I AM THEY is a pop-acoustic worship band originally from Carson City, Nevada, formed in 2008. At the beginning of 2019, they released their latest album, Trial & Triumph, which featured the hit song, “Scars.” The song resonated with millions of people worldwide and found a home on the national Christian radio station KLOVE. Due to the song’s success and the band’s rising fame, I AM THEY will join several other Christian artists for this year’s KLOVE Christmas Tour.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with I Am They’s Abbie Parker, one of the band’s lead singers, to discuss her faith, music, and how they’re inter-connected.
John Farrell: When did you start singing and getting into music? Has it been something you’ve done all your life? Explain that journey.
Abbie Parker: Sure, it’s different for everyone in the band. There are five of us and we all have a different story of how we got involved in music and how we ended up being in this band. But for me personally, I grew up singing in church. My mom was the children’s choir director at our church in Illinois. I grew up learning how to sing out of hymnals basically, and taking piano lessons and singing lessons from my mom. So my whole music career basically started in church.
JF: You mentioned you play the piano; do you play any other instruments?
Abbie: The guitar. I have a lot of instruments, but I don’t necessarily play well. I love all kinds of different instruments. I have an accordion, a violin, and a recorder. I just love playing anything I can get my hands on.
JF: What did you do prior to joining I AM THEY?
Abbie: I had a couple jobs as did everyone else in the band. For me, I worked at Caterpillar, the tractor company. I worked at a plant nursery. I had an antique business and I gave voice lessons. So, I did all kinds of different things.
JF: How and when did you join I AM THEY?
Abbie: The band first started in 2008 and it began as what was intended to be just one night of worship in their small community in Carson City, Nevada. They didn’t have enough people to form a worship team so they just went around and asked churches if they had anyone that could play or sing. They put together a worship band for that community and had a really amazing turnout. God clearly wanted to move in that way. That was the beginning of the band that would be known as “I AM THEY.” Fast forward maybe six years after that, the band was signed to a record deal with Provident Music and then they all moved to Nashville. That’s where I met them four years ago. I did a few months on the road with them and realized we all really loved it and then I officially joined the band.
JF: How many of the current band members are original versus non-original?
Abbie: There’s only two original left and that speaks to the nature of the ministry. It’s not necessarily about the individual people in the band; it’s more about the ministry and the hearts of whoever is in it at any given time. We see it as something bigger than just a band. Bigger than a music ministry even. It’s just a collective of people coming together and saying I want to represent Christ; I want to represent His disciples in this world.
JF: If you were to assign a superlative to each member of the band, including yourself, what would those be and why?
Abbie: That’s good. Well, “Most Disciplined” would be our drummer Nicole. She’s incredible. She is up before everyone else in the band. She works constantly. She’s very driven and goal-oriented. So, she’d be “Most Disciplined.” “Funniest “would probably be Justin. He is our keyboard player. He’s one of the original band members, and he just has a self-deprecating humor and a way of just adding a laugh to stressful situations. That really helps on the road. I’d say “Most Humble” would probably be Brandon. He’s the newest member of the band and he was actually on the TV show, “The Voice.” So he’s extremely talented, but he is such a humble, kind person you would never really know until you him hear sing what he’s capable of. Matt would be “Friendliest.” He’s the founder of the band, one of the original members, and he has never met a stranger in his life. Every single person he meets, he’s just so excited to meet them. And I would assign myself probably the “Most Laid Back.” I’m very even-tempered and kind of just go with the flow. I think that’s probably an adaptation from having been in this band for four years. You just have to take whatever comes at you on any given day.
JF: Did you have a musical career before you joined I AM THEY? Were you out on the road by yourself as a solo artist?
Abbie: I grew up leading worship at my church in Peoria, Illinois. Then I did have a little bit of a solo career doing singer-songwriter acoustic music. I never toured, but I did put out a record. I just found that I much prefer doing it as a band, being one of many faces, one of many people on stage that get to do this together.
