Have you listened to All the Wrecked Light yet? It’s a gorgeous, collaborative album of music, a lyrical exposition of Psalm 90, and a meditation on Holy Saturday, all in one. Wait until it’s dark outside, light a candle, put on some headphones, and press play. And then, when you’re ready to dig deeper, read this interview. As you’ll soon see, creator and lyricist Hannah Hubin is full of insight and eloquence, and her observations here will assist you in savoring All the Wrecked Light for all it’s worth.
Drew Miller: What initially drew you to Psalm 90 as a creative foundation?
Hannah Hubin: That “drawing” was about four years in the making, starting the night before my high school graduation in 2017. I remember sitting down with my Bible on the couch in my parents’ living room, wanting to write a prayer for the next segment of life. The verse “teach us to number our days” came to mind, but I didn’t know the reference. Google got me to Psalm 90, and once I read through the whole Psalm, I was pretty sure those seventeen verses captured what I wanted to take with me into four years of college. So I wrote a prayer based on the whole Psalm.
Over that summer, I compiled a liturgy of sorts, moving through that prayer, along with different psalms and prayers from folks like Augustine and St. Patrick and the Book of Common Prayer. It works through invocation, repentance, reconciliation, assurance of pardon, praise, prayer for vision, and benediction all in about fifteen minutes. It’s so strange how the same use of fifteen minutes, over and over again, can help me remember how to talk to the Lord again. Seems like I forget how to pray every day. But the repetition helped me get the conversation off the ground. My college met in an old antebellum church, and I’d take that liturgy into the chapel in the mornings before my first class—not everyday, but often, and through all four years.
As many folks know, All the Wrecked Light started as my college capstone project. When I got to the end of those four years, it just seemed natural for me to end where I began with what had, more or less, been carrying me through each week.
Walk us through the way that All the Wrecked Light interacts with and draws meaning from the liturgical seasons of Lent and Eastertide, as well as Holy Week in between. What’s happening narratively in these songs that situates them within these particular seasons, and what kinds of themes and phrases should we be listening for?
After the psalm reading and two songs that orient us to the world and our place in it, Ella gives our hearts the weight of Ash Wednesday in “Dust”—”dust you are and to dust you shall return”—and with it the priestly promise in the grit: that he remembers our frame, knows that we are earth. This idea of dust and ash makes its way through the whole production, along with the Lord breathing life into man, then removing his own breath when he returns him to dust.
Saint Dawn in Slumber moves us most of the way through Lent in their instrumental piece, so that by the time we come to Wild Harbors’ first song, we find ourselves at Good Friday: “All our days are just a holy loss / I staked it all upon a man / Who’s staked up to a cross / All upon a man who’s staked upon a cross.”
The silence of God does not equal the silence of man. Hannah Hubin
And then, well—the majority of this album takes place on Holy Saturday. From Good Friday, we move through a whole eight tracks, and after all that we’re still left “standing still here in the midnight / in the darkness of God’s sacred sight / in the tomb of my Lord dressed to die / in the tomb of my Lord dressed to die.” This feels ironic to me because I’ve always associated Holy Saturday with silence. But the silence of God does not equal the silence of man. I think sometimes God’s silence gives space for our questions, doubts, praise, and voice in a way that his speech doesn’t. I really believe he wants a relationship with us, and relationships require conversation, and conversation can’t be one-sided. I really don’t think God wants to be the only one talking. He’s a listening Lord. I don’t know what all the followers of Christ were up to that Holy Saturday, but I have no doubt there was a holy ruckus, in their hearts if not aloud. I think Justin’s song about Jodi, the poetry I read, Caitlin’s juxtaposition of man’s apathy against God’s holy anger, the flooding imagery of “Years,” and Ella’s questions and grief—all these capture that ruckus.
Some liturgical traditions keep an Easter vigil on Holy Saturday, waiting until midnight for the heartbeat in the tomb. If you hit play on the album right around 11:13 pm Holy Saturday, you’ll come to the resurrection moment of “breath out” right at midnight Easter morning (give or take a few seconds). When Christ breathes in “all the ash I’ve ever been,” the image is of our Lord choking to death on our sin. But then, his breath out is not his alone, because he’s breathing into us again—the first fruits of our resurrection, recreating us in a manner not unlike the creation of Adam in Eden.
All that’s left in the album after that is what’s left for us after resurrection: the joy of the new creation breaking through and the continuation of life here in the church as a new world makes its place in the old.
How did you come to name this project All the Wrecked Light? Could you elaborate on that phrase, its context, and what it means in relation to Psalm 90?
“All the wrecked light” is a line from Cardiff State’s second song and the penultimate track of the album:
And I’ll tell old stories of all the wrecked light The memory just like a crack In the walk on a Saturday night And the breath come to dusty bones And I’ll tell of how a world on loan Was made into a footstool to a throne
The whole album is organized by artist, according to chiastic structure: the first song connects to the last, the second to the penultimate, etc., with “Jodi” in the (almost) center as a specific, human microcosm of the album’s narrative. This method of pairing songs is important. Cardiff State’s first song is a creation song and their second is a re-creation song. We’re told in a familiar Scripture that:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. —John 1:1-5
The story of the album is both the story of the created light of Genesis being “wrecked” in the fall, which we acknowledged in Lent, and the Light himself—Christ himself—being wrecked on Good Friday. On the other side of the resurrection, though, in the new creation, both wreckages are “old stories” we tell of what is real but past, for ours is the resurrected Lord and the resurrected world.
