Interview: Sleeping At Last

by Craig Ketchum

Ryan O’ Neal, the man behind the admired musical act Sleeping At Last, has been releasing albums since 1999. He’s toured with Plain White T’s, Switchfoot, and Yellowcard. He is involved with the non-profit organization To Write Love On Her Arms. But the most interesting thing about Ryan is his penchant for launching and completing exceptionally challenging musical projects. Two years ago he created an EP every month for 12 months. Now he is launching a series of six EPs exploring the universe, entitled Atlas. I just had to get inside his head, and he was gracious enough to take the time to respond – practically in the middle of recording!

CK: Atlas is going to cover a whole lot more than the earth! Tell me about what this project is going to look like.

Ryan: Yes, “Atlas” actually tells a large, overarching story via the sequence of EP themes and concepts. It’s the story of how all things came to be – starting with darkness (the unknown) and eventually, light… which leads to space and the heavens, which leads to the solar system, which leads to our planet, our land, which leads to our waters, our oceans, and so on. I have about 3 or so years worth of themes relating to that story, all mapped out in my head. If you can imagine a video camera as deep into space as possible, slowly pulling in, getting closer to and closer to the details of the universe… that’s what Atlas is about. And inside each of those broader themes, I explore as many interpretations of the theme as possible in my songwriting. I really enjoy the process!

CK: What are sources of inspiration for your songs? What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?

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“Earth” artwork by Geoff Benzing for Atlas: Space 1

Ryan: Well, I love movies a lot. I’ve realized more recently that I connect with things visually more than anything else and as a result, I’ve noticed that my appreciation for movies has made my lyric writing very visual. So I pull quite a bit of inspiration from watching tons of movies. Right now, I’m on a Space documentary and sci-fi kick! All “research” for my Space EPs, but I can’t get enough of ‘em! “In The Shadow of the Moon” was one recently that I pulled a lot of inspiration from. “For All Mankind” is another! As for books, I’m also reading some space-related stuff. C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy for the first time, and loving it. Ender’s Game is up next. Aside from media though, I get inspired by experiences, stories, relationships, faith, etc. I treat my songs like a journal. Since I don’t keep a journal, it all goes into my music.

CK: You’ve done something very well: marketing your music, and doing so with a personal touch. The Yearbook and Atlas subscriptions were such a cool idea, bringing anticipation for your music. What lessons have you learned as you promote your art?

Ryan: Thank you so much! The idea for the subscription model came out of asking myself what I would like from an artist I listen to. The answer for me was lots of music. I’m impatient and wish bands would put out albums all the time! So I thought, maybe I could do something with that idea and a) challenge myself creatively to write more than I’ve ever written before, and with deadlines, and b) to offer up music to my listeners far faster and more frequently than I ever had before. The subscription concept came as a result of those ideas. It was the obvious vehicle for making first Yearbook work, and now Atlas.

CK: Your upbringing must have been filled with music for you to have become accomplished at all those instruments. What was your childhood like?

Ryan: No one in my family was musical, actually! My parents listened to great things as I was growing up, but I benefited most from my mom’s encouragement in whatever I wanted to do. Music was it and she nurtured my love for it very early on. I got my first guitar when I was thirteen and that’s when I feel completely for music.

CK: How do your family and friends affect your songwriting?

Ryan: I often ask my mom or my wife for their opinion on a song, or lyric… but what we’ve all realized is that what I’m asking for is not an opinion at all, but a chance to hear the song through new ears (which is what happens when you show someone you care about something you made… you see it differently.) So my family is very, very patient with me and my misleading “tell me what you think of this!” questions.

CK: Your lyrics are incredibly poetic. Do you start with the words? Tell me about your process.

Ryan: Every song comes about a little differently. But I’ve learned some practices that work for me to help the process along. I constantly collect. Melodies and words. They usually begin separately… for instance, I try to sit down and write words as often as possible. I collect ‘em… throughout my day, I’ll hear a word and suddenly it sounds interesting to me, so I write it down. And other times I’ll just collect my thoughts. The same goes for music… any time I sit down and play my piano or guitar, I keep a little recorder handy, and if there’s a little melody that sounds interesting, I’ll hit record. I collect these little 30 second snippets and go back to them later… and all of a sudden I’ll forget about a melody and hear a song in it.. so I’ll pluck it from the bunch and start carving out a song. Then, once I sort out a little arrangement and sing nonsense over it, I dig around in my word collections and see what resonates with the feeling of the song and begin a little clipboard of ideas and lines that might work. That’s basically my process… but as I said, each song has its own way and cares very little about my recipes.

