FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Holly Starr never imagined her experience working on her family's farm in Quincy, Wash., would propel her to a career in Christian music, but then again the former athlete knows exactly how to combine a devoted work ethic with pure talent to make her dreams a reality.
While her music education began with the piano, it was making both words and music come together that stimulated the budding artist. "I believe songwriting is a gift from God but I've had to work hard at developing the skill," she explained.
Her new CD, Focus, is now out and is packed with ten songs Starr believes come from the bottom of her heart and that will speak to people on a number of issues. "Let's Go," the title track "Focus" and "Satisfied" are just a few of the songs featured on her CD.
Starr sat down with The Christian Post between writing sessions in Nashville and a trip back to her hometown to talk about her acquired songwriting talent and what life for a 20-year-old is like. Throughout the interview she gives readers a glimpse of how the struggles of a young woman can be overcome by listening to God reveal His true plan for our lives. And it seems He has big plans for this small-town farm girl. Her next venture will involve the Breakout Tour that will begin later this week. OBB and Mr. Talk Box, who is a part of Tobymac's band, will also be performing. The tour opens Sept. 21 at the Hopkins Civic Center in Sulphur Springs, Texas, with dates into October. Check out her latest works at www.hollystarrmusic.com.
CP: What was the turning point in your life that has influenced your music?
Starr: In sixth grade I began taking voice lessons from a lady who was also a songwriter. She helped me as I transitioned from classic music to leading worship on our worship team at church and she helped me learn how to lead from a piano. I also thought if I could lead a worship song I could write these types of songs too.
CP: What were the biggest influences on your music at that time?
Starr: Spiritually, I get most of my influences from a number of artists, especially Chris Tomlin. To this day he is a huge influence on my music. From the standpoint of a worship leader there are not many who rise to his level and I really look up to him. He's had to give up so much in his life.
CP: Do you see yourself as more of an artist or a worship leader?
Starr: Definitely a worship leader. No doubt about it. That's something that has been surfacing a lot for me. I like to speak from the stage and in my heart I know I'm a worship leader.
CP: Outside of your passion for music, did you have what most would consider a normal childhood?
Starr: Oh yes. I grew up in such a small town that it could not help but be normal. Sure, I had dreams of singing and performing on big stages but my life centered on my family and what I was doing at the time with school and friends.
When I was about 15 I felt God's call to music and thought I needed to invest more time in it, but it still didn't consume my life. I did spend more time writing and with my worship team and that's when God started opening doors. At the same time he called me to stop spending so much time with some of the sports I was engaged in and that's another reason I spent more time with my music. It was all these doors He was opening and closing. I worked in a small café in town, worked on the farm and did all the others things young high school girls do and then one day a producer heard one of my songs and contacted me. It was so cool.
CP: Growing up as a teenage girl today is obviously a challenge. How did you cope with these issues and how do you help others young girls today?
Starr: I attended a Christian school until I was in the sixth grade and then went to a public school afterward. I've always had a huge passion for Jesus and an evangelist heart and felt called to share Jesus with my friends. When I started in public school and saw things I didn't like I invited people to youth group.
But after I started attending high school something crept into my life and I struggled with it and that was my body image. I ran track and at that time I became overwhelmed with the way my body looked and someone made a comment to me around that time – he didn't mean it in a mean way but the way he said it just drove a stake through my heart.
(Her male track coach made the comment Holly referred to. "You don't look like you did last year" was what he said. Although she insists the comment was not intended in a mean way, it would take her years to overcome the pain associated with that those few words.)
I thought, well, I don't understand why he said that but then I thought I need to look like I did last year. From that point on everything I did, everything I ate was done to get me back to the point my coach thought I needed to be. I weigh myself every morning and was obsessed with that number. I just remember struggling with that pretty intensely. It was about a five-year struggle and up until the end of the fifth year, which was last year, I started to get control of the issue.
I just remember hearing a pastor speak and say we should not have anything between God and us. Yet I knew this issue was standing between us and I knew I had to get rid of that one issue. I had been idoling myself – the way I looked – and was placing that above God. I would get up at 5:50 in the morning to go to the gym before school and run track after school. Plus, I was obsessed with every calorie I consumed.
There is a song I wrote on my last album called "Undertow" and it described how I was feeling before I revealed exactly what it was. I shared that story in an interview and I was asked what advice I would give to other girls and I was shocked. I had no idea how to answer that question. But in an instant I felt God tell me that if I wasn't satisfied with me, that it was an insult to Him. That was just so piercing to my spirit. I am not who people say I am, I am what You have made me, so if I complain to others, and then I am complaining to You. That was a big reality check to me.
CP: Do you tell this story when you're on stage?
Starr: Absolutely. I wrote a song called "Through My Father's Eyes" that speaks to this and going back to the end of the road when things were at their hardest. I prayed and fasted for a year and about three-quarters of the way through I realized just how much God was changing me. The best way I can describe it is in Ephesians 5 where He describes how He washes us with His works. God was not penetrating my heart. I no longer just read or hear about His healing because I've experienced it in my own life. It doesn't matter if it's body image, marriage, finances or anything else, God can heal us and meet our every need. I thought I was in such a dark place but Jesus was able to bring me through it.
CP: The music industry in highly competitive. How do you balance your life with all the daily pressures you face?
Starr: God has a way of showing us all we need to know. I just depend on His guidance to keep me humble during all of our travels and performances.