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6 questions with bobby hartry

bobby h

Bobby Hartry is a musician, producer, and songwriter based in sunny Los Angeles. I love Bobby’s guitar work – it’s muscular, a 2X4 to the gut, living somewhere between Colin Cripps and The Edge. Bobby has also produced some really great records (Jeremy Riddle, John Barnett, and many more). You Can check out his work here //

1) Do you consider yourself more of a producer, musician or songwriter?

It’s really hard for me to separate those things, because usually I’m wearing all 3 of those hats. I suppose I consider myself a musician first, then a producer, then a songwriter. But, the funny thing is the biggest part of my income is from songwriting, then production, then being a musician. I do think my experiences as a musician and songwriter have shaped my approach to production.

2) What’s the most common mistake worship leaders or churches make when making a record?

Trying to sound like someone else. I think this is a trap for musicians and artists in general. It’s easy to lose sight of what makes us unique and what we can bring to the table. We all are influenced by other songwriters and musicians. I think the trick is to take the culmination of those influences and distill it down into something that’s unique to who we are. Something honest and authentic. That can be scary, and can leave us feeling insecure at times. But, that’s when we have the potential to do something great.

3) In your mind, what’s the producers #1 job?

I think my role as producer changes from project to project. But, I suppose the over arching job is to help the artist or worship leader find an unique voice. I look for what makes them unique and special and then try and highlight that. This also goes for a song. How do I frame a song so it really shines. So that the heart of the song is communicated.

4) What are you looking for in a song? how do you know when it’s great?

Does it move me or provoke me? There has to be an emotional component to it. And do I believe the artist? Do I believe that they mean what they say. Even if it’s an abstract lyric or it’s not clear to me what the song is about, does it still feel honest or real to me.

5) Biggest influences?

There’s so many! The last few years I’ve really been into Wilco, Daniel Lanois, Blake Mills, Buddy Miller. I’m a big fan of T-Bone Burnet’s production. My biggest guitar influence is Michael Landau. I’ve been listening to Mike since I was 15. Nels Cline is another huge guitar influence. I’ve spent countless hours listening, watching, and talking with Jon Brion. I love his songwriting, production, and guitar playing. Growing up I was definitely inspired by Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jeff Beck, The Edge. I starting playing guitar when I was 11, after seeing Phil Keaggy live. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was certainly influenced by some amazing guitar players out here. When I was 16 I saw Steve Lukather at a little club called the Baked Potato. He blew my mind. I had never seen or heard anything like it before. Shorty after hearing Lukather, I met Mike Landau. He’s always been very kind and gracious to me, and a huge inspiration.
Some records that I’ve been loving over the last several months: Blake Mills: Break Mirrors, David Bazan’s latest, Fiona Apple’s latest, Autolux: Transit Transit, Deep Sea Diver: History Speaks, Bon Iver: self titled, Sam Phillips: Long Play.

6) Tell us one of your best moments in music.

That’s a hard question, there are so many! I’ll just rattle off some that come to mind: 1) Seeing Phil Keaggy play when I was 11, life changing. 2) Playing electric guitar with distortion for the first time when i was 12 years old at a little music store called Carpenter Music (Thanks Bruce Adolph). 3) Seeing Lukather for the first time 4) Seeing Mike Landau for the first time. 4) Seeing Jon Brion for the first time at Largo 5) Seeing U2 at Dodger Stadium on Halloween 1991 (Zoo TV tour) 5) My first gig in my first “power trio” band, Yellow House. I could go on and on

you’re going to need a trellis

If you’ve followed this blog at all you probably know that my family and I own a vineyard and a small winery (humble brag, sorry). The vineyard and winery are not my full-time job but I spend a lot of hours in the vines, which ends up being about meditation as much as it is about caring for the farm. When the sun is high, and your sweating like crazy, the vineyard has a way of showing a person things, things that one might miss, were it not for the hours, and the slow pace, and the sheer beauty.

The other day I was out in the vines tucking the long vines up into the wire trellis where the canopy can gain maximum benefit from the sun and ultimately, ripen the fruit fully and evenly. It got me thinking about the importance of the trellis – the wire, the posts, the structure. Without the trellis the vines would never produce fruit. They would grow along the ground where the weeds and bugs would devour the plant in one slow, summer-long bite. The fruit would most likely rot, laying on the ground. I honestly can’t think of anything more depressing.

