Finding Home: An Interview With Egypt Speaks

Egypt Speaks is one of the most unique voices in contemporary faith-based art. She’s an established instrumentalist, songwriter, and speaker– but her voice has been heard most consistently as a powerful poet and spoken word artist. Her unique skillset has brought her on cross country tours with artists like The Protest, and seen her on stage emceeing events. She’s been involved with Camp Electric participated in the Cleveland stop of the Vans Warped Tour during its final year.

This year, Egypt released her third full recorded album, a project titled Wanderer. The 12 tracks are equal parts artistry and conversation, like finding a new friend in the verses. I had the privilege of talking to Egypt about Wanderer and her unique story as an artist.

One thing that makes Wanderer unique are all of the interludes that feel like they could have been just eavesdropping on your life– like “October 1, 2014” or the intro to “The Pawn Shop Poem.” Could you share a little about why you decided to incorporate those personal moments?

The entire point of this album was to grapple with the idea that being honest does not always mean that you are being vulnerable. If there’s anything that this past year has taught  me, it is that there is a difference between the two, and that healing only takes place when one of them is being practiced.

Vulnerability are those every day moments. The candid conversations are where I find at least that I am most able to express what I am thinking. For this record I wanted to drop the script. Forget any agenda, stop anything that could give me an out to build another wall between myself and being anything less than vulnerable. I know that this is the space where healing happens, but that if I wanted to get there myself I would have to create it.

So! I intentionally set out to create moments that everyone has gone through. Looking for a storefront, talking about and setting goals, or even having lunch with a friend. After that relationship has been built between myself and the listener, we can get into some deeper topics. It all starts with that moment though where we can relate to each other.

What are the key themes that unite this album?

This project has always been about finding home, wherever that may be. There was a moment last year where I realized that I had been ripping and running up and down the country for years, and while that was a ton of fun, I didn’t feel like I had a great grasp of what home was. It was like I was drifting, from city to city, then tour to tour, and then when I got to the next destination it was like I was always longing for something more stable. My issue is that my entire life’s foundation was built on instability, and that had seeped into different areas of my life.

When I sat down to write, I had to come to grips with the fact that I was and am a professional wanderer. Someone whose entire existence is hinged on getting to the next place may have some issues when it comes to picking a destination and sticking to it. This album was created for me personally to deal with that, but also to talk about the whole mix of emotions that comes with it.

How do you long for a place you have never seen? Trust in a love that you have an issue accepting? Hope for something you’re not sure will happen? Wanderer is about a journey and the lessons that I learned along the way. It’s a promise that together, we will find home.

Are there any tracks that stand out to you as particularly significant to the themes of the collection as a whole?

There’s a track called “Montana.” I’ve never been to Montana, though I have always wanted to go. There’s a really cool band out of that state who are always posting amazing pictures of the scenery. I’d like to think that I’ll have a chance to get up to Billings at some point, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t know when or how I’ll get there.

There are a lot of things that I’d love to do, but how I’d get there is still a little murky. It’s the hope that I have in my arrival that will keep me going. I know that Montana is there because I’ve seen it, and it’s that promise that I’ll remember as I work towards getting there. In the same way I know that home exists because I’ve seen it. It’s in every smile, every hug, every meaningful relationship, and every act of grace. I know that I will get there soon.

I also hope to actually see Montana at some point, even if I’ve gotta bug the Righteous Vendetta dudes to get there!

Let’s walk it back a little bit. Can you share the story of how you got started performing spoken word?

It was a total accident in every sense of the word. I always enjoyed writing, and poetry was always something I was able to express myself through. I was in elementary school when I started getting published in anthologies in our library and was being asked to read the pieces for ceremonies.

The performance aspect of it didn’t come into play until middle school when I fell into the Fine Arts competition. Even then I didn’t mean to enter for spoken word– I meant to enter as a speaker but that registration form was tricky!

It was such a great learning experience, and it really pushed me to grow in my artistry. During that time I was also really into music. I started seeing speakers at concerts, and I figured it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to market what I do as a form of speaking to fit in those slots. It took some time to refine, but it was off to the races from there!