CK: You seem to write to people in many of your songs. Is that a conscious decision?

Ryan: It is a conscious decision. With every song, there comes a point in the writing where the message of the song is clear to me… then I have to decide who it belongs to. Am I singing this to someone? Is it about me? Is it a universal thought? So I choose accordingly.

CK: What’s with the motif of a “guardian” character on Darkness EP? To whom are those songs addressed?

Ryan: Lately I’ve been writing very narratively. No clue where that’s coming from, but I’ve been enjoying my hand at more direct storytelling like this. The “guardian” perspective you mentioned is actually a story I came up with, based on several true stories I’ve brushed up against in my life. The Darkness EP ends with a song called “Uneven Odds” which is part 1 of a story about a child who loses his parents, and is having to face a true darkness at a very young age. The song is written from the perspective of the legal guardian, who is left with the task of explaining what darkness is, and how it will pass to a pure and innocent child. The Light EP opens with its title track, which is part 2 of that same story… the boy grows up and has a child of his own, and is now tasked with articulating the light and beauty of life to his brand-new little one. It’s a story about hope.

CK: What’s important to you in your music?

Ryan: It’s also important to me that the songs I write be as honest and sincere as possible. Also, hope. I never really consciously insert hope into my songs, but I’m very grateful that light and hope tend to find their way into just about any topic I write about. Over the years that has become very important to me.

CK: What are you drawn to when listening to other people’s music?

Ryan: I love rich melody… and creative production.

CK: What’s your favourite creative project by another person?

Ryan: Whoa, that’s a big question! I can’t think of anything to point to… too many movies and creativity to narrow down!

CK: Do you have a favourite place?

Ryan: Just about anywhere in Hawaii.

CK: If you had to survive on a diet of one food, what would it be?

Ryan: Pizza. No question. In fact, from an outsider’s point of view, it probably looks like I do survive on a diet of just Pizza.

CK: sleepingATLASt: Did the idea come from wanting to cover the world around us, or from a play on words?

Ryan: The world around us… but I noticed and liked that Atlas is already hidden in my music name.

Ryan’s third EP in the series has just launched on iTunes. It’s entitled SPACE 1, and there will be a second SPACE EP coming soon. It comes hot on the heels of “LIGHT” and “DARKNESS”. Read more about the project on his blog.

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Photo by Jeremy Cowart for Sleeping At Last

AHOY Bags: Refilling Sails with New Purpose

Ucluelet/Tofino, BC

There’s only a handful of church gatherings in Ucluelet, BC, but my friends and I ended up at one that took us out for lunch, then rescued us from a soggy disaster of a tent that night, putting us on warm beds and couches. At this lovely little gathering I met Nelly and Jens Heyduck, artisans who moved to Canada from Germany four years ago. They planned to be here for only a year, but have found a home in Ucluelet – Tofino’s less touristy but no less picturesque neighbour.

05-AHOYBAGS-Press-onlineNelly and Jens are the founders and crafters of Ahoy Bags. The bags are made from retired sailcloth donated by sailors and yacht clubs. Thanks to Jens’ skill with a heavy-duty sewing machine and Nelly’s background in design, the bags are both durable and eye-catching.

Because this couple handles all aspects of Ahoy, from design to production, to marketing, I reckoned learning these skill sets would be the source of most obstacles for them. Jens didn’t think so. Growing up in Germany, he tells me, he learned sewing and craftsmanship, and his previous ventures have taught him skills that readied him for this enterprise. Nelly agreed: “Even though it’s really different from what we’ve done in the past, everything we’ve been learning has come together in this project.”

