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  • A Voice for Those Without One - an interview with Jon Erwin

    Posted on September 27, 2012 by John van der Veen

    Jon

    If you would have told the 15 year-old version of Jon Erwin that he’d end up creating a movie that would grace the cover of the New York Times – he probably never would have believed it. But that’s what his God does – the impossible. And he recruits people – like you, and the Erwins – to join that effort.

     

    Family Christian: Could you give us a brief history of Jon and Andy Erwin?

    The

    Jon Erwin: (laughs) Well, we’re a couple of guys who had a hobby that went completely out of control. We were given an incredible opportunity in this business very early, as teenagers. When I was 15 years old, my dad was in Christian radio and I worked at a cable station and became a cameraman there. I was an apprentice under a guy that was a sports freelancer and worked for ESPN. So one day on a gig he was doing for a University of Alabama football game somebody got sick just a few hours before kickoff. They were scrambling, so Mike called me and said “hey get over here, I talked to the director and he knows you’re green, no one knows quite how old you are, but get over here and run this camera.” And so I did, this wide-eyed 15 year-old kid. I ran this huge camera and all I knew was that I could zoom into the moon (laughs). It was like a telescope. I think the first time that that red light came on my camera, I was just hooked. I knew that’s what I would do for the rest of my life. So I was freelancing for ESPN literally at the age of 15. When I was 16 my dad helped my brother and I get a $10,000 loan for our first video editing equipment and we started a video production company in our hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. We did commercials, weddings and church and ministry promotional videos.

    FC: So you were 16 when you got the loan. How old was your brother?

    Jon: My brother was 19. He was at Bible college in upstate New York, so he came home and we started working together. The more we did, the more people called us the Erwin Brothers. [So it] literally was a decade-long practice track where we could refine our skills. And it just grew.

    FC: And so how did you transition into the Christian world?

    Jon: Michael W. Smith actually gave us our break into Christian music videos, where we [ended up having] our greatest level of success. I don’t really know why he let us, it was very low budget and he kinda put his name on the line for these two kids from Alabama, but it turned out great. It was a very emotional video. Oddly enough it was Rachel Hendrix’s (who stars in October Baby) first time on the screen. It was How to Say Goodbye by Michael W. Smith. We’d found her at a community college and one of our crew members had put her in a short film he had done, so we cast her in that video about a father saying good bye to his daughter, which is very ironic. The video did very well and propelled us into doing a lot of videos in the Christian space. We won a lot of awards for that video. [Then] we did documentaries and dramatic television. Ya know, I’d say we were the Hans Solo of the Christian world. If you had money, we had a ship. We were a hired gun. I went on to direct second unit on Courageous for the Kendrick brothers… I was responsible for a lot of the action in the film and we had a blast. It was so much fun working for those guys, and they really challenged me. Alex [Kendrick] asked me “Jon, what’s your purpose? What’s the purpose of your work?” And I had a hard time answering that question because I was raised a Christian and my faith has always been important to me – but there’s a huge leap between doing something for somebody and getting a paycheck, to being passionate about an idea and raising money for that idea… following it all of the way through. It’s just a very, very scary transition and I think Stephen and Alex really came alongside us and helped us be brave enough to make that jump. About that time we were thinking about using our gifts and how we hadn’t really tried to get into entertainment and film, God had just put us in it.

    FC: So tell us a little bit about October Baby. How did the concept come about?

    Jon: [Making the film] was a period of two years. We had worked decades to kind of refine a style working for other people. So we thought our first movie would be a football movie or something with lots of explosions because we love doing that kind of work. So lo and behold I went and heard Gianna Jessen speak – she is an abortion survivor. I had no idea that those two words could go together. And ya know, she has a lot of physical problems because she survived a saline abortion, [including] cerebral palsy but she’s such a beautiful person with a beautiful spirit. There’s this wonderful quality about her. I was mesmerized by her story and her angle and a section of our culture that I honestly didn’t know existed. It moved me so much that I started researching it with Cecil Stokes (one of the producers of the film). I’d dare anybody to Google “abortion survivors” and try to read the stories for 20 minutes and not have to walk away from your computer because it’s so tragic that this has happened, is happening. I could not stop thinking about it. We felt like we need to expose this – we need to share this. I took it to my brother and we started thinking about it. We thought, you know if we do a documentary it would be very difficult, maybe impossible to watch, but what if we told the story of this beautiful, 19 year-old girl that discovers this about herself, that she was adopted because she was a survivor of a failed abortion? So she has to go on a journey of discovery, to find answers, to find herself and to find the power of forgiveness – which I think is universal. And that’s the film that we set out to make.

