Monday, June 23, 2008

The Future of JRL

Here are some facts related to the future of JRL:

- Lately I've also been writing songs that don't fit into the JRL vibe: songs for people, city songs*, collaborations, worship songs, meditation songs, etc. It feels like there's a backlog of pretty good material that nobody gets to hear because it doesn't fit the JRL sound and vision.

- JRL hasn't been very financially viable part time, and I have less rather than more time to devote to it.

- The CSM model (which I talked about on the Feb 28 blog post) has been really drawing me. It gives me a way to spend less time on music, focus on the songwriting element, and stay connected with people who are really interested in my music.

So I'm thinking about putting booking and touring on the back shelf for a while. This has been a challenging decision that I've talked about with a lot of people. I'll still travel regularly but the focus will be on helping people find community and connection to God. This will involve music and creativity. The difference will be I won't be pushing JRL as a band.

I will continue to write music. I recently started a CSM ( This is becoming the place for people to keep up with my music. I regularly post new songs there, along with thoughts about the songwriting process. This is a sort of behind-the-scenes look at my songs for people who want to follow my progress as I launch into uncharted waters musically.

The second recording of the Now series is still in process. I hope to get it done by the fall. We've had some technical difficulties recording. It's some of my favorite music I've ever done so far, and the songs are coming along well.

So the future of JRL is change. What it has been is ending. What is ahead is not yet visible. Come along on the journey and find out!


* David Oliver (of Bridgeland) and I did an exercise where we wrote six songs -- from six places we've lived in our lives.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

JRL's Public Face

In the last few weeks (and blog posts) I've been reflecting about JRL: why I started it, what I've learned, where it's at now, and where it's heading.

As I've been reflecting and talking to people about this, I'm realizing that I have a different picture of JRL than everyone else. I see the vision, the potential, and all the people who have contributed to it. Other people think of JRL as a live show or a cd. I see what's behind JRL and what it could be, while other people see JRL's "public face".

So what's behind JRL's public face?

- Many people donating time, skills, and perspective to projects and events
- Booking and arranging concerts, tours, mailing cds, updating myspace pages and websites
- Writing and recording music, designing cds and promo materials
- Organizing and managing the above

Behind JRL's public face is a lot of work.

Since I started JRL I've been splitting my time and energy between developing the music and developing my other passion: helping people find community and connection to God. On most of my tours my time was split between music and connecting with people. These connections have grown into a network and I've been wrestling with having way too much to do.

This leads me to think about how my music fits into the next stage of my life... and the future of JRL.

Monday, June 9, 2008

JRL in Motion

For those of you who didn't see last week's post, today's post is a continuation on the same story.. starting with reflections on my work as JRL.

As JRL I began to work hard on the craft of songwriting. I began to play songs in coffeehouses and bars. I began to look for feedback from people who were listening to music for the music's sake, rather than as a way to bolster a particular set of beliefs or lifestyle choices. This was an exciting, challenging journey for me. I remember the thrill of one of the first non-church gigs I did while on tour with Radiant -- we played outside of a Puerto Rican restaurant in a parking lot. People going to the grocery store stopped and listened, and you could see that in some cases it brightened their day. That was exhilarating -- it felt like giving a gift. I remember an old grizzled guy who came up to me after a coffeehouse gig who said "that song about better days put into words what I couldn't say" -- or the half-drunk guy at the bar who came up afterwards and asked me "if there was a message" in my music. I asked what message he thought he heard.

I also remember being terrified and feeling really out of place -- like the church that made us take out our earrings and eyebrow rings or the bars where people just wanted to hear Freebird and get wasted. In so many ways JRL has been an education for me. I think I've stumbled upon some good lines and interesting imagery:
"The best kiss I never dreamed I catch left me sweat-soaked and let down... I could stretch the truth to make a roof but that would block out the starlight."

(JRL: You won't say anything)

"Sunfire came and it tore them apart, rung like a bell, drove the sad reek of hell from my heart."

