Early this year, I stumbled across “Boomerang Town,” the title track from folk singer Jaimee Harris’ sophomore album, and thought, “This song is giving me serious ‘Waco vibes.’” After I went to YouTube to watch the animated video for the song, the images that appeared from the city I have called “home” for over 20 years convinced me there had to be a connection.
I would discover a former roommate of mine plays guitar for Harris. Other friends and acquaintances grew up with her.
I may be one of the only people in this city to hear Jaimee Harris’ music before I met her.
I recently visited with Harris over Zoom to talk about “Boomerang Town,” her songwriting process, her teenage years in the church and how she approaches faith now as a sober artist making sense of the world and her place in it.
Clocking in at over seven minutes, the song “Boomerang Town” tells the time-honored story of a young teenage couple dreaming of getting out of their hometown but being held there by life and circumstance.
The narrative is told from the perspective of the 16-year-old boy in the relationship. It winds around the roads of the couple’s life and community and ends with a tragic twist wrapped in a brilliant turn of phrase.
Each line in the song tells a story that could be its own novel.
“This is a song I have wanted to write for a long time,” she said in our conversation from her home in Nashville. “The seed for it was planted in 2017 when I was singing with a fellow songwriter in Luckenbach, Texas. He asked if I wanted to sing a line from ‘This Land is Your Land.’ I said I’d like to sing the ‘steeple verse.’”
The songwriter, who had studied in seminary and also had spent some time in Waco, told Harris he always thought Woody Guthrie, who wrote “This Land is Your Land,” got that verse wrong.
This Waco connection prompted Harris to wonder, “How might I tell this story about where I grew up, with all its complications and my experience there?”
“The Steeple,” a literal and figurative representation of Protestant, evangelical Christianity, casts a long shadow in “This Land is Your Land,” “Boomerang Town,” and Waco.
It also casts a shadow over Jaimee Harris’ life.
“It’s hard for me to separate Christianity in particular from any piece of my life because, when I was younger, I was so ‘in,’” Harris reflected. She added, “The church gave me my first opportunity to be involved in music. It gave me a social group. It gave me a place to be accepted.”
But much of that acceptance changed when she returned home after a brief stint in college. She began drinking and, as was the case with her earlier involvement in church, went all in.
“Once I really started drinking, there was no period of moderation,” she said. “I just had the idea that this new identity of being a heavy drinker didn’t align with the church I grew up in.”
Her new identity caused people she knew to talk and make passive-aggressive comments on social media, but they never reached out to her. This would continue in later years when she began to be more open about her sexual identity, causing her to question the authenticity of her experience with Christianity.
“I never made a conscious decision that I was done with the church or had a feeling that the church had wronged me,” she remarked, adding that it may have been easier if that were the case.
Harris has recently been introduced to the language of “deconstruction” and noted the terminology surrounding it would have been helpful as she began reflecting on her faith experience. “There is a loss– a severing of community, a severing of identity,” she said.
But Harris doesn’t fall into the binary trap of discarding and demonizing the faith communities that nurtured her as a young person. When she would later live in a very liberal community with people who made sweeping generalizations about Christians, she found herself wondering whether they were proof-texting believers the same way believers proof-text Scripture for their own ends.
She explores these thoughts in “On the Surface,” a powerful reflection on how faith communities can reject those who don’t fit within their narrow, pious standards. The song is also a reclamation of a broader, more profound understanding of faith that has shaped her life.
Some lines from the song highlight this: “It’s true it wasn’t long ago/ I traveled down a crooked road/ That ended in explosions, consequences/ I fought the bottle with the sword/ But won the battle with the Lord/ A power that believes in second chances.”
Harris says, “The further along I get in my life, and the deeper I get into 12-step recovery, I feel less of a need to define what my ‘higher power’ is, what my ‘God’ is. I’m not going to say it’s not the God that I grew up with. I don’t know. And you know what? It just doesn’t matter to me. What matters is being of service, having a connection to that higher power and trying to make conscious contact with it every day and not being self-seeking,” adding that “all these things I got a foundation for in the church.”
The album “Boomerang Town” was released in February and features ten songs, many of which, according to Harris, are “connected to spirit.” It will be near the top of many end-of-year superlative lists, including mine.
She will return to the studio this month to record an album of cover songs, all written by female songwriters from Texas. As for 2024, Harris will spend time on the road, touring the U.S., UK and Ireland with her partner, acclaimed songwriter Mary Gauthier.
Senior editor at Good Faith Media.