Andrew Osenga is spinning some new creative plates these days, from a new career focus on helping young, developing artists find their footing to a new online songwriting course to his instrumental project After Lake (iTunes). From the outside, it’s easy to assume Osenga is enjoying a fruitful, inspired season filled with joy and creativity. Instead, to hear him explain it, the new ventures have organically grown from a tough season of fear and insecurity, confusion and a search for identity.
When I first heard you mention an instrumental project, my mind jumped to your four-EP series where you indulged a bit more there than ever. Does this have any roots there? Does it go farther back than even that?
A bit, yeah. I really love listening to instrumental music when I’m doing the administrative parts of my work—email, scheduling, bills, etc.—and usually there’s just a lot more melodies going on in my head than I have worthwhile thoughts to share. [Laughs] I did a couple instrumental pieces on Leonard, which was the first time I’d really done anything like that, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This past year has been a pretty tough season of transition for me, and transition into what I still don’t quite know. There have been some days where I just didn’t know where I should be putting my name. I realized I had two options: 1.) Spiral into depression and emotional Facebook suicide, which is where you scroll forever and decide everyone’s life is amazing and yours is the worst, or 2.) I could go do something productive.
For the past few months I’ve been choosing option 2, most of the time, and so I go down to my studio in the mornings and write until lunch, either new songs, of which I have a ton and hope to share later this year, or these instrumental pieces. This first collection is the fruit of that first initial bout of productive energy, all done this March.
Where does the name “After Lake” come from, besides just sounding cool?
I googled “Hipster Band Name Generator” clicked on the first link and “After Lake” was there when it loaded. “That’s pretty cool,” I thought.
You’ve got licensing information in the middle of the new website. Is that a primary goal for this, to have the music available to appear in movies, television, etc.?
Yeah, the real financial hope for this stuff is that it gets picked up and used in film or TV placements. The long term hope is that building a catalog of music that could fit there would eventually help fund the time it will take to invest in the next phase of my career.
When you take away the lyrical expectations of songwriting, how does that change the creative experience for you?
Oh man, it is so freeing. Like most writers, I ran out of my “feelings” about halfway through my second record. Then I had to go looking for things to write about. I write a lot of songs and so I can get to feeling like I’m constantly just telling the same three stories. Without worrying about the lyrics or the time it takes to get a great vocal I’m able to move really quickly from idea to completed work. It’s a nice palate cleanser, and interestingly enough, though I’m not using words, I feel I have a lot to say right now, and I can often say it best with tones and melodies.
I’m working on a second collection now which I hope to release in June. I give advice to artists all the time where I tell them to set aside regular time to write, but of course, that’s something I’ve never actually done myself until this year. Once I started taking my own advice and writing every day I have just had a flood of new songs come through. I’m back on a lyrical wave right now, so I’m going to ride it until it crests and then get back to After Lake and the next volume of those pieces.
You mentioned the last few months you’ve been channeling that energy into something productive. Has that given way to the thing you’ve needed? Or are you still searching in a way, emotionally?
In a tangible way, not yet. I’m still very much on that journey with a blindfold. Emotionally, though, it has been a precious gift. I started writing songs as a way to process my thoughts and feelings, and as the hobby became a career it became less about that and more about writing things that, while true, and real, and important to me, could also bring income to provide for my family.
In this season it’s been more about writing to reclaim a sense of my own identity, who I am apart from my career and who I am in relationship to God. A lot of it may never end up for public consumption but it’s been important work to do as a person.
I think a lot of readers will read your statement about not following your own advice and nod along in agreement. What is it that you think kept you from taking your own advice until now?
You know, there were seasons when I was a full-time artist that I would write very regularly. Usually before a record, I would put the time on my calendar and be diligent. Over the last few years, I’ve had other things going on 9 to 5 and have done the traditional “hobby-style” writing, which means you only write late at night when you’re really really sad. [Laughs]
I guess I told myself I was too busy: the same thing we all tell ourselves when we’re avoiding something we know is better for us than Netflix and Instagram.
It is crazy how productive but it has been to just put time on my calendar to write and then follow through on that commitment. It makes sense. If you actually make the time to write three times a week, 40 weeks a year, there’s just no way you won’t have some good songs by the end of that year.
What other creative plates are you spinning these days?
This past year I’ve done a lot, and I mean a lot, of soul searching, trying to figure out what I really want to spend the second half of my career doing. The conclusion is that I love walking with songwriters and artists. It’s a strange calling and not an easy one, and so my heart is to help guide people to avoid the mistakes I made and to have a healthy artistic life, whatever that needs to look like for them. That may eventually lead me back into a record label or publishing company, we’ll see, but right now I have the freedom to serve whoever knocks on the door, and that’s kind of beautiful.
So what I’ve been doing this season so far has been writing in the morning and then consulting in the afternoons. I help out with A&R duties for a few smaller record companies or management firms and then do a lot of Artist Development consulting, where I sit with artists and help them figure out their goals, their resources, and make plans to do the things they want to do. it’s life-giving work that I really enjoy, and I’m hoping I can serve people enough there that it can grow into a sustainable business.
I’ve been putting together an online songwriting course, as well, which I hope to beta-test for Rabbit Room folks sometime this Summer.
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.