Point is, we need structure. We need to be tied to something, trained, and disciplined. Now there are a lot of good ways to apply this little ‘field lesson’ to our everyday life but since this is a blog about creativity in the local church I will simply say this – our churches are producing the fruit that our structures will support. If you want to grow songs and songwriters you need to think about the trellis, a support structure that gets the creatives at your church off the ground, away from pests, and into the sun.

It seems counter intuitive, but creativity requires a considerable amount of structure to come to fruition. People need goals and deadlines, and values, and input, and freedom, and limitations. In an environment where anything goes, usually nothing happens – it rots on the ground.

You have creatives in your church right now. You have songwriters in your church right now. You have talent and real potential for fruit in your church right now. The question is, do you have a trellis?



why write for your local church?

This blog is called Indigenous Worship because God is raising up indigenous, local tribes of songwriters and musicians all over the world who will praise Him for who He is and do so in a manner that reflects the actual people and places they are from. Here are a few reasons to consider writing for your local church

1) There are songwriters already in your church. Usually when I travel to talk about raising up songwriters people come in with a mindset of hoping to learn how to get songwriters to come to their churches, as if the writers were ‘out there’. Truth is, the songwriters are sitting in our churches right now! They just need to be empowered, trained, refined, and released. When Jesus constructs a church, which is his body, he doesn’t leave any part out, and that includes those parts that are designed for capturing and distilling melody and phrases down to something that we can all sing to God.

2) Songs written for the community of faith, by the community of faith, carry an aspect of authenticity and genuineness that people can sink their teeth into. People are looking for something real, and that encounter can come in a lot of different ways, but few are as powerful as a song sung by a group of people who are trying to work out the complexity of following Jesus together – a song written by those people! It’s the reason that pizza is different in Chicago than it is in New York! It’s the same idea worked through the specific people in a given region that makes it unique. New Yorkers weren’t trying to do something different than the good folks in Chicago, for the sake of being different, rather they were just being who they really are, no pretense, no faking, authentic.

3) Jesus is the most beautiful person in the universe, therefore a billion songs isn’t too many. Sometimes I read articles about how there are too many worship songs being written now, that we are drowning in ‘new material’, and that this has somehow weakened our collective worship experience. Now if your trying to every song off of every major release coming out these days, that could be a real problem. But rather than seeing the explosion of writing as a bad thing, I see it as an appropriate response to who Jesus is – that men and women, all over the world are getting a glimpse of the beauty of the Son of God, and trying their level best to respond! If your seeing Him, even a little, you’re responding, and it might just be a non-melodious yell at first, but soon enough those groans too deep for words are going to form into something more, a song of gratitude, a river of delight.



daniel boone

Writing songs is a lot like pioneering. The white, blank page is a western horizon, and the guitar is a horse, still wild, yet sometimes rideable. If your writing music it’s because something on the inside of you is unsettled and restless. It’s not that the other songs are bad because they’re not. It’s just that for the songwriter there’s a need to head off into wilderness of life, and melody, and emotion, and lyric, and try to stake some sort of a claim. It’s this gnawing notion that even though everything has been said, that there might be another way to get there, a more interesting way, a short-cut even.

I have a song due in a few hours. I say due, because in my community, even though lots of us write pretty often, we come together every summer and write every two weeks from May to August, and if you don’t have a song on the due date, you’re out. There’s nothing like a due date to keep you in the pioneering spirit!

Anyhow, I’ve been hacking my way through this song for the past week and up until this morning, I wasn’t totally sure where I was even going. That’s the thing about writing, you have to embrace a certain amount of mystery. Where am I going? I don’t really know. I’m just following an instinctual path that’s barely there, one worn down by the wildlife. And then, when it seems like it may be a path to nowhere, the dense forest reveals a stream where thirsty souls can find a drink, and I think I may have found that stream, for this week anyway.

You know, that’s songwriting – looking for things that you can’t even articulate at the beginning of the journey, things that you know immediately when you stumble upon them. It’s searching for a melody, cutting out a lyrical path from a forest filled with options, and making a home where there was nothing, or very little before. Songwriting is a restless heart that just knows that there’s more ‘out there’, that perhaps we haven’t seen it all. It’s a heart that just can’t settle comfortably into what already is. Praise God for settlers, they really are good people, but we’re not them. We’re wilder, Daniel Boone types. We’re marking out the territory of the human heart, mapping it out moment by moment, line by line. We’ve got calloused hands, and wrinkled faces, and a notion that West is a better direction than East.


we made a record…

We tracked a live record last week at our church. Months of songwriting and editing concentrated and captured onto a tiny hard drive that sits on a desk in our studio. In truth, those songs represent years of life together. They are the distillations of a family whose father is God. They are the melodies of love and joy and pain and heartbreak – and between the words, between the chord changes, in the spaces where no voice is heard, there is hope – and it isn’t some sort of fairy tale hope either. It’s the sort that has gone through fire and flame, only to find that in the middle of the furnace is one we did not expect to meet, a God who condescends, a God who is not afraid of fire, or ashamed of weak people – Emanuel, God always near.