(JRL: Sunfire Faces)

I've also come up with some musical hooks I really like, and that people can't get out of their heads.

As I'm wrapping up the second Now record (Another Now) and thinking about the next phase of life I see big changes coming. The original impulse and vision that launched JRL has for the most part been accomplished. I'm writing better songs now, and all kinds of people can and have connected with. I'm not so stuck inside the Christian subculture and I'm not terrified to take my guitar into coffeehouses and bars. I haven't gotten rich and famous, or developed a touring lifestyle that's sustainable as JRL -- but that wasn't the goal when I started out, so it's good to look back at the original vision. I still think some of the music I write needs to be heard by a wider audience than has heard it so far. Most artists think that. Here's an encouraging thought, though: I wrote Water Fall On Me 6 or 8 years before anyone paid attention to it. Now it's being sung in churches all over the country and has been recorded by several artists. Maybe the same thing will happen with JRL songs -- if so, look for people to really start catching on somewhere around 2010!

Some of the music I'm writing these days doesn't really fit in the JRL "box" (as big a box as that is). What does this mean? Where is it all headed?

Check back next week to find out more.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Prologue to JRL

I've been thinking about the history of JRL over the last couple weeks. My wife Christa just graduated from college finally (after 12 years off and on). This transition has me thinking about my life and priorities and songwriting and JRL. Looking back makes me laugh...

I've been writing songs since I was a teenager. My early songs were very issue based, growing out of my faith and upbringing. This meant I wrote a lot of songs about Jesus, morality, caring for the poor and speaking out against injustice. For example one early lyric of which I am particularly embarrassed:
"Now that I've got your attention there's something I'd like to say. Where is the justice in this old world today? The peasant is starving while the millionaire feeds steak to his dog from his easy chair... where is the justice? where can it be? It comes from God above through you and me."
(Jade Dagger: Where is the Justice)

I also wrote a lot of love songs, few of them at all original, although they were all heartfelt. For example:
"Boy was made for girl we figured this was it, but after a little while it didn't seem to fit because all the time we spent was in a nervous fit... come to me, might not be easy but you were made for me."
And then after I'd worn out the oldest cliches I moved on to slightly more obscure love song imagery.
"Every time when I try to hide it the feeling just won't go. Like a wrinkled old man in a cottage by the shore. Years ago he used to care and he used to roam the seas, searching for a love, a love that would never fail."
(Genre: I Fall In Love)

I'm sure there could be some interesting archetypal or Freudian analysis of those lyrics --but hey, at least there began to be images rather than only a string of cliches...

After years of this sort of writing I began to write songs that were basically prayers directed to God. I went through a sort of spiritual awakening in which I connected with God in a whole new way, including emotions and creativity. Some of the songs I wrote during that time were more reflective and personal, while others were exuberant, corporate sing-along-stick-in-your-head songs. Some people (and churches) are still singing some of those songs. Some imagery made it's way into those tunes as well. For example:
"Let your rain come down all around, let the thunder sound, shake the ground, let the waterfall pound breaking down all the lies you found under me,"
(Sonchild: Water Fall On Me)


"There is a desert, a place where we all have to go. A place where the sun beats ceaseless, burning the sand. A place marked by dried up rivers and skies without clouds. A place with a thousand inroads and only one way out."
(Sonchild:There is a River)

After a good season of writing spiritual songs within the Christian and specifically Mennonite (yes, it's different than Amish) context I began to feel boxed in, segregated and uncomfortable about that. It all came to a head one time when I was at a big youth convention hanging out with "good Christian kids" inside a big convention center. One evening I stepped out of the convention center and the park that surrounded it was full of people all listening to some band from the seventies (something in the Kansas vein). At that moment I realized I had to get out of the isolated Christian subculture and begin to find a way to connect with people. If I was about following Jesus I needed to go to the kind of places Jesus went -- and Jesus was notorious for spending time with people that the religious people thought you should stay away from. So I started JRL.

Next week I'll have more on JRL's story and where it's going now.