By Zach Collier
Collette Astle was a girl from southern California who enjoyed listening to women of rock and soul. Stevie Nicks, Carole King, and Aretha Franklin topped her list, with country singers like Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and Gillian Welch rounding out the lineup. She was a singer and performer from an early age. Growing up in a home constantly full of music, it was hard not to be.
She came to Utah to attend BYU, and left for New York to pursue art shortly after graduation. Somewhere along the way things took a hard left, and she lost herself.
“I was so used to compromising myself and my dreams for the sake of my marriage and my faith,” says Astle. “I previously attached so much of my identity to my role as a wife and my role as a member of the Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], that when those two things were gone, I went through some serious depression.”
It took Astle a lot of time to heal and remember who she was at her core. She’d been writing songs for over a decade, but had never shared them publicly. “It was like I couldn’t keep them inside anymore,” she tells me. “Lyrically, I really had some things I needed to say, and that was the driving force for me to get the songs out. I was hoping to connect with people who were dealing with similar feelings that I was by releasing the songs.”
So she came back to Utah. Her musical siblings were here. Max Astle and Dylan Astle have been performing in the Provo Music Scene as Callery Pears and Pop Warner respectively. Now home with the loved ones she grew up with, Collette began working on her songs with them.
“These are the songs I wrote during that time in my life,” she says. “They detail my painful journey of rediscovering who I’ve always been, which is pretty simple: Collette, a happy girl who likes to sing.”
The siblings took the material to June Audio, where they collaborated with June’s engineers and Robert Willes on expressive string arrangements. The result was Collette Astle, a self-titled LP that wrestles with topics like religion, divorce, mental health, identity, sex positivity, and love.
“This album is self-titled because it’s about a return to who I am at my core,” she says. “For the first time in my life, I learned how to choose myself.”
I’ve thought really hard about her record since my first, second, and third listens. Songs on the record like “Joy & Pain,” “Blue Forever,” and “What They Taught Me” really hit home for me.
“Joy and pain, why do the two go hand in hand? I don’t know, but so it goes.”
“God still watches over me the same as he did back then, and he’s laughing right now with me.”
“I was doing what they taught me, which is that you never leave.
I was doing what they taught me: pretend happy.”
These songs are all rife with beautiful, painful, hopeful, and complicated Mormon tension. Many of the positive aspects of Latter-day Saint faith and culture, like never giving up, forgiving seventy times seven, making the best out of bad situations, and enduring temporary pain for long term joy, also have their funhouse mirror counterparts. The worst versions of these principles can trap us in abusive relationships, or get us to let go of core principles, values, and interests because it’s in our nature to sacrifice for the good of others. It can be tough to navigate, especially in a culture where we haven’t learned to talk about the negative or difficult aspects of our community in a faithful, constructive way.
I’ve worked with a wide variety of artists with Mormon roots who exist in different places across the belief spectrum, but are all about celebrating each other in our shared faith heritage and culture – even if our relationship with the faith has changed. Some artists are active and orthodox; others no longer believe but love the stories and customs; others are LGBTQ+ and never stopped believing but don’t feel like they have a home with the saints right now. Regardless, we all recognize that the faith tradition we come from has left a mark, and we can all speak in the same terms and symbols. (For examples of this, see how Mormon connections influence Dusty Deseret lyricism).
Since the album explores these themes so beautifully and honestly, I asked Collette what parts of her faith held true during the gnarliest year of her life.
“In my darkest moments, the thing that pulled me through was my personal connection with God, which I believe in because of my upbringing in the Church,” she replied. “Right when I felt like my life was over, I started getting all these artistic opportunities that I had basically always dreamed about, so it felt like God was showing me that I was on the correct path, even though conventionally I was going contrary to what I was raised to believe was ‘right.’ At the end of the day, I believe the higher power that is watching over us wants us to be happy and to fulfill our purpose and dreams, which is where the lyric about God laughing with me comes from. We’re not supposed to be depressed and miserable. We’re supposed to be happy. So I still hold on to the belief that God is guiding me to be exactly where I am supposed to be in my life and in my career.”
That being said, her journey through pain and ultimate rediscovery of self led her to jettison some toxic, limiting beliefs. “I left behind the need to present as perfect and follow every rule,” she says. “I’d rather look like a mess on the outside and know I’m trying my best on the inside to have pure intentions, and lead my life with integrity, kindness, and love.”
With this newfound authenticity, Astle hasn’t been afraid to strut her stuff and kick some ass. Her song “White Boots” is a perfect example of how her LP represents all sides of her: not just the pain, but the joy as well. It explores confusion, but arrives at confidence. Astle recently had her first local performance at Java Junkie in downtown Provo. Her spirituality, sincerity, and swagger will no doubt become a huge asset to our music community.
Make sure to follow Collette Astle on Instagram. You can listen to my favorite track from her LP, “What They Taught Me,” below.