Seven years ago, singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp walked away. She was a rising star in the Christian music world, with three albums that had since sold nearly 1 million copies, followed by a greatest hits set and live album published by her former label, Gotee Records.
"One of the things that people forget is that it's actually a job — it's the intersection of a job and creativity," Knapp says. "When I stepped off, I didn't realize it was going to be so long in coming back, but it took me about five years to get to where I was really excited about writing again."
Knapp returned to the music scene earlier this month with a new album titled Letting Go, which marks a major shift away from the contemporary Christian fare established on her debut, Kansas. It's caused some confusion among critics unsure where to file the new album — it's a little too electric for the folk label with songs like "Inside" and a little too introspective on tracks like "Fallen" to land in country rock.
The release of Letting Go also brought with it a big announcement: Knapp's a lesbian. "With the rumors and speculation about my private life — which hasn't been a secret — I felt it had to be addressed for fans who didn't want to come with me on this next leg of the journey," she says.
Because of the long stretch away from the stage, Knapp knew there might not be many fans returning with her. There was also the tall task of greasing the musical joints.
"I really came at it as starting over," she says. "I didn't presume that anyone was going to be there. So every single person who comes up and says, 'I'm so glad you're back,' is a massive call for celebration for me. From an athletic point of view, I hadn't performed in a long time. I didn't know if I could sing. I didn't know if any of the music I had written was palatable to anyone else."
Once everything was working right in the studio, it was time to get on the stage.
"The first couple of shows that I did, my body was not on the same page as my heart," she remembers. "My legs are shaking and I'm sweating and I'm totally nervous in an environment where I'm usually comfortable and confident."
On the road for two months now, she's hitting her stride and finding new joy in some of the old songs. Her spring tour makes a stop at the Windjammer on Thursday.
"I'm playing a lot more of the older stuff than I originally anticipated," she says. "'Martyrs and Thieves' [from Kansas] is a song that, for me, is 15 years old. Getting a decent amount of time away from that song and coming back and playing it, it's almost like a brand new one for me."
Another tune on the set list from the first album, "Undo Me," provides a chance for some improvisation. "I just toy with it every night," she says. "It's not massively different, but there might be a break or I might strum it a little differently."
"Better Off," a new song about solace and expectations, is one of the stand-out tracks. "It's one of the B-sides of the record, but, for me, it's been a really soft place for me to land and gather myself," Knapp says.
Another fresh single, the fearless "Dive In," often leads off the live show. With lyrics like, "I'm so tired of standing on the edge of myself/You know I'm longing for it," Knapp says it's a fun way to start things off.
"It has a lot of the enthusiasm and joy that I'm feeling doing what I was meant to do," she says.