THE STORIES BEHIND TESTIMONY: A MUSICIAN'S STORY
The mission field can be a beast to navigate. Not only are there land mines, but there are even secret agents. Luckily, God doesn't ask us to walk this world alone -- we've got our "two," our second, our Mark 6:7...
And He sent them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.
Although sometimes, God may plan for us to walk with a complete stranger, one He's designed to be the Pippen to our Jordan.
Welcome to the truth behind Testimony: A Musician's Story, a syndicated audio-biography radio series that features Christian artists. Narrated by Gaelika "Brown Theory" Brown, and Gary Lancaster, a dynamic duo of epically-divine proportions. The pair is rarely on the other side of the mic and at publication date, had yet to be in the same time zone or even met in person.
IRL, the two may not even be able to recognize each other in a crowded Starbucks, but that doesn't stop them from telling the truth and shaming the devil, as my auntie would say. Their mission field is the vast world of digital sound waves -- recording conversations turned into stories, and sharing Jesus with whomever Google or Twitter or word of mouth sends their way.
And to think, "it was all kind of by accident," Gary said of their meeting... "chance." He was up late, googling for Shawn McDonald with few hits except for a SoundCloud link, a thing called Testimony: A Musician's Story.
"I just didn't know what that was, so I clicked play and got hooked. By trade, I'm an audio engineer and producer, and the production quality really wasn't that good," Gary remembered, laughing with Gaelika on a three-way call. "But I was captivated by the show. I liked the storytelling and I liked the idea of it, so I thought, is there anyway I can find out who does this and maybe I can help 'em out."
"Yeah, he wrote me on Facebook," Gaelika added, "and was like, 'I like your show but the production sucks.'" The two laughed, with Gary adding that he "didn't use those words but..." You can hear part of the story below, in perfect "Testimony" fashion, and then keep scrolling for more deets, fingers to keys style.
Is Testimony a labor of love? And if so, what do you both do for a living?
Gary: I wish it was our end all, be all. But I guess, for me personally, I'm an audio engineer. That's what I do for a living, so this is a side thing for me right now. So I produce other podcasts and I do studio work here in Nashville and church recordings and stuff.
Gaelika: Yeah, it's pretty much a side, passion project for me, but it's certainly something I want to grow and build. But the goal isn't for it to be the end all, be all. I'd like to create other things in the future as well, but this is the main push and passion for now. It's pretty much something we do on the side because we love it.
How do you choose your artists?
Gaelika: I choose the artists off the music that i like, so I guess it's kinda biased in a way. But it's the music that I like, and you know, I listen to their music throughout the week and maybe even weeks ahead, so if I can't enjoy the music, I try to stay away from it. Also, if I'm aware of their story and it's a story that I want to tell, then I'll reach out to them. And the third aspect would be the timing. I like to drop episodes around something that they're promoting, whether an album or an EP. I just like to help them promote whatever they have going on.
Who would be your dream Testimony interview? Oh and to make it even interesting, how about, who would be your dream interview whether dead or alive?
Gary: I've been trying to make my dream interview happen. I've been trying to get Tori Kelly on the show. I found out about her, I think, actually Lecrae tweeted about her, but besides that, she has the support of the CHH community but she is a more mainstream pop artist. I think it would be cool to hear her testimony and how she keeps God the focus of her life in the midst of being a more mainstream pop artist. I think that would be something really beneficial to our current audience and would also bring a new audience to the show.
Gaelika: Of course someone like Lecrae has been on my dream list for a while, but if I'm thinking outside that box and more on the mainstream tip, there are like three people really... Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, and Childish Gambino. I think it would be really interesting to talk to them and get their perspectives on God because they mention God a lot and being a Christian -- even though their music may not always reflect that. So I'm really curious to tell their stories and their perspectives on that. And like Gary said, this would also bring in a different audience. I think for me, when I first started the show, it wasn't really targeted toward Christians; it was more targeted toward people like me to introduce them to the genre and to the idea that you don't have to sacrifice what you listen to in order to listen to something encouraging.