Making bags out of sails is admittedly different, even though their art backgrounds have prepared them well. Nelly has a Diploma (equivalent to an M.A.) in Design, and has worked in graphic design and product design. Jens comes from a background of antique restoration and conservation of cultural heritage. However, it’s not just the product that’s a change-up for the Heyducks; it’s also the first major business project they are doing together as a couple. “We have our challenges, but we love what we do”, smiles Nelly. “I am privileged to work on a product that is mine. New things are happening really quickly. The first time I took our products to the market, I met tons of people.”

03-AHOYBAGS-Press-onlineLocals really appreciate Ahoy’s upcycling model. Ucluelet and Tofino are low-industry towns where ecologically-sensitive living is really important. Yet, the bags have global appeal. Holidaymakers from around the world buy from Ahoy. Nelly lets me in on their secret: “When we place the templates to determine the cut, we pretty much fall in love with every corner of the sail – The patina, seams and hardware all tell a story. Our customers pick up on that dialogue. We think the best stories are yet to come, when the customers take these bags on their very own adventures. We keep in contact with a lot of our customers, especially via Facebook. We are excited to hear stories back from them.”

Jens and Nelly told me some of their adventures and mentioned that they especially love meeting fellow Germans. “We have found we can reach out to more German people here than when we were in Germany! We run a Bed & Breakfast and meet people all over the world. As we share stories and hospitality, we become really close,” shares Nelly. Nelly’s letters home “get people interested in why they are living in this rainy little place – and they are watching us”, she says. “It has opened doors.” Having no relatives nearby opens up time for the Heyducks to connect with their neighbours and visitors more, “but we miss having a community of young professionals,” they share.

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One major logistical challenge that Ahoy Bags faces is in the sails themselves. Nelly says, “some kind souls donate their old sails or scraps, but at this point, it’s word of mouth.” Sometimes the Heyducks will receive word of an available sail, but have to drive a considerable distance to pick it up. Sailing is incredibly popular in the Victoria and Vancouver areas, so sails are unknowingly tossed there all the time, but it’s a long way from Ucluelet. The Heyducks hope that as the word gets out about Ahoy’s practical, ecologically-friendly upcycling process, that sailors will see a perfect recipient for retired sails. “We’re sure some people don’t know that there is a better alternative to dumping their sails. If you give us a mainsail, you’ll receive a bag. One hand washes the other!” exclaims Jens.

Jens and Nelly have been involved in all kinds of interesting design and restoration projects, but why bags? I ask. Jens laughs. “During the long winter months, trapped inside, one comes up with all strange ideas! We actually started talking about this idea during a drive back from Port Alberni. We wanted to create classic, green yet durable bags handcrafted from decommissioned sails. For Nelly it had to be a simple yet functional design, taking all the original seams and repair patches into consideration. For me it was the nautical spirit and traditional craftsmanship associated with it that let me sign on. In general, bags break too quickly. We wanted to make something really rugged. Sail are exactly that. They can propel a ten-ton boat through the water.” Nelly adds, “We had a lot to learn. Sails are not identical. There are differences in quality, weight, size, and so on. We needed to get an industrial machine because a home sewing machine can’t handle layers of sailcloth.”

They are particularly excited when I ask them how they see their faith playing into what they do and make. Nelly shares that recently, the verse 2 Corinthians 5:17 is really significant for their trade: ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here!’ “We had our old life”, she says, “with all the things we have done in the past, and when we come to Christ, he upcycles us; he renews us! Like people, these sails have a past, including scars and bruises to tell their story. When God upcycles us, we become something entirely different – and with much purpose!”

Find Ahoy Bags on Facebook and see their charm for yourself.

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Hanzane Skimboards: Custom Artistry Meets Recreation

This summer I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Siemens and Nick Niebuhr, the duo behind Hanzane Skimboards, based out of White Rock, BC. Their boards are handcrafted and handpainted. Each board is unique. And they sell for less than the competition . . . what’s with that?

Kyle Lynch Creative

Kyle Lynch Creative

CK: How did this all start?

Hanzane: We looked up how to create a board online! I took a piece of plywood, cut it into shape, soaked it for a couple days, clamped it and let it dry, painted and varnished it and it was good to go. That’s how Hanzane started. Our first challenge was finding a base material that was strong enough to withstand rubbing against the sand and rocks; that’s where we’ve had the most innovation and change. Now, our skimboards are a wood core with fibreglass on the bottom and sealer on top. We bought some tools and learned from others too. We’ve had this board shape for about two years now.