Over the course of the last several years, you’ve seen this album through many phases: extensive research, writing, collaborating with various artists to put lyrics to music, crafting a live production, and finally recording an album. How has your vision for All the Wrecked Light evolved with each of those steps?
I think the primary shift has been from the content to the form. I started the project very interested in Psalm 90, very focused on the lyrics I was molding, and very excited and honored to be working with musicians who could add to that content and present it to the world. I really wanted the truths of Psalm 90 to be communicated—and I still do. But as the collaborative elements of this project have grown, I’ve heard the testimony of folks who have been drawn to the piece less by the ideas surrounding Psalm 90 and more by the collaborative act.
The story of the album is both the story of the created light of Genesis being 'wrecked' in the fall, which we acknowledged in Lent, and the Light himself—Christ himself—being wrecked on Good Friday. On the other side of the resurrection, though, in the new creation, both wreckages are 'old stories' we tell of what is real but past, for ours is the resurrected Lord and the resurrected world. Hannah Hubin
I knew going into the college project that I was beginning something I couldn’t finish, simply by nature of not being a musician. Seeing fourteen research assistants and seven artists step up and breathe life (in that same image of the creating Lord) into this project was a massive testament to the body of Christ as Paul talks of it—making and being made, all in the image of God, all needing each other and each other’s work. By the time we made it to the first live performance, I had about 50 folks to thank for pulling it off, and I was already feeling like I was part of something I barely started and certainly wasn’t finishing; I was on the edge, watching. The album project brought in another 20 artists. Even that doesn’t include the 307 Kickstarter supporters without whom we would never have been able to record the album. That means this album is a collaboration among nearly 400 folks. It may be an exposition of Psalm 90, but it also might just be the greatest image of the body of Christ I’ve had in my life.
What was it like to bring your lyrics to life with different musical artists? How did that creative process differ from artist to artist? I’d love to hear a couple examples from specific songs.
The extraordinary part of it all was that these artists were willing to jump on board this crazy idea with a college kid many of them had never met. We did all the writing in the thick of the pandemic (the first performance was masked and distanced), so many folks I didn’t meet in person until rehearsal night before the live show. I had all the lyrics drafted before I reached out to artists, so they could know what they’d be working with and could see the scope of the whole project. They’re songwriters; I’m not. I wanted them to choose the pace and work in whatever method was best to them, and all I could do was be available. I trusted every single artist on this project, and I knew that whatever they did would be intentional, thoughtful, and unique to them as musicians. These are all people who work to understand poetry, so I knew they’d try to be true to the lyrical intent; they are also all people who love Scripture, so I knew they’d try to be true to the purpose as well.
I worked exclusively over FaceTime with Wild Harbors and Cardiff State; they’d play a bit for me, ask a few questions about lyric changes, then set up a time for another check-in a few weeks later. It was similar with Ella and Isaac, except that I’ve known them for years. Justin and I actually worked in person, by convention of being in school together. We were meeting each week to work on Greek noun paradigms for finals, and we finished “Jodi” during study breaks.
When Christ breathes in 'all the ash I’ve ever been,' the image is of our Lord choking to death on our sin. But then, his breath out is not his alone, because he’s breathing into us again—the first fruits of our resurrection, recreating us in a manner not unlike the creation of Adam in Eden. Hannah Hubin
Carousel Rogues’ pairing was the hardest to nail down. I was down to the wire on getting an artist to compose for them. I didn’t even know what genre I wanted. The two songs were juxtaposing and confusing pieces, and I was confused about them. I sent a message to Caitlin via Facebook between classes one day. Caitlin asked for a coffee date, we met, and she blew me away with how invested she was in the project as a whole and how excited she was about the “Wrath” pieces. Honestly, I was still pretty unsure about those songs, though. When she sent me the voice memos, I remember feeling a little confused, and it took me way too long to realize that she had done, in that, exactly what needed to be done.
Dennis Parker sent me voice memos and told me he would keep working on the songs and praying about them until he was satisfied with them. He didn’t tell me until I met him for the first time at rehearsal that he lived in Alabama. I had no idea he was going to be driving to Tennessee for the show. See what I mean? The body of Christ.
One challenge inherent in any collaborative project, especially one with as many creative voices as All the Wrecked Light, is to retain cohesion throughout the work while also spotlighting the uniqueness of each voice. How did you navigate that balancing act?
Honestly, Caitlin is the mastermind behind that for the album. Her arrangements and production are extraordinary, and I’ve loved watching her navigate knowing when to engage more and craft more and when to step back and watch the craft just happen. She’s brought it all together into a cohesive whole I never imagined and certainly could not have ever brought about. In trinitarian theology, she’d be the holy ghost of the album, I think.
For the original performance, I certainly wanted to write the lyrics as one story. Working with the idea of chiasm and song pairings helped with “spotlighting” whatever was to come from the artists. I prayed about it a lot.
As the final notes of this album ring out, what do you hope listeners come away with?
I kicked off work on the project with my first research meeting, an interview with Dr. Ross Blackburn, the founding rector of an Anglican communion in North Carolina. I remember he prayed over the project there at the start with the words of Isaiah 55:11—that the Word of the Lord would go out and not return empty, but that it would accomplish that which he purposes and succeed in the thing for which he sends it. For a project based upon the Word and brought to life by God’s people, that’s my hope, and I still pray that verse over the album. I want it to bring folks nearer to the Word.