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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.

Rabbit Room Interview: Jill Phillips

[Editor’s note: Jill Phillips has been working on a new album. So, “Matt Conner,” I said, “get you gone and find out what she’s up to.” Thus did he sally forth, and thus with this interview did he return. I have no idea why I’m talking this way.]

Just to start, I’d love to get an update on exactly where things are with the new album.

I’ve taken a little bit more of a pause in the past month-and-a-half for obvious reasons. We’ve been traveling and everything. But before school let out, we’d gotten to where there were basic tracks for all of the songs—percussion, some overdubs. We actually did some recording three or four weeks ago with Ben Shive, who did piano for one or two songs. We’ve had a cellist come in.

So we’ve done a good bit. Maybe we’re a little over halfway done. I still have to do my vocals. I have maybe one or two finished, but I really didn’t want to do those piecemeal. I wanted to be in the zone and do it, so I did one, took a pause, and then I’ll get to the others when the kids start school next week. When they’re home for the summer, it’s just impossible to get that much work done. [Laughs] My goal is to have it done by Hutchmoot. Maybe that’s ambitious, but we’ll give it a shot.

Song of the Week: “Canaan Bound (Live)”

Andrew Peterson, our faithful Proprietor, is hard at work on a special “best of” collection, re-recording several old favorites selected by a special fan vote taken earlier this summer. Such compilations are great portals into an artist’s full body of work, but what AP’s fans might not realize is that he also has a great selection of Appendix releases available with demos, alternate versions, live tracks, and other rarities. Our song of the week is a lovely live version of “Canaan Bound” and is one of 25 tracks found on Andrew’s Appendix A: Bootlegs & B-Sides. If you’ve never ventured into the Appendix series, they’re a great addition for any AP fan, old or new. You can use coupon code “CANAAN” to get 15% off of Appendix A in the Rabbit Room store this week.

“Canaan Bound (Live)”
by Andrew Peterson
from the album Appendix A: Bootlegs & B-Sides

Song of the Week: “Silhouettes”

Many of you will already be familiar with Colony House (formerly known as Caleb). They toured with Andrew Peterson for many of the shows in support of Light for the Lost Boy, but what you are likely unfamiliar with is the way they’ve matured as songwriters and performers. Their new album, When I Was Younger, produced by Ben Shive, conjures up comparisons to bands like Keane, Phoenix, Leagues, and The Killers, and the infectious blend is nearly impossible to resist. Check out their single “Silhouettes” for yourself.

by Colony House
from the album When I Was Younger

[When I Was Younger is now available on iTunes. You can also use the coupon code “CALEB” to get 15% off of their To the Ends of the World EP (from back when they were known as Caleb) in the Rabbit Room store.]

Interview: Counting Crows

If you’re already a Counting Crows fan, then it’s likely you fell in love with the emotional displays of Adam Duritz somewhere along the way. I bought three copies of August and Everything After, the band’s debut album, my junior year of high school and wore it out several times as songs like “Anna Begins,” “Round Here,” and “Raining in Baltimore” hit me a strong emotional resonance. The trend has continued on every album ever since. No matter how old I get, Duritz’s ability to pierce my heart by unveiling his own has been the hallmark of the Crows for over two decades.

Several weeks ago, a few friends in orbit around the Rabbit Room went to the Ryman to hear Toad the Wet Sprocket (which Andrew wrote about here) and Counting Crows. For me it was the 12th or so time I’d seen the band. The band played several tunes from their upcoming album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, alongside several covers and old favorites, and they all sounded great. But one song in particular, “Possibility Days,” struck me as hopeful, and it was one of the primary subjects of our recent interview at Stereo Subversion.

“It’s kind of taken from the end of a Sondheim play, Sunday in the Park with George,” said Duritz. “It got a revival that my friend was in, and we went to see it several times. It was about the painter, Georges Seurat, and the last lines of the play are taken from what is supposedly his mother’s notebook. It says, ‘A blank page. His favorite. So many possibilities.’ I think those are the last lines of the play. All the color disappears from the walls and it’s just white. That can seem like nothing, but it also offers all the possibilities in the world. I think the song is just about that.”