    At every stage [of making the movie], there were a lot of people who didn’t understand what we were doing – like, why is this your first movie? Why isn’t it an action or sports movie? A Christian abortion movie from two unknown movie guys from Alabama is not the easiest thing in the world to market. But at the end of the day we had that still small voice that this was what we were supposed to do and that this was the story God wanted us to tell. It’s a scary subject for the church; for all of us, but it needs to be addressed. [James 1:27 says] “True religion is caring for orphans and widows in their distress…” and I think part of that is giving a voice to those who don’t have one. I think this represents a massive portion of our society that doesn’t have a voice and we thought we could give them one with this film.

    October Baby trailer

    FC: Give us some insight as to how you guys transitioned from sports TV into Christian music videos and then into cinematic releases.

    Jon: A big part of it is that part of me (and my 3.5 year old daughter has inherited my DNA which makes me wife’s job so much more difficult) is I am so ADHD and hyperactive that I can’t stay in one place for very long (laughs), so I think there was a natural longing to… I’m telling you, beyond my relationship with God and my family (in the work world), there is nothing more gratifying than staring at a blank piece of paper and having a passion for an idea then seeing it come to life, in a collaborative way. Our team, our film crew is the best on earth. Our marketing team and our team at Provident are the best on earth. And when all these people work on this idea and then see it on a 40 foot screen with people enjoying and genuinely being moved by it… I can’t even describe what it feels like. I love sports but you don’t get that feeling. There’s no real higher purpose to what you’re doing. Moving to Christian music, I loved doing Christian music videos, and collaborating with all of those bands and being able to visualize their vision and build relationships – as fun as that is, there’s still an itch for something more. And I think that itch was to really use that skill for a higher purpose and calling. It’s like the first words in A Purpose Driven Life were “It’s not about you,” we’re all made for something more. It was that drive, that instinct that our skills could be used for something more, for some reason we just weren’t comfortable working for ESPN and understood it to be just a stepping stone, not a permanent place to stay. I think the permanent place is to stay in what we’ve found. There’s no going back to that after something like October Baby. It’s Peter Jackson who said “pain is temporary, film is forever.” It really is true in our culture. There’s no more effective way of communication today in our culture than entertainment and it’s very gratifying. It’s very nice to know that October Baby will outlive me. That’s what’s so exciting about movies like this. I think in 50 years Fireproof will still be changing marriages. I hope that October Baby will help people to value life more. So I think we finally found something that we can hang out in for a long time. What we did before was fun, but it wasn’t fulfilling.

    FC: So when you boil it down, what do you hope people take away from this movie?

    DVD

    Jon: I hope that you get swept away in the love story and are entertained with October Baby, but I hope that it will really make you stop and think about how you value life. I hope it moves people like it moves me. I would consider myself like a “pro-life pacifist” before this film. My dad was a two-term Republican state senator so I was certainly a conservative but it was just not something that I thought much about. I think in a lot of our minds we think, well it’s a done deal. It’s not a done deal and there’s plenty we can do about it. You can stand up for them. It’s what we should be doing.

     

    FC: So this topic is a weighty one. Not just politically, but also in the church. What have you told people when you’ve gotten some controversy over the film, or harsh critiques?

