Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Interview With PJ Anderson

PJ Anderson is a Christian singer/songwriter hailing from Nashville, TN. He just released his new album titled RISE today. I had a chance to catch up with PJ, and ask him a few questions about the new album and how he got started as a musician. The interview is below! My questions are in white, and PJ's answers are in blue.

Can you give us a little background history on how you got started doing music?

God was laying seeds to write and pursue music, but I wasn't always listening. I was actually the kid who got in trouble with my Mom for not singing at Mass! I started playing guitar when I was in 5th grade where I learned from a nun, Sister Charita. I played from 5-8 grade at school Masses but stopped playing in hI'm not exactly built for the NBA, but I thought I was! But, I picked the guitar back up in college and started writing songs then. 

Many of my first songs came while I was studying abroad in Rome. I didn't start out exclusively writing worship music, but God was always a part of my music. I have now found a musical home in writing worship songs that lead the listener, the worshiper, into a close, personal space with our loving God. I am thankful for where God has led me. The path wasn’t always easy, but he equipped me with the faith, inspiration and relationships to create an album that will lead others to closer to Him.

How would you describe your sound musically, and who are some of your influences?

I would describe it as CCM (Contemporary Christian) and singer-songwriter style. This album, I really tried to challenge myself to write a little differently. I wanted to bring some sounds in from the music I love to listen to like Mumford and Sons and Nickel Creek. I think we accomplished that as a band. We truly collaborated in the studio and everyone brought their talents and ideas to the table and that led to the creation of a beautiful, unique album. This album pushed me as a songwriter and a musician. I’m blessed to have been surrounded by so many amazing musicians.

My influences. I’ve always looked up to and enjoyed Matt Maher’s music. I was playing his songs when I joined the worship band after college. Lots of Matt Maher and Chris Tomlin. I grew up on The Beatles and classic rock. I love Nickel Creek, John Mayer and Tenth Avenue North as well as Hillsong United and All Sons & Daughters.

What is the main message that you are trying to convey to listeners through your music?

The main message I want to convey in my music is hope. Jesus is our hope! He is our grace. There is no sin that is greater than the grace He gives to us to conquer that sin. There is a great sense of hopelessness at times in our world. 

I was at a retreat where 3 witness talks in a row by 3 high school girls were all attempted suicide stories. That breaks my heart! That emptiness, that brokenness says there is no hope and that is the biggest lie of our generation. There is ALWAYS hope. And my goal and prayer is to make sure those that I minister with and to truly realize that. That "God loves you" isn't some cheesy thing your youth minister says, but that it's truth. 

He loves us so much that He has given and continues to give us everything. And we are called to give Him our everything. And that no matter how dark things get, how broken we are, God doesn't love us any less. One of the songs from RISE called Grace Is Hope says, "No sin is more hopeless than my Savior has grace. My Savior is grace." There is no sin, no brokenness, no pain that is too great for God to conquer. He is our grace. He is our hope.

Your new album Rise releases on October 7th. What can you tell us about this album?

This album was born out of a commitment to write a song per week for a year. I would write songs, video them and post them youtube, Facebook, etc, every week. Soon after moving to Nashville a little over 2 years ago, I realized something. That if you want to be a songwriter in Nashville...you have to write songs, all of the time! Just like a car salesman sells cars every day and a mailman delivers mail every day, a songwriter has to write all of the time. So, I started this discipline of writing and so far I have recorded 2 albums of those songs: Let Your Light Shine in 2013 and now RISE.

These songs are my faith journey. There are songs of redemption, songs of thankfulness, songs of dark seasons and seasons of light, songs that call upon us to RISE up and stand for what’s right in the world. I would say this is the most “complete” album of my 4 studio albums. It brought about new challenges and skills into my life as a musician. Like I said, I committed to writing a song per week. But, sometimes those songs needed to be rewritten or edited to perfect them for the album. I really wanted this album to be different than my others. Not that there’s anything wrong with the others, I just wanted to push myself as a musician and writer. I wanted to bring in different styles and sounds. And we were able to accomplish that goal with the talented musicians and friends that played on this album

RISE is also the most complete because its the first album that I had a theme in mind as I was writing the songs. Early on in the writing process, a common theme kept popping up, this theme of RISE; Rising to God’s call to love and serve; Rising as a unified body of Christ to stand for life and hope. And that guided the songs into a personal direction that will hopefully allow for the listener and worshiper to enter into a personal space with the Lord.

RISE was a true collaboration. Each musician brought their ideas and talents to the table and everyone was free to share their input. We were usually all in the studio together, working as a unified front, agreeing/disagreeing, helping each other. Each of us wanted this to be a powerful record and the opportunity to work together with such amazing musicians definitely made that possible.

The musicians who played on the album are:
Drummer - Richard Scott (Matt Maher)
Bassist - Daniel Ornellas (Brenton Brown, Gungor, Tree63, Matt Maher, Tenth Avenue North)
Keys - Britt Edwards (The Swift)
Guitar - John Bertucci (Ike Ndolo
Vocal - Natalie LaRue (LaRue)
Violin - Shawn Williams (Martina McBride)
Cello/Banjo/Mandolin - James Rosenbloom
Vocalists - Jason Eskridge and Nickie Conley

Personally, what is your favorite song on the new album?

