interview: mike obrien

This weeks guest interview is with Mike Obrien – husband, father, worship pastor, songwriter, producer, engineer, studio owner and all around good dude. Mike is the worship pastor at Vineyard Community Church in Marietta, Georgia and is a Worship Task Force leader for Vineyard USA, serving the Southeast region. You can check out Mike’s studio, Lucko Sound Studio, HERE.

I.W. – What’s your main instrument – make and model please? (cause we’re all gear-heads!)

M.O. – Primarily I play a 2003 Gibson Advanced Jumbo, Cordoba Classical, and Gretsch Country Gentleman. I also have a Maple Valley Hammer Dulcimer that get’s lots of work around the holidays.

I.W. -What makes a great worship song?

M.O. – Technically: Syllabic alignment coupled with singable melodies. Good Theology. Soft rhymes.
Creatively: Saying cliche phrases in a fresh way. A great worship song Inspires me to love God more. A great worship song shows me a fresh revelation of God.

I.W. – Why is songwriting in the local church such a big deal?

M.O. – Giving creatives permission to reflect what they are learning in their own local church encourages the worship teams, the congregation, and the teachers. Making new original songs in church breathes life into services like nothing else.

I.W. – Who are some of your musical influences?

M.O. – I love simple vocal jazz from the mid century like Chet Baker and Ella Fitzgerald, it’s very emotional and not overly technical. Folksy singer-songwriters like Rich Mullins, Sarah Harmer, Iron and Wine, David Gray, and Ryan Adams really speak to me as well. My guilty pleasure list includes Imogen Heap and Foster the People.

I.W. – Where do your songs come from? What inspires you to write?

M.O. – A while back I felt like God told me he wanted me to write when I had my green space with him. I journal, read, pray, and then write. The inspiration often times comes from unfinished ideas that are in my songwriting book. Sometimes i hear a chord progression or groove and I want to rip off and I get excited to put my own feel on it.

I.W. – What’s your writing process like? Revisions and edits?

M.O. – I often times just start thowing ideas all over the place with no refinment. From that mess I ually find one theme to run with and then start crafting a verse and/or chrous around that theme. Sometimes revisions and rewrites happen over the course of 2-3 years.

I.W. – What do you do when you get stuck?

M.O. – I usually give up and go to something else. If there is deadline looming I will just press in or schedule a co-wrtiing session.

I.W. – Do you ever co-write? If so, what’s that process like?

M.O. – Yes, I am increasingly co-writing more and more. I schedule 2-3 hour appointments with writers. One person brings an idea and then we contribute to that idea. More often than not, I have a song that is 90% done and the other writer helps me with grammar, emotion, alignment.

I.W. – How do you balance the purely artistic side of songwriting with accessibility – poetic lyrics, singable melody, a groove you can feel, and theological substance?

M.O. – I normally err on the side of accessibility exclusively in songs. I am learning that “accessible” is actually a much smaller target than I originally thought. I grieve many artistic urges in my worship songs realizing that a majority of the people just won’t get where I am going. I’ve been thinking lots about nursery rhymes and how powerful they are in culture…. I would like to write more worship songs that are as assessable as those nursery rhymes.

I.W. – Have you always considered yourself a songwriter or was there a moment when you went from being a worship leader to a worship leader who writes songs?

M.O. – I wrote songs about 10 minutes after I learned the piano. Writing came first, then worship leading. When I write now it’s about 95% for worship.