Pulling a Dream into the Daylight: A Conversation with Wild Harbors
Being a self-described dreamer, I can tell you that having a dream is a complex predicament. It’s one of the strongest forces in our lives and sometimes gives us purpose and direction. It can also be as fragile as a dried leaf, at times crumbling between our fingers to be blown away by the wind. Dreaming isn’t just wishing on a star; it’s vision-casting, planning, implementing, perspiration, and perseverance. And even those who take the right steps in the right order are not guaranteed that the dream won’t hit a dead end or a major detour.
I sat down recently with Chris and Jenna Badeker – the husband-wife band known as Wild Harbors. I’ve been friends with them for nine years, and I definitely see them as fellow dreamers, but they might not be interested in that title.
Jenna: Dream is such an interesting word. I think it’s one I’ve had a tough relationship with over the past decade.
Chris: I always kind of bristled at that language of what we do like, “Go to Nashville and chase your dream.”
Jenna: It sounds fun, and there are so many people who get into that thought. It’s been really interesting for me, through life and reflection and clearing out old stuff from my parents and finding old things from my childhood, little kid Jenna totally dreamed about singing and writing songs and being a writer and an author. Those were dreams. I think it’s interesting to realize that God has worked to draw us into paths that tap into those dreams that we both probably had when we were younger. I couldn’t have articulated as a young adult, “This is my dream and I’m going to chase it down and do x, y, z to make it happen.” I think there is some good and bad in that. On one hand, it helps maintain some groundedness – this isn’t some fairytale situation. We have budgets and need to pay our bills; we need to be practical about how we go about this. But there is also some potential for a lack of dreaming to continue.
Chris: For as much as I kind of bristle at that dream idea, I’m trying to analyze that and pick apart why that is. For myself in particular, I think there is this tendency to take the dream and—just as we are attaining it—to move the bar further out to make it unattainable again. For myself as a kid, if you were to ask me, “What is the dream?” My dream was to be an artist. And that feels embarrassingly ill-conceived and not fleshed out, and there’s no marketing or plan behind that. It feels very naked, but that was my dream to be an artist. And at some point, whether that was in middle school, high school, or college, I was creating art and making art – I was an artist.
Jenna: And are you talking visual art when you’re saying artist, or just anything?
Chris: I think of an artist as a chef, a musician, a painter, a poet. I hold all of those under an umbrella for myself. I still want to be an artist – a musical artist, a singer, all those things. That’s what I want. But when I became an artist I didn’t have a sense of, “My dreams have come true.“ I had a new sense, “I need to be a full-time artist.” And then that bar got a little further out like, “Well, if I was a real artist I wouldn’t be working in a library, I’d be working on my art all the time.” And where did that come from? Maybe not the same place that the dream to become an artist came from. It feels almost like sabotage, like every time we realize a dream, it keeps morphing into a different shadow that mutates it a bit in a way that feels less and less satisfying. Maybe I’m just weary of the way dreams can get morphed and mutated and twisted through the lens of “I need to be doing this really professionally and really well, and maybe it was fine to dream of being an artist at the beginning, but now I need to be a serious artist.” And that feels like a way to crush the dream at its root and then the playfulness gets lost and the creativity gets lost and it becomes a job. It becomes something to fail at.
Dave: I’m in the middle of reading the book Say Yes by Scott Erickson, and it’s got a compelling subtitle: “Discover the surprising life beyond the death of a dream.” I’ve been reflecting on how sometimes the big dream dies. I also ponder about the smaller dreams within the dream that sometimes experience mini-deaths. They can be very disheartening and very frustrating to deal with because we only plan for success. But the mini-deaths can also be an amazing guide and teacher. Has that been true for you?
