Andrew Osenga might not yet be a household name, but he has been part of the music vocabulary for many people for quite some time. As a founding member of the Normals, a solo artist, one of the founders of the Square Peg Alliance and now as a member of Caedmon’s Call, Osenga has his fingers stirring quite a few musical pots. We recently caught up with him to see what’s cooking:
- Where and when were you born?
February 20, 1979 in Normal, IL.
- Were you raised in a musical home?
Yes. My parents were both music teachers at some point in their lives, and my Dad directs the church choir.
- How had your family and upbringing impacted your art?
Oh man, have you read The Prince of Tides? My grandchildren will be finding the answers to that question as much as I will. This answer could be a three-book novel, so I’ll just say that I was the first-born child of the church-going children of farmers.
- Were you raised in a Christian home?
- Can you share a bit about your “salvation experience”? (how did you come to salvation?)
Well, I don’t really view salvation as something that happens instantaneously, but rather something that is always unfolding in our lives and that we realize in different ways throughout our lives. For me, specifically, there was never a point when I didn’t know who Jesus was and what He did, and I’ve gone through seasons of believing that fervently and wondering if I believe it at all, so… But definitely my parents brought me up in the aroma of the Gospel and I’ve always been grateful for that.
- When did you first become interested in music?
Probably the first time I ever heard it.
- Have you had formal musical training?
Yes. I took many seemingly fruitless years of piano lessons, which I realize more and more how foundational that was. I feel like I was raised to be fluent in a language of a nation I just moved to. I was in choir, orchestra and band in high school. In college I flunked “Intro to Music Theory” though, so you never know…
- At what point did you realize that music was your life’s calling and at what point did you realize that it was actually feasible?
I realized it was my life calling about five years ago, after my first band The Normals broke up. That was the moment where I could have started over somewhere else, gone back to college and gotten a real job. I made a solo record instead. I hope to realize it’s feasible sometime next year.
- How does your faith affect your art?
In every way. Just like my marriage and my fatherhood. It’s who I am so it winds its way into my lyrics, into stories that can go as dark as the darkest night, because I believe in a beautiful morning to come. It’s in the notes I play and the rests I try to put in between them. Faith, like love, is a rhythm you feel but don’t always hear. It’s the melody in y our head you can never quite find the notes to sing out loud, but you always know it’s there and you keep looking for it. I look forward to hearing that song someday, in its splendor and completion.
- Are you actively involved in a local church? If so, which church? If not, why not?
Yes, A PCA church called Midtown Fellowship here in Nashville.
- What role do you think local churches ought to take in supporting the arts from a biblical perspective?
Well, that’s a large question. I’d like to say they should support the arts financially and help to provide venues and audiences and such. But I go to a church that doesn’t have much money and I’m glad they spend a lot of that on the poor and needy and not on me. So I don’t really know. I’d love to hear other thoughts on this.
- Is your family supportive of your life choices? Does touring have a negative impact on your personal life?
Yes, they are supportive, but touring is hard. I’m not on the road like I used to be, though, and I have a psuedo-normal life. My girls are used seeing me three out of every four or five days and that’s been good.
- Has marriage or fatherhood changed your perspective on your art?
Completely. I have a legacy now. I want my kids and their kids to be proud of what I did. I want them to get it. I care deeply that it’s beautiful and that it’s true, because those are the things that will last when CDs and MP3s are rotting in museums. (Ignore the obvious idiocy of the MP3 portion of that last statement).
- How do you apply the Gospel to all of life in your art? How do you go about selecting the right words to convey these deep issues without falling into Christian jargon?
Well, there are a lot of phrases that have been unfortunately “Christianese’d” to death, and I avoid those like the plague. Usually. I wrote a song with my friend Randall on the new Caedmon’s record which is called “There is a Reason” which was an attempt to reclaim the truth in that worn-out, often unintentionally hurtful phrase. But mainly I’m a storyteller, and most real life stories don’t use the vocabulary of “here I am to worship” or “hark the herald angels” you know? And I like using the language of redemption, and especially Biblical allusions, within the context of an otherwise “unspiritual” story. But I believe that we are all made in the image of God and therefore we all have that “spark of the divine” within us in some way or another. I look to find that in my characters. I hope that I’m learning to look for it in my family, friends and my neighbors.
- What are your thoughts on the current “Christian” music scene?
Honestly, I don’t really care anymore. I used to be angry with it and always frustrated. Then I just sort of moved on. With few exceptions, I don’t listen to it and, though I know it’s there, I sort of just forget about it. Every now and then I end up at some “Christian” festival and I’m always sort of surprised they’re still going on. I don’t get it, but I’m growing up enough to realize that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. It’s just a bit foreign and strange to me and my understanding of Jesus.
