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It’s in the fear and the famine. In the taste of bitterness and the feeling of despair. It’s found at rock bottom and the rope’s end. It’s defeat and dry, desert wasteland. Empty hands and frayed edges. Long nights and desperate prayers. It’s the midnight before the sunrise. The middle. The in-between. Jenny Simmons, former lead singer of Addison Road, much prefers to simply call it the becoming. A time of growth; a journey of self-discovery and a path of unanswered questions.
Simmons’ world was unraveling. After more than a decade with bandmates who had become family, the members of Addison Road were going their separate ways. Her husband, Ryan, was starting a full-time desk job, and she, by default, became a stay-at-home mom to their now nearly 4-year-old daughter, Annie. She was unsure of her purpose and even more uncertain about her future. But when all you’ve known gets stripped away, it can be an unexpected opportunity for something new to surface. “It was in that season of being lost that I was ultimately able to be found, and not because I knew the next step, because I didn’t, but just because the Lord showed up in that season, and He brought new things to life,” Simmons reveals.
Turning to the only thing that always gives her solace – writing – Simmons poured her insecurities into a blog series that, unbeknownst to her, was laying the groundwork for her first solo project, The Becoming (Fair Trade Services).
Since Simmons was the front woman for the band, it would seem a logical next step for her to create a solo record, but that was never part of the plan. Simmons hadn’t thought past the end of Addison Road. “Doing a solo album was never on my radar,” she shares, still at times uncomfortable being in the limelight. “It’s almost like God’s sense of humor on display that I’m onstage.”
Instead of an artist, Simmons much prefers to view herself through the lens of prose. “I think of myself as a storyteller,” she says. Her new project is a patchwork of narratives woven together with threads of doubt, questions, disappointment and dissolution. But in the end, The Becoming is less about answers and more about hope.
In the midst of her darkest hour, a new season was being birthed. And Simmons reluctantly welcomed it in. On a trip to California to write with some friends, seeds were planted for new songs to take root. First single “Heaven Waits for Me” became the first cut she and pop writer Steve Miller (Carrie Underwood) wrote. The song, an ode to the stuff life is made of, was therapeutic for this young wife and mother. “This [song was] almost like God’s answer to me,” she says. “Like, ‘You know what, you made it through all that stuff, and you’re still happy; you’re still Jenny. You’re not totally broken beyond repair, and the things that are important, the things that matter, that linger on, they’re still here and they’re still intact.’” Simmons had the lyrics down on her computer in less than 10 minutes, and it became a pivotal turning point in her professional career and her personal restoration.
Upon entering the studio with acclaimed producer Paul Moak (Sara Groves, Mat Kearney), Simmons already had the foundation to craft the album she needed to make. “I felt like I had a road map before I ever wrote a single song of exactly what I wanted the album to say,” she says. However, without her bandmates by her side, Simmons began the recording process with fear and trembling. “In the beginning, I had no confidence,” she reveals. “I didn’t know what I was good at and what I wasn’t because I was so much a part of this other little bubble with the band. I had so depended on them.
“I remember days at the studio where I would leave in tears, and I would tell my producer, ‘I can’t make this album because I don’t have an answer for anybody. I have not become yet,’” she continues. “And there were moments where I’m like, ‘This feels so disingenuous because there’s not a clear-cut answer.’”
But she soon discovered it wasn’t necessarily answers she needed as much as trust. The process of making The Becoming became a path of self-discovery. And with every note she sang and every lyric she wrote, pieces of her heart were mended. From polished pop and moving ballads to even country-tinged tracks, Simmons voice is like balm to the soul, healing evident in her sincere vocals.
Songs like “What Faith’s About,” co-written with Mia Fields, allowed Simmons space to ask hard questions. “I needed this song,” she confesses. “I needed it to start believing in my own heart that the best days weren’t behind me.”
The beautiful “Broken Hallelujah,” a song Simmons says is the most vulnerable track, articulately describes the beauty that comes from giving God the broken shards of our lives. “I think the most beautiful part of the gospel is that Jesus really seems to delight and take joy in broken people. There’s just something beautiful about getting to the place in life where you’re broken, and still in that moment Jesus is smiling over you,” she says.
“Letting You Go” perfectly captures the process of allowing dreams to die so God can birth new ones. “When our hands are gripped tight around our plans and our future and what we think is going to happen, it just doesn’t leave a lot of space to live life with open hands and receive whatever it is God has for us,” she says, a matured perspective shining through.
The Becoming closes with a haunting cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Come Healing,” a testament to the personal growth Simmons experienced throughout the recording process.
“I can’t sing these songs and not tell the stories that go behind them,” she says. When Simmons goes on tour, she is now dubbing each evening a night of “music and stories,” allowing the songwriter to share her heart alongside her music in intimate environments. And, changed by a recent trip to South Sudan with humanitarian relief organization World Concern, Simmons is no longer selling merchandise at her shows. Instead, she prefers to sell chickens and goats for people in Sudan. “My goal the next year is to be an artist who’s encouraging people to put their money into something that’s significant beyond a T-shirt or poster,” she says.
Simmons’ period of becoming is now allowing her to see through a different lens and to focus on the real stuff that creates a meaningful life. The Simmons recently moved from Texas for the first time in their lives and have settled into Nashville, Tenn., where Jenny can concentrate on her solo career and Ryan can focus on a full-time job he loves. She wants to help others realize they, too, can survive their becoming. “I think the tendency is to run, to try to fix it as quickly as possible, to not have to wait...or to dig your feet into wherever you were and refuse to move and refuse to change. But my hope and prayer is that people realize it’s a season, and I believe it can be a holy season,” Simmons says. “My prayer is that through the words of these songs they realize it’s a desert, but things come to light in the desert. There’s a million stars shining bright in this wide-open space, and it’s the best place for the Lord to come in and start growing something new inside of you.”