Jenna: I’m realizing that in making music my main career, focus, and source of income, I have subconsciously created these unintended weights upon what the original dream was. Sometimes I think, “You are doing it wrong, or I’m not doing it good enough.” Then I drill down into that – what is making me say I’m not good enough? It’s not as actually evaluative as my head wants to tell me it is. We look sideways, and we look on social media and we’re like, “This person’s releasing all these songs and we haven’t released a new song that we’ve written in years, so we’re doing it wrong.” Or “I’m not booking as many shows as these people are, so I am failing.” I think I’m at a juncture now of trying to take a lot of steps back and seeing there are – like you said – a lot of little deaths that are happening along the way. If there’s anything that can kill dreams, it is a really out-of-control inner critic who is going to stamp all that right out of me. “Of course, I’m not going to release anything new because I can’t write because I feel bad at my job.” That’s not sustainable. If I let some of those things die away from what I thought a full-time vocational musician should do, is there room for the deep-down core of that dream to still have a beating heart and to gain a sure foundation looking differently than what I imagined?
Chris: The ability to create freely and to create joyfully just starts to deteriorate under the weight of our own added expectations. I guess we have to reckon with some of those little disappointments. Maybe it’s not meant to look like someone else. And it’s okay if we can’t out-finger-pick Andrew Peterson or we can’t out-harmonize The Civil Wars or we can’t out-suave Johnnyswim. There is no success for us trying to piggyback or replicate the accolades that other people have. Instead of having to say it’s okay, we’re not going to find our thing trying to follow those trails. It’s been freeing to cut that tether and unhitch our trailer from certain things, and that gives us freedom enough to say we’re allowed to do what we want to do, and it doesn’t have to look like what any of our peers are doing. That actually feels more artistic and more creative.
Dave: Now you’ve created something new and released a brand new single “Daylight.” Can you share the theme of the track?
Jenna: This song came about during the pandemic. Nashville had a very mild winter, and while we were chained at home, we could still go outside. Chris and I had taken our Christmas money that year and bought bikes because there are so many amazing trails around Nashville. One day we were riding and I started making up the song on my bike. I positioned my phone on the holder and hit the audio recorder and just started singing and riding and feeling this rush. I was physically moving forward. Everything had been feeling like we were stuck – time was passing and none of us were moving anywhere. It felt so good to feel the sun and be rolling down that hill. This melody and words came – there is daylight, and it is here, and I don’t know how much we get but I really want to do good things with it. We use the phrase “make the most of it” so often, I don’t feel like I can fully understand what that phrase even means. But to actually pause and take stock that you have these 15 hours or so of daylight in a day. What do I want to do with it? And not “Are you spending it right?” Because that’s my bent – are you doing the right things with it? Instead of spending it right, I’m focusing on spending it well. I want to do great things with it in a way that is inviting and exciting. I want to invite other people into that – we have permission to do good things with our time. I want to do that together.
Chris: For me, it’s a song about spending a day well, but it’s also that this day represents what I do every day, and what I do every day represents the sum of this life that we are living together. You only really get to answer that question, “Have I spent my life well?” one time, at the end of your life when you can see the whole thing in retrospect. But you get to answer, “Did I spend today well?” every single day, seven times a week, 365 days a year.
Dave: How does it feel to be releasing the first new original Wild Harbor songs in a few years?
Chris: I think primarily it’s excitement. Releasing remixes and stuff felt like a way to keep things going from a logistics standpoint for us, but there’s not the same feeling of show-and-tell putting something like this out there. It feels like the next season. If that was Season One, this is definitely Season Two. It has been about a year that we’ve been sitting on these masters. We’ve shared them with a few friends and family here and there to show them what we’re up to. Even those initial reactions helped me to remember other people are really excited to hear this too. When it’s just a thing in your own house and in your own head, it’s easy to forget the part of the interaction that I love the most – the sharing. It’s fun to get back to that season. Jenna: We’re not doing this to increase a number on a chart, we’re doing this because we felt passionate about a story and we want to share that story with other people. So it’s really fun for me to hear it again and be reminded about why we do what we do and the prospect of having that new season.