I have no idea how this record is going to “turn out”. I haven’t even listened back to any of the sessions yet (I figured it was a good idea to take a week and get some space). But I’m already filled with a feeling of satisfaction, which is odd because satisfaction is one of the most elusive emotions that exists out on the great, wild plains of artistic expression. Some have said that it doesn’t exist, that it’s merely a mirage, begging one to come out a little further, then a little further still. For years my life experience told me likewise, but now, this week at least, I’m satisfied.

I’m not satisfied because we’ve captured 14 hits that will make us all rich and famous, instead, I’m filled because, right now, without having heard anything played back, I know that what we wrote, and what we played and what we sang and what we recorded is real. We are not a record company, we are a family. We are not professional, we are personal. These are family songs, written by the family, played by the family and sung by the family. There is a kind of authenticity that permeates a process like this. No one is playing the fool, least of all God. He is our father, and we are his children. And for these past 15 years as a church we have been sharing life – lives drawn together by him. How else could one explain such a crazy collection of people under one roof?

These are songs written by really broken people – broken people who have lived life with other broken people – which is really hard, though, not quite as hard as striking out alone. We have laughed, cried, and fought with each other, only to come back to the table again and hug it out. We have loved God with our whole heart, half our heart, and almost none of our heart, only to have him receive it, and us, with grace. We have tried to be something, ended up with nothing, and found that nothing is enough so long as we still have God. And all of that, the living and the dying, the loving and the hurting, the hopes and dreams, the joy and the pain, have become a part of this record. There is a kind of honesty in it. Like a supper that your momma used to make. And nothing satisfies like momma’s cooking, especially when the whole family is around the table.



Worship like Motown

Some things are timeless. Like Motown. Motown is music that will never, ever go out of fashion. The same is true in worship as well, though, in worship it has less to do with musical styling and more to do with content – I know, ‘worship artists’ everywhere are cringing.

For instance –

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

This proclamation is timeless and true, relevant through the ages. The four living creatures who surround the very throne of God never stop saying it, they never take a break, they don’t even get tired. For them, the words never loose meaning, which is astonishing when you consider that typically when a person repeats a word over and over it doesn’t take long for the word or phrase to be diluted of all it’s potency. The word becomes dull and lifeless, like mowing the grass or washing the dishes. Dead.

But the grandeur of God, the depth of his glory, the wonder that surrounds him, causes a response from those nearest to him, a response that is almost immediate, like a reflex. The words never loose their meaning. They remain supremely relevant based upon who he is –

“Holy, holy, holy…”

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all holy, completely ‘other’, beyond description.

“who was and is and is to come”

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the trinity, all filling the annuls of history, all perfectly present, all reigning over the future.

Worship writers, take note. Timeless worship is centered on the trinity, the mystery of God in three persons. Explore writing songs that focus on God the father, creator and sustainer of life, Jesus the son, brother, redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, a present comfort. Meditate upon the God who sits upon the throne. Catch a glimpse of his beauty. Match it with a melody.

Timeless worship is worship that declares the presence and victory of god in all ages and all times – past, present, and future. He is the Lord of history! His goodness and his care are reasons to sing! One only has to spend a moment or two in quiet reflection in order to see the hand of God in history – not just world history, but personal history, your life and my life!

He is the god of the present. He is near. He is close. His reign isn’t some invisible, etherial benign nothingness ‘out there’. It’s here! It’s now! In fact, right now is the only moment that you or I can actually love him! Write songs that bring God into the moment, because he’s already here!

He is the Lord of the future. There is nothing that can surprise him. There is no possibility, or happening, or tragedy, or decision that he cannot and will not work to absolute victory. God shouts victory into the future! We can have hope, right here, right now, today, because God is the God of the future! Write songs about victory. Write songs that impart hope because victory and hope are never going to go out of style.

