Katie Callahan Finds Her Peace ‘In a Garden’ in New Song [Exclusive Premiere]
Katie Callahan finds joy in working with the earth, and her new song "In a Garden" expresses just how much her time in the soil and among her plants means to and does for her. It's premiering exclusively on The Boot; press play below to listen.
Callahan wrote "In a Garden" shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began. "I was working outside in our little shade garden on a Sunday morning, having given up on church a few years before," she recalls.
"It gives me incredible joy to be out there, a real sense of purpose to have — as the song says — my hands in the dirt and the sun on my back," Callahan continues, "and that morning in particular, I was relishing the heat on my skin and escaping from the anxiety and fear of that time into my own body. It was a worship service unto itself."
In fact, she came back indoors inspired, and quickly scribbled down her ideas. "The whole thing just sort of tumbled out of me, this very simple celebration of the earth, its steadying reminder of living, dying and coming back to life, and how God seemed to be there in the rhythm of the spade and seed," Callahan explains.
Layered vocals — recalling, Callahan notes, the Hawaiian tradition of beginning events with an oli (a chant) — and a prominent drum and hand-claps kick "In a Garden" off and drive the melody throughout the song, backed by various other percussion. The simple instrumentation largely drops out in the second verse, leaving Callahan to sing nearly a cappella, while an organ chimes in for the song's closing bridge and chorus.
"With some space between the moment it was made and now, I can see "In a Garden" was as much about seeking spiritual comfort and assurance as it was an escape from the uncertainty of the time," Callahan reflects. "I had stopped looking for God in churches or in people standing at pulpits and started looking in the rhythms of breath and watching winter turn to spring. The garden was a sanctuary and a cathedral unto itself."
A native of Hawaii, Callahan is the third of seven children in a military family whose music career began in her small community's church, where she and some of her siblings were members of the worship team — a role the artist continued for years, even after moving away for college in the Baltimore, Md., area.
Callahan encountered several barriers to keeping her musical work going after graduation: depression, the Great Recession in the late 2000s and a failing marriage. "I was out of ideas. Every day was just another day, and I'd lost what it felt like to dream," she admits — but although she rarely played in public, she never stopped songwriting.
A new marriage and a new baby renewed Callahan's creative spirit: Having worked in a wine shop, she launched an online wine column and a wine import and distribution company, and created visual art — and, after her second daughter was born, she decided it was time to record an album. That project, Get It Right, arrived in 2019.
Callahan's forthcoming new album, The Water Comes Back, began with a December 2019 email to her longtime musical heroes, the band Jars of Clay. Their pianist, Charlie Lowell, not only replied, he told Callahan to get in touch if she had another album in her; she sent back demos, and Lowell linked Callahan up with Matthew Odmark, Jars of Clay's guitarist.
Callahan worked with Odmark, JoC vocalist Dan Haseltine and Louis Johnson of the Saint Johns and other bands (though Lowell plays keys on "In a Garden," too), and recorded The Water Comes Back in January at Nashville's Gray Matters Studio. It's inspired by her deep look at her lifelong personal belief in evangelical Christianity.
"I owed it to my girls and myself to take apart the stories that kept me from being whole,” Callahan says, adding, "When people hear my songs, I want them to feel seen and I want them to feel brave — like they don’t have to hide anything from anybody or themselves."