OBB: Not Just Another Crazy Talented Boy Band

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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).

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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.

pussinboots“‘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?

New Music Pick of the Week: Jason Castro’s Only A Mountain

jason castro

It’s officially 2013…let the new music releases begin!

My first pick of 2013 is sort of a surprising one; at least, it surprised me.  (And you know how much I love surprises!)

When I was initially asked if I would take a listen to the advance releases of Jason Castro’s Only A Mountain and Meredith Andrew’s Worth it All, I very nearly said “Yes, I’d be happy to listen to Meredith Andrew’s project, but I’ll pass on Jason Castro’s.”

Why would you want to do that, you might be asking yourself?

Well, the answer is simple (at least in my mind).  I never want to be in a position where I feel compelled to have to say something nice about an artist’s CD that I don’t really like just because someone sent me a free CD in the mail.  That may sound super naive to a lot of people, perhaps even dumb, but hey, I’m from Indiana and I’m an inherently nice person.

In other words, I’m no Simon Cowell.

I would rather say nothing at all than write something negative or hurtful, and since this website is entirely my own I get to decide who and what I write about and whether or not I’m nice about it.

With this being said, I had pretty significant reservations about whether or not I would have anything nice to say about Only a Mountain.

Now, I should probably say that I have met Jason Castro and seen him in concert, and to be frank, I thought he was just okay.  In retrospect, the biggest problem with meeting Jason Castro when I did was that I met Elias Dummer of the City Harmonic right after, and that was kind of the highlight of my life (besides briefly interviewing TobyMac in December.)  Plus, his performance was sandwiched in between performances by Royal Tailor (whom I adore) and Kutless (the likes of whom I said just last week would be my top pick to be stranded on an island with).

So, when I was asked if I would take a listen to Only a Mountain, a few things popped into my head.  One, wasn’t he the guy with the dredlocks that played the ukelele at the Star 88.3 Music Stage this past July?  The one who had talked during his performance about not having any real vocal training and that he had only sung in public a handful of times before going on American Idol?  That one guy with the awe-shucks charm that seemed to smile all the time?  (Because you know, you really need to be wary of people who smile all the time 🙂

Yep, that guy.  Jason Castro.

After a brief deliberation with my friend Jill (who reminded me how much I ended up liking Chris August’s newest CD when I took a chance and listened to it) and my sister Stacy, the American Idol guru of Indiana, I decided to give Only a Mountain a good old fashioned Spin the Blog spin.

To say that I’m really glad I did is perhaps the understatement of 2013.

My prior reservations about Castro and his vocal chops were quickly put to rest within the first two tracks of Only a Mountain.  The places where I once felt Castro seemed to be holding back vocally were filled in with a tenor that is teeming rich with talent.  In this sophomore release, he fuses his trademark musical style with a voice that is both vivid and soulful, at times seeming to pop  right out of my speakers.  With the release of “Only a Mountain”, Castro has clearly found his sound, and it is quite delightfully unlike any other in Christian music.

The title track, Only a Mountain, is the first single to be released from Castro’s CD.  In a showdown of mountains between Castro’s Only a Mountain and Brandon Heath’s Cold Mountain, I think Castro’s mountain is the clear winner.   It’s a toe tapping, lyrically catchy number, but more than that, it speaks the Truth in non-preachy, down to earth manner that everyone, Christian or not, could relate to.

I absolutely loved the second track on the album, “I Believe.”  The lyrics are simple and heartfelt,  poetry set to song.   This song spoke directly to my heart:  “This doesn’t look a thing like I imagined it/When the waters rise it’s easy to forget/Though I don’t understand/You’ve always had your plans/Though I cannot see, I believe/ In my darkest nights you guide me/I believe/When I lose my way, you find me/I believe/When I can’t see anyway out/ I find when I cannot see/ I believe”.

“If Its Love”, the third track on the album, is Castro’s battle cry to fight for a marriage, to fight for love.  If you’re married or have ever been married, you’ll relate to this one.

