Heather Powers draws inspiration from a troubled past. Her compelling life saga includes assault, rape, addiction, divorce, emotional breakdown and utter brokenness. While her story is often incomprehensible, she chooses to focus not on the trauma, but on the amazing restoration and redemption she has experienced.
And along with that restoration comes a number of high-profile projects on the horizon, that could escalate Powers to be one of 2006’s most anticipated new artists. The singer-songwriter has shared the stage with everyone from Huey Lewis and The News to Bryan Duncan, and has also led worship for churches and conferences around the nation, including her home church in Marin County, California. But this winter Powers steps onto a national platform, with the help of a major Christmas tour, upcoming debut CD and multiplexes worldwide.
Powers’ voice will be prominently featured in the upcoming feature film RENT, based on the record-breaking hit Broadway musical. Powers provides the voice for one of the film’s characters, performing six songs in the film, which will be in theatres November 23rd. Last week, Powers returned to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, where the songs were recorded, to attend the world premiere with the cast and crew, including director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter).
“I really prayed about whether or not I should take the part, due to the controversial subject matter,” says Powers. “As I prayed, I realized that one of the reasons I felt so drawn to the opportunity is that the storyline is not so far from my own, before God broke in and rescued me. I was touched by the fact that we all search for things that will soothe the harsh realities of a fallen world and the choices we make when we are living a life apart from our Creator. Sex, drugs, things that might look like love. It reminded me that one of the most significant purposes of my own ministry, as long as I have a platform, is to tell people that God will reach them no matter what they have done, where they have been or who they have become.”
As the daughter of a pastor, Christian values were the cornerstone of Heather’s upbringing. Her grandfather and uncle are pastors, as is her father Ed Neuenschwander, who helped establish the successful radio ministry Insight For Living with Chuck Swindoll. Powers began her musical pursuits in church, where as a teen, she played guitar and piano, led worship and later toured Europe with a variety of school jazz groups. But she soon found herself walking away from the beliefs she’d always known.
At the age of 13, a man broke into the family home and attempted to sexually assault her. At 15, a date became aggressive and raped her leaving her bruised and horrified. The following year, Powers became physically involved with a boyfriend, who she married at the age of 18. “After years of counseling, I now understand that when your innocence is taken away so violently, you have a warped sense of what sex is and you misuse it,” says Powers. “I was never going to let anybody hurt me that way again, so I was proactive instead. I was in charge of my own sexuality, nobody else.”
Two children soon followed and the unresolved trauma combined with the pressures of a marriage and motherhood put a mental, emotional and physical strain on Powers, who was already prone to paralyzing migraine headaches. Soon after tying the knot, she found herself in the hospital pumped up with painkillers and anti-depressants. Although such prescriptions would temporarily provide relief, an incorrect prescription dosage would lead to even more severe results.
“The headaches were so severe that they would knock me out for days at a time,” says Powers. “The pain was so agonizing that I threw up constantly. So they gave me anti-nausea drugs along with narcotics for the pain. It was kind of a balancing act. They tried many different medications including Vicodin, Soma and Oxycontin – a highly addictive synthetic morphine that basically just keeps you high all the time. You need more and more to make it work and before long I had a full-blown addiction to prescription medications.”
The addiction and frequent hospital stays only added to the pressures at home and Heather finally walked away from her marriage, and the faith in Christ that had once been the centerpiece of her life. Her life began to spiral into very dark territory, abusing prescription drugs, painkillers and eventually methamphetamines. “I was a shell of a person for many years. I had two little ones at home, but I was so incapacitated that I couldn’t care for them. Fortunately, I had a wonderful family that pulled together and stepped in when it was necessary. I was numb and drugged up most of the time.”
In the midst of her addiction, Powers began focusing on her music, including session work and stage time with the legendary pop band Huey Lewis and the News. However, even the glow of the spotlight and work with some of the world’s finest players couldn’t fill the void of the youthful faith she once possessed. At the height of her addiction, Powers rediscovered her faith, reconnected with her family, and found her way to sobriety. Eventually, she found a new love and marriage, and turned her artistic focus towards telling a personal epic of endurance.
In 2005, Powers signed with California based Thousand Mile Music, which provided an outlet for her upcoming debut album Lay Them Down. The subsequent collection of songs are tear-jerking soundtracks of spiritual empowerment. Powers cites Amy Grant, Susan Ashton, Shawn Colvin and Paula Cole as major influences, yet it’s her distinctive voice, production by Patrick Tetreault (Five O’Clock People) and vulnerable lyrics that has listeners taking notice.
“This record chronicles my journey of dealing with the pain and hurt of those who violated me and the freedom found in letting go of the past,” Powers reveals. “I’m eager to encourage people with the idea that there’s nothing too big for them to have done where God couldn’t rescue them. God’s always in the business of reaching in and resurrecting new things and if he did it with me, he can do it with you too.”
“Heather has that unique combination of being able to write momentous songs and sing them with an exceptional voice,” says Thomas “Rick” Tewell, President and CEO of Thousand Mile. “She is such a gifted individual, yet her past has miraculously grounded her. Her close relationship with God and her ability to minister to those in pain, coupled with her world-class musical talent, makes her an artist poised to make a major impact. We are absolutely thrilled to have her as a part of the Thousand Mile family and we look forward to working with her for a very long time.”
Powers will hit the road this Christmas season, joining Rachael Lampa, Martha Munizzi, Bryan Duncan, Jontez and the Kurt Carr Singers on the Joy to the World Christmas Celebration Tour. The William Morris Agency is booking the multi-artist tour hosted by Geoff Moore, which will be hitting up to sixteen major markets before Christmas day. Between the tour, upcoming CD and the release of RENT in theatres across the country, Powers should have little trouble getting her message out to the masses.
“As the body of Christ, we lose our relevance when we forget what we were before God picked us up out of the depravity many of us lived in,” says Powers. “Even after our lives look somewhat manageable from the outside, the most wretched things still reside in our hearts. We would do well to remember from time to time, just how extreme the grace and mercy each one of us needed to be called a child of God. I think when we begin to understand just how drastic God’s love for us really is, there is no fear in going out into a world that is desperately crying for the answer to their hurt!”
Thousand Mile Music is currently finalizing distribution plans for North America, with an announcement planned before the end of the year. Lay Them Down is planned for a March or April release. Thousand Mile Music is a subsidiary of Thousand Mile Publishing, a privately held Christian media company located in Marin County, California. The record label has several artists and music projects currently in development. Thousand Mile Publishing is also home to Virtue Games, a Christian multimedia game development studio dedicated to producing high quality Christian-themed computer games utilizing full motion video and 3D-generated graphics (like those found in Shrek and The Incredibles).
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