JF: How would you describe your band’s sound or the style of music you play?
Abbie: It has evolved from the beginning definitely. It started as sort of an acoustic folk bluegrass ensemble. We had mandolins and banjos, but through the process of making our last album we incorporated a couple more guitars to the point where it’s not necessarily bluegrass, although we do still have a banjo on stage. I think it’s a cross between contemporary Christian and worship music because our focus really is on lyrics and also ushering people into the presence of God. Not sure if that describes our sound exactly, but that’s what we aim for.
JF: Where does the name “I AM THEY” come from?
Abbie: It’s unusual, right?
JF: It definitely sticks with you.
Abbie: It does. It takes a couple times of saying it to figure out if you’ve got it right. I AM THEY was something that we came up with after reading John 17. In that passage Jesus is praying for his disciples and he keeps referring to his disciples as “they.” And every time he mentions them he’s sort of calling out an identity for his disciples, for his followers. He said things like, “they would not be of this world, just as I am not of this world” (vs 16). He said to his Father “that they would be one, just as you and I are one” (vs 22). So through all of those “theys” Jesus is saying this is who I’m praying my followers will be. So when we say “I am they,” we’re saying I am a disciple of Christ. I am someone who’s going to strive to be what Jesus called out for his followers.
JF: Very cool. What is the message you want fans to take from your music?
Abbie: The last album we wrote is called “Trial & Triumph” and that really speaks to the message that we want to share with people because in our band, as a collective, and also in each of our lives as individuals in this band we’ve encountered times throughout our lives and throughout our ministry where we felt overwhelmed. We felt like we were going through the lowest valleys and almost didn’t even know why God still had us here. Why he was still calling us to do this? We hit a lot of roadblocks. We came upon a lot of situations that felt like this might be the end. But every time we prayed for with open hands this ministry and re-surrendered our lives to God. He continued to do something bigger than all of us through that ministry. The Triumph side of it is that when we lay at the feet of Jesus our problems and overwhelming circumstances of our lives He’s able to transform those into something truly redemptive and into a message that’s worth sharing with other people.
JF: Absolutely. You mentioned “Trial & Triumph,” your last album, and you’re about to finish up your Trial & Triumph Tour and then start the Faith Tour followed shortly thereafter by the KLOVE Christmas Tour. So, you have a very busy next couple of months coming up. What can fans expect from these tours and what sets them apart from each other?
Abbie: We are so blessed to have a packed fall and winter full of touring. It’s our favorite thing to do and this Trial & Triumph tour is our first headlining tour. It’s been incredible. It feels very special for us as a tour because we’ve gotten to craft it from the ground up and thought, “how do we want this night to go?” “What do we want people to walk away with from this evening?” And so, based on that, we built the tour to accomplish those things. We invited a couple of our favorite people out on the road. We have Elle Limebear who’s an amazing artist; she’s incredible. Then we also have Dan Bremnes, who’s also just a really talented musician. We have teamed with Compassion International. They basically have made this tour possible for us and we have in turn made time in the night to present the mission of Compassion International—to change lives by eradicating poverty. It’s just really special. The night feels very intentional. It’s fun, but it’s also just a great moment of reflection and worship. We have five more shows on that tour.
We have maybe two or three days of break and then we hop right on the Jordan Feliz Faith Tour. We’re super excited about that; we love Jordan Feliz. We’ve played a couple shows with him before. He is a super awesome person; he is a complete workhorse. We know that’s going to be a lot of tour dates, but we’re very excited to be able to hit a lot of different cities that we’ve never been to before with him.
Then the K-LOVE Christmas Tour is something we almost couldn’t believe that we were asked to do. We never had a lot of music on K-LOVE in the past, but this year the song “Scars” really hit home with K-LOVE and their listeners. So K-LOVE asked us to come out on the K-LOVE Christmas Tour. I think that may be 18 days in November and December. We’re going to be out with Matt Maher, who we adore. We’ve toured with him before. Hannah Kerr. Same thing with her; she’s an incredible singer. And also with Matthew West. If anyone has ever met or seen Matthew West, you cannot not laugh around that guy. Overall, I think that’s going to be the bow on the top of the really incredible touring season.