Another song I really liked on Only a Mountain is “Starting Line”.  The opening lyrics to “Starting Line” are:  “All this time I thought I knew you/Doing all the things I thought I should do/But I missed you all along/Too busy too broke too blind to see/ The one that stood right next to me and loved me thru it all/And why did it have to take so long for me/ To find the real you/ I just opened my eyes/ Oh its like i’m seeing your face for the first time/And we’re strangers now for the last time/I know you now/It feels so good to finally meet you/Face to face/Heart to heart/Eye to eye/Another chance at the starting line”.  I think Castro really captures here what a lot of us experience in our relationship with the Lord; for sure, he has captured experiences I’ve had.

“Stay This Way” is in fact my very favorite song on the album; I could listen to this one over and over.  This song is one of those great recordings where it all comes together and it is all flawless–Castro’s voice, the lyrics, the music, everything.  The song title may be unassuming and somewhat underwhelming, but believe me, this is one song you do not want to live without hearing.  Seriously, all songs should stay this way; it is that good of a song.

The sole duet on the album, “Same Kind of Broken”, features Castro singing with the velvety voiced Moriah Peters.  The pairing makes a lovely contrast, especially when combined with the sentiments of the song–“So many faces of different colors/So many stories untold/So many places, these streets are numbered/Yet we’re all pieces of a whole big world/We all come alive/We all fall apart/We all need someone to love us where we are/What if we all took a minute/To look at one another and lay our differences aside/We would find that we are the same kind/The same kind of broken.”

“Safehouse”, the seventh track on the album, is another one of my favorites.  So many times, I go to concerts to find brochures for fantastic organizations like Compassion International and the like, but other than “Safehouse” I can only think of two other songs off the top of my head by big name singers that actually address the needs of individuals that organizations like this serve (MercyMe & Matthew West, in case you were wondering).  I like the fact that this song doesn’t pitch the idea that you have to run out and try to save the entire world, either; just try to touch one life, make a difference to one person.  A very well done call to action.

The anthemic “Runaway” is the 8th track on Only a Mountain.  This song continues on in the upbeat and positive tradition of “Starting Line” and “If It’s Love”.

“Enough” is a really sweet, emotionally evocative song.  If I were to guess, Castro draws on his experience as a new father to his daughter in this song based on the opening lyric “You’ve got you’re mother’s eyes.”  I think all the daughters (and sons) of the world should take listen of this song, and know that they are loved and enough.  Now, I know I’ve said practically every song on this album is one of my favorites, but “Enough” is no exception.  I love it!

The second to the last song on the album, “Rise to You,” is another winner.  Great sound, great lyrics, and is currently kind of stuck in my head.

“Good Love” is a fun, happy tune to end Only a Mountain on.  I love the lyric “It’s a good love/Good love/Nothing you would change about it/Bigger than your hands can hold/But it fits just like a glove“.  That right there is some sweet songwriting!

I have to give major kudos to Castro not just for his stronger, more complex vocal stylings on this sophomore release, but to also give him props for his contemplative, completely genuine writing on this album.  (Castro either wrote or co-wrote every song on “Only a Mountain”).

Of this project, Castro recently said “I really can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about my new album, Only a Mountain.  I’ve had some amazing things happen to me recently–marrying my wife, the birth of our daughter–and now this.  Life really is beautiful, and that’s what I want people to be reminded of when they listen to these new songs.”

Between the amalgamation of sincere lyrics and the revelation of his true inner voice, I think it is safe to say Castro has more than achieved his wish with “Only a Mountain.”

While Castro’s debut CD may have been entitled “Who I Am,” with the release of “Only a Mountain” he really begins to show us just exactly who he is–an incredibly gifted musician and songwriter with a bright and compelling future ahead of him.

 

“Only a Mountain”, Jason Castro’s debut full length CD with Word Entertainment, will be available wherever music is sold Tuesday, January 15th, 2013.  Also, make plans to see Jason in concert as he is currently on tour with WinterJam 2013 alongside TobyMac, Red, Matthew West, Jamie Grace, Newsong, Royal Tailor, Sidewalk Prophets, OBB, and Capital Kings.  www.JamTour.com

Special Thanks to Warner Music Group/Word Entertainment for providing Spin: The Blog with an advance release copy of “Only a Mountain” for this review.