- Are there any current “Christian” artists you think are doings it right?
Tons of them. Jars of Clay, Jeremy Casella, Waterdeep, Switchfoot. Anybody who’s just making the best music they can and weaving the truth into it in creative ways. I hope that Caedmon’s Call would fit in that category. I think we do now, though the past few years were a little hairy there for a while.
- You are one of a growing number of “Christian” artists to have your feet both in the “label” and independent music worlds. What has your experience been? What are the pros and cons to each side of the industry? Do you prefer one or the other?
Well, I prefer the interaction and the freedom of the independent scene, but honestly, I couldn’t do it if I wasn’t making the bulk of my living from the label side of what I do. Aside from just my own music or being in Caedmon’s I play on a lot of records, and labels pay what most of my friends aren’t able to. But that’s how I afford to do the records I believe in. Still, the discussion changes every three weeks at this point, as one company folds and another indie band sells 100,000 copies. I’m just glad that every day I get my hands into great songs, play guitar and do it with my friends. It keeps the lights on, so whoever pays me, I’m grateful.
- How has the experience of being in Caedmon’s Call differed from your experience in the Normals?
I get paid! Caedmon’s isn’t a full-time gig, in a financial sense, but they’ve got an audience that is incredibly supportive and has really championed my solo stuff as well as the band. I think The Normals could have had that community as well, but we didn’t have the money or exposure (or the internet at the time) to connect the dots. Both bands have been wonderful experiences, and both have been incredibly hard work. It’s like being with my parents or my in-laws. I love them both, but in different ways.
- In addition to your participation in The Normals and Caedmon’s Call you have also recorded as a solo artist. Do you have a preference for solo or band work?
I love being in a band. That’s the kind of music I love, and I crave playing with people. I hate standing on a stage by myself with an acoustic guitar. I love the whoosh of the kick drum and the rumble of the bass. I love the freedom of a good, long guitar solo. I’ve had those things in The Normals and Caedmon’s, and I hope to have that more and more as a solo artist. That said, I love writing and singing my own songs, and I’ll be doing it well past the life of Caedmon’s.
- How do you continue to stay creative amidst the many business dealings that come with a career in music?
Interns and insomnia.
- What’s next?
A million things. I’m writing for a new solo record, and looking for somebody to partner with so that I don’t bear the whole burden of marketing and promotion this time. Caedmon’s will tour the Overdressed record we just released in the Spring, and I’ll be opening as well as in the band for that tour, which will be great. Derek Webb will be with us and he’ll be the other opener. It’ll be a great family reunion sort of time. This December I’ll be out with Andrew Peterson for his annual Christmas tour. Until then, it’s a sprinkling of solo and Caedmon’s dates and a lot of studio work and songwriting. And daily blogging.
- What artists have inspired you?
U2, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Marc Cohn, the Cardigans, Neil Finn, Wilco, Patty Griffin, the Who, the Beatles, Sixpence None the Richer, Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Buckley. That’s the baker’s dozen. Oh, and Mark Knopfler/Dire Straits.
- What music are you listening lately and what are some of your all-time recommendations?
Tonight I just pulled out Patty’s Living with Ghosts. So good. I’ve been digging this Norwegian band called BigBang. And the new John Mayer record, believe it or not. Oh, and a lot of later Genesis and Tears for Fears. Don’t know what’s bringing that on. My all-time favorites are the folks I listed in the last answer.
- What are you currently reading and what are some of your all-time recommendations?
I just read Robert McNamara’s In Retrospect. He was the Secretary of Defense during the first half of the Vietnam war. It was a very sad, but interesting read. The similarities between that conflict and Iraq are scary. His book was written in 1995, and some little comments he makes about Dick Cheney back then, who was at the time the current Secretary of Defense, are downright frightening. It’s very radically changed my view on the war. The Bible has been radically changing my view on war in general, but that’s another interview. Or probably better, a discussion over a beer.
Anyway, some of my all-time favorites are Hemingway’s Complete Short Stories, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables – only the unabridged version, the short one loses all the really good parts, Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven and The Winter of our Discontent.
I’m a career reader, like I am a record listener. I find an author or a band I like and I dive in. I’ve pretty much read, and liked, a lot of the stuff written by Hemingway, Steinbeck, Vonnegut, Dostoevsky, Fitzgerald and Tolstoy. I also have read most of the books by A.C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Orson Scott Card. I really enjoy Philip Yancey, Donald Miller and C.S. Lewis. G.K. Chesterton may be my great beacon of a favorite, though. His book Orthodoxy changed my life. It’s a terrible title that makes it sound very boring, but it’s one of the most exciting books I’ve ever read. Yeah, I’m a nerd, but it’s where a lot of my songs come from.