Early in the morning on Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 I was standing in the middle of what a week earlier was an empty Indiana field.
On this particularly hot and muggy morning, the field had been transformed to a full-fledged musical venue for the WFRN Friend Fest at Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana. As far as my eye could see, Christian music fans sat perched in rows of colorful lawn chairs or spread out on the tall grass on blankets. The air was scented with an interesting combination of suntan lotion, freshly grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, and bug spray.
I could tell it was going to be a good day.
Armed with my camera and handy-dandy notebook, I was ready for the first act of the day to hit the Main Stage—the Oswald Brothers Band, more commonly known as OBB. While my friend and assistant for the day, Sarah, and I chatted from the restricted access area near the front of the stage, I couldn’t help but notice a curly-haired little girl in perpetual motion wearing what appeared to be a brand spanking new OBB t-shirt hopping up and down in an attempt to improve her view of the stage from behind the barricade.
I walked over to the little girl and her mother, and introduced myself as a Christian music writer and photographer.
The little girl whirled around to show me the back of her shirt. “My name is Taylor, and OBB signed my shirt!” she said excitedly, beginning to jump up and down again.
“I can tell you are a big OBB fan,” I said with a smile. “What do you like the most about OBB?” I asked.
Without hesitating, 8-year-old Taylor replied, “They sing about Jesus! They are really nice and they have curly hair like me!”
Indeed, this is all very true, but what I was about to learn after OBB’s lively and fun set on the Main Stage is there’s a whole lot more to like about the Oswald brothers than what meets the eye (or ears).
I have to admit, my first impression of OBB was similar to Taylor’s. In my initial review of the band’s WinterJam performance in January 2013, I playfully compared and contrasted the band with (one of my favorites) the Jonas Brothers. I wrote, “I liked OBB. I thought their music was appropriately awesome. I liked the fresh-faced, positive vibe they had going on at Winter Jam. I liked the t-shirts and denim look they were rocking; it wasn’t too much, but it wasn’t too little, either. Everything about OBB was thoughtfully balanced and well crafted, from their song selections to the way they carried themselves on stage. When I met them after the show, I found they were just as genuine and sweet as they appeared on stage. This is one boy band that I fully endorse my niece, Alyssa, listening to, and that’s saying something.”
I’m happy to report after spending some time interviewing Zach, Jacob, and Nich following their set at the WFRN Friend Fest, my initial WinterJam impressions of the guys were spot on; I will say, however, that I didn’t adequately anticipate just how funny and personally engaging the brothers are off stage.
The Oswald brothers are, to borrow an expression from my Grandma, “a real hoot and a half!” Roughly translated, this means they are the most fun trio of brothers ever.
So, just how exactly did this energetic and fun-loving three-piece band get their start in music?
“Our parents forced us when we were younger to play piano,” said Jacob, the middle of the three brothers, who plays guitar. “Neither of them could play the piano because their parents let them quit, and so they were always sad that they couldn’t play.”
“Our mom knew one song and our dad knew one song and that was it,” said Zach, the oldest Oswald brother, and lead singer.
“Our dad David glued the keys shut when he was younger because he wanted to quit so bad,” interjected Nich, the youngest brother and drummer. “Now our Aunt has that piano and all the keys stick. If you try to play the piano and press a key, the whole octave goes down!” he added, and all the brothers nod in agreement and start laughing.
“So our parents agreed that when they had kids, they would have to play the piano. It was not going to be optional, at least not until we could play reasonably well,” said Zach.
Clearly, Mr. & Mrs. Oswald didn’t have any grand ambitions of creating the next great boy band when they started Zach, Jacob, and Nich in piano lessons; they just wanted their offspring to be able to competently play a few songs on the piano like any other civilized, well-rounded individual.
“We’d all cry when we had to play the piano,” remembered Zach, laughing, his eyes lighting up at the memory.
His brothers chimed in on cue: “I don’t wanna play! I don’t want to practice!”
“I’m so thankful they did now,” said Zach, a hint of maturity far beyond his years in his voice.
“A piano background is so wonderful,” agreed Jacob.
I’m going to guess there are a whole lot of OBB fans who are really thankful that Mr. & Mrs. Oswald made the boys take piano lessons in their younger days, too.
Zach, Jacob, and Nich give their parents much credit for the success they have recently experienced as a band. “As a family, we all love music,” Jacob told me during our interview. “Our parents have been very helpful in our music growing up and in everything we’ve done.”
This is especially evident when Nich tells the story of how he came to acquire his first drum set.
