to the world and an art. She doesn’t have to compare herself to the person next to her because her life is a gift. I want her to know life is supposed to be an adventure and not to worry about the pain that comes with not knowing. Life isn’t meant to crush her; it’s meant to show her what she’s able to overcome. If I can’t sit down with her in person, I’d want her to hear it in my music, a book I’ve written, or an interview like this. Maybe she’ll be able to find it that way. Life Screams‘ ‘You’re Not Alone’ is about this. I don’t feel the weight of rescuing people, which I think is depriving. I do so much to reach out to people struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts, cutting, abuse, and addiction. I know that I can’t save anyone. He shields us from so much more than we’ll ever know, and part of what he’s done in me will pull them out of that place. It’s not me; it’s what he’s done in me.”
Congrats on the release of new single, ‘The Decree’! For those who aren’t familiar with the song, what’s the message behind it?
“We watch feel-good movies and read these books and articles on what’s important. Actors tell you that your family is most important; love is about your soul. Everything gets shut down, and people don’t know who they are. We have to examine ourselves at that moment and realize what’s really important. So, I think the Decree is about this being a time when we can sit and become everything we said. The question is, for what are you losing your soul? The next song we wanna put out soon deals with the same thing. It’s becoming a theme. A proverb I read in a book of ancient sayings talks about how a person is getting into a quiet place, and they now have to deal with their own heart, soul, and everything they’re ignoring and are distracting themselves from. I feel like once we finally get to that place (this COVID situation has made us slow down — if we could shut our phones off) where we have to deal with our own selves, I think we’ll realize how to get free. It’s one of the darkest times in our generation, but I think that’s going to make the light so much brighter.”
How did leaving Flyleaf affect you personally and professionally?
“When I left Flyleaf, that was super hard for me. You feel responsible for your bandmates’ and touring crews’ finances, the record label getting a return on their investment, or what the fans will think when you make a record, whether it helps them. That weight is crushing, and I have to constantly take it off and say no. Everyone will put it on you ‘You saved my life, you saved my marriage, you helped my mom’ I hear these things all the time, but I have to know the truth within my own life.”
How do you think your musical style and messaging has changed since Flyleaf’s ‘Again’ with your solo track ‘The Decree’?
“Yes, I feel like Flyleaf was a collaboration between five people who appreciated very different types of music: Sameer was into progressive rock like Radiohead, our drummer was into classic rock like the Beatles, our bass player was all over the board, and I was more inspired by grunge music. Together, we made that sound. After I left Flyleaf, my husband (Josh Sturm) wanted to help me materialize what was in my head. So, it was really about what I wanted to hear, which was so fun but much different. He added some of his style to it, too; he likes bands like Tool. He brought something so important and helped fill in the gaps. So, it’s been a journey with music, for sure.”
It’s great that you collaborated with Breaking Benjamin on an acoustic version of their hit song ‘Dear Agony’. Do you think you added a new layer to the message behind the song?
“It definitely comes from a different place with me. I thought it was funny when Ben and I talked about it. He let me have my own understanding, and I told him, “my motivation is going to come from Jesus.” (laughs) I was gonna take this rock song and put Jesus on it. For me, it was so timely. It’s exactly what I’ve been wrestling within my soul. There are things I’ve been working through that I didn’t know how to express myself. That they were expressed in another song and I got to redo it with him was so good. I’m glad for the opportunity because I wrestled with that, the message in it, and, for me, there’s a big resolution in the song that settles that wrestling, and I love that.”
Your single ‘The Decree’ premiered on Sirius XM Octane, an active rock channel, and your music has always been pushed to mainstream charts. How could Christian Rock become mainstream?
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem with the music or Christianity itself, it was more about being fake. What I loved about rock is that you got to be yourself, and you didn’t have to please anybody else or fake it. One of the many things I hated about Christian music is that it didn’t feel real, and I didn’t believe them. (laughs) Part of the reason why we love rock music is the ability to finally say what we’re thinking and speak out against injustice because nobody’s listening. We can say we’ve had enough and tear down the walls. I find that the genuine understanding of why people would be averse to Christian Rock. Christian rock looks different from mainstream pop. You go to a pop station, and it’s fake hair, fake boobs, and everything’s fancy. You go to a rap station, and there’s graffiti everywhere. I feel like when I go to a Christian Rock station, it’s a sanitized version of the pop station. I feel like home. I don’t want to speak against that (pop and rap) because there are a lot of younger people in it, and I don’t want to generalize people. But if you’re talking about why mainstream rock and Christian Rock don’t mix, it’s because they’re opposites in a lot of ways. What they’re (listeners) looking for is different: one person is looking for a feel-good message to help people run away, the other person is looking to face death and hell that they’re walking through and be real about it. That’s a good question, I have to think more about that.”
Do you think that leading female rock singers have to be sexual to sell their music, or is that changing?
“I think it’s a lie that we’ve had to believe. I don’t think we’ve ever had to do that. I had a fight with my manager over wearing fake eyelashes when I was starting out, something I refused to do. It wasn’t wrong for me to wear them; I just didn’t feel free about it. I had to draw a line in my soul and say, “I’m not going to be fake. I’m going to be real and be who I am.” My motivation for loving rock was to feel free and not feel like I had to be one thing or another. It felt like “do I have to do this to be in this industry?’ They’ll make you believe that “you have to be this way to do this.” When I was starting out, I was told to go to this party because a guy was hitting on me, and it would be good for my career. Grown women told me that this is how it works, and I was like, “If I had to play clubs forever, that’s okay.” I’m not gonna hang out with that dude that I don’t wanna give my number to. My goal is never to make it. It’s to be free and be myself. And I made my own way.”
What’s your take on being categorized as a female rocker and having your accomplishments viewed through that lens?
“I have a strong aversion and dislike to those kinds of [gender] divisions in general. I wish I could be proud of myself as a female in the rock world, but I feel it categorizes me in a way I don’t value. I’d rather be known as an artist than as a female. It just so happens that I’m a female. I see myself as more pure or real.”
With her motivational speaking and more new music on the horizon, Lacey is far from done making an impact. Her candidness, emotive singing, and understanding of the plights of others have made her career last long in an entertainment industry that can sometimes be fickle. She dedicates this interview to Kristin Dvorak and all fans like her, who are going through hardship. She is there for all, in spirit, on stage, and on paper. All of us Flyleaf — and Lacey Sturm — fans are thankful.