On Monuments

[Author’s note: I originally wrote this in February during my first chance to process life after the birth of our first child. It also happened to be the one-year anniversary of our move to Nashville. A couple friends recently asked about the emotions of such a transition and whether I had any advice for their own. This feels appropriate to share in light of all of that.]

Thousands of years ago, my ancestors set up monuments for these kinds of moments. Rocks were carried then stacked then ordered, row upon row until a pile was formed. And then it was named. A monument was created to mark a specific place, a specific time, a specific event. We are a forgetful people whether we live in the ancient world or use iCal on our smart phones. I need this monument to mark this moment.

It was a year ago today that we wept like we’ve never wept before. Our final friends stopped by to see us off, the moving truck revved outside due to the subzero temperatures. We were leaving Indiana after nearly a decade of leading church and community development efforts in the post-industrial town of Anderson. A tight-knit community of like-minded folks had developed in that time. We’d laughed. We’d cried. And on this day, we cried once more.

Coffee Shop Symphony

“If you want to get in touch with creation, ride the bus or take the subway.” -maybe, possibly, Eugene Peterson

I wasn’t given a playbill, and it definitely started without me, but I’m enjoying the symphony nevertheless. I’m settled into a cold corner table near the kitchen, and the coffee shop is well into the performance. An orchestra of voices already warmed, already in tune, already swelling in unpredictable harmonies.

The girl wearing the bandana and workout clothes looks like she has yet to make it to the gym. Maybe she’ll exercise after she’s done telling a friend about the fear she has of telling Brian she loves him too. College kids gather around laptops, textbooks open, minds and hearts alive only in whatever has them laughing—likely not the subject matter of their assignments. A couple of tourists are wrapping a “wonderful” weekend trip to Nashville—We should do it again sometime.

Monday Music Update – 4/21/14

Don and Lori Chaffer recently put the kick in Kickstarter campaigns by raising over $40,000 toward a brand new double album from Waterdeep. The total more than doubled the original goal, which means the Chaffers plan on delivering the music twice as fast. That last part is not true.

Randall Goodgame will be playing two free Slugs & Bugs shows this weekend. The first is on Friday, April 25 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The second show will be on Sunday, April 27 in Vincennes, Indiana. Check the S&B tour page for full details.

Andy Osenga will play a special Stageit show on Tuesday, April 29 at 7:00pm. Appropriately titled “Andrew’s Reverse MidLife Crisis Eve,” it’s Andy’s last show before joining Capitol Records in his brand new full time job as A&R for their Christian music division! The show begins at 7:30 CT.

Andrew Peterson spent two days with Ben Shive in the studio recording his version of the Rich Mullins song “Calling Out Your Name.” The track is for an upcoming CD release related to the film Ragamuffin. Several familiar faces contributed on vocals, including Jeremy Casella, Andy Gullahorn, Andy Osenga, Eric Peters, and Jill Phillips.

After a hugely successful Northeast Spring Break tour (eight shows in eight days thanks to you, Rabbits!), Son of Laughter is currently scheduling another series of living room shows throughout the country this summer during the months of June and July. While he is starting to line up shows in the Southwest and Midwest, he is open to just about anything. If you’re interested in organizing an event, contact Chris Slaten at [email protected].

Monday Music Update – 4/7/14

Mixing begins this week on the forthcoming album from Ron Block and Jeff Taylor. The album features 10 original hymn-style songs and lyrics from Rebecca Reynolds. In addition, vocalists Suzanne Cox, Julie Lee, Ellie Holcomb, Skye Peterson, and several others contribute alongside fine musicians like Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Luke Bulla (fiddle), Sierra Hull (mando), and John Mock (bodhran).