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CK: Do your boards differ from other companies’ boards?

Hanzane: In size, our boards are a couple inches different but the shape is fairly standard. Some people do asymmetrical shapes with a distinct nose and tail but we think having both ends symmetrical gives you a longer lasting board because you don’t wear down one end so fast. We’ve changed our shapes a little bit and this year we’re working with boards that are a little bigger so they don’t sink as easily in deep water. I’ve tried to use what I know from my own style of riding; hopefully people will like that.

CK: Starting with the art, a lot of things stand out about Hanzane.

Hanzane: Our boards are handcrafted and handpainted. The art is one thing; there’s also the process and the pricing. A pretty standard company in skimboarding will sell their stuff for about $180 plus tax. They will also make cheaper beginner boards. Our boards are $120, so we’re significantly cheaper while putting out a quality product. While established companies use more mechanization, that isn’t necessary for the quality of the board.

CK: Who does the art and how does it get onto the boards?

Hanzane: We prime and paint directly on the wood surface and finish it with a heavy-duty sealer. Each board is unique. We will also create custom designs based on the customer’s idea and preference. Chris (Siemens) does a lot of the art but we have art from Laura Klassen, Tessa Nickel, Catherine Bennington, Nick, and several others.

The artists at the We Have So Much To Give open-air showcase

The artists at the We Have So Much To Give open-air showcase

hanzane3CK: If someone wants to have you create a new original design, is that an extra charge?

Hanzane: We charge about ten bucks extra for that.

CK: So, for ten dollars I could get an original custom design, and the board is still cheaper than the competition’s?

Hanzane: Exactly, We pride ourselves in every board being different. There are a lot of companies -skateboard, skimboard, snowboard- who just do lines of standard identical boards. We do create some stencils, which are reusable, but none of them is identical.

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CK: Your stencilled boards remind me of POGs! They’re all a little different. I want to collect them all.

Hanzane: [Laughs] That’s awesome!

CK: Do you have a website that people can buy from?

Hanzane: The majority of our boards have sold to people in the local area but we’re beginning to get request from other provinces. Our boards sell through a website called skimbc.com

We have a lot of fun doing this. It’s something we enjoy and we try to make a point to not worry too much about making a profit but in taking joy in the riding and making of skimboards and making sure that those two things never become disconnected. We don’t want to turn into a factory that cranks them out and doesn’t care about what happens afterward. We love making things by hand and doing it ourselves rather than outsourcing. We also try to make a point of connecting and communicating with each customer so the whole process is congruent. Our focus is doing skimboarding and woodworking well.

Find Hanzane on Facebook. 

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Art by Jon Janzen (Sunblind)

The Dare – Gina Williams

She’s a singer, a pianist, an actress, and an educator. After shelving her master’s degree in Piano performance for a decade, Gina Williams “dared” herself to perform again at the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey, BC, Canada on October 20, 2012. The Dare is a 65-person multi-genre performance. Tickets are available at the door. For all other details, watch!

Gina Williams – The Dare October 20th from Craig Ketchum on Vimeo.

Brocken Spectre Sets Their Sights

An interview with Craig Ketchum, Burnaby, BC

After opening in Burnaby, BC for talented Vancouver outfit In Contra this summer, Brocken Spectre’s Colin Ablitt, Nic Campbell and Colin Campbell purveyed a local pizza shop with me to talk beginnings, middles and ends.

How did the band meet?

“These two (N. and C. Campbell) are brothers, obviously,” Colin Ablitt jocosely informs me. “They met when they were born, covered in slimy goodness. But the three of us met at college.  Nic was doing a pastoral program and Colin and I were in the music program. Nic smartened up and switched into music. We saw each other’s talent and agreed we should start a band together.”

Nic Campbell responds, “Being in some of the same classes, we realized that our philosophies of music would easily intertwine. We’d hear each other’s answers to questions and totally resonate with them. I got thinking about being in a band.”

“When we are on stage”, Colin Campbell adds, “we are quite similar. There must be a common strand in why we play music, as well as what we are passionate about and the way we express it. There has to be a common striving for something; the passion you have behind music and what drives it over time will make or break a band.”

