by Tracy Darlington
Paige Armstrong Interview
want to infuse value and purpose into this generation. Value is so lost.
Understanding the worth of each person and the worth of your own life.
We're put here for a purpose, and if you don't value yourself and your
life, your purpose goes out the window."
Former Make-A-Wish child and cancer survivor Paige Armstrong has just released her first project, Wake Up, in hopes of inspiring listener’s to find their purpose. The 19 year-old’s journey to this point in her career is unlike most artists. Armstrong was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 11 and endured an extensive stay in the hospital.
She was linked to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and traveled to Nashville to make a Christian album as a part of her wish. Her early music also found its way onto the Bath & Body Works Holiday album in 2005 alongside such notables as Martina McBride. She appeared on programs such as “Today” and “Extra” sharing her story and the new Christmas music. Now cancer free, Armstrong has dedicated her life to reaching teens and young adults to find their own story and not waste their life.
Tracy: How did you know God was calling you to pursue music as a career?
Everything really started for me through my experience with cancer. I had been involved in theater arts, singing and acting when I was younger. That was a love of mine. When I had cancer I was told I'd never be able to dance like I used to. The doors were closing on some of the things, the dreams, I thought I wanted to do. That's when singing and songwriting started to come to the forefront. After getting out of the hospital, with everything that I'd been through, God began to open a ministry through speaking and music. It was kind of a no brainer, more like, “this is what I have to do”. It almost wasn’t even a choice. He spared me from this, so I have no choice but to go on in whatever way He sees fit for me to share what He's done in my life.
Did you ever have a moment when that was really confirmed for you?
Absolutely. It's a dream that a lot of young people have. As God began to open doors for this ministry, there were so many times when I had doubts like, “God, really? This is such a crazy thing. Do you really want me to do this?” I remember going to GMA week a couple years ago. I still lived in Pennsylvania at the time, so I was just visiting. I wanted to learn more about the music industry and be knowledgeable about it. I remember going there and being overwhelmed because I saw so many artists. So many artists of all kinds! I was looking around going, “God, there is already plenty here. You really don't need me. There are so many talented people out there. If you do have a place for me here then please show me, because I think I should just go home and pick something else.”
Right after I prayed that prayer I went into this session that talked about the importance of your story. It was incredible because they had the whole group listen to a song by this piano player. The song was okay in itself, but then he shared the story about how this man was an amazing piano player and became paralyzed on half of his body. That song we had just heard was played all with one hand. They played the song again, and now tears were streaming down peoples' faces. Suddenly the song was amazing. God showed me that I have a place here, not because I'm bringing something to the industry that no one has ever heard before, but because God has placed a story and a message in me from everything that I've learned. That was the defining moment for me when I had confidence in what I was supposed to do, not because of myself but because God had a bigger story that He was writing.
Talk a little bit about your experience with the Make A Wish foundation.
Make a Wish stepped into my life when I was still in the hospital. I heard about them through other friends in the hospital who had amazing wishes. They stepped in and said, “Hey, Paige, we want to grant you a wish. If there's anything in the world that you would want to do, what would it be?” That's a crazy question! Good grief! It took a little while to think about it. God guided that decision and put it on my parents' and my heart to ask to come to Nashville to record a professional CD. That's exactly what happened. A lot of wishes are like going to Disneyworld or meeting a celebrity. So when I threw this out there, I think they were like, “Oh, okay.” But they were amazing. They never suggested I pick something else. It took about a year for them to put it together, but they did. It was the most incredible experience. They flew my parents and I down to Nashville, and I recorded two songs in a studio. I had two full days there. I had my own producer, musicians, back up singers, the whole works. It was really incredible. That Wish CD was the launching pad into everything else. Make a Wish has been pretty amazing in my life. That was when I was thirteen. The songs I recorded were two Twila Paris songs. Quite different than what I'm doing now. (Laughs.) Those will stay in my past, but they were a great part of my memories. Everyone was so professional; the songs really do sound amazing.
Let's talk about your debut album “Wake Up”. What's special to you about it?
The whole album is my heart. It's the message God has so passionately put on my heart since cancer. I had the chance to write on every song, so every song is infused with everything that I care about. I tried to word things in a way that would get peoples' attention. The whole album is special to me. It's fresh off of everything that I've learned and have so desperately wanted to convey to people ever since I had cancer.
Musically I am excited about it, as well. It's really an expression of what I love, of everything that has musically influenced me. I'm excited that it is rock. I really wanted to couple that rock sound with a passionate, intense message, because I think we need that. Young people especially need that. You can have intense rock, and you can have this passionate God-loving message and couple them together. Especially coming from a girl! I wanted to make a strong point.
Who were some of your influences?
Definitely I love Flyleaf. When they came onto the scene I was just like, “Yes!” Great lyrics, great message, totally awesome rock music. I love Anberlin, Paramore, Blindside. I love all kinds of music, really, not just rock. But I do love the hard rock and the Classic Crime, and Switchfoot has some amazing stuff. Mostly bands though. I will say I'm into the bands.
Tell us a little bit about “The Story Song”.
