If it seems the Rabbit Room has been abuzz with a lot of new music lately, that’s because two of our favorite artists have just released their best albums to date within a short span of each other. Both Eric Peters and Andy Osenga have graced our ears with beautiful, inspiring albums in the last few weeks that we just can’t get enough of. For Peters, Birds of Relocation is a hopeful, joyous refrain that warrants repeated listens. For Osenga, Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut finally showcases the fantastic rock artist that had yet to emerge — all encased in a sci-fi theme, of course.
We recently took some time out to talk to Osenga about his new record and what it meant to finally release an album comprised of music he’d want to listen to. Osenga’s journey is a frightening but compelling one about the freedom of realizing that you can’t please everyone. In the process, he’s crafted his finest music yet.
Matt Conner: It seems the overall buzz is that this is your best album yet, and I would have to agree wholeheartedly. This is a great album, but I’m curious about your take. I’m sure it’s hard to say that an entire collection is better or the best.
Andrew Osenga: Oh no, I’d have to agree. This is absolutely my best record. [Laughs] You just get a sense like, “This is working.” There was just no other game in play other than making a record that I wanted to make. I know what I do when I’m by myself and making music for nobody and it’s always my favorite stuff. Then when I work on a record I think, “Well, I know I’ll need something because I’ll play shows with this guy. I gotta have a couple of acoustic songs I can play with [Andrew] Peterson shows. I need something to pitch for film or TV.” You try to please all of these different things.
But it was different on this one. With the Kickstarter project, you realize that these folks have no song that they’re buying it for. They just want to hear what I will do. So I thought I would just do what I wanted to do. I wanted it to be my favorite record and not worry about anything else.
What kept you from pursuing that level of freedom before?
I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I was not being myself or like I was holding anything back. Instead, I think I was just aiming to please certain people. I really think it was the fact that there were hundreds of people who had already given money that made me feel, “Hey, they already believe in me.” That freed me up from that pressure. I think some of that was a spiritual thing by having that burden lifted.
Plus a lot of it has to do with the concept. You can’t go halfway. I mean, once you start to go down this road…[Laughs] I also knew people were going to love it and some were going to hate it. They were going to hear about it and just not get it or not care. I knew I would lose some long-term supporters just because of the weirdness.
You think so?
I know I did for a few. Someone would comment on Facebook and say, “That’s the coolest thing ever.” Someone else would then say, “I don’t get it.” [Laughs] I totally understand. I really do. I’m playing to the margins here. I just wanted to do something that if I heard about it, I would really want to hear it and support it.
You hear about these things, but you usually don’t do them. Just that aspect, that there are people who will love it and others who won’t, so why worry? I’ve been doing this for fifteen years now. If I fail, I will still have a job. Let’s just go for it.
One of the biggest questions I had was about being on the other side of the entire set. You built the spaceship. You wore a uniform. You put all of this effort into it, so I’m curious if that affected the songs. Could you have made the songs on Leonard away from the whole set-up?
Some of the songs I’d written beforehand — maybe four or five. I wanted to make sure I had a few songs so I didn’t get in there and say, “Oh, crap.” [Laughs] But even now, to me, hearing those songs, I can’t picture them elsewhere. I think it just put me in the mindset, and that was the whole idea behind it. It was method acting. The truth is that I still worked in the same way. Even in a spaceship, there are seven notes within a scale. There’s only so much that’s different about it.
Then again, there is a mindset. When you’re looking around, you begin to play the part. You think, “Why not?” I was able to be a lot more creative musically and lyrically. You look around and realize, “Why pull back?” The whole thing just set me up to feel like there were no limits on what I could or could not do–outside of the limits I gave myself which were really strict. But that’s always my way of operating.
This seems the right time to ask what might be an odd question. Do you learn something about yourself as an artist after going through a recording process like this?
[Pause] I’m sure that I have. [Laughs] I think a lot of the writing of this record put words to a lot of floating thoughts and feelings, so I think in some sense it gave me a concrete way to look at the reason why I will often pull away from people. It helped me figure out why I do that. I’ve done that in my real life, so there’s a lot of me taking stock of that aspect of my life. I know myself better now.
I think embracing the camp — building the spaceship and all of that — made me realize just how worried I’d been about what other people think. That has nothing to do with the lyrics of this record probably. It just comes when you do something like this. It’s certainly not cool to go all in like this. To embrace something is always at the exclusion of every other possibility. You have to say goodbye to a lot of things that you might want.
That’s the case with any choice, and that’s been an interesting thing about this. It’s great when people get it. [Laughs] But when they don’t, it kind of hurts even though I totally understand why they wouldn’t. I get why someone wouldn’t be into it. It makes perfect sense. But it’s amazing how much stock I put into that. So I guess I am in the process of learning that.
I know you have the limited release here at the Rabbit Room and then you’ll pulling it. Can you tell the story there and what the overall release looks like?
The hope is that I can get the record into the hands of people who care about it. I don’t have a label or marketing budget or any of that stuff. But since no one will review a record will that’s already been out for four months, I hope people can help me get it to a larger audience. That’s the idea of closing it and then taking four months before it comes back out. It’s only for people at the Rabbit Room and then my own web site. So it’s all of the people who actively support art.
I feel so strongly about this album that I really want it to be heard by people outside of my sphere — outside the usual group of people who buy my records. The best way I can do that is to get these people by my side and then say, “Hey if you’re with me, give me a couple hours a month on the Internet. Tell your friends. I can’t do this without you supporting me” [Laughs] That’s not a fake “I couldn’t do this without you guys.” Instead, it’s a very legitimate statement. If people don’t feel like helping with it, the record will be dead in the water.
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.