Where do you want to be in the future?

Brocken Spectre has set their sights on Vancouver’s Peak Performance Project, a survivor-style project that picks the city’s best unsigned talent, connects them with concerts and training sessions on image, business, and performance, uses audience selection to choose winners, and awards them prize money to record and get a start making larger waves in the music business.

The band tells me they’ve been tracking some of the bands who were in the project this year and seeing what they can learn from them. “It would be such a honour to be granted shows in front of big audiences, and to attend the training sessions they put on. We are new and inexperienced and we crave mentorship”, Colin Campbell remarks.

“It’s a long shot, but we would most love to play with We Are The City. They are talented and super creative and we just blossom when we hear the creativity of others. They would teach us a lot. We would love to be mentored by them. I suppose it’s possible. We do have mutual friends”, adds Nic.

“I’m excited to see what potential that could have for our band”, muses Ablitt. “We would also love to play with In Medias Res.”

What’s taking place in your songwriting right now?

“I feel that we’re getting to a place where we’re not settling” Colin Campbell states. “We hear boring rock and challenge each other to switch it up.”

(We’ve been so engrossed in conversation that we haven’t even looked at the menu, so as the server reappears to take our order, the band quickly defaults to pizza-shop standards: Italian, Meat Lovers, Hawaiian).

What does the writing process look like for Brocken Spectre?

“Colin or Nic will write a song, but the original is always far different from the final product, the band says. “Parallel dances, for example, was performed months ago on acoustic shortly after Colin wrote it, and he said it was the most quiet, melodic Sufjan-Stevens-folk tune he had ever written. After bringing it to the band it totally metamorphosed several times and took a totally different shape. The songs come form our personal challenges, the lyrics come from literature, from movies, from life experiences. The song Parallel Dances is a string of vignettes that illustrate how constantly, all around the world, there’s such a flurry of different, even conflicting actions. Somewhere in the world, there’s a girl being filmed at the beach while someone is being hit by a car somewhere else.”

Though the songwriter may write something subdued, the band finds when they bring it to Colin (drummer) clarification takes place. He brings the skeleton, providing the backbone. “Our songs go through many reincarnations, many lives. Are we Buddhist?” muses Campbell out loud. “The new song is called ‘Steamhands’, written months ago but not fully arranged until June.”

Rapid-fire Q&A:

When and where are you inspired to play?

CA: When I write I take it from literature and movies and snippets of conversations. I usually practice in my bedroom and that’s where a lot of the music is born.

NC: I mostly find I’m inspired at live shows. I get amped up halfway through the show and I’m dying inside because I want to go and do something about it. For two months I was so dry and then fifteen minutes into the Bon Iver show last month I was just brimming with artistic drive.

CC: Drumming is the place where I feel close to God. When I do it for him, I can’t get any closer. When I’m dried up, nothing else will suffice. I know God will meet me there. It’s a way he speaks to me.

Who are your influences?

CA: “Kanye West? Just joking. Man, i grew up with all the poppy CCM bands, you know the ones, who still had some substance to them, like Switchfoot, Relient K, and Thousand Foot Crutch.”

NC: I’m too ashamed to say who I grew up listening to. Recently I’ve been so caught off guard and impressed by Local Natives. I’ve been listening to Ceremonials (Florence and the Machine) and I love the fresh percussive elements. I notice when I’m writing with Colin, it’s great and we can create stuff, but it can ends up being so wishy-washy and I yearn for the percussion to come in so we can make some sense of it all and have something solid to work with. Until then it’s floppy, you can’t even hold it in your hands. It’s like a slinky. A slinky covered in silly putty.”

Do you have any nicknames for each other?

Colin Campbell laughs and exclaims, “Oh man, not appropriate for recording purposes!”

NC: “It’s mostly on the spot, like, this is exactly how I am feeling about you and so that is what I am going to call you, and they stick for just about that day.

CA: If you’ve seen I Love You Man, I call Nic “Broseph Wiggles” every so often and he calls me…”

NC: “…Tico Brohun.”

