Recently I had the privilege of speaking to Katherine Cowan about my journey through faith and its relationship with my music, how it has informed some of my musical influences and my way of life. I hope you enjoy this interview!
Let’s start at the beginning about your upbringing, you described yourself as growing up in a strict Christian household. What was that like?
When I look back, it actually does help you. When you are brought up in a religious household where you are brought up reading the bible and you get to study scripture, it does give you a moral outline for life. But it also makes you think about religion and it makes you very aware that other people have religion, and it is important to a lot of people. I think it definitely helps to set you up to be more inclusive, I think, as you get older. At the time, when you’re having to read the bible it’s not always that fun (especially) when you’re a kid, but as you get older; I definitely think it helps.
I think a lot of people when they hear the words ‘strict religious upbringing’ think of restrictions they think of not having your average childhood…
Yes, I think my parents were very good, they taught us to read the bible but then we would also have lots of time to play afterwards! Although I would say strict, I wouldn’t say strict as in we weren’t allowed to do certain things. I guess I was just very lucky with my parents. The good thing is, I know all the books of the bible off by heart!
I bet you do, but I was wondering when you’re a child and you’ve been told ‘it’s time to read the bible’ are you actually taking it in and are you really engaging with the ideas within it or are you rote learning? Is it an exercise of rote learning?
I think my Mum was very clever actually, I grew up being very interested in animals and she used to say, ‘God created this, and God created that’ and so it spurred me into thinking if that is God’s creation and I really like God’s creation then it must be a good thing. I think that it definitely is something that is how it is taught rather than what is taught sometimes.
They were quite canny actually the way they did it! You mentioned that your faith has evolved into being more spiritual. Were you aware, or was there a moment, or has it been a long gradual process?
I think it started when I was a teenager and you become more aware of other people religions. What I have found as I was growing up was, you see other people’s religions and they all have a very similar theme. All religions tend to want to work together; live in peace and harmony and as I grew up and evolved, I think not being stuck to one thing sat with me a lot better.
It made me more open to other faiths and as I’ve got older, I’ve become more spiritual, so I do things like meditation rather than just reading the scriptures. Although I do read the scriptures every now and then as they can be quite comforting if you are feeling down. There are other things I do enjoy; I go for a walk in the woods, I find that very spiritual and I can come away feeling very refreshed just from doing that. This probably goes back to my childhood where I did feel like nature is a very spiritual thing.
When people say to me that they are more spiritual than religious, I often feel like it’s a sort of taking of the more loving aspects of various religions and rejects more of the sort of strict rules; ‘this is how you should live your life’, the rules that sort of are quite restrictive. Is that how you have evolved in your faith, do you stick to the rules that are laid down by organised religion or are you a bit more free?
I think I am very free. I think what happened is, when I was growing up, I didn’t always agree with the inequality of the male, female relationship within religion. You have the male hierarchy, and something inside didn’t sit quite right with me and that just evolved as I got older.
The two things that stuck out for me (from the bible) was how Jesus gave us two commandments which were to ‘love thou neighbour’ and to ‘love God’ and I used to always think ‘If God is Love then Love is God’, so I just tried to live my life ‘In Love’ more than anything. I even sign off emails and letters ‘In Love and Light’ and I think that (spirituality) encapsulates it more for me than anything else.
How are your family with this change in the way that you view your faith?
I think they are very accepting; everyone has their own journey in life and everyone is allowed that. I think that when we get older, we can either become very strict ourselves and say ‘people should be doing the same as me’ or you can become very open and feel like everyone is allowed to do what they want.
I am the latter, I feel like everyone can do what they want, and I am lucky that my parents, well my Mum and my Sister, and my Brothers, they are very loving towards me and they accept me how I am. I guess am very lucky in that respect, not everyone has that.
Natasha, lovely to talk to you. We will be hearing more from you before 7. That was Natasha Hardy. Her journey of faith that she was telling us this morning; but firstly, we are going to hear her singing ‘In Too Deep’ from her debut album ‘Lost In Love’.
What we didn’t touch on earlier, was that you have had bouts of depression. I wonder how your faith and spirituality helped you or indeed not through those times?
Well, it’s interesting that you say bouts of depression, as sometimes it feels like more of about rather a small time in my life. I think my faith has really helped because when I have felt down, like I said, I do still read the bible sometimes and I do find comfort from scriptures.
