After two albums as a solo act, Salford-based singer/songwriter and producer Jonathan Ogden has recently seen his RIVERS & ROBOTS project morph into a fully-fledged band. Lins Honeyman investigates.
When Salford-based singer/songwriter and producer Jonathan Ogden started writing and recording under the Rivers & Robots moniker back in 2010, little did he know that his humble solo project would blossom into a four piece band only a few years later with a raft of live appearances and a healthy following under its collective belt.
Starting out as little more than an experiment, 'The Great Light' - an accomplished 2010 debut album - saw Jonathan produce an inherently worshipful piece of work that still sounds refreshingly different from much of today's modern worship fare and showcased some breathtakingly honest songs about his relationship with God together with an innovative electronica-tinged production style. Continuing in the same solo vein, Jonathan released the followup 'Take Everything' in 2012 to wider acclaim and, thanks to a desire to play his now burgeoning catalogue of songs live, plans were afoot to flesh Rivers & Robots into a full blown band.
With David Hailes (guitar), Nathan Stirling (bass) and Kelani Koyejo (drums) joining the ranks with Jonathan on vocals and keyboards, the Rivers & Robots crew are set to go into the studio to record what will be their first full band album. I caught up with the Rivers & Robots founder member to find out more. "Recording the new album is a bit scary for me because it will be the first time I've let go of the production side of things," Jonathan admits. "I'll find it hard to be completely separate from it and may find myself occasionally sitting in the producer's chair!"
I ask Jonathan to cast his mind back to when it all begin and to explain why he chose Rivers & Robots as his stage name. "After I did the first album, I didn't have a name for the whole thing so I decided to come up with something that would sum up the acoustic folk/electronic sound of my songs. I went through lots of different names and Rivers & Robots ended up being the catchiest!"
It seems deciding on the right name was only part of Jonathan's thinking behind the Rivers & Robots project. "About four or five years ago, I was asking God what he wanted me to do, where he wanted me in life and what my calling was - that kind of stuff," he explains. "I felt he was speaking to me about worship - I wasn't leading worship at church or anything like that at the time - but I ended up picking up the instruments I'd learnt as a child and started to worship God with them at home. As I was doing this, songs started to come out and I was learning how to do music production at the same time which led to me recording the songs on 'The Great Light' in my home studio.
"I never intended 'The Great Light' to go anywhere or do anything," confesses Jonathan. "I was just worshipping and working on my music production. Those songs were never designed to work in a congregational setting - they came from my own one-on-one worship sessions - but people seem to be enjoying them and the fact that anyone bought the first album is amazing!"
Before long, Jonathan started work on a followup to 'The Great Light' using the same approach of undertaking all the songwriting and production duties himself. "The second album felt like a really big step up for me," he confides. "The first one was me figuring out what I was doing but, during the making of 'Take Everything', I felt God was really speaking to me through the Bible and the sermons I was hearing at the time. A lot of the songs on that album came from a place where God was speaking to me rather than just me writing a song about a chosen subject. Pretty much every track means something a lot more to me than simply just being a song because I was burning to write about things God had placed on my heart."
With Rivers & Robots being a solo venture for the first few years of its existence, I suggest the decision to recruit band members wasn't one that Jonathan took lightly. "Turning Rivers & Robots into a band was quite a big move," he agrees. "As a solo project, I had complete control of how it all sounded. Putting the band together came about because I was thinking of doing live appearances after I released the first album and I began to experiment with playing live along with loops and tracks on a laptop. It didn't feel quite right and the more I thought about it, the more I thought forming a band would be the best way to go. Before I recorded 'Take Everything', I didn't know any of the guys who are now part of Rivers & Robots but it was over the next year or so that everything started to fall into place. David, Nathan and Kelani have definitely added a lot to the whole thing. I still write most of the material but I'm now able to bring what I write to the other guys and we collaboratively build it up into a song."
Jonathan is keen to point out that the members of Rivers & Robots are not simply there to just make music and record albums. "What we aim to do with Rivers & Robots is to worship God and serve him," he advises. "Secondly, we want to bring the message of who Jesus is through our music. There's a lot of new worship music coming out all over the place at the moment and it's amazing to see this but, at the same time, there's a lot of counter-worship rising up in the media and the world. This is the stuff that is designed to take all our attention away from God. As Christians, we should be people who focus their attention on God and are set apart from the world. Rivers & Robots are a small part of a global worship movement that is being raised up right now with the aim of glorifying God, declaring his glory and loving him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength."
In closing, Jonathan confirms that things are most definitely on the up for Rivers & Robots. "We've already achieved way beyond what I imagined," he enthuses. "A few months ago, when we were playing at the David's Tent Festival in West Sussex, it suddenly hit me that just a couple of years ago I was sitting in my room recording songs and here we are playing live to a big crowd. It's been amazing to see it grow and it feels like it's going somewhere. I don't know quite where that is but that's what makes it exciting and I'm just happy to let God do what he wants to do."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.