Tell me about the process.
Gaelika: It starts with the music. I just love it when I talk to an artist who puts everything, their whole story, in the music. So I can listen and know what parts of the story I want to ask about. Then I'll go online and find whatever I can find. Because of the genre, this can be hard, or they may have a bio that's kind of generic. Umm... I approach every interview with the same basic background questions, you know, their date of birth, full name, where they were born, whether they grew up in a Christian household, siblings. From there, I approach it as a conversation and not an interview. Like, a lot of times, from the artists I hear, "Oh, it's over. That didn't even feel like an interview."
So I just talk, I have a conversation with them and see where they go.
There may be questions that I jot down but don't get to, or they may say something that I wasn't expecting them to say and I'll just go off that. And then, when I'm done with the interview, I start editing it down, and as I'm editing, that's when I'm storyboarding in my mind where I want the story to go. I never know before hand. Then from there, once it's edited, I select the music and upload everything to our server to give to Gary, and Gary works his magic. He can tell you more on that. I never really know how it's going to turn out so I get really excited, like a kid on Christmas
Gary: Yeah, I just want to throw out there, like what Gaelika was just saying about how the show comes together for her, that's one of the things that I enjoy most about the show.... that she's not necessary directing the artist down certain roads, telling them what they can and can't talk about. She's letting them just talk, and from there, she's molding the conversation they had down into the 30-minute show spot. And I think that's really cool. It's not Gaelika's agenda. It's not what she wants to stay. It's just the artist sharing their story. Umm... but yeah, as far as what I do, it's like she said... She does the interview, edits that conversation down to maybe 17 or 18 minutes, and she sends me that along with her voice over narration. From there, she also sends me a script, like kinda the order of how things are gonna go. And then from there, I've got some creative freedom. I see how the conversation goes and how her narration flows with it. There are certain pieces of the music that, as I'm listening, I feel like will sound better so I move those around. For me, I kind of view it as what can I do on the production side to make this a really engaging testimony for the listener so they don't get five minutes in and turn it off. I want the listener to be engaged, and so having the artist's music as part of the show is a big part of that. And the way Gaelika lays it out, the songs we use typically relate to something the artist just talked about or is about to talk about.
I'm there to really just stay out of the way and let the show kind of produce itself.
Gaelika: I have to add too, that on Gary's part, there's a lot that he does on the production part. I just feel like we're in sync. Sometimes, I give him a song, but I don't say to play this part, but it just naturally happens. He'll automatically play the part that I'm hoping he will. We're just in sync and we both feel the direction the show should go, so a lot of things will happen organically. Like the tease at the start of the show... like I wish I would have thought of that. That's all him. He'll find a part of the interview that he wants to highlight and a piece of a song, and that always gets me excited, like just waiting to hear what he chooses as the tease for the show. And as far as the visuals and the graphics, that's all Gary.
Pretend you're doing a "career day" at a local high school. What would you say, how would you inspire?
Gary: As far as my career goes, the best advice that I think can be given would be: Don't do this unless this is the only thing that you can see yourself doing. Especially in the music industry...like I'm in Nashville and it's super competitive, and honestly, it's pretty cut throat. If you're not fully invested, like if this isn't the one thing that fully drives you... the artist or producer can tell and they won't call you back. So sure, this career, it does sound great and I know a lot of kids are really into it, but honestly, if there's a Plan B, this isn't what you should do. I would want to encourage kids to go after what they're motivated for, what gets them excited.. Don't go after the highest paycheck. Don't be a lawyer if you hate paperwork.
Find what you love and find a way to live within the means that that career provides.
Gaelika: As a creative person, a storyteller... an actor, you have to be passionate about it. You can't go into it wanting fame and attention. If you go in wanting that and don't focus on the necessary tools, your career isn't going to last very long. But if you're really passionate about storytelling, whether journalism or being an author or an actor, go to school, do as much production as you can and understand that a lot of it won't pay you. Focus on the skill set that the work will get you, but know that you're going to be hungry. You'll need some side gigs to pay the bills until things actually click. You'll learn how to save your money, invest your money, take care of your money. I don't know how you can be in an industry like this and not be a believer. It takes a lot of faith and prayer and wisdom that you can learn from the Bible.