CC: “Sometimes we call Colin Campbell ‘James’ to differentiate from me. Or CJ, but he hates that because it sounds like a Backstreet Boys name.”

Favourite shows?

CA: My favourite was Cottage Bistro, this little bar on Main Street. We played there with a group of friends and it was a real warm, inviting night, not too serious. We even played without a bassist. We played without a bassist for quite a while before we found Scott. Once we involved bass, the foundations of the songs were solidified and hit you harder, they had weight to them.

CC: When you hear the music, you can cringe because of the volume, but that’s where you feel it, in your chest and in your stomach. When you go to clubs, you sense all the emotion is in the bass.

Have you had any bad moments performing?

CC: Oh man, tonight I totally forgot one of my parts – and it’s an old song too – and I was supposed to start the song and that was very embarrassing. I was trying to sing the song in my head because my part syncs up with the vocals and I couldn’t even do that!

NC: At our first Roxy show we stepped out of our style and did a cover of Jamie Woon’s “Lady Luck” and did something R&B and random. We had fun and surprised the fans. It was a good moment.

What’s your motive for making music?

CA: It’s a passion. We all love music and we love each other and we can’t not do this. Who knows what life will hold, so we’re gonna play.

NC: I could never not do music, even if I use horrible grammar. I love the band dynamic. If I write a song a certain way and I take it to these two, it doesn’t have to be that way. They can adjust it and make it mean something to so many people.

CC: It seems so prideful to think your music can change people’s lives, but I guess that’s what we, and anyone, want.

FYI: Brocken Spectre [brock-un spec-ter] gets their name from a haunting natural phenomenon observed on Mt. Brocken in Germany. It’s not a misspelling.

Upcoming film: Underneath The Ash Tree (Chris Nash, Vancouver)

Right after checking out the profile of an upcoming independent film, “Underneath The Ash Tree”, that focuses on the theme of family, today I had the good fortune to run into its director, Chris Nash, at the lovely Water Shed Arts Cafe in Langley, BC . We talked about his upcoming project and I was left with the deep longing to help this exciting project in some way. Chris and his team are trying to raise $15,000 by the end of April so that they can make the project happen by Summer 2012. The plan is to begin filming in June.

I will be doing my part by interviewing Chris and Jacqui (production director) to talk to them about the exciting and fearsome aspects of undertaking a milestone project like this.

Interview with Chris and Jacqui. Filmed by Rosanna Peng. Interview by Craig Ketchum:

It doesn’t end there. You, reader, are invited to participate in making the film happen. Auditions are March 14 and 17 in Vancouver. People and businesses are volunteering services and resources. If you donate to the Kickstarter project, you can even get your name in the credits! Read more below.

Here is what Chris says about the film on the website, Underneath The Ash Tree:

The title of this film is a bit of a misnomer. It is derived from my name (Nash), which literally means ‘at the ash tree.’ However, unlike the characters in this film, I come from a very strong, stable and un-dramatic family. Impassioned outbursts are a rarity in our clan and risky ventures are usually suppressed. So when I decided to explore the concept of ‘family’, I branched away from my own experience in search of something darker and grittier, but nonetheless real.

For seven years I studied countless cracked and crumbling relationships, devoid of hope, and I sought to immortalize them on film. At long last I have finally chiseled four fragile people – two young couples – and called them a family, in the sense that all they have is each other and they are inescapably intertwined.

Some people are lucky enough to be born into a family. For others it is a rite of passage. Regardless, the strongest bonds are forged in the fires of love and bloodshed, so I have stripped this quartet of all the comforts that allowed me to grow up healthy and safe. They are neither strong nor stable. They have no guidance or community. On top of this hollow sagging earth I have infused heavy drama and risk, and here you have my film: Underneath the Ash Tree.

What lies underneath the facade of small town normalcy? How does desperation get pushed to the point of life-or-death? What do we crave most at our cores: Trust or Truth?

I hope you will join us as we explore these curious characters, trapped in situations they perceive to be inescapable and struggling to climb toward hope and redemption.

