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Matt Conner

writer, music journalist

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and journalist who has interviewed nearly everyone who has ever played music. That isn't entirely true.

RR Interview: Andy Osenga Talks Leonard

[Editor’s note: Today is the final day to buy the Rabbit Room exclusive pre-release of Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut.]

If it seems the Rabbit Room has been abuzz with a lot of new music lately, that’s because two of our favorite artists have just released their best albums to date within a short span of each other. Both Eric Peters and Andy Osenga have graced our ears with beautiful, inspiring albums in the last few weeks that we just can’t get enough of. For Peters, Birds of Relocation is a hopeful, joyous refrain that warrants repeated listens. For Osenga, Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut finally showcases the fantastic rock artist that had yet to emerge — all encased in a sci-fi theme, of course.

We recently took some time out to talk to Osenga about his new record and what it meant to finally release an album comprised of music he’d want to listen to. Osenga’s journey is a frightening but compelling one about the freedom of realizing that you can’t please everyone. In the process, he’s crafted his finest music yet.

Matt Conner: It seems the overall buzz is that this is your best album yet, and I would have to agree wholeheartedly. This is a great album, but I’m curious about your take. I’m sure it’s hard to say that an entire collection is better or the best.

On Background Music

The “Plays” category of my iTunes and Spotify lists fails to adequately represent my musical tastes. While I would claim Radiohead (circa ’97-07) as my there’s-a-gun-to-your-head-so-pick-one-now musical favorite, it’s not even a fair fight between the most-played artist among my list of albums. That title belongs to Ólafur Arnalds.

Sometimes I might listen to Arvo Pärt. Other times, Sigur Rós hits the spot. Mostly, however, Arnalds fits the bill. Any time I write, which these days is most of the time, Arnalds is the background music of choice, the lingering arrangements perfectly framing thoughts and phrases as they come or soothing me when they fail to arrive.

For those who are unaware, Arnalds is a mid-20s Icelandic composer and I wanted to pass this along to you as a gift from my background to yours. I’ve a near-borderline obsession with anything Scandinavian/Icelandic when it comes music, but I believe anyone will appreciate the mood created by the simple recordings of Living Room Songs. All of the tracks are free downloads offering snapshots of the quick takes he put together in his tiny Icelandic apartment.

But this is not just a post about free music. Instead, since this is a community made up of so many artists and appreciators, I’m assuming that we all have our favorite background music. To that end, I’d love to hear your favorites. For such a prominent aspect of our creative lives, it’s something rarely discussed. Do you have a favorite way to fill the silence or do you prefer to avoid any unnecessary noise?

“Þú ert sólin”
by Ólafur Arnalds
from …and they have escaped the weight of darkness

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The Silent Violation of Our Time

We made our way through the streets of Falmouth, Jamaica, and as we looked back on the entire episode, the only descriptor that came to mind was “gross.” And even that term seemed inadequate.

If you’re new to the world of cruises, as I once was, here’s a bit of info up front: the corporations that own the ships also own the ports and much of the real estate in the cities where they dock. In short, they own both sides of the cruise experience—the vessel and its destination. Since they’re selling a “good time,” every port has a Disneyfied feel that removes any trace of authenticity from the experience and leaves little at all resembling the actual country you’re visiting.

My wife and I wanted to escape the glossy sheen of this particular Jamaican port and explore the “real” Jamaica, whatever that might mean. From the boat, we could see old stone chapels and other interesting architecture beyond the tourist trap, and we were anxious to explore. From the outset, it was a disastrous idea.

Interview: Eric Peters on Birds of Relocation

Birds of Relocation is the new album from Eric Peters and by his own description it is “shockingly bright.” Then again, the artist often described as authentic and vulnerable is quick to assure me that he’ll never be far from the shadowy valley. If you’ve taken in the beauty of albums like Scarce or Chrome then you realize just how beautiful Peters’ hopeful expressions amidst sorrow can truly be.

Via Kickstarter, many of you enabled Eric to record Birds of Relocation, an album informed by an famous ornithologist that Eric relates to on a personal level. Here’s the story of Eric’s near-crippling journey between one album and the next and the joy he found in having you all along with him.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

I am fickle. I am also dramatic. The combination of the two often leads me to make inane decisions and impulsive choices.

That’s the reason I took four full months to make the decision to leave the church that I founded eight years ago. The Mercy House has provided my identity for almost a full decade now: serving and shepherding and living life alongside the most creative, missional, loving community of people I could ever hope for. The Sunday morning gathering was often the last thing we worried about in leadership meetings because everyone was so busy with ministry throughout the rest of the week. In short, I had the easiest job any pastor could hope for.

