Following their hearts and reaching out to the hearts of others, globe-trotting sister duo Alicia & Whitney bring their own soulful blend to their worship music, songwriting, writing, and speaking. Their all-original debut album “Core” ranges from southern gospel to modern worship sounds with sister harmonies and Nashville sophistication. We spoke with Alicia and Whitney about the songwriting process and how music interweaves with their personal Christian identities:

Q: Greetings Alicia and Whitney, and welcome to Musical U. Many of our readers are interested in songwriting and would like to learn more about the process. How did you get started writing songs? Has it always been a part of your musical life?

We started songwriting at a young age in our journals as little girls, but we often kept our songs to ourselves. Coming from a musical family, singing and writing have always been forms of therapy for us to express our emotions during both the joyous and difficult times in life. Now we realize that God was slowly cultivating those gifts inside of us as children so that we could share those gifts with others as adults.

When we lost our father to cancer in 2013, we immersed ourselves in worship, songwriting and scripture because that was our resting place when it felt like the world was crumbling around us. Birthed out of the first year after losing our father and out of the healing journey God brought us through during our time of grief, these songs created our album “Core”:

It was then that we shared our songwriting more freely because we felt like these songs could help others in their healing process.

Q: Powerful song! Do you have a fixed songwriting process? If so, what does that look like?

Our writing process differs depending on where the inspiration strikes us. We always try to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to the world around us for inspiration. There have been songs out of conversations, billboards, and sermons we’ve heard, but many come from lines or scriptures in the Bible that leap from the page when we read them in our personal devotional times:

We write separately as well as together. Sometimes we find ourselves just playing the melody on a loop and collaborating with pen and paper in hand. But there are also times a melody and words will come while in the car – we pull out our phone, press record, and sing to capture the moment.

We’ve learned to be prepared to seize the inspiration in the moment that it comes – but also not to feel pressured to finish a song all at once. Be willing to revisit and finish writing later, but capture what you can in the moment the idea arises – whatever that may look like.

Q: Songwriters have different motivations. Your website mentions that you “have a heart for reaching the lost” through your music. Could you tell us more about that, and how you direct your songwriting process to that inspiring goal?

Music has this amazing ability to reach people in a unique way, disarming hearts and tearing down walls for the listener to hear a message on a deeper level. We feel like people in this day and age are looking for hope and healing, and our music tells the story about how we found those things in Jesus Christ.

We want to reach people who haven’t found that hope, who may not necessarily step foot in a church or listen to a sermon but will listen to a song. Our prayer is that our music goes into homes and places we may never step foot in ourselves – but that our music and God’s message fills that atmosphere and touches hearts to become open to receive what God wants to do in their lives.

Q: Alicia, you’ve grown your skills for years as a vocalist and songwriter. But now you have taken on the process of learning piano. Has it impacted the way you think about writing music?

I have an amazing teacher, Andrew Bishko, who had me playing chords and full worship songs within my first two weeks of lessons:

Through learning piano, I wanted to be educated on practical real-world techniques that could be implemented as soon as possible. It has helped me immensely in songwriting, allowing me to take the melodies in my head and translate them into a language that other musicians can understand!

It has allowed me to discover another aspect of songwriting where I fumble upon new chords and create sounds that go beyond what I’ve done before. Whitney has discovered this with learning the guitar as well.

Q: It’s clear that your Christian faith is now a central part of your identities as musicians. Could you tell us a bit about your background in music and how you came to focus on worship music in particular?

We grew up in church, and our Dad was a minister part and full-time for over 30 years – as well as a musician playing guitar, bass and drums. Our mother is a singer and led worship in church often. So our house was always inundated with music of all kinds – not only Christian.

We’re thankful for that because we can appreciate various styles of music, which has helped us in our music today. We write and sing other types of music as well and may release them in the future, but all of our music will have the common thread of a positive message of hope interwoven through it:

Worship is the most fulfilling for us because it has been birthed out of our quiet times, through growing our relationship with God, and we love to take other people into that place of worshipping Him. The Bible says, “He inhabits the praises of His people” and we love knowing that He abides in these songs and moments of worship.

Q: Was this something that was inevitable based on your upbringing, or is it something you had to consciously explore and decide?

Even though faith had been instilled in us from a young age, we’ve had to choose for ourselves the type of life we want to live and music we want to create. We believe in cultivating our own relationship with Christ and our own sound of worship, not simply relying on the faith of those who’ve gone before us.

God gives each generation its unique sound and call for the world and we want to be a part of it!

Q: Your recent album “Core” was recorded in Nashville. Could you tell us about how that environment affected the music and any lessons you learned in the process?

We are so thankful that we were able to record our music professionally in Nashville. A childhood friend of our father’s, Keith Manley, heard our music and helped open the doors for us to record there. Then, a local church from our hometown provided the entire amount we needed to fund the recording.

We realized then that when God calls you to do something, He provides the way; and now we have an album that has been a great tool in our hands for ministry:

When we went to Nashville to record, we were rookies to say the least. We hardly had any music theory knowledge or the terminology to communicate what we wanted. Now we’ve learned to come into the studio with demos of the composition and sound we want on top of the sheet music so that we are able to communicate our vision better.

We are proud of the finished product we have in our album “Core” and know that it was a great start and learning experience to grow and build upon for future projects.

Q: What a moving, powerful song! You’ve traveled a lot as missionaries. How has this influenced or added to the music you create?

We’ve been privileged to travel to Honduras, Israel, and Tanzania, and hope to add more to that list as the doors open; but there’s something about travel that takes you out of your comfort zone, out of your familiar environment, and allows you to see and hear in a different way:

We previously mentioned how generations have a specific sound of worship, but so do different regions of the earth. We think of the rhythmic drums of Africa and their unabandoned worship in dance, or touching the stones of the Western Wall and observing the reverent prayer and worship of the Jewish people.

Flashbacks of us dancing in circles in the village square hand-in-hand with Honduran brothers and sisters celebrating the fire of God inspires us, and it will always be a part of who we are. We like to think that when we travel to places and come back, we bring a part of their sound and worship with us and that we leave a part of our hearts with them as well.

What beautiful memories! Thank you so much for sharing your musical world with us. We look forward to hearing more from you as you move and grow.

From Ashes to Beauty

When we set our heartaches, triumphs, and spirituality to music, we have the opportunity to transform our personal experience and reach out to others. Alicia and Whitney are continuing that transformative process as they work on their second album, and Whitney is finishing her second book. And on June 9, 2017, Alicia and Whitney will appear on Music and Ministry, a PTL Network show broadcast internationally.

To hear more of Alicia and Whitney’s powerful music, follow them on Facebook, YouTube and click around their beautiful website. Then keep your phone handy – you never know when your next inspiration will come to you!