Every week, you share the testimonies of some of the most influential or up-and-coming musicians in Christian music. What about Gaelika and Gary? What is your testimony?
Gaelika: Well, I've always had a relationship with God, like as a kid, I was always in prayer. I grew up in a household where we were labelled as Christian and went to church like on holidays. And then I went to private school for a few years and I was part of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, so I was always kind of around that stuff. But I never really knew what it meant to walk out the Christian life. When I was 25, that's when things got more clear to me, but still, it wasn't until I was 30... that's when I fully submitted to God. I kinda felt like everything I was doing wasn't working, and I was like, God just take the wheel.
(Are you speaking about something specifically, whether professionally or personally or with family?)
Gaelika: Well, yeah, yeah, I would say that. I mean, it was more like a series of things... You know, like a bunch of stuff just didn't go right. I had a bunch of fallings out with family and close friends. And then, I went to school for theater and I wanted to become this world famous actress, this superstar, and that was my goal, but like that never happened (laughing).
Gary: But you're working on it.
Gaelika: Yeah, but now, my mindset is less about pushing me and more about promoting things that glorify God. Actually, this is kind of the reason why I don't go by my full name, Gaelika, and instead go by Brown Theory... Because I didn't want it to be about me.
Gary: I've actually been sharing this a lot this week for some reason... Part of my story is, you know that I didn't grow up in church, but I started going when I was ten. What got us into church was my mom.... I had twin brothers that were born two months premature, and at four months old, one of them passed away in the middle of the night, and so, before this all happened, I had been to church maybe twice with my grandma. I didn't know what it was, didn't know why it existed, I didn't know anything about Jesus. And then this happened. Thankfully, my parents were moved to go to church instead of going the other way and slowly reject God, which can happen as well. So we go to church and we were there every Sunday. By the time I was 13, I was heavily involved in youth groups and just kind of finding a mentor through my youth pastor. Through him, I got to know about Jesus and got to understand my own need for a Savior. I was saved when I was close to 14, and I was pretty... I don't know if hardcore is the word I want to use but that's the word that comes to mind. But then probably senior year of high school, I had more freedom -- my own money, my own car. And I got into things that weren't good for me. I fell away from God for probably two and half years, three years maybe. I was just kinda doing my own thing and living that party life. But one night, everything just kind of came to a head... I was at this crazy party, it was 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning... (pause...) I don't know how much (uncomfortable laugh) how much I should... I was throwing up, and I was in the bathroom, sitting down and leaning against the wall. And I just felt God in that moment. And He said, "This is not the life I want for you. I have so much more for you."
In that moment, in that lifestyle, I was expecting God's full-on wrath: How could you do this to Me, why are you doing this? But instead, He met me with grace and with love and with open arms. He just wanted me to come back. After that night, I had a friend I was working with who invited me to church. I got involved, I got my life back on track, and that's where I met my wife. Probably two years later, we get married, and that was almost 11 years ago now. So... We had a falling out last year, just with my own personal walk with God. You know, it was another one of those, everything coming to a head. I actually began to question my understanding of the Christian faith and actual belief that the Bible is the Word of God. It was more of an intellectual struggle. I didn't know if I could believe that these things were true, and that lead me down another dark path that jeopardized my marriage and my family. Again, I found myself at rock bottom, and again, God met me in the exact same way. Just grace and love... Come back to Me. And at this time, I thought my marriage was over, but God... He was just like "come back to me and let me work in you and in your wife and in your family." And I can say, ten months past that point, you know, my wife and I are still on that journey, but I want to say we are almost on the other side. And because of this, I can no longer intellectually doubt God and what He's done -- especially in my life.... Sorry, that was kind of long...
Why do you think the human experience always involves the end of the rope before we see God? Why can't we get to the end of our rope sooner, or even better, see that we're at the beginning of our rope and call on God?