Spoken word is different from your standard songwriting craft because it requires more words– a lot more of them. How do you approach writing a poem differently than writing a song? Do you have any general guidelines when deciding how long a poem needs to be, given that it doesn’t follow the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format?

I always approach my poetry and songwriting as if I am writing a story. I always need to ask myself what the point is. What am I trying to get my listener to feel and connect with? The flow usually comes pretty naturally after that concept is solidified. A lot of times with my full length albums, I’ll have the track titles complete before any other the poetry is even written. 

I also write songs for artists across a few genres, and it’s always fun to take the same approach. Even in my songwriting, my main objective is to make the listener feel something. What is a story I can tell that will connect with you, and then where can I take you from there? If it’s a song, I’ll step back and shorten it, pick a particularly funky line and make it the chorus, and run with it. Because I am typically songwriter for a commercial market, there are some set rules. Things like the track can be no longer than 3 minutes and 15 seconds if I want radio play, and that the chorus has to be catchy, those are perimeters that I try not to let affect the lyrics. 

From a production standpoint, even within the realm of spoken word I always start with the track. I produce and engineer all of my poetry records as well as write them, so once that concept is complete and I have a track title, I’ll start to build the feel of the music and soundscape before adding the poetry. Same goes with music production. The music and background noise is so intertwined with how the lyrics will make you feel that if one isn’t on point, the entire project feels off. That solid foundation doesn’t change across formats, as far as I am concerned.

You have a long history of working closely alongside rock artists. For those who don’t know, could you share a little about your background as an instrumentalist as well, and about the influence that the rock community has had on you as an artist?

I lived on the underground Christian rock and metal circuit for quite awhile. My first national tour was with The Protest, and just last year I was a part of the Warped Tour Cleveland dates, if that tells you anything.

Heavier genres have always and will always have an impact on my style, simply because that’s what I grew up around. The only poet I knew when I started was Levi The Poet, and he was always in the hardcore scene. I figured that that was the only place a poet belonged, and that’s where I usually ended up getting booked.

Musically, I will forever and always be a rock instrumentalist first. Most of my technicality and theory training came from trying my darnedest to learn Children 18:3 songs. Lyrically, they always made me feel something. To this day they are the only type of music that can cause me to cross a whole gamut of emotions in the space of one set, and in my particular brand of artistry, that feeling is essential. Metal artists also seemed to understand what I did and had no issue with me hopping on shows as an in-between act. CCM took a little longer, just because the only thing they could compare me to was a rap artist, and even that wasn’t quite right. 

That underground scene taught me that there are no such things as fans, just family. To look at every person as someone who may need to be loved on rather than somebody who showed up to your show. For the most part, being in that scene was a super positive experience. They are also the kings and queens of crossover artistry. They exist in this weird space of a secular genre and Christian lyrics. Recently, I’ve been playing a ton of non-faith-based shows, and also a bunch of faith-based productions. Had I not had the experience in that scene, I’m not sure I would know how to conduct myself in spaces where a Bible verse may not be the most effective way to show someone love. They really show that your faith is exercised through your actions off stage as much as on.

Everyone from The Protest, to Switchfoot, to Anberlin, to Underoath are fantastic examples of just that. You’ll never hear a bad story about any of them simply because that is not who they are or what they do. Even though they are in radically different spaces as a band, or maybe even in their faith, they still take every opportunity to love people, and that’s what I want to be like.

At the end of the day, what do you hope listeners remember about your art?

I don’t particularly care if people remember my art. I mean, I had fun making it, it was cool to tour, I met a ton of awesome people but at the end of the day, none of that really matters. I want people to remember how I loved on and off stage. I want them to know that even if nobody else did, that this random pint-sized poet from Ohio thought that they were worth it. Worth the time, worth the effort, worth the conversations, worth the hope for seeing tomorrow. That I truly think that each and every single person I’ve ever met, and the ones I haven’t had the privilege of hanging out with are all amazing to me. I just want people to remember that I cared. I want them to remember that even if they didn’t understand or believe in the God that I talk about, that I at the very least loved like He would. I want them to see Him, more than I hope they’ll remember me.

You can listen to Wanderer below, or find it on Apple Music. You can keep up with Egypt on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and egyptspeaksofficial.com.

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