Andy Osenga hopes the force is with him. Or perhaps he’s boldly going where no songwriter… you get the picture. In case you haven’t heard, the talented songwriter/producer is making a sci-fi concept album and asking you to blast off with him. And if you think that sounds nerdy, you haven’t even scratched the surface.
The beauty of Andy’s latest project is that it’s a sign of an artist confidently creating out of his own identity and asking a community of people to join him to that end. To this writer, it’s a glimmer of the life to come — a place where truth, beauty and community all take primary seats at the table together under the banner of a glorious God. It’s artists like Andy, who follow their admittedly nerdy hearts to the places they’re called to, who serve as important guides challenging us to do the same.
To the communal end, Kickstarter is the central hub for all who want to support Leonard, The Lonely Astronaut. Whether you’re in it to support the arts or to own a piece of backyard aeronautical history, everyone at the Rabbit Room believes it a worthy endeavor.
Q: Let’s start with this idea of inviting the community to be a part of the recording process or to fund it. Was that a difficult decision at all or was it rather easy?
A: The last couple of records I’ve done have all been very fan community oriented going all the way back to The Morning record which was in 2005. There was no Kickstarter back then, but I funded that record with pre-orders. Ever since then, I’ve done that with every project, so Kickstarter was an obvious choice. It was a much better looking version of what I was already doing. It’s a little easier to use and navigate and it’s also more legit rather than sending me money and trusting you’ll get something in eight months.
So I’ve had this record in my mind for a couple of years and I finally thought this was the year to do it. I think it’s great that people can get involved at all levels. People can sign up for different things and I can offer things like songwriting sessions, pieces of the actual recording or props that are involved. It’s just a fun way to involve people in a community.
Q: What does the Kickstarter project look like? Is it weird to think about, ‘If someone gives this amount of money, then I’ll give them this?’
A: I was up late last night figuring that stuff out. [Laughs] ‘What do I have to offer and how much is it worth?’ But it’s actually a lot of fun, because it frees you up to do some fun things. You can create extra songs for people. You get to honor someone or allow someone to believe in your project at an amazing level like $500. That’s a crazy amount, but if someone wanted to do that, it gives me the chance to do something amazing for them. It’s an honor to get that opportunity.
Q: So what are people buying into? What’s this space concept?
A: The record has a backstory. It’s a concept record set in the future in space about a guy named Leonard who loses his wife in an accident in the midst of a divorce, so he’s already sort of lost it. He’s this lonely, angry guy. He takes a gig on a long distance space freighter, so he’ll be alone in space for a year. When he comes back home, because of relativity, everyone he knows will be old or dead. So it’s about him saying to the world that he’s done with it all.
So he brings along some antique recording instruments, which just happens to be the stuff that I own. So I’m going to play him and actually build the interior of a spaceship like a movie set and then move my studio into it and then record the whole thing in uniform. [Laughs]
Q: [Laughs] So what is the genesis of this idea?
A: I’ve always loved science fiction and just love literature. I love a big sweeping story and I think good sci-fi is up there with that stuff. I love how it just removes you from the context. You can put something in a completely foreign context like being in space 500 years from now. The preconceived notions of who the good guys and the bad guys are go away. It gives you a freedom to go places and ask questions that you don’t otherwise get a chance to ask or that you’re too biased to even know to ask.
So the genesis of it is that I’m a nerd. When I can’t sleep, I just lie awake and wonder what kind of spaceship I would have. [Laughs] I’ve developed this mindless way of slowing myself down when I can’t sleep, so I’ve always had this in my head. Then I just started building a story around it and suddenly I’m writing songs around that story. Then I made the mistake of telling Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive one day, ‘Um, I kind of have this idea.’ They said, ‘Dude, you’ve got to do that!’
That was a couple of years ago and I kind of pushed it off, but you eventually have that realization that you’ll be 75 someday and will have never built that spaceship. [Laughs] So I’m going to do it.
Q: Why go to the external trouble to build something that won’t tangibly make it onto the recording?
A: There will be a lot of video involved, and I think we’ll even have some short films. But primarily the reason is that it just sounds really fun. My little kid makes forts all of the time, so it’s just a big version of that. I love the idea of putting myself in a place that feels different and where the things I’m looking at are not the things I’m usually looking at when I’m working. It’s just being in that different environment to see what happens.
It’s also for me to be able to walk in and know that I have six weeks in this place and then I have to tear this down. This is my moment. I already know that I will be really sad about it. Then again, there’s also the marketing aspect to it of, ‘Dude, this guy built a freaking spaceship.’ [Laughs] I’m hopeful that helps it get heard. That’s not my initial intent, but I can see as I talk to people that it probably won’t hurt from a marketing standpoint.
Q: Do you know how you’re going to build it? Have you strategized that?
A: No, I’ve just started to talk to designers and folks here in Nashville to give me pointers. So I’ll be working on that over the next couple of months, but I won’t be building it until the fall. I’m actually going to host a weekend for the building, so anyone who wants to come can be involved. I might have to cap it if there’s too many, but if we can get 40 or 50 people to just come over and bring a hammer, that would be great. I’ll play a special concert and we’ll make a whole special weekend out of it. I think that will be grand.
Q: Have you already pitched this to some fans and friends who you think will help you?
A: Yeah, I’ve got about half of the songs written at this point, so I’ve started playing some of the songs live. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. That’s not something I expected. I figured people would roll their eyes at me a bit more, but everyone has been saying, ‘Man, that is awesome.’ [Laughs] A lot of people have said they want to come and help out. I love it.
Q: On a philosophical level, does this affect your thoughts as an artist of following convention versus following your heart?
A: I think it even comes from a slightly deeper place for me. It is obviously the fruit of a lot of conversations that I’ve had about identity and how that’s rooted in Christ and that I am made specifically to do and enjoy certain things. When I was in junior high, I hid the fact that I played music because it wasn’t cool. I tried to play basketball and ignored the fact that I took piano lessons because that wasn’t cool. But I love music and I love books. But I hid my love of books and hid sci-fi even longer. [Laughs] But that’s what I’ve always loved even since I was a little kid.
So the chance to not only enjoy it but create something that’s real and deep and honest out of that is some of my best work. It’s also very personal. I feel like it’s just a matter of saying, ‘I can’t let myself be defined by what I want you to think about me. I’ve been fearfully and wonderfully made and I just have to embrace that.’ I know there will be people who won’t get it, but I hope there’s enough people who can at least help me fund it on Kickstarter.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.