C&L! Artist Interview: Rivers & Robots

Based in Manchester, England, Rivers & Robots is an Indie/folk band whose aim is to make Jesus know through creative worship. They have been with C&L! For a long time now and I recently got to interview lead singer and founder Jonathan Ogden. Check it out...
Bernie Cowan

Bernie is a Steiger missionary located in Tauranga, New Zealand.

Website: www.comeandlive.com

How did Rivers and Robots start?

R&R initially started as a solo project in 2010. I always grew up in Church, being a pastor’s kid, but I had a time when I was 15 or 16 when I felt God calling me to worship. I had been asking God: “where do you want me?” “what should I be doing?” and I just had this moment where I clearly felt the call to worship. I was already involved in my church’s worship team, but I was kind of just doing it because I play an instrument and not because I felt it was a calling. So I started worshiping at home, I would just sit at my piano and sing songs. As I did this, I found that I was just naturally writing stuff and overflowing into times of worship on my own.

In 2011, I had this big encounter with God, and He blew my mind with how amazing He is. I started exploring the different attributes of Jesus and that whole year was an amazing process of growing in my walk with God. I felt like I had a renewed idea of what Rivers & Robots. I wanted to write songs that were clearly about Jesus but still musically creative. Later that year, I met these three guys through working at this place called Message Trust, in Manchester. I was working behind the scenes as a graphic designer when I met these guys during my lunch breaks. We started practicing together in 2012 and, in a sense, learned how to play these songs live since I hadn’t written them with that focus. It was tricky at first, but we figured out a live version and started doing R&R as a band. We live as missionaries now. Touring in different parts of Europe, the UK and we even went to the Philippines last year.

What has God been teaching you personally and as a band recently?

One of the big things for me, which is the theme of “The Eternal Sun” album, has been realizing the eternal nature of God and the temporary nature of earth. I guess He’s just been teaching me to change my perspective. You can easily get so caught up in stuff that’s temporary and put so much weight in things that don’t matter in the long run that you lose track of God’s eternal perspective. The previous year, 2015, was quite a tough year for me. I struggled with anxiety and feeling quite low at times but what kept coming to mind was parts of the Psalms where it talks about lifting our eyes up and focusing on the Lord. I found that when I shifted my perspective to looking at eternal things, my current situation became easier to handle.

What are some experiences or stories of how God has used you guys as a band?

We started doing these events in Manchester called Gather, where every month we go to a different venue and run a worship night. One of my favorite things has been getting opportunities to do these in secular venues and clubs. This past June for example, we had the opportunity to do one at a club in the "cool" artistic hipster area of Manchester. There was this group of guys that came up, and they were standing in the back listening. You could see that they were listening to the words and eventually realized we were singing about Jesus. Some of them ended up going back downstairs, so we thought they had left but it turned out they had gone downstairs to get all their friends and bring them up. They stayed at the back for about an hour just taking in words and, they seemed to enjoy it. I love that we get to take what we do in church to people who would never listen to worship or even go into a church.  

What’s your vision for R&R? What are your plans for the future?

Early last year we started a sort of missionary organization called “Set Sail” and our aim in that is to make God known through creative worship. At one point we even had an opportunity to go with a record label, however, after praying a lot about it, we felt God directing us to run our band in a more mission-focused way instead. Using the money we make for new projects and creative artistic ways to get the Gospel out and tell people about Jesus. We’re also trying to explore other creative means to preach the Gospel like video or books with artistic depictions of the Psalms in them and that kind of thing. We’re still throwing a lot of ideas around and just trying to explore other creative means that can make Jesus known.We’ve also been connecting with other artists in the UK and trying to provide a platform for them to use their art for Jesus.

What would be your piece of advice or encouragement for other artists out there that want to use their art for Jesus?

As cliche as it sounds, the main thing that I’ve learned is to just keep your eyes on Jesus. I think the busier we get as a band you can get to a point where you’re so focused on the ministry aspect, so focused on the things that you do, and for we found that it’s just crucial to have that intimacy with Jesus and that connection is the most important thing. Everything else will come out of that.
In terms of the artistic side of things, I would say just feel free to create the things you want to create and don’t limit how creative you can be. I think sometimes we can limit ourselves, thinking that if we simplify it can have a broader reach. I think we should be honest about what we have in our hearts to create and the creativity that God has put in us.  I think it was a tweet that I saw once said: “I’d rather have a big impact on a small group of people than a small impact on a big group of people” and that stuck with me. I’d rather do what we do, even if it reaches just a few people... than trying to appeal to everyone and not having an impact.

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