“When I was 9, right before I turned 10, I begged my parents to buy me a drum set for Christmas,” said Nich. “They said, ‘Are you kidding me? You’ll be banging that thing all the time! Can we at least buy you an electric drum set?’ I said ‘No, I want the real thing!’ I didn’t think they would get me one. But they did, and I loved it…. until they bought me the practice pads that go on the top of it, then I cried when I had to practice. I hated it. It sounded terrible. My Dad almost sold my drum set,” reminisced Nich, and his brothers nodded and chuckled, remembering with vivid clarity a soon to be 10-year-old Nich crying at his drum set.
Jacob’s experience was significantly less theatrical than Nich’s when it came to finding his musical passion. “I took piano for five or six years, I always enjoyed playing piano, but whenever I started playing the guitar I just loved it,” said the soft-spoken Jacob with simple sincerity. “I would wake up and want to play my guitar. Most kids wake up and want to go outside and play, but I just wanted to play my guitar. God gave me this desire and love for guitar playing.”
Drummer Nich shakes his head. “That’s the great thing about being a guitar player. You just open up your case and you can play,” says Nich with a touch of gentle sarcasm to his voice. “If I want to play, it takes me an hour to set up, then within ten minutes of playing everyone is yelling at me to shut up. Even when you’re tearing it up, people still want you to be quiet after a while,” he adds teasingly.
As for lead singer Zach, he loved singing, but like a lot of other really awesome lead singers I’ve interviewed, had a paralyzing fear of singing in public for a long time.
“I would always sing in the choir ministry at our church, and I would be in this special singing group with a mic even though I wouldn’t sing out. In all of the pictures you can see my mic is way over here,” said Zach, gesturing as far as he possibly could away from his body. “I would just whisper because I was terrified of singing in public. I just didn’t want to do it.”
Then, the Oswald’s father David did something entirely unexpected that changed everything.
Even though the boys all played instruments, they had never really played together. Zach was involved in the family’s church music ministry, Jacob played in a band called Deer in the Headlights, and Nich played in a band called Fish Sticks, Nich recalled. “We were all terrible, and the bands weren’t very good, either,” said Nich.
“We were taking Korean lessons to learn how to talk to our aunt that speaks Korean and lives in Texas, and our Dad came to pick us up,” said Zach. “Dad said, ‘Hey, would you guys want to be in a battle of the bands?’”
Nich and Jacob interjected, “And we said ‘Together? Us?’” disbelievingly.
“We told Dad that we would probably do it if we could find a Battle of the Bands someday,” said Zach laughing. “Dad says, ‘Well, good because I signed you up for one and it’s tonight. The show’s in 3 hours, and first you need to sell 25 tickets and get 30 minutes of music ready. We’ve already paid $50, so get ready.”
No pressure or anything.
Nich said, “I was like ‘I don’t need any practice, I got this. I’ll go and sell the tickets.’” So while Zach and Jacob worked on getting the music around, 12-year-old Nich went door to door in his neighborhood selling tickets.
“‘My brothers and I are in a band. Do you wanna come to our concert? Tickets are only $10.’” Nich demonstrated his sales technique by making a face that strongly resembled that of sad Puss in Boots from the Shrek movies. “Nobody came to the concert, but I sold all the tickets to the first 15 houses I went to. Nobody said no. Our next door neighbor bought $100 worth of tickets just because he wanted to be supportive.
There was just one problem remaining: OBB’s lead singer was paralyzed by the thought of singing in public.
“Before my Dad signed us up for this thing, I was terrified of singing in public. I would never sing in public,” said Zach, “but as soon as I got up on stage God took all of the fear away from me. Before that, I never wanted anyone to hear my voice. It was like that night God said, ‘Zach you are singing for me. It doesn’t matter if these people love you or if they don’t love you. You are singing for me, I gave you this voice, so sing for me’. I can honestly say since that night I haven’t been afraid to sing.”
Nich, never one without something to add to the conversation, chimes in, “Now we can’t get him to stop singing. We have to remind him when we’re at home, ‘Zach, this is not an OBB concert.’”
While the brothers didn’t win the Battle of the Bands that night (they came in 2nd place), they had unknowingly embarked on the journey of a lifetime, one that would take them to places they had never dreamed of, from a nationally syndicated morning TV show to a record deal with Curb to the 44 city WinterJam tour in 2013.
WinterJam is where I first experienced OBB, and in the days leading up to my interview with Zach, Jacob, and Nich at the WFRN Friend Fest, I realized that out of all of the stories and songs I had heard from all the bands at WinterJam, the only one that I really remembered was the one that Zach had shared that January night from the Memorial Coliseum Stage.