Grace Is Hope. As I said above, this song has the thought that there is no sin too great for our Savior to conquer. And it starts with a sentiment or feeling that we all have had at some point in our faith/prayer life. The feeling that we are waiting, waiting for God to speak to us. And a lot of times we keep waiting and don’t hear anything and our first inclination is to think that God is not listening or waiting for us. 

But the truth is that while we only sometimes search for Him, He’s always been searching for us, since the beginning. So the prayer is that He can guide us so that our searches for each other meet. And while we don’t deserve His mercy, He freely gives it. And that mercy gives us hope, which gives us a home...in Him.

How does RISE compare to your previous releases?

RISE is a continuation of my other albums (Let Your Light Shine, Grace Beyond Strength, Lead Me To You). It’s a continuation of my faith journey, a continuation of me as a songwriter and worship leader. I feel like each album has gone deeper; each album has specific moments of thanks, moments of despair, moments of crying out to the Lord for help. 

The song, Lead Me To You kind of started me off on a path of surrendering and asking the Lord to guide me closer to Him. Set Me Free from Let Your Light Shine set me on a course of writing that I’m really proud of. That song was not even supposed to be on the album. I had all 10 songs selected and I was up late one night and wrote Set Me Free. Meanwhile, I was heading into the studio the very next day. I cut one of the other songs and recorded Set Me Free. 

In a way, if RISE had an 11th song, it would be Set Me Free. I think the raw quality of that song is a prayer that a lot of people can connect with. And that quality has overflown into the writing of the songs from RISE. So, while I say RISE is my most complete album, they have all played a part in that journey as a follower of Christ, as a songwriter and musician.

Where do you get your inspiration for writing music?

I started writing music when I was in college. I didn’t exclusively write worship songs initially. And I don’t necessarily still only write worship songs, but there is where I’ve found my home in this season of life. I started writing songs about things that affect all of us: Love, heartbreak, life, experiences. A lot of my first songs were written while studying abroad in Rome, where I studied for a semester as a student and returned for a year to work as a Resident Assistant. 

I later found myself being inspired and looking at life through the lens of the blessings God was bringing to my door. Or the way He was guiding me through a dark time. My faith is an integral part of my life. Does that mean that I’m perfect? No! I struggle just like everyone else. I have those moments where God is close and those times where I’m far from Him. Not that God isn’t always close, but I don’t always let Him in. And that is where my passion is and I hope it remains there. 

I love to sing about the Lord and to the Lord. I find my strength in Him and I hope that comes across in the songs I write and the way I perform or lead them at concerts, conferences and times of adoration and prayer. As I said before, I’ve been wrecked by the lack of hope in this world, especially amongst young people. And a great deal of my inspiration comes from writing to bring about the Kingdom of God that is built on hope.

Who would you absolutely LOVE to collaborate with?

I’d love to write with Matt Maher, Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North, Chris Tomlin. Leslie Jordan and David Leonard of All Sons & Daughters, Kari Jobe, Mia Fieldes, Ike Ndolo, Stephen Kellogg. Long list and it goes on and on. But these are a few.

How does your family influence you, both musically and in everyday life?

My family is my life! From my parents who have instilled the importance of faith and love to my loving wife and children who bring me such joy and strength, they are in all of my songs. Without them in my life, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. They have inspired songs, supported me through traveling and they help make my dreams reality. And most importantly they are my joy. 

To be able to travel the country praising God and  playing songs that I’ve written and take care of my children during the week and call that work, it’s amazing. I would not be able to do this without the support of my amazing wife and the faith that my parents instilled in me. They are my everything.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?

So my wife gives me mini pep talks on a weekly basis, so anything she’s every told me! ha! But also a few things:

1.     A poem my Mom always read to us on the first day of school every year. It was a beautiful poem that included a line of courage and strength that said, “Teach them, Lord, that only the test of fire makes the finest gold.” That line and encouragement from my Mom & Dad is what kept me fighting through periods of struggle, whether that was being made fun of or criticized in school to truly putting my faith into action as an adult.

2.     A friend gave me great advice on my wedding day that I’ve tried to pass on to all of my friends when they get married. It was two fold. When your soon to be wife is walking down the aisle, lock eyes. Everyone’s looking at her, but she’s the only one looking at you. And throughout the wedding day, take time aside from the festivities with just you and her and take it all in: the day, the fun, the joy, the family and friends and most importantly the fact that we are forever together.

Five Random Bonus Questions

1. What is something most people don’t know about you?

Hmm...I love Taylor Swift. I don’t even care what people think! Ha! And my kiddos were kissed by Pope Francis!

2. What is one of your favorite memories you have from when you were growing up?

Meeting Pope John Paul II with my parents.

3. What is your favorite superhero, and why?

Well, I initially wrote Superman. However, my sisters and parents will tell you that is not true. They will try to tell you that when I was younger, I was so obsessed with Wonder Woman (which I can concur) that I dressed up in my sister’s Wonder Woman underoos (which I do not concur!).

4. Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life?

My parents, my wife and Pope John Paul II. They’ve all taught me lessons on how to live a life of faith, a life of joy and a life that brings about change and makes a difference for the Lord.

5. What is your favorite movie?

Gladiator. Obessed with Rome. Also Shawshank Redeption and any FBI/CIA movies (Bourne, Oceans, etc.)

You can connect with PJ Anderson on:

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