    Jon: (laughs) Well, I guess I didn’t quite know what we were signing up for, so I guess on the front end, ignorance was bliss. We didn’t quite know the firestorm that we’d be entering. Having said that, the biggest thing was we didn’t want to necessarily make a movie that told you what to think as much as we wanted to encourage you to stop and think. To me, my interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan was – the three people that walked by the guy on the road weren’t necessarily bad people, they were just preoccupied people. We have never been more preoccupied, there’s never been so much noise in our culture before. Now we deal with Google and Facebook and bombarding entertainment it’s very difficult (if not impossible) for us to slow down and ask the big questions. But you get [people] into movie theaters, you can’t escape (laughs). So the idea was, can we make people stop and think about this issue? I’ve heard it said “films shouldn’t only give answers, they should ask very penetrating questions.” And so our goal with October Baby was to get people to stop, think and talk. I think no matter what your political or religious perspective is it’s a valuable conversation to have. So when the New York Times roasted the movie or when I’m on NPR Morning Edition and they ask me every possible controversial question (although the final piece was very positive), that means people are talking about it (laughs). It was great when we opened at number 8 and then a few days later we’re on the front page of the New York Times. That says that we had fulfilled our purposes and hopefully a lot of good was coming from it. And then when we started getting the stories back of the good, for every difficult review that was written on the film, or for every time we were roasted, there was 200 stories of someone’s life being changed from this movie. It became a lot easier to weather and a little bit easier to get over my own ego with the reviews when you heard of lives being changed. It was very interesting to see on RottenTomatoes.com where they aggregate the critics and also the audience, we have like the largest gap of any film we could find the site between the reviews and the people (laughs) our approval rating. I think Walk Disney said it best “I don’t make films for the critics, I make the films for the people.” It was cool to see our audience embrace the film and see lives changed.

    FC: Tell us a little about the feedback that you are getting…

    Jon: I remember these two moments that I’ll mention. I got an email from a Christian girl who had taken one of her friends to the film who had been to a clinic three times and was pretty set on having an abortion. After the movie she decided to keep her child and said the movie had given her the courage, faith and hope to have her baby. I was so blown away by that. Then I was in a screening and this little 12 year old boy said to me, your movie just changed my life and I thought he’d come out of another movie (laughs)… I think you’re mixed up buddy, my movie doesn’t have any pirates or explosions in it (laughs). But then I thought – oh maybe he’s adopted or something and he said my dad had an affair against my mom and I’ve been angry at my dad. But after seeing this movie I’m going home to forgive my father. And I’m just like (laughs) Thank you! I just didn’t know what to say. The biggest surprise is (if statistics are accurate) 4 out of 10 women have experienced an abortion. And that means that millions of men have experienced an abortion too, I mean, we all know someone who has. There were thousands of people who approached us that had had an abortion and had carried the weight. Something about the words “I forgive you” being written on the screen and being part of the story was very cathartic and healing to them and they would just come to us in droves.

    Impact of October Baby the film:

    FC: With the release of October Baby you also created another site called Every Life is Beautiful where you incorporated other peoples’ conversations. How has that been received? And is it helping to propel the message of the film?

    Jon: That’s a great question. Ya know, what’s funny is some things you just kind of discover along the way, and the tagline to the movie took a little while (laughs). There were all kinds of taglines tossed out. We did a limited release of the film in October of 2011 with American Family Association to sort of test the movie. It was just 14 theaters and that’s really where we discovered that the movie had an audience. That was also where we discovered the tagline because when we would show the movie people would tell their stories, about abortion survivor or someone that “shouldn’t” have lived or an adoption and it was like the aggregate of all of these stories. Some that were better than the movie in some cases (laughs)! And it was simple to find it. That was the whole point. “Every life is beautiful.” We’re celebrating the value of every person’s life, no matter your disability, your race, no matter who you are. You have value to God and to us. That became the tag. So then we thought, can we do something more? So we created that other site to follow up with web vignettes with people that you’ve heard of (Christian celebrities) and others. We just did one about this girl in Texas who survived an abortion and her story – there’s no way on earth she should have been alive and yet here she is; it’s just the coolest story. Bobby Downs, the producer, shared his story of adoption and so it just became a place that we could celebrate life. I think the movie is not just about what we’re against. This movie is also about what we’re for. And what we’re for is life. We’re PRO-life that’s the whole point. In the marketing of the movie we wanted a communal celebration of the value of life. We also wanted to put 10% of the profits of the movie into a fund. So before I turn a check from the profits of this film, a check will go to a pregnancy resource center or an orphanage, or a frontline organization that’s helping orphans or young girls navigate the toughest decision she has to make. I’m anxious to see what kind of life the site takes on. My hope is that we could propel it to keep going.

