For years, you’ve heard them. You probably just don’t realize it. Meet husband and wife Seth and Nirva Ready. She’s sung and toured with TobyMac for years, her powerhouse vocals becoming a trademark of his live shows. He’s provided background vocals on tour and in the studio for some of Christian music’s biggest artists, including Donnie McClurkin, Chris Tomlin and Kirk Franklin. Together, they form a soulful duo whose first solo EP, I Need You, released as 2013 came to a close.
I Need You is a concoction of all the musical influences they’ve been exposed to throughout their impressive career, with nods to pop, hip-hop, soul and gospel. Currently, the talented couple calls Tampa, Fla., home where Seth is on staff at a local church, while Nirva continues to tour full-time with TobyMac. We recently sat down with the couple to talk about their new music, marriage and what they’ve learned from some of Christian and gospel music’s biggest hit-makers.
TSO: You’ve sung with so many high-profile artists throughout your career, why did you decide to do a solo project? Is it something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time?
Nirva: A few years ago we started working on songs here and there, but it was at the back of our minds to do a solo project…to eventually sing together one day. I guess as time went on, that desire matured more and more. So more songs would come here and there, and then we began to write a little. But life is so bananas… Getting time to get into a studio and actually get the musicians together and work on a song has been challenging.
When we moved to Florida, we thought that music would sort of dwindle out of our lives because he began pastoring—being a young adults pastor—but actually it didn’t. More opportunities came, and so it was so brilliant of God to kind of take us away from the scene but yet give us more of a clarity and passion to pursue it. I would say God really lit the passion in [Seth’s] heart to get it done.
Seth: Ten years ago, I wanted to be a solo artist, and I think [Nirva] even back then was working on her own stuff. When I first started singing background for Kirk Franklin, I was wanting to move into the avenue of being a solo artist. I was really diligent and really driven… And then I met her and my passion very quickly shifted. [laughs] But we started doing stuff just in ministry and music together, and that sort of lit it back for me again. It was like, “Oh wow, maybe we could do this together.” Cause it felt so much better and stronger when we were together doing stuff. And that really was the catalyst then that brought the music back, because I was like, “Man, if we could do this together and not have to be apart so much, that would be amazing.” And so that was kind of how it worked.
TSO: Do you have a favorite song from your new record?
Nirva: Personally, “I Need You,” the title track to the EP… The lyrics really, really touch my heart. Especially in this season of our lives, we’re realizing more and more the need for the awareness of the presence of God in our lives, and just the grace to do what He’s called us to do and be who He’s called us to be.
Seth: One of the songs, “All Praise,” there’s an interesting evolution to that song. When we first sat down to write it, it was coming out of a series that our pastor preached on from a book by Jack Hayford called Glory on Your House. And it was about the whole process of God’s radiant presence coming on to His people and how to prepare for that. So we sat down—a group of us—and we were going to write this worship song for this series, and somehow it made its way to like dance music by the end, with Toby featured on it. But the interesting thing was we kept the lyrical content. We were like, “Can this work? This kind of heavy content, with a lot of deep theological undergirding underneath it, with a dance beat? Can that work?” We kind of experimented with it.
TSO: You’ve spent so many years working with incredibly talented artists—some of the biggest acts in our industry, like TobyMac, Chris Tomlin and Kirk Franklin. What have you learned from these artists?
Nirva: So much! For one, I think I’ve grown musically. When I first started out with Toby, I was just super shy and could barely belt a note out. You develop a musical confidence the more you do it. Working under Toby, gosh, you learn a lot about artistry and creativity and how an idea starts at its infant stages and then comes to fruition on stage. Just a lot about working with people, working with a team. Of course, spiritually I’ve grown. And a lot about the music industry, too. It’s definitely a business, and it’s not just “I can sing, and I want to get out there.” There’s just a lot more to it. I don’t know… I feel like it’s been a course in music and life and spirituality and creativity and all that.
Seth: On the musical side, I think I just absorbed a lot that I didn’t even know I was learning. And so when I kind of stepped out there my first time, I was like, “Huh, where did that come from?” Travis Cottrell with Beth Moore events…the way he puts together a worship service and brings out old stuff and new stuff… I just learned so much with that. And on the spiritual side, too… And with Chris Tomlin and the Passion stuff, too, how they really just keep that center focus on the Kingdom. I just noticed how they were constantly encouraging each other to stay focused on that.
With Donnie McClurkin, some of our best worship times would be in soundcheck. There was really just a focus on it’s bigger than this music and it’s not about this stuff. Then on the musical side, I mean those guys are just musical geniuses! So to be a part of that and the diverse styles I’ve learned from those [experiences]… I think that has contributed to me even expanding my horizon musically and learning sometimes it’s greatness and simplicity; sometimes it’s greatness and all these jazz chords… It’s just sort of all coming together and forming me musically.
TSO: What would be your greatest hope for this album and for your ministry together?
Nirva: People define success in different ways, but I am very content with whatever the Lord wills. I really am. I’ve seen and traveled a lot, and at this point, just to honor God, to bless His Kingdom; that whomever hears it, that they would receive it and it would minister to them.
Seth: Even though we started writing the songs five years ago, I really do feel like in a lot of ways, thematically, they sort of came together since we titled it I Need You, because I think it centers on that idea of needing to walk with God, needing Him to be present. And that sort of has become the centerpiece of what we’re trying to teach, even in our church. The key for transformation is really the “with God” life, being with God and learning to sit before Him and be present through the spiritual disciplines and all those avenues. And I think if our music could communicate the same thing, and if God would see fit to enlarge the platform, it would be helpful for a lot of people. So that would be my ideal goal.
For more info, visit www.sethandnirva.com.