Writers, let’s press for something timeless in our worship, something that sits above the ebb and flow of fashion, something on the level of Motown, something that forever alters our baseline, something that infects our consciousness like a good back-beat and a tambourine – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Lord of history, Lord of the present, Lord of tomorrow.




Life is big enough that you can pretty much find whatever your looking for. Everyday presents reasons to be encouraged and reasons to be depressed. There’s enough trouble and delight, rhyme and reason, laughter and tears to quench whatever thirst we have developed within ourselves. I say ‘developed’ because in a very real sense we are all products of the culture we live in and we have all developed a taste for a particular kind of life. Most of us really like cynicism, probably more than we love pizza and mom’s fried pork chops that she used to make every monday night.

While this thought is relevant across several aspects of life, it is especially relevant to worship leaders and songwriters who are literally writing the language that the church sings, shaping the church’s ability to see life and God, developing the church’s appetite for a particular kind of life. This is no small thing. Duh.

Just because culture has developed a taste for something doesn’t mean that its a good thing, that as writers we should feed it, even though it sort of comes naturally and will win us a compliment or two. Sometimes great writing is writing that stretches our church. Now, to be clear, by ‘stretching’, I don’t mean having license to beat up our churches or to write something ‘edgy’ for the sake of being edgy. That’s just stupid. But many of us serve in congregations that need a bite or two of something new.

Look at what’s being sung at your church. Now consider what’s not being sung. Is it time to learn how to cook up something new?



how to catch a ghost

How does a person go about catching a ghost? It’s a problematic venture for sure. First off, there’s the question of their actual existence, but once you cross that hurdle the real trouble begins – ghosts are non-physical, often invisible, a presence that can be felt, but not necessarily a presence you can grab hold of. Ghosts are sporadic, showing up in the oddest moments, usually when something important needs to be accomplished or in a moment of weakness, but never when one is looking and never when the t.v. cameras are rolling. In any case they haunt. One encounter, however brief that encounter may be, can linger, wafting through ones mind and body for days, if not years.

Of course I’m not talking about ghosts. I haven’t suddenly decided to change the direction of this blog to the paranormal, though, I sometimes feel that my life is slightly more “para” than “normal”.

The real question here is – how does a songwriter catch a melody?

Melody is at least 1/3 of the song, with the other 2/3 being the lyric and the groove. But more than non-mathematic song fractions, melody is the soul of the song – the hypodermic needle injecting the medicine right into the heart. Melody is the ghostlike “truth” – you can’t see it, you can’t grab it or hold it, but it can grab you and you absolutely know when you are under its influence.

The trouble with melodies is that, like ghosts, they almost never appear when you are out looking for them. They come from behind. They almost always surprise. They bubble up from hidden, interior reservoirs, ones you didn’t even know that you had.

The really great ones hate your guitar, and your piano too. The really great ones only seem to come out while your driving in your car and your wife or mother is calling on your cell phone.

You see, we’ve all got well-worn melodic paths that we have carved through the underbrush of the song jungle. Every time we pick up our guitar, or sit at the piano, we just trot down a path we’ve been a hundred times. I mean, it’s easy. You don’t get lost. It’s perfectly safe, and usually, perfectly boring.

I don’t have a tons of advice but here’s a couple thoughts:

1) Put down the guitar for a bit.
2) “Try” a little less.
3) The really good ones are the ones that catch you.
4) Keep the iPhone voice recorder handy and document, document, document.
5) My best stuff happens in the shower, on the riding mower, and while I’m ironing my shirts.

Who else has been haunted lately? How do you catch your melody ghosts?



the rest between the notes

A song is more than the notes that are played. A song is more than the words that are sung. A song is more than the percussive punctuation that rhythm provides. Between the notes, the lyrics and the beats there is silence, rest.

Without the silence, without the rest we’re left with chaos – a collision of random notes and words and cymbal crashes that disturbs the soul, like walking into a small room filled with children all ‘playing’ various instruments at once.

Silence and rest are essential because they bring order, and order provides a space where each note, each word and each beat can exist without competition.

As songwriters and creatives we often fight the silence. Out of the silence our anxieties and fears speak up, simple phrases that cripple, convincing us that we may never be able to write again.

But these ‘spaces’, these times between flourishes of creativity are sacred – they are the ‘rest’ between the notes.