    FC: How much of the movie (if any) involves your own personal stories?

    Jon: I’m a big fan of [Director] Christopher Nolan who said that he believes the audience can tell when a filmmaker is taking an emotional journey versus if the filmmaker is using his bag of tricks to make the audience feel something that he himself doesn’t feel. He believes that a film has to be real first to the filmmaker. JJ Abrams said that you have to have an overriding confidence that if something is inspirational and meaningful to you, it will be to your audience as well. So at the end of the day I think you have to make a movie for yourself; a movie about things you’re trying to process emotionally. So October Baby really covers a time in my life where I was saying, like James, faith without works is dead, and ya know, we’re kind of defined by what we do. When it comes to the area of the sanctity of life, I hadn’t really done anything. Sure I go to a great church and I vote Republican, but I haven’t really done anything. So it was me trying to process that. I wanted to make a very honest and raw piece that was a part of my journey and something that I was struggling with answering for myself, so that’s what we did. It was intensely personal all of the way through. From writing the script to producing the movie, we put ourselves in it. That’s one thing about working in the music business as long as I did, I really gravitate to people who write their own music because you just get so much more of a sense of who the artist is, as opposed to someone who records songs that were written. So we wrote it, produced it, I shot it, Andy edited it, it really is us. It’s deeply personal and I hope that when you see it you get an idea of who we are and what we appreciate and value. Then also it started with the title. A lot of people have asked me about that specifically. My wife and I were driving down the road (and she’s a total planner, I am not a planner, I’m a delinquent creative) and we were talking about our second child. She said, if we have a summer baby, we can buy this type of clothes, if we have a winter or December baby, we can buy these type of clothes, but if we have an October baby… and that’s kinda when I snapped back into the conversation from daydreaming and said, that would be a great title for a girl just trying to find herself or taking life’s journey to discover who she is. But I just sort of shelved that idea away for a long time until I learned about the issue of an abortion survivor and I married the two. And then (our son) Ethan ended up being born October 28th and then my brother’s daughter Amelia was born the next October, so there’s kind of three October babies. It started that way and I hope the people can get to know Andy and I – who we are and that this isn’t just some script we read and wanted to direct. It’s something that was two years of our lives and something we’re deeply passionate about. I think the body of Christ and the Christian community does a lot, but we can do so much more of caring for the orphan and the widow, the ‘least of these’ in our culture. I hope that this movie is an encouragement to everyone to say, what can I do? as they enjoy it.

    FC: What is your favorite movie?

    Jon: Asking me what my favorite movie is, is like asking a cook what his favorite meal is!

    FC: Ok, one that would qualify in your top 5?

    Jon: Ok, I’m going to get myself in trouble here so I’m going to say that I do not approve of all of the content in these movies, but like pastor’s all over America, they’re favorite secret movie is Braveheart. And I’d put myself in that category. I think the line “every man dies, but not every man really lives” has to be the greatest line ever written in the history of movies (laughs) and every time I see that it moves me emotionally, it encourages me to chase my passion and dreams. I’m an epic guy who likes epic movies. I like The Lord of the Rings. I dream of a day when we can interpret the Bible in that way. We have the greatest book of all time and the rights are available. If we could translate the Bible into a movie like Lord of the Rings I think that would be my ultimate dream; goal in life. I was definitely in line for The Dark Night Rises, I also like Pixar. I love the experience of going to the movies. It’s one of my favorite things to do. In fact, my 3.5 year old daughter and I go to the movies together, we call them “daddy dates.” We just saw Madagascar, I love that experience and that we can use it for a greater purpose. I have a running list of my favorites and I go to the movies a lot. Great films stick to you like glue, you can’t get them out of your mind. And every movie has a world view, a message, a set of morals. Don’t tell me you can’t make a movie that’s overtly toward your view that doesn’t do great numbers, I mean, look at Avatar. That’s one of the more overt movies that I’ve seen, but it’s the number one movie of all time. It’s a great business we work in. We have a lot of work to do, a long way to go, but I think we have just scratched the iceberg of what can happen. We have the largest core audience in America and I hope we realize how powerful we are in rallying around a movie – it’s our nation’s largest export. I think it’s upstream to politics now, entertainment is, it’s something we say – we’re buying back our culture one movie ticket at a time. You have no idea how much good you’re doing when you buy a ticket to a Christian movie – it’s like a vote. Exciting times, I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

    Bonus - The Afters video for Life is Beautiful

  • The Science of Song - an interview with Andrew Peterson

    Posted on September 5, 2012 by John van der Veen

    With strokes of his upbringing, faith, experiences and relationships, Andrew Peterson creates art. Like an intricate oil painting, the nuances, layers and textures combine to create something distinct and deep. But to Andrew, it’s just part of the process… down to the very DNA of the lyrics.