Thank you so much,
-Chris Nash, writer/director

Find the Kickstarter fundraising project: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/underneaththeashtree/underneath-the-ash-tree

A Chat with Mia Fieldes of Hillsong

Mia Fieldes is the Dove Award-nominated writer of Christian worship songs like “Saviour King” and “Beautiful”. She’s known for her involvement as a musician with Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. Mia visited Richmond, BC for a day of workshops and an evening worship event. At 27, she’s vivacious, hilarious, down-to-earth, and an avid Tweeter. Let’s meet her.

Photo by Carmen Bright, Converge Media

Photo by Carmen Bright, Converge Media

Why do you write worship songs?

When I was 5 I got saved in the Salvation Army. At the time no one in my family was a Christian, so I didn’t have anyone teaching me about Jesus outside of Sunday School. But I had songs. I remember singing songs like ‘Jesus Loves Me’, ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam’ and ‘This is the Day’ and those becoming the foundation of my faith. Even though I have been in church now for 23 years and graduated from Bible College, I can honestly say that my theology really hasn’t changed. Those songs had simple, amazing truths that found their way into my heart and made their home there. I have always wanted that for other people. That I’d be able to bring something that helps them to know Jesus, who he is and believe, and songs for a long time have felt like part of my DNA. So why not write?

Do you have a favourite topic or recurring theme?

I think no matter how I start a song out, I have a tendency to lean toward The Cross. It has a way of giving perspective no matter what season I’m in. If you looked through my catalogue of songs you’d see that same theme over and over.

What is one thing no worship leader can be without?

I’d say one thing a worship leader can’t be without is community. It’s amazing how the right people around you can keep you from becoming really full of yourself. Community often offers so much. It’s true ‘if you show me your friends, I’ll show you your future’.

What has God given you a vision for?

Personally, God has given me a vision for understanding. It has a way of disarming legalistic thinking, extending grace and changing perspective.

What is worship, to you?

I think it’s hard to put a frame around worship. We often associate worship with singing songs in the context of a church service but I’d say its more about response. To worship anything is to adore and revere it, so hopefully that looks bigger than Sunday mornings.

Of all the ways we can worship God, what is it about music that stands out so much?

Worship that is in spirit and truth has to be sincere and usually comes from a place of having to be vulnerable. It has a really honest, beautiful quality about it. I think music has a way of creating an atmosphere where people feel safe to drop their defenses, prejudices, distractions and be a little disarmed.

In your lifetime, what do you look forward to happening?

I look forward to growing old and loving Jesus with the same amazing friends by my side. Good friends are worth everything.

What about your other interests? There’s a rumour that you collect things.

You definitely made that up. I am probably the opposite of a collector, mainly because that TV show Hoarders gives me anxiety. I actually enjoy cleaning. Strange, I know, but I do. I’m also interested in people. I love a good conversation.

Who are your role models?

I could list a lot of role models. My friends, for one. They are some of the best men and women I know. But if I had to list a few I’d say these. Darlene Zschech, because she has been such a cheerleader to me. She has a way of seeing the gold in a person sometimes even before they, or anyone else sees. She is one of the most authentic people I know. Nichole Nordeman has also played a big part in my journey as a writer. We’re only friends on twitter but for years she has taught me about Christ and made me love him more through her songs.

Some people are opposed to females being in leadership. What are the challenges of being a female worship leader?

I think some Christians are still opposed to drums in church, so I guess there will always be something people are fighting against. I actually think it’s great to be under authority and think submission actually releases you to do even more. I don’t really face too many legalistic challenges as far as being a worship leader or song writer; I just try to stay aware of not feminizing songs too much. It’s really difficult for men to sing songs that have ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ undertones.

Speed round: respond with the first thing that comes to mind.

Tea or coffee? – Tea with milk
Super Bowl – Going to bed early
Global poverty – Can’t do everything but we can do something
New Zealand – My friend Brooke [Fraser] and the wonder that she is!
Keytar – Bring it back!
Canada – Karalee and Bria – Best Canadians I have in my life
Laundry – Anything to do with cleaning makes me happy
Parting words – See ya later?

Interview: Shane Claiborne and the Irresistible Revolution

I sat down with the affable Shane Claiborne at MissionsFest 2012 to talk about social justice, life, and junk food, for Converge Magazine Online.

Vancouver Missions Fest 2012 with Shane Claiborne from Converge Magazine on Vimeo.