JF: How is the Trial & Triumph Tour going so far?
Abbie: It’s been incredible. We’re on the third and final week of it. We’re blessed every night that people show up to come watch this tour. We’re very proud of it. We’ve put a lot of work into it. We have been blessed with a really nice bus and a really sweet competent bus driver. The crew on this tour is incredible. Our production manager, Drew, he’s the youngest person involved in our band. He’s 23, but he’s by far the most mature. We stole him from Casting Crowns when we toured with them last year. He’s extremely talented, and he’s on top of it. So we had Drew out with us for a couple years now. So he’s running the whole show. It’s just a huge blessing. It’s one of those milestones as a band that you kind of hope you’ll always get to, but you’re never really sure if it’s going to happen—to have a headlining tour where you are the ones that are bringing people out. It’s just been an incredible blessing. We’ve seen a lot of our friends and family on the road and made a lot of new friends and fans, as well. It’s been really fun.
JF: Do you consider your band mates a second family … a family away from home?
Abbie: Absolutely! We spend more time together than we do with our own families most of the time. We’re on the road about four or five days a week and we’re only home two or three days a week. So, it really does feel like a family on the road … and all the goods and bads that come with that are included. It can be tight living having 12 people on one bus and one bathroom. But it’s also really fun too. It’s really sweet. There are definitely times we just sit and hang out together and watch a show or just talk. We’ve all joined a Fantasy Football League together. Today, we got eight of us together to do a workout on the grass outside of the concert venue where we’re playing tonight. It really is sweet.
JF: Who all travels with you?
Abbie: Most of the time when we’re not on an official tour it’s just the five of us and our production manager, Drew, in a van. So we all take turns driving. We’ll drive about six to eight hours to a show every day and do that about four or five days in a row. When we’re on a bus, we get extra crew people. There is a husband and wife who do lighting and an LED wall for this tour. That’s it. It’s the band members and crew. It’s really sweet. I’m honestly probably the oldest person at 35 on the tour. It’s just a really fun community of people traveling together.
JF: It probably makes traveling a lot easier when you’re with people you genuinely get along with.
Abbie: It really does. We’ve been joking that this is a tour of introverts. On some tours, there will be people hanging out on the bus till 2 a.m. laughing and playing music, but on this tour we’re all pretty much in bed by about 10 o’clock. We’re all kind of cut from the same cloth and that really helps.
JF: How would you describe your relationship with God and how does He play a role in your music?
Abbie: That’s a great question. I was raised in the church, raised with faith. Accepted Christ when I was 10 years old at a concert. I went to an altar call at a Carmen concert in the 90s. That was my big salvation moment. It was powerful and honestly that moment might have impacted me more than I realize. It was always impressed upon me the power of music and ministry and just the power of songs to communicate the gospel. If you think about a sermon that you listen to, a sermon may be a half-hour long and there may be a couple points that really jump out at you but the likelihood that you remember those exact words or points later on is less than a song where you hear the gospel over and over set to music with a melody that sticks in your head. Music and my faith have been intertwined from the beginning. It’s always been the way that I felt God wanted me to serve and it really has evolved a lot. There was certainly a time when I wasn’t sure if music was going to be for me as anything more than a hobby. I kind of started my life over at the age of 30 and I moved to Nashville. I really wanted to give the music as a career thing a go, but was just very intimidated. It was about a year after moving there that I got a phone call from a record label saying, “Hey, we have a band and they’re looking for a female singer.” I just felt like, “Ok God, I see You. I see what You’re doing.” It was just a lot of dreams that I had from a young age.
JF: It’s amazing what He can do.