Gary: (laughs) That would be nice.
Gaelika: That's a very interesting question... I don't know. Yeah, that would be awesome. I mean, I would have to say, there are kind of two sides to that. Sometimes people have to be down a dark road or at rock bottom and be brought back. I have to say that for me right now, I'm going through the middle of some stuff and God is asking me to trust in Him. It was never me doubting God. I'm still here. I'm still trusting. But the devil's lies are still being thrown at me, and I'm like what, I'm still here. I wish I had a perfect answer for that, but I don't know. That's a really good question. Maybe one day, when I feel like I'm on the other end of this, I can answer that better.
Gary: I think, for me, um... Like I just shared, there's been two times that I've been at the end of the rope and that's when I saw God closest to me. On one hand, that's sad, but on the other, if that's what it takes... From my understanding, God allows these things to happen because He knows what we'll go through will take us back to Him. And, like I said, you know I've been angry at God: How can You allow this to happen? Stop this. But at the same time, because things got so bad, went so far, I realized the full extent of my need for Him and living my own way and from my own strength and with my own willpower, I am going to fail. Every single time. I cannot do anything without God.
For me personally, reality doesn't make sense until I reach the point of rock bottom. It's here that I learn how much I need Him.
What advice can you give someone who's at the end of their rope?
Gary: In those moments, living against God's will and living in sin, the temptations and the fears, go to God then. It's like you're afraid to go to God because you fear that He will be angry or reject you, but you should allow His grace, not His wrath to draw you to Him. Let yourself be close to Him.
Gaelika: I would add on to that.... Things can be going just fine, but then something can happen. And it won't always be at a rock bottom place, but you could be getting pruned and prepared for something. So if you truly do trust in God and are just going through a really difficult time, you have to remember that God is the only way through it. There has to be, in the thick of the whole pruning process.... When you prune a brush or a tree, you're completely naked and raw and exposed. This isn't a fun feeling, but eventually buds will sprout. You will be fully clothed again. And I think that during difficult moments, at least for me,
God kinda sprinkles in little nuggets just as a reminder of "Hey, I'm still here, I got you" and you have to hold on to the nuggets and remember that this is a process, and... you will get through it.
What scripture or Biblical principle or even Bible story do you find yourselves most often drawn to for strength and encouragement?
Gaelika: I would say "The woman at the well." I feel like that's me. I just totally get it. I mean, um... I was 30 when I gave my life to Christ, so by all means, I was not some pure, innocent being. I had all kinds of horrible experiences as far as everything goes... relationships, jobs. So I feel like I can totally relate to that woman at the well. Jesus looked past all of that and came to her. Once she realized who He was, she ran and told everyone. She shared the Gospel. And that was so me. I mean, once He came to me, I was just totally on fire, like you couldn't tell me nothing. Of course, I had to learn, you know, sometimes you gotta back off a bit. But then
God just hit me with this show, and I kinda feel like it's my way of preaching to the world who God is.
Gary: I don't have a particular character that I relate to, but right now, I'm just going through what God's got me in the midst of. Just pruning.... You know, through the stuff with my marriage, and I guess what I'm learning is that it's just so much more than a marriage. My marriage is supposed to be an example to the world of the Gospel. My marriage is not about my happiness. It's not even about me, and me doing what I want. It's not some promise to have a happy life with someone who loves me, but sure that's a product of a Gospel marriage, but that's not what it's about. My marriage is about God and about God making me holy and whole in Him. You know, the whole Ephesians 5, where it talks about husbands love you wives as Christ loves the church... I knew that verse when I got married, you know, but i just didn't really think too much into it, but NOW... Love your wife the way Christ loves the church, like what does that even mean??? Like Christ loves the church, like that is His bride. He loves her unconditionally, no matter what. And that's one of the ways... that's what I feel like God has got me in the process of... working through, that I'm never gonna be able to love my wife the way Christ loved the church but that's what He's called me to... to show the world who He is. What His love is.