    Family Christian: So tell us a little about Andrew Peterson. Where are you from, what’s your family look like?

    Andrew Peterson: I’ve been married 17 years and have 3 kids who are 13, 12 and 9. I was born in Illinois (basically in a corn field), then when I was 7 we moved to what I lovingly call “redneck Florida.” So I went from having a sort of golden-boy-Midwestern childhood to [the] deep south, ya know? [With] all of the good and bad and wonderful things that come with a southern childhood. My dad is a pastor and he still preaches at the same town that I grew up in north Florida. I ended up randomly going to Bible college. Not for any noble reason, mainly because it was affordable and I couldn’t think of anything else to do (laughs). So I went to Bible college and fell in love with it almost immediately. I met my wife there, got a Bible degree, put out an indie record then moved to Nashville where I’ve been making records ever since.

    FC: Which Bible college?
    Andrew: It was called Florida Christian College in Kissimmee/Orlando. Just a small, really conservative Bible college within my “non-denominational denomination.” (laughs)

    FC: (Laughs) You may be the first person who has publicly made that into an official denomination…

    Andrew: I coined it! Yes!

    FC: Would you consider Florida to be southern living?

    Andrew: Oh yes, at least the part of Florida that I lived in. Florida is a funny place. I maintain that it is the weirdest state in the United States – and I mean that in a good way. I didn’t like it when I was a kid, but now that I’m a writer and part of my life involves telling stories, I feel like I could not have grown up in a richer story-telling culture than Florida. It’s this kind of strange convergence of beach culture and retired people and snowbirds and Cuban-Puerto Rican culture. If you drive about 15 minutes inland from the beach or out of any town, you’re in this swampy, unique kind of country, [with] racism and southern hospitality and Bible belt stuff and it’s just a really fascinating place. I’ve gotten to [this place that] now that I’m older, I’ve started reading books by southern authors because I’m so fascinated by the cultures there. Everybody from Flannery O’Connor to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and people like that. And so I’m really grateful. I never want it to sound like I’m talking bad about my home state but it is bizarre and I’m just delighted by that.

    FC: Do people in north Florida eat grits or biscuits and gravy?

    Andrew: Oh yes, as often as possible. My little town is called Lake Butler and it has three generations of family sheriffs. There’s a railroad track and the white people lived on one side and the black people lived on the other. There was a poured house and a little drug store where farmers in overalls would talk in the heat of the day and my dad is a southern preacher which means that he paces a lot and occasionally little flecks of spittle. It was exactly what you would imagine a “deep south childhood” would look like. So yeah, I think that may be part of where my love for storytelling came from. All you have to do is sit on the porch for a few minutes and eavesdrop on my dad’s conversations and you hear the most colorful, beautiful language – good stories. It’s a farm culture and yeah, I couldn’t wait to escape it when I was a boy, but now that I’m a grown up I live in a metropolitan area and the older I get the more I’ve started calling my mom and dad and asking them how to grow tomatoes and how to keep the deer out of the pumpkin patch (that sort of thing), and so yeah, I feel like it’s a part of who I am.

    FC: Did you meet Rich Mullins?

    Andrew: I did. Just 2 or 3 times, and each time it was in a really unadulterated fan context. I shook his hand and told him I loved him and passed him a demo. That kind of thing. It’s funny, I had just finished recording my independent record in college. I was 22.

    FC: Was that The Walk?