Abbie: It absolutely is. We either never imagined this as part of our path or we thought we wanted it but maybe didn’t think it actually would happen. I think that’s a beautiful part of it though because I feel God calls people who may not themselves feel called or qualified and that requires us to show up with a humble heart and just say, “Ok God, you want me here. I’m gonna give it my best, but you’ve got to infiltrate this thing. I can give it a hundred percent but if you want to do something big in this place, we need your presence and we need your grace and we need your power just to sustain us.” That’s the journey I’ve been on. It’s been humbling and a really special time in my life to see God working through me and the process of just getting to sing about Him for my living.
JF: If you were to name a book or verse of the Bible what would that be and why?
Abbie: One of them that resonates for all of us in the band is Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The reason that’s important to us is that it again points back to the fact that all we have to do is put God at the center of our lives. There are so many times we strive to accomplish our own goals and we feel like we’re maybe on track to getting all the things that we want in life, but ultimately those things are going to leave us feeling empty if we don’t have Christ at the center of them. That verse is really a reminder; it’s sort of that homing place that we can come back to and say, “Oh yeah, here’s what this is all about. We do this first and God takes care of the rest.”
JF: Who is one person in the Bible you most associate with?
Abbie: For me personally I think it would be Esther. I did a study on her a little while back. The thing that compels me about her is that she was someone who didn’t really expect to be a leader, didn’t expect to be called to represent her people and deliver them from her situation. She was just being obedient to God. She was being who God made her to be and she didn’t let fear of her own humanity overcome what she knew God wanted to do through her. She is the character in the Bible who it says she was made for such a time as this and I just think that’s so empowering. I think when people step into their identity in Christ and see exactly who they were made to be in Him, it’s so powerful. It’s humbling, but it also is a moment in life when you feel like He has put you in a place at a specific time so that He can do something really incredible through you. Yeah, I would say Esther is the person I identify with.
JF: Which artists or musicians inspire or influence your music?
Abbie: Our band has always looked up to Casting Crowns just for who they are as people. Obviously, they’ve had an incredible career that has spanned decades. Mark Hall, who’s the lead singer of Casting Crowns, is also a youth group leader. When he’s on the road, he flies back every Wednesday to lead his youth group at church. Every day out on the road with Casting Crowns they stop at a specific time to see what’s going on in everyone’s lives that’s on the road and then they would sit and pray over the seats of whatever room they were playing in that night and pray over the people that would be coming there. I think it’s things like that that make them examples of ministry where you never really know someone’s heart until you’ve hung around them. Getting to tour with them was just an incredible experience as an accomplishment, but also just really drove home the point that these are some people that we would be honored to model our careers after.
JF: Of all your band’s songs which one speaks the most to you?
Abbie: For me, it’s the song “Scars.” That one has resonated with a lot of people. It came from a place of us trying to reframe the hard seasons that we’ve been through individually into looking at those as redemption opportunities for God to take whatever was broken in that season and restore it and turn it into something new. Each of us has a testimony related to that song and we share those on stage while we’re playing the song. Basically, the message of that song is that our brokenness brought us to God and it says, “my brokenness brought me to You and these wounds are a story You’ll use, so I’m thankful for Your scars because without them I wouldn’t know Your heart.” The message of that is that we can be thankful when we reframe things that feel like heartaches or trials in our lives because God literally can turn them into triumphs. He can turn them into something that points back to His goodness.
JF: Can you tell me a little bit about your “scar” story?
Abbie: Sure. We have a lot of different ones in the band. None of us are perfect people. We represent Christ followers everywhere in the sense that we are humans and we go through painful circumstances. What sets us apart is that we have a Healer; we have a Father who loves us and we have grace that covers us even when we make mistakes. In our band, we have people who have struggled with addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography. For me, I went through a divorce, which was a very painful time in my life and I felt like I didn’t really know where my life was headed after that. I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself. Also, it gets easy to question what God thinks about you when go through something like that. But out of that came new life. It was after that experience that I moved to Nashville and shortly after that I joined this band and really set my life toward ministry. There are scars on my heart, but God has used that story to encourage so many people and has used that sort of start over in life to propel me into this ministry.