Tomorrow night at 8:00 CST, Andrew Peterson and his family are putting on their first-ever AP and the Family Band show, live and online via StageIt. The show will feature Skye Peterson on piano, Asher Peterson on percussion, Aedan Peterson on guitar, and Jamie Peterson on BGVs. They’ve been rehearsing hard all week, and are nervously excited. Click here for details.

Andrew Osenga is released his Heart EP to the masses last Tuesday (available here). Details are forthcoming on a Stageit show to highlight the new songs (and more).

A new Rain for Roots project is releasing tomorrow, April 8, entitled The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like This. Rain for Roots is a collective that features Sandra McCracken, Flo Paris, Katy Bowser, and Ellie Holcomb (among others) with the intent of making scripture songs for children. If you missed the first Rain for Roots album, Big Stories for Little Ones, check out Randall Goodgame’s review here.

Waterdeep has already met their Kickstarter goal for a double album, which speaks to the thirst for new music from Don and Lori Chaffer. Make sure to check out the hilarious video and then sign up for one of several great exclusives available.

And finally, there’s only a few hours left in Kelly Rae Burton‘s Kickstarter campaign. Ben Shive is producing and he’s really excited about the project. Read more about Ben’s involvement and listen to an unfinished track here.


Monday Music Update – 03/17/14

Chris Slaten is breaking away from his normal teaching duties to strap on a guitar and play the Son of Laughter Spring Break Tour of the Northeast. He’ll play several dates through West Virginia, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Head over to his website to check out all of the details. Lots of these shows are shaping up to be “mini-moots.”

Ron Block and Jeff Taylor have been writing and recording original hymns with Rebecca Reynolds. The record is an all-original hymns project based on acoustic guitar and piano, with other instruments joining in on various songs—accordion, banjo, bodhran, mandolin, whistles, fiddle, strings, pump organ, concertina. Julie Lee, Ellie Holcomb, Suzanne Cox, Lisa Forbes and Jay Forbes of the Forbes Family, and Skye Peterson are slated for harmony vocals.

Jill Phillips is starting to record her new record this week, currently in pre-production. Jill also recently finished up one of the songs with another one of our favorite writers, Sandra McCracken. You can catch Jill and her husband, Andy Gullahorn, this next week in San Antonio and Waco. Check out the details here.

Monday Music Update – 03/03/14

Ron Block and Jeff Taylor are working on a new album that Ron describes as “sparse and restful.” The album features lyrics from RR contributor Rebecca Reynolds and will feature 12-13 new songs, many in the style of old hymns. Some tracks have already been featured here at the Rabbit Room. Check out “Come, Children of this Long, Discarded Night” and “Everything Broken and Everything Beautiful” for a preview.

Jeremy Casella successfully met his Kickstarter goal for his forthcoming album, Death in Reverse. Don’t miss Jeremy’s post on the album’s background entitled “My Search for Joy in the Presence of the Future“.

Don Chaffer has been busy writing and producing, including a new instrumental album for As a producer, he finished up a new album for Sara Swenson and is working on another with Ben Kilgore. Don says he and Lori are slowly working on a new Waterdeep album.

Randall Goodgame has an upcoming Slugs & Bugs StageIt show on Saturday, March 15. Check out the Slugs & Bugs Facebook page. Official details coming soon.

Jason Gray‘s new album, Love Will Have The Final Word, will be available this Tuesday, March 4. Check back tomorrow to listen to one of the new tracks.

Andy Gullahorn has a show on March 15 in Columbus, GA at Crosspointe Church for their Poets, Painters, and Storytellers concert series. He will be joined by songwriter Allen Levi and painter Wellon Bridgers.

Monday Music Update – 02/17/14

Ron Block and Jeff Taylor are working on a new album that Ron describes as “very sparse and restful.” The album features lyrics from RR contributor Rebecca Reynolds and will feature 12-13 new songs, many in the style of old hymns. Some tracks have already been featured here at the Rabbit Room. Check out “Come, Children of this Long, Discarded Night” and “Everything Broken and Everything Beautiful” for a preview.