    Andrew: Yeah, and it’s terrible. When I go back and listen to it, I can hardly listen to it because it’s so bad in so many ways. But at the time, when you’re 22 you feel like you’re the king of the world and I thought “Man, I’m going to give this CD to Rich Mullins and he’s going to love it and we’re going to become friends!” But he died a year later so I never had a chance to live down how bad the demo was. I later became friends with Mitch McVicker who was friends with Rich’s touring partner back at the time and I was always really self-conscious that I had met them both at this geeky fan phase so I didn’t let on that I’d already met Mitch before. Years later when we started doing shows together I was like “man, do you know that we met before we started traveling together?” and he was like “oh yeah, I remember, it was at your college in Florida” and I was horrified! I said “Ahhh! No! You don’t by chance remember that I gave you a demo CD do you? And he said “yeah”, so I said, “you guys didn’t ever hear it did you? And he goes “yeah… we hated it.” (laughs) So I thought that was delightful. There’s a part of me that’s like maybe it’s a small mercy that I didn’t meet Rich because it would have been the worst thing to find out that he couldn’t stand me, ya know? (laughs) [This way] I can pretend that maybe we would have been friends.

    FC: You’ve carried the storytelling trait from your dad, which Rich had too. Was that something unique in his music that drew you?

    Andrew: Yes, definitely. I’ve kind of jokingly said that Rich’s music rescued me from Lynyrd Skynyrd. I was in a rock band the year after high school, touring around, but it never ever would have crossed my mind that I wanted to do Christian music because I grew up in this goofy paradigm that meant being in the ministry meant being a pastor, or a missionary. And I didn’t want to be either of those things so I just thought, well, I guess I don’t want to be in the ministry. So hearing Rich’s music around that time opened my eyes to how powerful a song can be. C.S. Lewis described stories this way, he said that stories could “sneak past peoples’ watchful dragons.” The idea is that a sermon will hit you head-on but art can flank you, surprise you and flip truth behind your lines when you least expect it. I think that’s what happened with Rich’s music and me. I wasn’t terribly interested in the Gospel. Ya know, I would have told you that I was a Christian but I was really struggling and really trying to find my way and then I heard this Rich Mullins song that captivated me with its poetry and the roughness that I heard in his voice. He was a smoker – I didn’t know it at the time – but I heard something broken in his voice. Emotionally and physically for that matter. So that brokenness was more beautiful to me than any of the slick stuff I had heard in Christian music. And it really drew me in. What I heard was loneliness and some sadness and a deep longing, and all of that resonated with me. I felt like he was singing the way my heart felt. It was because he was willing to be honest about his own struggle and the truth about Who Jesus really is. That woke-up something in me. It took all of those Bible stories that I had grown up with over the years and my love for The Lord of the Rings and adventure stories and all of those things converged in the songs of Rich Mullins and I found something that I’d never found before. So ever since then, every time I sit down to write a song, I’m trying to get close to the feet of those mountains. If I can write something like “The Color Green” by Rich Mullins or “Copperline” by James Taylor or “Graceland” by Paul Simon I think it’s good for a songwriter to keep listening to the masters. To ask yourself “well how in the world did they write songs that move me like this?” Every time you sit down you’re probably going to fail but you gotta at least try, ya know? So I’m always trying to get back to the way that I felt sitting on the side of a mountain in east Tennessee and listening to Rich Mullins music. So that’s what I’m shooting for, whether or not I ever attain it.

    FC: So then you met Derek Webb… or he found you? How did that work?

    Andrew: (laughs) That was back when the internet was relatively new and I was waiting tables at the Olive Garden here in Nashville. We had just moved here. Jamie and I were childless, poor and working really hard. I couldn’t get any bookings. One night I discovered this band, Caedmon’s Call, and I really liked their music. I think I discovered them because of their friendship with Rich Mullins. I think that’s how I ended up finding their website. I ended up posting something online about how their songwriting and music was really the first thing that had moved me like that since I’d heard Rich Mullins’ music. I included a link to my really lame website, and Derek followed the link and read my lyrics and he really liked them. He saw something in them and I ended up meeting them later at a concert and he remembered me and I said, can I open for you guys? And he said yes. That was basically the beginning of my music career. (laughs) I don’t know why he said yes, he’d never heard me play a song before. Never heard what I sounded like live. But for whatever reason, they happened to not have an opener like a week later so I got to drive out to west Tennessee and play a show with them. A month later I was on the tour bus.