JF: Do fans like to share their own personal “scar” stories with the band and, if so, what is it like being that sounding board?
Abbie: We do. We’ve met so many people that resonate with that song on a personal basis for everything from a physical scar that they may have from an accident or a medical condition to an emotional scar to a scar from church or from people who have hurt them or from even substance abuse. It can feel overwhelming at times, but I think the true value of that and I think what we’re called to do through this ministry is to allow people to say, “Hey, me too. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable and open about what you’ve gone through.” I feel like sin and shame hide in the dark and when you bring those things out to the light that takes away their power and what it does it gives us all the ability to point to the One that redeems those things for us. We’re honored to hear every story from people who feel willing and open enough to share those with us. It’s a reminder that God is carrying us all through something difficult at any given time, but that we can also recognize those things in each other and have empathy and have a better understanding of what it means to be a person and as a follower of Christ.
JF: In addition to the personal connection that many have to the song, isn’t there another interpretation that is more about thanking Jesus for his scars?
Abbie: That’s sort of the double meaning of the song. In the last chorus of it, we change it from “I am thankful for the scars” to “I am thankful for Your scars.” We talk about when Christ died His disciples were so terrified that they hid themselves away in a room. When He appeared He went to them in their hiding place and said, “Peace be with you.” And He showed them His scars. The fact that He had scars and had risen from the dead means that those scars did not represent a story of death, they represented a story of life, of being raised again. It’s that example of Christ and His physical scars and the way God could redeem those that we follow and that we reflect on as our inspiration for being redeemed for the things that we have scars from.
JF: Were you surprised by the song’s reception?
Abbie: Yeah. We were as a band. We had no idea that the song would resonate with people so deeply. It felt powerful to us internally and when we shared it with our family and friends and the record company. They all felt that it had the same pull on them, but we were absolutely not prepared for the number of people that would feel like this song really told the story of their life. It’s pretty crazy to write something that you feel like is about your own life, your own struggles, your own walk with the Lord and then have other people feel that it resonates so deeply with them. We’ve had people even say that’s my life song or that’s the song I wanted played at my funeral or that’s the song I got baptized to. It’s really pretty incredible to see the life that it’s had beyond what we ever anticipated.
JF: What is the songwriting process like for I Am They?
Abbie: The singers in the band are typically the ones that write the songs. There are three lead singers in this band and I am one of them. We always work with other songwriters in the industry, mostly in Nashville. Nashville’s an incredible place because there’s an incredible song-writing community and Christian music community there. We’ve had the blessing to be able to be in the room with some incredible songwriters and it’s through working with many of them and finding which ones we really connect with that we’ve been able to meet up with again and again and then finally we get a song like “Scars.” We were working a lot with David Leonard on our last record, who is from the band All Sons and Daughters. It’s really amazing to be able to bring our stories and our feeble talents to the table and be paired up with other people who are super kind and insightful and talented in their own right and see what kind of song we come up with together.
JF: What’s next for I AM THEY?
Abbie: So, we’re touring all fall and winter and then taking a couple weeks off in January to do a lot of songwriting. Hopefully, we will be able to come up with some songs that really speak for the content in the next record and the fan that we’ve been talking about and the fact that we’ve been in this season where we’ve recognized our trials and our failings and we’ve seen how God has used that and transformed that. This is a season that really feels like we can just celebrate the things that God has done through our owns lives, through this ministry, through the body of Christ in general. That will be our focus for the next record.
JF: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule. I know you have a show you need to get ready for, but I do want to sincerely say “thank you” for taking time to talk with me. Good luck tonight!
Learn more about Abbie Parker and I AM THEY at www.IAmTheyBand.com, where you can read their individual stories and testimonies and see all of their upcoming tour dates. Their music can be found digitally on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and they still sell good ol’ fashioned CDs at their shows.
John Farrell is the Digital Content Writer / Editor of Inspiration.org.
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