“We were looking for a new home church,” said Zach. “We loved our church but they didn’t have a college program and we wanted to stay plugged in and connected to other youth our age. At the time, I had this huge Mohawk. It was supposed to be blonde, but it turned bright yellow.”
At this point, Nich begins surfing his phone for a picture of the Mohawk in question, but alas, was unable to find one. “I will admit, it got a little crazy,” continued Zach, elbowing his brother while referring to his Mohawk. “A lot of places I would walk in, and instead of people saying ‘Welcome to our church’, they would look at me and no one would say anything to me at all.”
“Except a few people who would ask you if that was your real hair,” added color commentator Nich. (Side Note: If I ever get my own TV show, I definitely want Nich for a host. He’s awesome!)
Zach ignored Nich. Nich went back to looking for Mohawk pictures on his phone. I looked at Jacob. “Zach normally talks a lot, and Nich is usually trying to get Zach to stop talking a lot. I’m just along for the ride,” says Jacob, smiling and shrugging his shoulders.
“Then we went to Passion City church in Atlanta and were sitting in the front row. Louie Giglio was doing the message that week. At the end of sermon, he pointed at me and said ‘You in the front row with the awesome Mohawk!’ to make his point in a positive way. ” said Zach. “We realized that God called us to be loving to people. That’s what Jesus does. He wasn’t up on the cross saying, ‘Hey you with the Mohawk, I’m not doing this for you.‘ He paid for every single one of us. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what you’ve done or what’s happened in our lives, He loves every single one of us. He really does.”
“Even you wearing the socks with sandals,” points out Nich.
I can’t be sure, but Nich may or may not have been talking to Chris August who had just popped his head into our air-conditioned interviewing oasis to look around.
The story inspired OBB’s current single, ‘Come on Home’, which Zach said he really hoped would be the band’s first single off of their self-titled debut EP. “’Come on Home’ started out as two completely different songs, but when we put them together and added the bridge it became magic,” Jacob told me, and I completely agree.
It is hands down one of my favorite songs on the radio right now.
Even though it appears that the Oswald brothers are having the time of their young lives right now, it is obvious that even though they are having fun and enjoying what they are doing, they remain a focused band of brothers intent on the ministry that God has called them to.
As if they weren’t already endearing enough.
When asked what the hopes are for OBB’s future, Nich promptly replied, “I hope that on Monday everybody has our single!” (With that being said, Nich seamlessly transitioned to the sad Puss in Boots face that so effectively sold Battle of the Band tickets when he was 12. So, if you aren’t hearing the new single, ‘Come on Home’, on your local radio station, you should probably call ’em up and request they add the single ASAP!)
Jacob and Zach laugh, and Jacob adds “I hope that we just reach as many people as we can with our music, and to do as much for God’s kingdom as we can.”
“Yeah,” agreed Zach, “I just want to encourage younger people to not let age hold you back from doing what God’s called you to do; but not even just younger people,but all people. You can’t say ‘I’m too young, I’ll do that when I’m older’ or ‘I’m too old, I can’t do that’. God can use every single one of us. He started using Nich when he was just 12!”
“Yeah, he started using a not very good 12-year-old to reach people for Christ,” said Nich laughing. “God can use you, too, no matter what. No excuses.”
“We might not have some of the same life experiences as some of the older guys out there, but we do have Jesus inside of us and He can speak thru us just the same as someone who is 40 or 50 years old,” said Jacob.
With a brand new full length album in the works to be released in 2014, the Oswald brothers (who co-write all of their own songs) will undoubtedly have many new opportunities to share their music with all kinds of people, both young and old, while furthering the kingdom of God.
As I reflect on OBB’s hope for the future to reach people for Christ, both young and old, I can’t help but think about 8-year-old Taylor and her excitement about how nice OBB is and how they sing about Jesus (and the hair, can’t forget about the hair!)
In her happiness over her autographed t-shirt, she had very seriously informed me that she was OBB’s biggest fan.
Prior to getting to know OBB, I had smiled at Taylor’s assertion and thought it was super cute.
After getting to know OBB during our interview, and out of deference to young Taylor, I think I need a fan-title of my own because I am convinced that Zach, Jacob, and Nich are more than just a crazy talented boy band. Rather, the Oswald brothers are young men of integrity and faith who are using their God-given talents to shine His light in world filled with a lot of darkness.
I pray that Alex, my own six-year-old son, might one day grow up to be like the Oswald brothers in this respect. (Alex already reminds me a lot of Nich with his drum playing and some of the candid conversations we have 🙂
In the meantime, I’m laying claim to the title of OBB’s tallest fan. (The only other option I could come up with was ‘oldest fan’, and I’m not going there!)
That reminds me…where did I put my autographed OBB t-shirt again?