Jeremy Casella still has nearly two weeks left on the Kickstarter campaign for his new album, Death in Reverse. Don’t miss Jeremy’s post on the album’s background entitled “My Search for Joy in the Presence of the Future“.

Jason Gray is prepping for the release of his new album, Love Will Have The Final Word, on March 4.

Andy Gullahorn has a show on March 15 in Columbus, GA at Crosspointe Church for their Poets, Painters, and Storytellers concert series. He will be joined by songwriter Allen Levi and painter Wellon Bridgers.

Eric Peters recently released a new four-song EP, Counting My Rings: B-sides. Eric also recently posted a song-by-song description of the EP.

While Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, is currently on the hook for a spring semester of teaching, he’s also organizing a series of “free” house shows in the areas of Texas, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania during spring and summer breaks. If interested, you can e-mail Chris at [email protected].

Monday Music Update – 02/03/14

Jeremy Casella is in the midst of a new Kickstarter campaign for his forthcoming album, Death in Reverse. We’ll have more from Jeremy later in the week, but don’t miss your chance to hear the music early along with several other exclusives. Check out the campaign page for more information.

Don and Lori Chaffer are staying busy with several projects. They’re currently writing and demoing several country songs with writer Tom Douglas (“The House that Built Me”), writing instrumental music for licensing, and also slowly chipping away on a new Waterdeep record. The latter, according to Don, is “taking a very slow boat right now.”

Josh Garrels is finishing up construction of his new studio, and a new album will be underway as soon as it’s complete. The expected release date is sometime this summer, and the album will once again feature Mason Jar Music (who also appeared on Love & War & The Sea In Between) and A Boy & His Kite.

Jason Gray recently wrapped up his new record, Love Will Have The Final Word, and will release it on March 4. It was produced by Jason Ingram and Cason Cooley, and Jason says it might be his most personal group of songs yet. He says, “I didn’t write to a theme as much as I watched for one to emerge, and the common thread of all these songs is the power of love to heal fear and shame, and to make us new.” In addition, his son, Kipper, produced two songs that will appear on a special edition version of the record.

Eric Peters is releasing a brand new digital EP, Counting My Rings: B-Sides, tomorrow. The four-song EP includes three unreleased tracks and an unreleased demo of “Traveling Onion.” Look for full details tomorrow on the Rabbit Room.

While Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, is currently on the hook for a spring semester of teaching, he’s also organizing a series of “free” house shows in the areas of Texas, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania during spring and summer breaks. If interested, you can e-mail Chris at [email protected].

Monday Music Update – Jan 20, 2014

Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors are heading on their first tour of Ireland and the United Kingdom, following their release of Good Light last February. The album debuted #1 on the iTunes singer-songwriter charts.

Ellie Holcomb is releasing her first full-length record, As Sure As The Sun, this spring after a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign. The lead single, “The Broken Beautiful,” heads to Christian Radio on January 31st.

Sandra McCracken will be the featured musical guest, along with Lori Chaffer, at Laity Lodge for an upcoming women’s retreat from Jan 23-26. Speakers for the weekend are Laura Robinson Harbert and Susan E. Isaacs.

Andy Osenga‘s new EP, The Heart, should reach Kickstarter backers very soon. It will be available in the Rabbit Room Store in the next few weeks. Before he heads back out on the road with Steven Curtis Chapman and Josh Wilson (including a show at Carnegie Hall!), he’ll be working in the studio with Laura Story on a new Christmas record.

Eric Peters is releasing a new project, Counting My Rings: B-sides, on February 4. The digital-only release will feature four songs, including three previously unreleased tracks and an alternate version of “Traveling Onion,” originally heard on Chrome.

Jill Phillips is finished with half of the songs on a new record that she and Andy will record later this winter or spring. Of the recording, she says, “Andy and I are going to produce it ourselves this time and record at our house, the songs seem to be lending themselves to simplicity in production.”

While Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, is currently on the hook for a spring semester of teaching, he’s also organizing a series of “free” house shows in the areas of Texas, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania during spring and summer breaks. If interested, you can e-mail Chris at [email protected].

Monday Music Update – Jan 6, 2014

In the spirit of the new year, we’ve made a resolution to keep you more informed than ever, which means a new series called the Monday Music Update, a bi-weekly post about all of our favorite musicians and what they are up to. While some are still resting from busy touring seasons leading up to the holidays, other artists are already out of the gate in 2014. Here’s the latest:

Randall Goodgame, Andy Osenga, Eric Peters and Andrew Peterson will be participating in a special StageIt show from the Warren on Tuesday, January 7th. There are limited tickets, so make sure to head to the StageIt site and secure your spot fast.

Josh Garrels has made his three Love & War & The Sea In Between-related releases available for free on Noisetrade to those who still haven’t downloaded them all. The most recent entry is the audio soundtrack for The Sea In Between documentary. In addition, NPR recently featured Josh’s music in their story “A Christian Musician With More Questions Than Answers.”

Jason Gray has a few tour dates around the country in January and February before he heads out on The Bible Tour this spring. In conjunction with the popular mini-series, Gray will join Chris August, Sidewalk Prophets, and several others on a two-month spring tour hosted by World Vision.

Buddy Greene will be playing a few dates in Texas in January followed by a house show in Vail, Colorado at the end of the month. And for those of you still in the holiday spirit, don’t miss out on Buddy’s new album December’s Song.

Ellie Holcomb finishes up her first-ever Kickstarter campaign early this week for her new full-length album of scripture-inspired songs. She’s already well past her initial goal, but stretch goals and cool exclusives are still available if you’re interested.

Sandra McCracken will be the featured musical guest, along with Lori Chaffer, at Laity Lodge for an upcoming women’s retreat from Jan 23-26. Speakers for the weekend will be Laura Robinson Harbert and Susan E. Isaacs.

Andrew Osenga recently gave his fans a behind-the-scenes glimpse of both tours that have taken up much of his fall and winter seasons. Osenga spent several weeks on the road with Steven Curtis Chapman on the Glorious Unfolding Tour and followed that up with another year on the Behold The Lamb of God tour. We’ll have an update soon enough on Osenga’s first of four EPs on the way (four-thcoming?), but for now check out the recaps before he heads back out on tour this spring with SCC.

Eric Peters will be playing a show in Nashville with Nick Flora and Jon Morris at Bongo Java’s After Hours Theater on Sat., January 11th. Tickets are $7. Sounds like a good time for a meet-up with local RR readers before hitting the show together.


My wife and I recently spent an evening out discussing our childhood memories of the holiday season. I didn’t have much to share. I am an only child raised by a single mother, so the discussion of Christmas tradition is a short one with me. One year, I remember convincing my mother to leave the decorations in the back of the closet. I didn’t feel like retrieving them and the fuss wasn’t worth livening up a house for two. She still regrets that one.

As a member of a small family who put very little thought or preparation into the Christmas season, it’s not a surprise that we got very little out of it. The season consisted of a few presents, an artificial tree, and visits with rarely-seen family members. Rinse, repeat.

One year my mother wanted to inject some meaning into the holiday, and it’s the only memory that stands out for me. I remember complaining when my mother said we were going to read the Bible before opening presents. Specifically, we read about the birth of Jesus. I was anxious to unwrap new toys, I’m sure, but I remember sitting there as a frustrated adolescent while my mother opened the scriptures and read aloud the birth narrative.

Fast forward several years. My wife and I are now awaiting a birth of our own. We’re just a few weeks away from the arrival of our baby boy. For the last several months, we’ve endured a wide range of emotions, asked questions, considered names, asked more questions, discussed parenting techniques, and prepared our home. We have painted and rearranged, registered and unwrapped, laughed and cried. We have inhabited our own advent season.