Harnessing the silence

A meditative lifestyle:

Meditation and reflection are lost arts in the West, and as a result, many of us are puppets being strung along by our anxieties and insecurities. In fact, I’m sure that one of the reasons that the iPhone is so popular is because it gives us something ‘to do’ in the moments we have nothing to do. It’s really hard ‘to be’ when all of our energies are directed at ‘doing’.

Fortunately, the scriptures are a real remedy. Almost every night, before I go to bed, I read some small bit of scripture. I hold it in my mind and in my heart. And even after I turn the lights off I take a few minutes and meditate on what I just read. I recite it. I pray it. I consider why a person would write such a thing. I ask the Spirit to illuminate the passage for me. All this sounds really involved, but it’s not. Its actually relaxing. In these moments I can feel his presence, and then, I’m out, covered in sleep.

The next morning, I don’t just pop out of bed when my alarm sounds. I take a few minutes to meditate once more on what I read or thought about the night before. Sometimes it feels like the entire time I’m lying there, about to get up, I’m being flooded with insight and understanding. Other times, nothing. But then, later in the day when I’m driving in my car, my mind is filled with inspired thoughts – thoughts that I’ve never had before, things I never realized.

In this way, meditation, scripture and prayer are all like sowing seeds into a fallow field – seeds that will surely come up. In this way a meditative lifestyle is simply allowing oneself the ‘space’ for something new to grow AND being proactive in sowing into that space so that something beautiful might take root.
Struggling to know what to write next? Do all the words seem overused and worn-out? Have you exhausted all of your ideas? Are you frustrated? Are you in a dry season, a season between songs? Don’t become nervous, or stressed – it’s just the rest between the notes. Breathe it in, and fill up your well again.



lyrics for the 4th of july

Last week was the fourth of July, and here in Central Kentucky, it’s a really big deal. Our quiet little town fills up and expands like a birthday balloon, quadrupling in size. There’s a parade filled with little-league all-stars, beauty queens, antique tractors, politicians, horses and a good measure of the super random – people riding lawn mowers, senior citizens doing assisted back-flips, and no less than four Abraham Lincoln impersonators. This is not a joke. This is real. And if you are ever lucky enough to witness this haphazard concoction of humanity waltzing down main street in Campbellsville, on the forth of July, sitting with people from every surrounding county, you will be delighted by the sheer weirdness, and in the very same moment, just how “right” it all feels. It’s the essence of community. It feels like family, right down to the idiosyncrasies. On the forth of July, “we” parade ours down main street.

After the parade, families and friends get together and cookout. Everyone brings something – and by now it’s pretty predictable. One aunt brings the best chocolate-chip cookies that you’ve ever had in your whole life. Even after eating them at every family gathering for 25 years, people still marvel at their sheer deliciousness. Another aunt makes mac ‘n cheese, and it looks exactly like the one your mom used to make, only it’s better.

Kids are going nuts. Toddlers who have never tasted a soda, grip Coke cans with boa constrictor-like strength, unwilling to let go until all the sugar and caffeine, “life”, has been squeezed from the aluminum can into their abnormally wide toddler mouths.

Some men smoke meat in a great steel contraption that was built with the same imagination and impulse that causes their sons to slap legos together and call them “spaceships”. Other men drink cheap beer and talk life with the people who are sitting nearest the paper plates, anticipating a prayer and a frenzied, piranha-like explosion around the mismatched card tables. Laughter goes up like a lions roar, it is joy mixed with the power of assembled family. Newcomers are nervous.

This was pretty much the scene at our family gathering last week – and right before the prayer the hostess spoke up, bringing the roar down to absolute silence. She thanked people for coming, and for bringing food and then, surprisingly, she tied the events of the day into the lyrics “of a song we sing at church” – a song written by one of the true sons of our church.

you are my hope
you are my home
you are the architect
of all that I love

She explained that when she sings those lines, she thinks of her own family, the one gathered around her in the moment – and it causes her to notice the goodness of God in her life, so much so, that thankfulness is the only logical expression.

I was dumbfounded, though, not totally surprised.

Songs give people language for hidden emotions, covered truths. All of us have feelings, but sometimes finding the right words is like trying to catch a butterfly – beauty that is within reach, but always one flit or flutter out of hand. There is an inner knowledge about God and about life that exists in dense emotional fog. To speak of it causes our confident lips to quake. “Truth” is sometimes best released upon a melody. Often, subtle prose hits hardest.

Writing for our congregations is essential. People need words, a soundtrack for their lives, a score for their dealings with God. This is part of serving our family.



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