Performing at a recent house concert in an inner city neighbourhood in Calgary, singer/songwriter Joal Kamps and his wife Lauren were in their element. Lovely vocal harmonies accompanied by folksy guitar and ukulele filled the rooms, with winsome storytelling between songs. One thing’s for sure – this talented young couple has plenty of stories to tell.
Joal was born and raised in Calgary, where he and his family were members of a Christian Reformed Church. It was a junior high school teacher who first championed his artistic talent. Noticing his joy in writing poetry, she submitted some of his poems to a few publications. That encouragement went a long way. Joal started exploring his growing love for connecting with people through the arts – starting a punk rock band with friends, and attending a summer program at Rosebud School of the Arts. After high school, Joal hit the road and travelled the world for four years.
“I call those four years my post secondary education,” says Joal. “I had so many eye-opening experiences. God taught me a lot about myself, and about trusting Him.”
While in Italy he even did some male modeling for a while, and his success in the modeling business accelerated quickly – a little too quickly.
“It’s a pretty dark industry,” says Joal. “The artistic side is wonderful, but there’s a shadier side filled with exploitation and addictions. I realized I was being groomed for a potential career in this world, and I decided to put the brakes on it.”
Joal returned to Calgary, and started playing around with an old guitar and writing his own music. He also began studying Social Work at Mount Royal University, and in his spare time enjoyed performing in small venues around town. At one café he met a recording engineer who really liked his sound and made a surprising offer.
“This might sound a little strange,” recalls Joal, “but we got talking and he told me I should finish my semester and start doing music full time. Then he offered to record an EP with me for free. So I took his advice, finished up the semester, recorded the EP… and went on a western Canadian tour. I learned so much on the road that first tour – about doing bookings and trying to make wise decisions.”
In 2011, he put out his first full-length CD entitled Sojourner, but was still feeling confused as to whether a full time career in music was what God wanted for him. Affirmation came in the form of news that Sojourner was winner of the Western Canadian Music Award for Best Contemporary Christian Album of the Year, and a single on the album, “Take My World Apart”, won Song of the Year at the 2012 Independent Music Awards. 2012 was also the year that Joal met his future wife, Lauren.
Lauren Kamps was born in Oman, in the Middle East. Her father, who was employed by Shell Oil, was later transferred to Nigeria, where Lauren received her early schooling. The family moved to Bragg Creek when Lauren was nine years old, and her parents became Christians when she was 13.
“I sort of piggy-backed on their faith,” says Lauren. “I called myself a Christian but as I became a teenager and young adult, I wasn’t living any differently than my non-Christian friends. In the summer of 2012, I was living in Victoria, not attending any church, but I felt convicted to pick up my Bible and start praying again. God did a work in my heart, and totally turned my life around.”
Right around that same time, Joal was in a prayer group in Calgary with Lauren’s father, whom Joal had met a few months earlier and who had become like a mentor to him. He asked Joal and others in the group to pray for his daughter. Joal, who at that point had never even met Lauren, began to lift her up in prayer.
“What’s cool is that right around the time that we were praying for Lauren is when she felt this strong conviction to turn to God,” says Joal.
The two began to connect online, and that fall Lauren moved back to Calgary, where she began attending Joal’s church… and the rest, as they say, is history. They were married in Calgary on a memorable day in June 2013 – the day of the big flood that forced 75,000 people to flee their homes in southern Alberta.
The two went on to tour the northwestern United States after their wedding. At that point Joal was still a solo act. Lauren and Joal noticed members of another band on the tour were making and selling jewelry along with their music merchandise, and she was inspired to try her hand at creating jewelry as well.
“It started out as a little hobby,” says Lauren. “I designed some simple pieces using raw materials like rocks and feathers…and it just grew from there.”
In the fall of 2014 Lauren launched her Flint & Feather Jewelry line and is gaining many fans of her unique creations, selling her jewelry on the road, at craft markets and online.
In 2014 Joal released his second album, called Heads is East, Tails is West, a rich collection of storytelling songs with an Alberta-inspired theme, which was again nominated for another Album of the Year award at the 2015 Western Canadian Music Awards. Joal and Lauren did a series of tours with this album, including in the Netherlands and the U.K.