Especially, (I can’t remember what the scripture is), but it basically says about God knowing the number of hairs on your head and how you are worth more than a sparrow. Those kinds of things do make me feel nice (better).
The other thing that I do find really helpful is meditation. Meditation is one thing that I do feel is an amazing thing. It brings you back to a place of neutrality and takes away some of that anxiety and sadness when you’re depressed.
The other thing that I use (because I do find it spiritual), is to connect with nature. That means going for long walks on the beach or out in the woods.
There is also the important thing, that I have had to use myself, which is professional help. The one thing that sometimes a spiritual aspect doesn’t have, is having that response that we do desire from a human standpoint – whether that is a counsellor or a therapist. That is something that has really helped me (with depression).
You lost your Dad last year, and I wonder if you have gone on this journey regarding your faith. I wonder how you now feel about him and what happens to us when we die and the afterlife, whether or not you’ll see him again?
Yes, well it’s an interesting subject and to be honest with you I don’t hold one particular answer. When my Dad passed away, I was devastated, obviously, and it’s taken me a year and a half to just come to terms with that he’s not physically here.
What has happened when he did pass, is interesting because I do still feel like he is here. I never experienced a very close death before. I have heard people say, ‘it feels like they’re still here’ and I do really feel that. The memory lives on in your heart but it’s more; there are times when I’m just about to wake up in the morning and I can feel my Dad speak to me. I am sure that on some level he is here, around, looking out for me and that is very comforting.
What a beautiful thought, thank you for sharing that with us this morning. Now let’s talk about music, we had the absolute pleasure of hearing that song. It is a huge part of your life; do you bring your spirituality into your music? Is it a key part of it?
Definitely, I think it is part of me and it comes in and out of my songs. This song, ‘In Too Deep’, it’s quite spiritual, but it’s a love song. There is another song on my album called ‘Enter the Gate’ and that is more of a transition song.
I do feel like music and spirituality are very hard for me to split up and (so) when I write music I tend to go into a very quiet place and allow my emotions and feelings to come through my pen. I do feel like I’m guided and even if the song isn’t spiritual, I do feel like I’m being guided to write. I feel like I’m being channelled or inspired by something that isn’t just me; which is an amazing feeling.
When you sing, as I am not a religious person, but I have been in a Gospel choir. Anyone who knows me will be very surprised by this (!), and I think the closest I ever got would be that I would really feel something when singing with other people. There is something really magical about it. I wonder when you go into this mediative state when you write music, does this differ to when you’re actually performing?
Yes definitely, the songwriting process I go into a cocoon. When I’m performing it’s almost like it’s the absolute opposite, I actually just become the channel for the song to be for others. It’s not my song anymore, I am actually singing it for others. It is a very visceral, beautiful feeling to sing and use your body. You use your mind, body and soul and it does have a very spiritual feeling to it. I never really thought of it that way, but that is why people sing. It is a wonderful feeling! (And) That feeling to know your song, your music and your talent is touching other people; that is the icing on the cake.
I noticed that you Tweeted a photograph this morning, about to do the interview. You have a very good set up, your microphone looks better than mine! I was wondering, has this always been there or has this been due to the pandemic that you have now got all this kit. How have you been able to continue making music?
Well, no. I am very lucky actually, I have, at the bottom of my garden, I’m a bit like a hobbit, a converted garage as a little home studio. I’ve had this for a few years now, so when the pandemic came not a lot changed for me. So in some respects, I have been very lucky.
The things that have changed are not being able to have other musicians over, or producers. That interaction I really miss. Luckily, I’m pretty techie. Well a bit more than techie, I’m a bit of a tech geek!! I have been able to transfer everything that I do, online. I’m glad you like my set up!
I’m jealous. Natasha, we have actually run out of time but one last question. What is next for you?
I am currently working on a follow-up album. I am still promoting my debut album, ‘Lost In Love’, because when it was released last year it wasn’t the best time. It’s like I am doing a double whammy. Next year is going to be a really big year so watch this space!
It was so lovely to talk to you, Natasha
Thank you so much for having me.
Natasha Hardy, Classical Crossover singer shares her story with faith on BBC Radio Sheffield.
Click here to listen to the interview in full!
Interviewee: Natasha Hardy
Interviewer: Katherine Cowan
Producer: Sarah Major
Radio Station: BBC Radio Sheffield
Date: 15th November 2020
Time: 6 am