Flannery O’Conner once said, “There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.” Engaging with story is a powerful way to grow as humans and as Christ-followers. Anthony Quails is a Chattanooga-based songwriter who roots his music in the stories we share. This is evident on his new EP The Man I Thought I’d Never Be – released in partnership with Renew The Arts, and available now on Spotify and all music platforms. We talked to Anthony this week to learn more about what inspired this project.
UTR: Do you remember the moment when you felt like you wanted to pursue music as a vocational dream?
Anthony: Although I started singing at an early age bit I wasn’t really allowed to listen to a wide variety of music outside of church hymns and southern gospel. I took piano lessons for a short time when I was around seven or eight years old but my parents couldn’t afford to continue so it wasn’t until I picked up a guitar at age nineteen that I became completely hooked. I remember writing and playing songs for anyone who would listen. For the better part of a year I’d set up on a local pedestrian bridge every Friday and Saturday evening and perform from sunset until about midnight. Looking back, those folks were extremely kind and patient because those songs were awful. At about the age of twenty one a friend of mine introduced me Young Life Ministries and that’s where the dream really set in. That was the first time I was exposed to folk artists like David Wilcox and Pierce Pettis. Those guys “spoke my language” and that’s when I knew what I was created to do.
UTR: Who are some of the musicians that have inspired you in your craft – past and present?
Anthony: Early on I studied songwriters like David Wilcox, Pierce Pettis, Bebo Norman and Allen Levi but over the last several years I’ve really enjoyed anything that Andy Gullahorn writes. His work is honest and at this stage of my life that’s what I’m drawn to the most. I emailed him once pick his brain about his songwriting technique. One of the questions I asked was when he knew a song was completed and his response was one of the most genuine I’d ever heard. He said “when the words no longer feel false and gross when they come out of my mouth.” I really carried that advice into this new album.
UTR: What is the meaning of the title of your EP: The Man I Thought I’d Never Be?
Anthony: The title stems from a song off the EP but in all actuality it encompasses what I feel is the idea behind this collection of songs. It is a testament to just how much your perspective can shift over time. Since the release of my last album I’ve experienced the overwhelming loss of a dear friend and spiritual community. There have been moments where I’ve questioned my faith and just what it means to be a songwriter, husband and father. It is the realization that there are ways in which I am now at 39 that 20 years ago I would’ve laughed at but also qualities I value as a person I hoped I would someday embody but was quite certain I’d never would.
UTR: Was the making of this new EP different in any way from past recordings?
Anthony: I feel with each of the albums I’ve created it has been a completely different experience. My first album was a recorded live and the last album was the first one working in a studio. With this album, because the songs were so intimate, the end goal was to serve each song to the best of our ability. I was there for about 95% of the recording process and I feel like I took more of an active role with each musician to share the vision I had for these songs. I also took the time to capture video footage as a reminder of the process.
UTR: Can you share more about the closing track “It’s Okay To Have Nothing To Say”?
Anthony: I think one of the character traits I struggle with the most is how well I deal with silence. I remember in 2017 I was really having a tough time where I found myself at the funeral home multiple times over the course of several months. After the 3rd or 4th time I remember sitting in my car and asking myself if I was really up for this again. Over and over my intention was to provide words of comfort to my friend in their time of loss when just my presence was enough. I’ve since began thinking that I view God in the same way. There’s a feeling that He needs me to confess all of my failure and weakness when really His desire is for me to lay at His feet and just cry like a baby. What feels like silence and a lack of acknowledgement may actually be Him listening to my heart and not my voice. I have come to understand that my fear of silence is not a reflection of who He is but of my own insecurity. The idea that it’s okay to have nothing to say is comforting and reassuring.
UTR: As someone who has been writing songs for 20 years, what is a piece of advice you have for newer up-and-coming songwriters?
Anthony: Find songwriters that you admire and study their technique. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask questions. Find ways to grow in the craft and don’t be afraid the be honest. Try not to let your motivation be the size of your audience and write the best songs you can, always, no matter how long they take. Never settle.