    FC: Wow and now you’re getting ready to release your 12th or 13th album?

    Andrew: Well if you included all of the little side projects [I’ve done] it would be about that many, but it’s either the 8th or 9th full-length studio record, I can’t remember.

    FC: Ok, before talk about the new album, let’s talk a second about this “Square Peg Alliance” group you created. What is it?

    Andrew: Well, it’s funny, The Square Peg Alliance is not as active as it was maybe 3 or 4 years ago. Basically, I didn’t start it – it was just something that grew sort of organically at our little songwriting community here in Nashville. In reaction to how a lot of us had been on Christian record labels, some of us had had radio play and then as the industry started to change we all found ourselves not “pop-Christian” enough to get by in the Christian world and “too Christian-y” to ever have a chance to get by in the mainstream world. And so we didn’t know what to do other than lock arms with each other and just try to help each other survive and stick to the calling of the type of songs we were writing. We kinda jokingly named ourselves the Square Peg Alliance. Ya know, all we did was give a name to this thing that was already happening. The same thing is still happening, we just don’t officially gather under that name anymore.

    FC: Did the Rabbit Room kind of morph out of that?

    Andrew: The Rabbit Room didn’t morph out of it, but it came for the same love for community. Ya know, I went to England and saw the pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams and their buddies used to get together and read their stories. And around that time I read a book about the Pixar company and I started to recognize that really good art thrives in the confines of community. We had some of that happening with music already, but I was writing my books and I wanted to grow into a better writer – and I knew a lot of people who wanted to do that same thing. So The Rabbit Room was kind of an experiment in community. We thought, what happens if we get some authors and pastors and songwriters and artists all joined together with the hopes that we’ll learn to make excellent work? And invite people into that conversation and see what happens? So we didn’t really have a clear direction, I just bought the domain name and made the website and invited some friends to be a part of it, and that was about 5 years ago. It’s doing really well. It’s been a pleasant surprise at almost every turn.

    FC: And so now you’ve written 3 books?

    Andrew: I’m [currently] writing my 4th book.

    FC: Obviously you’re an artist, but do you have a preference between writing music or books? Is one easier for you?

    Andrew: Um, I think that the easier one is whichever one I’m not doing. (laughs) Yeah, it’s all hard. There’s a part of me that really loves the book making process. Part of that is because I can stay home, it doesn’t involve a lot of travel, [it’s] a slowing down. It’s work, but it isn’t frantic work. Being on the road, playing music, there’s a lot of travel and deadlines and craziness, whereas book writing is probably more diligent work. It just doesn’t take me away from my wife and kids, so I really love that. With that said, I’m supposed to be writing book 4 right now but it’s been like trying to push-start a semi truck. Like I’ve had a really hard time mustering the discipline to really dig into it, so ya know, it’s all really hard, man. (laughs) It’s like planting the garden, the only way to get good fruit is to sweat and bleed for it, so that’s where I am right now.

    FC: But maybe that’s due to the fact that you have a new record coming out too…

    Andrew: Well, that’s part of it. I have been pretty busy with the record thing. I feel a little bit creatively capped ya know, from writing the songs probably too quickly. So that’s part of it. If I’m really honest with myself I am also just trying to avoid it because it’s a lot of work. (laughs) When I was in Bible college I wanted to be a youth minister because I thought he was the one who did the least amount of work in the church. (laughs) I did it for a year and realized that the opposite is true. So I quit [youth ministry] thinking, well maybe I can get out of doing work if I play music. And that wasn’t really true either.

    FC: You’ve touched on various themes in your previous records… What is the name of the new record, and is there an overarching theme?

