With lyrics like “God walks around in muddy boots” and “a summer tomato is a cause to rejoice,” it’s clear Carrie Newcomer has a knack for finding the transcendent in the everyday. Named one of the top 50 folk artists of the last 50 years by the Chicago Tribune, the Indiana-bred singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has enthralled fans in cozy house concerts and venues like Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Throughout her two-decade-plus solo career, Newcomer has shown a tireless commitment to social change: touring India as a cultural ambassador for the United States, performing in Kenya as a part of the Interfaith Hunger Initiative and at the AMPATH HIV center, and traveling to the Middle East to play for groups dedicated to nonviolence.
The newest of her 13 albums is a compilation of spiritually themed songs titled Kindred Spirits.
Where do you get your motivation to help other people?
I’ve always leaned into the idea that when we live more compassionate lives, it’s not a one-sided operation. I think sometimes we separate giving and receiving as though they’re opposites, but they’re really interlocking pieces. And I think our most potent activism usually arises from the things we love the most. I love music, and I love songs, and I really do love people. I know that’s so unfashionable to say right now, but people are amazing. They’ll inspire you, and they’ll confuse you, and they’ll surprise you. I love how we grow, change, and heal, and how we make mistakes, circle around, and try it again. So those are the things I write about, and it all becomes a part of the same circle.
The spirituality in your songs isn’t exclusive to one specific faith. Have you made a conscious effort to keep your music accessible to people of all spiritual paths?
I’m a practicing unprogrammed Quaker—a silent Quaker—but I’ve always made a very conscious choice to keep my music inclusive and not exclusive. If I were to stand up on a soapbox and just start telling you what I think would make the world a better place, the doors to your heart would close pretty quickly. But if people hear a story that’s told without agenda, but with honesty, humility, and a whole lot of love, they leave their hearts open just a little longer.
How does the practice of silent worship inform your music?
It’s become very important to me to find a practice where I learn to listen to the sacred and not just talk at the sacred. My best language has always come out of the silence, when I’m taking the time in daily meditation to listen instead of speak.
How has your approach to songwriting evolved over time?
Something really good happened to my writing when I gave myself permission to sound like a Hoosier! What I mean is that I’m never going to sound like someone who grew up on the island of Manhattan. And that’s OK, because there are a lot of people to cover that. But there’s something that happens when someone speaks from their truest, most authentic voice. When you hear a song or story that puts its finger right on the open palm of something true, it shakes the world just a little bit.