A sturdy mattress from Amazon, a mid-century modern lamp from West Elm, and one vacant house doesn’t sound like the recipe for a work of art. Yet, for Amanda Lindsey Cook, these sparse ingredients were all she needed to create her next opus. For two months, the critically-acclaimed singer and songwriter holed up in an unfurnished home tucked into the rolling hills of Tennessee. Ironically, the empty rooms mirrored the emptiness of her own soul following a devastating season of heartbreak and disappointment. The music she birthed within its walls culminated in her second solo project, House On a Hill (Bethel Music), named for the sanctuary where she rediscovered her sense of self.
“It’s empty, but it doesn’t feel lonely here,” Cook remembers texting a friend when she arrived at the house in early January 2018. “It feels friendly.”
The woods surrounding the property felt friendly, too. Clad in a warm coat and well-worn boots, Cook spent countless hours wandering the trails that winter, losing herself in the natural beauty around her. “I needed to find my faith in the tactile things in front of me,” she says. “I wanted to return to center, return to the ground where faith isn’t fantasy. It was more looking out the window at the sunrise and seeing the trees and feeling grounded and wanting to write about experiencing faith in that, where faith and reality meet.”
Her natural surroundings found their way into the crevices of House On a Hill, transporting listeners back to the sacred ground where Cook learned to breathe again.
“I spent that time really looking at the existence of what is and radically accepting it,” she recalls, “and then experiencing the faith and hope of the sunrise and the bliss of the little moments that keep our hearts beating and our lungs breathing.”
The warmth of a cup of coffee. The orange glow of the sunrise. The chorus of birds in the trees. Cook relished all of life’s simplicities. She savored them because she had the luxury of time—time to slow down, time to think, time to recalibrate.
“I felt things being remembered, things being returned, and things being resolved in my own heart,” she shares. “I think it’s really essential to create rhythms of rest. There are some things that only actually ever happen when we slow down long enough to be still and let everything catch up to us. It’s the wound in us that wants to be healed that’s trying to catch up. It’s just knocking on our door all the time saying, ‘Is now a good time to heal?’ You can only heal what you’re willing to feel.”
In the silence of her newfound safe haven, Cook gave herself permission to feel the full spectrum of emotions, and that rainbow led her back to the gold of childlike wonder and the place where she’s always processed life: the piano.
“This record, in particular, came at a really crucial moment,” she affirms. “One of my producers basically said to me, ‘I think you need to write your way through it. I think you need to sing your way through it.’”
At his advice, she tended to her own personal wounds, and melodies began to materialize. “Sometimes I write in the middle of a feeling, in the middle of an emotion, from what feels like the center of it,” Cook offers. “Then in conversations, and in the vulnerability of friendship, songs start to emerge.”
Friendship, thus, became an integral part of the creative process for House On a Hill. Intentionally keeping her circle small, Cook invited GRAMMY®-winning producers Jason Ingram and Paul Mabury (Lauren Daigle, Cory Asbury) to join her at the house, along with longtime collaborator and fellow songwriter Steffany Gretzinger. Jeremy Riddle also co-wrote one song with Cook.
“So in that space, when things were really tender and fragile, I thought it was important to keep friends close and just create a space that felt really vulnerable and intimate,” the singer offers. “I can’t really wrap words around it. It was just the healing that comes from being with people; being with friends; being known and seen and loved.”
This innate intimacy can be heard in the more contemplative moments of House On a Hill, juxtaposed by the wide open sonic spaces that give listeners room to process. Filled with lush imagery and cinematic landscapes, the setting feels plucked straight from the work of one of Cook’s literary heroes. An avid reader, Cook’s music continues to be inspired by her reading list.
“I think this record is equally an invitation and a response, because I tend to write responses to authors I love,” she says. “They write something, I get impacted by it, and I want to write a response letter, essentially a thank you letter of gratitude for unlocking something in me.”
The album’s closing track, “The New Country”—one of the first songs penned for the project—was inspired by a Henri Nouwen passage and seems a fitting answer to House On a Hill’s predecessor, 2015’s Dove Award-winning Brave New World. Cook admits she’s entering new personal territory as she embarks on life’s next chapter. The song itself feels like a fresh start, a clean slate.
In contrast, the brash, vibrant boldness of “Awakening” rattles the collection to life with the theme of resurrection, which plays out across the project’s 10 tracks. “The song is about being stuck in the prison of our own psyche,” Cook explains of “Awakening.” “It just describes this space of being stuck in a house that I built, locking the doors, closing the shutters.”
It’s a fitting analogy given the unorthodox space where the album was crafted. Square in the middle of the track listing, the title cut takes its rightful place, shining like a beacon of light. “That is the little intimate sanctuary space of the soul that the rest of the record is pivoted around,” Cook muses. “Maybe it was an allegory for my own soul of places that I hadn’t gone to yet that were empty, but friendly; but because I was timid, I wasn’t ready to go there.”
When asked if she found what she was looking for in the little house on the hill, Cook pauses before explaining that the thing she was in search of has been present all along. “I feel like the breakthrough happened 2,000 years ago, and I’m starting to discover what that means,” she observes. “To me, breakthrough looks like becoming more and more alive in my own soul and more and more connected to the source, the spirit of God that holds every living thing together. It looks like staying the path in whatever the day calls for and finding the beauty and the essence of goodness in the middle of it.”
Hidden in the rooms of that vacant house, she uncovered the beauty and goodness meant for her. In the questions, in the wrestling, in the quiet, she found the root of her identity and the closeness of her Creator. Even in the empty spaces, she discovered she had never been abandoned.
“This record gave me a lot of hope and healing. It felt like such a gift. It helped me navigate some terrain that was really unknown,” she reflects. “I hope it’s a landscape that we can all find each other in and feel less alone. I put my earphones in to not feel so alone when I’m in an isolated moment, so I hope this does the same thing for people.”
A good chunk of time has passed since she spent her first night in the house that unlocked her soul. Now Cook—the most gracious of hosts—invites others to a place of rest with these new songs, giving listeners permission to rediscover, or perhaps, redefine their faith in her house on a hill. Don’t be shy. It’s a friendly place. She’ll leave the light on.