    Light

    Andrew: The name of the record is Light for the Lost Boy. And if there was a theme (I think the title kind of sums it up), [it’s that] a lot of the songs on this record are about growing up. There are a lot of aspects to what it means to grow up. There’s the exit from Eden, this aspect of childhood that we are all kind of exiled from as we sin and grow old which creates this longing for restoration. There’s this longing for Jesus to hurry up and come back, to let us enter this Kingdom where we’ll have undying bodies [without] the pain of age or wasting away. Ya know, the effects that occur. There’s a lot of longing wrapped up in [this record]. I’m just trying to figure it out myself too. I don’t know. I’m watching my kids teeter into adolescence and the conversations with them have gotten more difficult. It’s not like we’re having problems with them, [it’s just the] preparing them for the world they’re growing into. It’s been pretty sad for me. I mean, I’m excited because they’re amazing kids and I think they’re going to do great things for the Kingdom, but at the same time, I’m grieving a little because I know that part of the process, the discipline that we receive as children of the King is sometimes painful. They’re going to make mistakes. The older they’ve gotten the more I’ve remembered my own childhood, ya know? I remember the sweetness of it, but I also remembered some of the moments that have continued to cause me pain over the years. So I’m guessing that’s why so many of the songs deal with childhood and the longing for restoration. But honestly I don’t know. I’m trying to be better about writing the songs I write and letting the listener add his or her own DNA to the thing. Most of us have seen the movie Jurassic Park, but I don’t know if you remember the scene where they’re going through the ride and the little computer thing is animating how they recreated dinosaurs from the DNA they found in the mosquitoes. And it shows these cartoon DNA strands and they’re like, well, we couldn’t really complete the DNA strands from the dinosaur so we used some from a turtle (I think or maybe it was a lizard) to complete the DNA and we created these dinosaurs. And I think songwriting and art are like that. My songs are these strands of my own DNA but there are all of these holes in them, like the songs aren’t a complete story. So the listener then brings his own DNA to the song and it begins to mean something specific to him or her. I remember that happened with “Dancing in the Minefields” this song about my marriage. The first line is “I was 19 and you were 21 the year we got engaged…” And I’ve gotten so many emails from people who are like “your story is just like my story, she was 19 and I was 21 the year we got married” and those details aren’t right at all! (laughs) They got the numbers backwards and they got the engagement and the wedding different because these people have brought their own story to my song so much so that the details of my song becomes irrelevant. So I’m hoping that with this record that whatever I meant by it will only be the beginning of the story for what the songs do in the heart of the people who are hearing it.

    Rest Easy

    FC: What music are you enjoying lately?

    Andrew: I have been listening to a lot of the new – I’m trying to be careful not to say anything “bad” because I’m talking to Family Christian (laughs) – I’ve been listening to the new Bon Iver record a lot. As soon as I said that I remembered there’s a bad word in one of the songs. There’s a band called Fleet Foxes that my sons and I really like. It’s really creative, almost classical sounding folk music, “chamber folk” is what some people call it I think. And then there’s this new Ben Shive record, he’s the guy who produced my new album – he’s really great. There’s this guy Josh Garrels, he’s great. We’ve connected and I tried to talk him into the Christmas tour this year. His wife is going to have a baby right before the tour so he couldn’t do it, but I’m a huge fan of his. Josh makes me feel the way I felt when I listened to Rich Mullins, I think Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot) is like that too. There are very few people who have such great music that is so unabashedly about the gospel. I think Josh is one of those guys. Man, when I’m jogging and I hear his music, sometimes I “ugly cry.” (laughs) He’s so explicit about the God that he’s singing to and about. I’m deeply moved by that. So there’s a short list.

    FC: What kind of dog is your pet, Moon Dog?

    Andrew: (laughs) He is a Great Pyrenees. He’s a white, bushy, sheep-herding kind of dog. That’s Moon Dog. He’s white so he’s easy to see when he runs around at night. I also have to say, my father-in-law worked for NASA back around the time of the Apollo missions, he lived right there in Cocoa Beach where all of the astronauts were and sort of ‘lived among them.’ So [he] had a dog named Moon Doggie because he was working on the moon mission. And I always thought that was a great name, so when we got this dog I liked the idea of Moon Dog Jr.

    FC: Well Andrew, thanks for talking with us today. We can’t wait to hear the new album.

    Andrew: I can’t wait for you to hear it either. Thanks so much for doing this.

    Andrew’s new record Light for the Lost Boy hit stores this week! Pick it up here and check out his previous works here.

    To look into some of the artists that Andrew mentioned in the interview, follow these links:

    C.S. Lewis

    Rich Mullins

    Caedmon’s Call & Derek Webb

    Switchfoot

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