Recently, Lauren has been joining Joal in concerts, sharing singing duties and playing her ukulele. It’s definitely a match made in heaven, both on and off stage.
This spring, the couple embarked on another adventure. They applied and were accepted into Canada’s Music Incubator (CMI) program in Toronto. Founded by Coalition Music in 2012, this not-for-profit incubator has a mandate to help artists and artist managers evolve from starter companies into sustainable businesses, through hands-on networking, mentoring and collaboration. Bell Canada, one of the sponsors of CMI, paid most of Lauren and Joal’s expenses for the ten-week program.
“There were all kinds of workshops and educational sessions, where music industry professionals taught us and gave us really valuable advice and feedback,” says Joal. “The program was born out of the observation that recent changes in the music industry have pretty much gutted the middle-class musician. Because of the shift to digital and streaming music, people aren’t as willing to purchase CDs anymore. There’s a notion somehow that music should be free. So this program is equipping up-and-coming Canadian artists to run their artistic careers like their own sustainable small businesses.”
For Lauren, the experience at the Incubator program was a boost for her confidence.
“The whole experience was really encouraging for me,” says Lauren. “We had to perform in front of all these professional musicians at the program, and they were very honest. I was so scared. They even told some people that maybe they shouldn’t be doing music, and I was waiting for that to happen to me. But they gave me really positive feedback and told me I belonged on stage with Joal.”
Their trip home from Toronto was also a confidence-building experience. They applied for and were accepted to participate in VIA Rail’s “Artist on Board” program, which offers complimentary travel for approved musicians, in return for performing on board. Joal and Lauren got their own little “suite” on the train from Toronto to Edmonton, and put on two concerts every day. Their biggest challenge was learning to stay upright while performing on the swaying train.
“We met so many wonderful people on that train ride,” says Lauren. “It was like a great mini-vacation for us. The food was amazing and we got to see so much of the country – it was a cool little journey. I loved it.”
Since their return to Calgary, Lauren and Joal have enjoyed sharing what they have learned in Toronto by mentoring other young artists in Alberta. Their best advice?
“It’s a lot of work, so know that ahead of time,” says Lauren. “It’s easy to have a romantic view of just sitting around writing songs all day and then going on tour and becoming famous. It’s not like that. It takes discipline. But don’t get down on yourself when some opportunities don’t work out. Be persistent! And treat it like a business. For a lot of musicians, that way of thinking doesn’t come easily. But if you don’t, you’re not going to be able to support yourself, or to grow.”
“I advise young artists to find the balance between seeking out feedback but not taking things too personally,” says Joal. “Too often people don’t seek out feedback, but you need to do that so you can improve and also figure out what your areas of gifting are. When you start focusing on the primary areas that you are gifted in, your success will come easier and more quickly.”
Joal and Lauren have both learned the value of being able to say no.
“As a young artist, you’re often so desperate for affirmation and opportunities and exposure that you’re chasing down any opportunity to play,” says Joal. “We found for ourselves that we had to stop being afraid of saying NO, and focus on gigs and projects that were in line with our life goals and our musical giftings. Initially it seems like you have less opportunities, but then they just start coming out of the woodwork because you’re in the right stream. And for us, that comes with a lot of trust in God’s provision and God’s timing.”
With their first baby due in early October, a great line-up of summer gigs ahead of them, and plans to head back to Europe on tour in the spring of 2017, life continues to look pretty exciting for the growing Kamps family.
Final words of wisdom?
“Be gracious to everyone, don’t be jealous of others’ success, and be willing to laugh at yourself,” Joal says with a big smile. “Most importantly, be thankful. It takes the focus off self and puts it where it’s due. And that gives you a lot of peace.”
All photos courtesy of Joal and Lauren Kamps
To learn more about Joal and Lauren’s music:
To see Lauren’s line of Flint & Feather jewelry:
*For more information about House Concerts please contact Joal or Lauren.
(“Time Stand Still” video from the CMI Chapel Sessions)