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Headwaters: An Interview with Andrew Osenga

In case you haven’t heard, Andrew Osenga has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his new album, Headwaters—a collection of songs written to be sung by families, friends, and churches that deals with themes of time, personal legacy, collective repentance, and more. I had the pleasure of asking Andrew some questions about his creative process, his hopes for this album, and where the idea for it originated. Enjoy, and be sure to back his Kickstarter!

Drew Miller: So where did the name “Headwaters” come from?

Andrew Osenga: The story of Headwaters begins in my last record, The Painted Desert. That album was made after a long season of loss and spiritual dryness, and the writing of it was a cathartic process that helped lead to some healing.

Life changes, as it always does, and circumstances are different now. While I still carry many of those emotions and feelings with me, they’re not as heavy as they were at the time, for which I’m thankful. But I know that I would not be HERE had I not walked through THERE.

Many rivers begin their journey in dry lands, even deserts, with just a trickle. The land surrounding their pathway grows ever more lush as it’s fed and nourished by the growing water, to finally spill into the ocean’s depths.

That’s been the story of my past few years, and the story of my life, to be honest. In whatever season, my journey is headed towards the ocean of grace and love found only in Jesus.

The richest stories I know never start in the flourishing. That’s the destination (and the journey!). No, the richest stories begin as headwaters in the desert.

You’ve said that this project flows from a similar place as your song “Beautiful Places” from The Painted Desert, exploring the idea of legacy. Could you share more about that? What set you on that particular creative path?

As I thought about legacy, and the story I’m leaving for my daughters, while I was proud of that last project, I didn’t want my final word as an artist to be a lament. I wanted to tell them about the God who knows them and loves them. The God who is absolutely present in the lamenting (which we must do as humans!), but who also leads us into seasons of joy and contentment. Often at the same time!!

I wanted these to be songs that weren’t about me, but that were about God, and about us as His people.

What was your songwriting process like for this album? You mentioned that you made it with the church in mind—how do you envision these songs in the context of church, and how did that influence your writing?

It has been so fun, Drew. I’ve done a couple things on this project I’ve never done before, at least on any of my solo albums.

The first thing was that I did some co-writing. I’ve done that before for other people’s projects hundreds of times, but never for my own. Now, however, part of my day job involves looking after the songwriting of some truly brilliant people—folks like Leslie Jordan, Dwan Hill, Sandra McCracken, Taylor Leonhardt, and Sarah Kroger—and as I shared this idea with them it led to getting to sit down and work on songs together. That was a real treat, and at this point about half of the songs on the project were written with friends.

The second new thing has been writing straight from Scripture. Part of that has just been the natural outpouring of becoming a lot more consistent in my Scripture reading, and songs just start flowing.

The most important part, though, has been to ask myself while writing: “Would my daughters want to sing this?” That question has helped me to look at phrasing and word choice in a different light. And then I get to share the song with them when it’s done and see if it resonates. I’ve definitely made some changes as they start to sing along and unconsciously change a rhythm or melody a bit. Their gut instincts have been a cool North Star.

Are there any recurring themes throughout the album that you’d like to bring to our attention? What threads did you encounter that surprised you in the crafting of these songs?

The biggest recurring theme has been about TIME. It’s probably a combination of writing from the idea of legacy and what will outlast me, mixed with sitting weekly under the liturgies of our Church, but actively remembering God’s faithfulness in the past gives us, as the hymnist says, “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”

The other major theme, which might be a little more surprising and potentially offensive to some folks (though it’s quite Biblical), is the idea of corporate repentance.

The richest stories begin as headwaters in the desert. Andrew Osenga

It’s impossible to spend much time in the Psalms or the Prophets and not hear God continuing to ask His people, His nation, His sons and daughters, to repent. And almost as often we read the follow-ups: “and the people repented,” “and the nation repented.” Corporate repentance is a real and tangible thing, and one that our American culture has decidedly little interest in.

I was speaking a few months ago with an Asian-American New Testament scholar, a generally conservative guy, and he shared with me his deep conviction that the unrest and division in America is a direct result of our refusal as a nation to repent of our past (and current) treatment of Indigenous People and Black People.

You may or may not agree with that, but it resonated with me and I’ve not been able to shake it. And there is deep Scriptural backing for this idea.

Repentance is not easy. It costs us. Sometimes a LOT. But it is the only path to healing and redemption and unity.

As much as it may cost, I long for this repentance and redemption; for our nation, for our churches, for our evangelical ministries and mega-pastors crumbling weekly under scandal, for our homes and families, and for our own hearts.

Stephen Backhouse, another scholar I’ve been learning from a lot this past year, teaches that the word “Hosanna” doesn’t just mean “savior,” but is more accurately a cry for help TO a savior: “Save us! Free us! We need You!” Our united cries of praise and adoration are often also deep heart-longings for restoration and freedom.

What’s your hope for all who listen to Headwaters? How would you describe the kind of impact that you’d like to see?

Honestly, my biggest hope is that my daughters come back to these songs twenty years from now and it gives them hope, comfort, and a deeper drawing into intimacy with the Spirit.

Second to that, I would love for churches to use some of these songs. God doesn’t need more songs, especially not from white, male Americans, but He did ask us to “sing a new song unto the Lord,” so here I am. If these are useful to somebody, what a cool thing that would be.

Click here to support Andrew Osenga’s new album, Headwaters, on Kickstarter. P.S. A question from Andrew for anyone reading this: What kinds of songs do you feel the Church needs more of?


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