When we were first writing for the record I sat down and wrote a list of all the topics I really wanted to cover. One of the topics I wanted to write about was my story. And that's what it is. It walks through the feelings of being in a hospital and how I first felt when everything was going on. It walks through what I've learned and then now where I am looking back. I wanted to kind of flip it around and say, “Okay, this is my story; what's yours?” We all have a story. Whatever it is; everybody has a story, and there's no minimalizing that. Every story is essential. Everybody is hand picked and placed here to live it out. I wanted to be vulnerable with what I felt during that hard time in my life, and yet express how thankful I am and what I've learned from it and how it's given me the wake up call I needed.
What was it like to write with Tiffany Lee (aka Plumb) on the title track?
It was awesome. She was one of the first songwriters that I got to work with on this album. Robert Beeson who originally signed me to the label had also signed her. When he was looking at who I should write with, she came to mind because she's such a great lyricist. And she's into rock. He talked to her and set up a time for us to get together. “Wake Up” was the first song we wrote together. She is so fun! The first day we were supposed to write a song, but we ended up just talking the whole time. (laughs.) We had an allotted time from 2-5 pm to start writing the song. We were already into crunch time to start writing for the record, and we really needed to get it done. But she's like, “Ah, I just wanna talk to you and hang out for a bit.” (laughs.) We probably should have just scheduled getting together at a coffee shop first to get to know each other. We talked the whole time, and it was a lot of fun. I was so glad we did that, because it built our relationship and helped her understand who I was and where I was coming from. It was amazing. I remember coming out of that session and thinking, “Oh, gosh! I have to go back to the label now and tell them we didn't write anything!” And of course on my way home someone from the label called and asked me, “Paige, how did the writing go?” (Laughs.) I said, “Uh, great! Only we didn't write anything.” It was really funny. But the second time we met we hardcore started to write. So it was okay.
What is your favorite song on the album and why?
I definitely love “Wake Up” because that encapsulates my message completely. I really like that song. But I think “Apathy” is my favorite song on the record, because it's something I've been passionate about for so long now. It really riles me up. It really bothers me. I see it so much in my generation, and I wanted to write a song that was kind of in your face so that teens can hear this and let it sink in a little bit. I wanted them to be exposed, even to the word. It's how we're living our lives. It really gets to the core of some things I feel are an issue. And hopefully while it's this bold declaration, I hope it's inspiring. I hope people let it settle in there and rattle around a little bit and hear the words, “This is your moment to leave your mark. We only have this one moment.” Let that really sink in. When I went to write it I just tore into it. I get excited when I get to sing and play it. It's really my heart crying out, “Don't waste your life!” That is the one thing I'd like to say to this generation; that's one part of the message. This is the problem part. But I can't stop there. We're apathetic for a reason. It's because of a lack of value and a lack of purpose. If I just said, “Well, you're apathetic and I don't like it.” That wouldn't really help anybody. I want to infuse value and purpose into this generation. Value is so lost. Understanding the worth of each person and the worth of your own life. We're put here for a purpose, and if you don't value yourself and your life, your purpose goes out the window. Why are you here? We have this generation of floundering people who don't really know what they're here for. It's a big problem. They end up falling into all kinds of other traps, getting sucked into a downward spiral. My message would be, “Don't waste your life. You're worth so much more. You have value and purpose.” This song “Apathy” is how I get peoples' attention about this, my starting point.
What advice do you have for teenagers trying to pursue their dreams?
If they have a dream, that is exciting! Pursue what God has called you to passionately. Cast off everything else that hinders, and go towards the goal God has put you here for. One thing that has really helped me to understand my purpose and to get passionate about certain things is considering the things I love and the things that make me angry in the world. The injustices and the things that are issues that nothing's really being done about. Coupling those issues with what you love is a huge, powerful combination.
What's really helped me is to write those things down, save them on paper. I write down everything I love doing or could see myself doing. And I write down the issues I care about. Then I start brainstorming ways that I can meet that need or how I can inspire something to happen here. Seeing them written down not only gives merit to these dreams and thoughts you've kept tucked away, but it also keeps you accountable to it, because you can go back and look at them. It kind of creates a goal for each day, a way to create a long term plan. That creates motivation, because now you have a goal you can narrow in on. When you begin to pursue something wholeheartedly you really have to be willing to walk a narrow road.
The album cover is really interesting. Did you have any input on that?
I did, yes. It's always so hard to encapsulate everything into an album cover! We talked through several different ideas, and things always get a little bit crazy when it gets close to deadline. I got to share how I saw it for sure, so that was really great. When I first saw the clock I thought, “That's either cool, or it looks too much like Roger Rabbit.” (Laughs) We decided it was cool.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
These questions are hard! (laughs) I was born in Florida, but I only lived there until I was two. I lived in Bucks County, PA after that. One thing a lot of people don't know is that I have three adopted brothers and sisters from Korea. I have two brothers and two sisters, and three of them are from Korea.
When you're not singing what do you enjoy doing?
I have really grown to love writing. Reading different Christian living books and taking notes on them, almost using them like a research study. Writing blogs and articles and talks. I've really become passionate about that. Outside of that I love having conversations with friends. I have a few close knit friends who I get together for coffee with. One friend and I are trying to do that at least once a week. She's become my best friend. I love relationships, hearing peoples' stories and talking with them. That's probably one of my favorite things ever.
You're next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Right now I'm definitely ordering their peppermint mocha. Oh, so good! I think it's in their stores now. I haven't gotten one yet. I really need to get there! I love that!
Three things always found in your refrigerator?
Pickles. That one came to me really fast! (laughs.) Yogurt. And recently,
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.