Liz Vice didn’t think she’d live past age 21, let alone ever release an album.
“I hated singing in public,” she says, remembering the urge to join the worship at Door of Hope church in Portland six years ago. Yet, after a harrowing health scare, Vice says she felt like she was being called.
While studying film in college at 19, the Oregon-based vocalist got sick. Really sick. She was on hemodialysis for three years before receiving a kidney transplant in 2005.
A decade later Concord’s Ramseur Records – the original home of the Avett Brothers – rereleased “There’s A Light,” the exceptional album she recorded at the behest of Josh White, her church’s leader and a member of the Christian rock band Telecast. White offered Vice a batch of songs he’d written with the request she record them.
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Vice, who plays Neighborhood Theatre with fellow Portlandian Josh Garrels on Thursday, was apprehensive. She still didn’t consider herself a singer and only sang in church once a month.
Once after she performed White’s song “Enfold Me” during a service a friend walked up to her in tears.
“She said, ‘What was that?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. It was like everyone disappeared and I couldn’t see any faces. It was like I was singing for Jesus.’ ”
When she originally released “There’s a Light,” it sold out locally in 10 days and she was invited to open for Cody Chesnutt and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. The offers kept coming, but Vice expected interest would fizzle out and life would return to normal.
Then she received an email from Dolph Ramseur. Although she’d been approached by labels before, there was something simple about his words that struck her.
On Sept. 25 – a deadline, coincidentally, Vice set for herself twice before – “There’s a Light” was released nationally to critical acclaim and a feature on NPR.
It’s all still sinking in.
“I went from selling my album for $5 so I could buy more records to sell for $5,” says Vice, who is accustomed to living modestly. “I’ve been poor all my life. I don’t know what it would be like to buy a car with good shocks and good brakes. I’d love to have that security and stability. I’ve never had it before.”
It hasn’t hurt that she’s surrounded by musicians like Garrels, White and Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley, who manage to transcend the musical barriers of what is or what isn’t “Christian.”
“Josh (Garrels) is not secretive about his faith, and he sells out venues all the time to believers and nonbelievers. Whether you love Jesus or not, people are hungry for hope and change and something that motivates them to get out of bed,” she says.
“As much as I want to curl up like a potato bug, I can’t, because that’s not how a gift like this is supposed to be used,” she says. “Music has been healing. To now be that source of healing for people, how can you not share that gift?”
When it comes to stage fright, “I refused to let fear win,” she adds. “Even though fear sometimes has me in a headlock if I keep singing notes, no matter how long that fear is here on stage with me, I’m not going to give in.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.
DETAILS: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com