But my time had been coming. For the last couple of years, I’ve journaled about a longing to write full-time. Book ideas were written down but never spoken aloud. New endeavors were silently hoped for as an introverted side began to emerge–much to the surprise of my extroverted, church-planting, social butterfly self of old. Those thoughts were always deemed foolish, selfish, childish or, at the very least, something to get to later.

Creative Arson (or Get Off Your Arson)

It goes beyond knowing that we’re not alone. It’s not even summarized in having a place to belong. The desire for the artist to hold membership within a creative community moves past the pain of loneliness or the need for identification into a real longing for stimulation. We yearn for like-minded sojourners to help shape and form our words, our music, our work. And yet outside of circles equally beautiful and rare (like the Square Peg Alliance), many of us find it difficult to locate others we can partner with.

One of the common threads at Hutchmoot last fall was this very desire. I met artist after artist (although so many are reticent to name themselves as such) who used words like “isolated” and later terms like “afraid” came rolling after. The two are linked — fear and isolation — and so many of us hope and wait for someone to join us, to help us shed our fears and create without obstacles.

Rabbit Room Interview Part 2: Jason Gray

Now that Jason Gray has officially released his new album, it’s the ideal time to disclose the second half of our interview with the Minneapolis-based songwriter. If you missed Part One, you can hear all about the lead single “Remind Me Who I Am” there. Here, Jason discusses writing with Andy Gullahorn, confronting his fears and using the word “doppelganger” in an actual song.

Matt: The best place to start seems to be the title: A Way To See In The Dark. We were discussing identity earlier in our conversation as the album’s primary theme, so is the title an allusion to that? In other words, does our Christian identity provide a way to see in the dark?

Rabbit Room Interview Part 1: Jason Gray

With Jason Gray’s recent release of his single “Remind Me Who I Am,” it seemed the perfect time for another Rabbit Room interview. One beautiful facet of the Rabbit Room lies in the direct access to the artists that we love so much and the opportunity to hear them expound on their own feelings, behaviors, or experiences. Yet from time to time, a conversation will illuminate more than merely an essay. Here, Jason talks about the violent “one-two punch” of fear and shame and why he wanted to sit apart from heavy hitters like Third Day and Michael W. Smith.

Josh Garrels: Love & War & The Sea In Between

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this all by and by

A few tears streamed down my face the first time I sat, mesmerized, watching a video performance of Josh Garrels playing this song from his latest album, Love & War & The Sea In Between. It’d been a while since I’d checked in on Josh’s music, and I found a couple new tracks from a forthcoming album. “Farther Along” was the first listen and it reached me at a specific place that I didn’t even realize needed words of hope.

I felt something beyond me saying things were going to be okay, yet it’s not that I was surfing the web looking for music videos to fill a void in that moment. That’s the beauty of Josh’s music–a musical gift that beautifully yet forcefully expresses the intersection where divinity meets humanity. And he’s been doing this for years.

Rabbit Room Interview: Ron Block

What more can be said about the storied career of Alison Krauss and Union Station? Krauss has 26 Grammy wins to her name — the most for any female artist in history — and her colleagues provide the stunning canvas upon which she sonically paints. Each record is equally inspiring, beautiful and haunting, and Paper […]

Rabbit Room Interview: Andy Osenga

Andy Osenga hopes the force is with him. Or perhaps he’s boldly going where no songwriter . . . you get the picture. In case you haven’t heard, the talented songwriter/producer is making a sci-fi concept album and asking you to blast off with him. And if you think that sounds nerdy, you haven’t even […]

Altars Among The Mundane

It’s often the story between the lines that’s most striking — and most surprising. As I’ve prepared for a five-month long teaching journey through the life of Abraham in our church, I recently found myself moved by one of those side notes that seemingly came from nowhere to inform not only my own life but […]

The Resonant Opportunity

In grade school, my report cards were continually marred with the letter ‘X’ — not that my academic performance was so poor, but that alongside my ‘A’ or ‘B’ effort, each teacher felt compelled to let my parents know that I “talked excessively.” It’s no wonder, then, that I ended up as a writer and […]

Fear is a Good Thing

Let me put this out there. Over the next month, I’ll find myself with a long span that will fill inevitably itself with fireplaces, family, friends, and falafel (first food with ‘f’ that I could think of). It will be a joyous time of crisp nights with hot cider, memorable moments with my wife and […]

Art & The Professional

In the last decade or so, I’ve read several books on the subject of art. I can count on one hand the number that I would call essential. The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield is one such book. If you’re unfamiliar, you should immediately read Ron Block’s post on the book from two years […]