Cincinnati, OH pop rock band Mosteller has been garnering a lot of attention lately for their debut full-length album, This Is Life. JesusfreakHideout.com's Cathy Payton caught up with the band's frontman (and namesake) Justin Mosteller to talk about their humble beginnings and new album...
This interview took place in June 9, 2012.
Jesus freak Hideout (Cathy Payton): Mosteller was formed in 2008, is that right? And I know you are based in Cincinnati. Tell me about your backgrounds, how you met and what made you decide to form the band.
Justin Mosteller: Correct, we formed in the fall of 2008. The short story is that we all met through mutual friendships in other bands. The longer story is I have been a full-time worship pastor since 2003, and have been blessed to lead worship for churches, youth camps and conferences, etc. since college. Each year or really each opportunity that came my way I'd pull together some friends and different people to make up the band with me and we'd go to wherever to lead. There was never really a commitment or anything beyond, "Hey I need someone to lead with me for this event."
JFH (Cathy): After releasing two EPs, including On the Brightside in 2011, your first full-length album, This is Life, debuted in February of this year at #17 on iTunes Christian/Gospel chart-impressive for an indie band's first album. How did the album come to be?
In 2006 (which is crazy to think it's been that long ago), I was looking for an electric guitarist to play a few weeks with me in the summer, and a friend recommended this young high school student named Jeremy Menard. I had never seen Jeremy play, but trusting our mutual friend we set it up and I met him the afternoon before we led that night. Jeremy blew me away that summer. One guitar, one pedal, and one average amp never sounded better than when he played them. We hit it off from day one, and from that point Jeremy played with me whenever he could. At that point, I lived in Louisville, KY and he lived about an hour outside of Cincinnati, OH, so it wasn't an easy task to travel over 2 hours or more and lead with me, but he did it.
Going in to the summer of 2008, I was once again in need of a musician for a busy summer of youth camps. This time I needed a drummer, and Jeremy was the one who did the referring this time. Earlier that year, he played one event with a drummer (Michael Loy) he'd never met, and since then he hadn't stopped talking about him. I was able to see Michael play once and after I saw how hard he hit 'dem drums, I knew I wanted to call him. I tried to wine and dine him by taking him to Wendy's, and it worked. Seriously, from that first time Michael and I talked, I could see how great of a guy he was. Add his humility and sincerity to the talent he has and I knew I wanted to lead with him.
The three of us led worship together that summer, but one piece was still missing. Enter Jordan Bailey. In 2006, Jordan and Michael played in a band called The Delicate together. When the need for a bass player came up, Jordan was the first guy Michael mentioned. After a few rehearsals and events with Jordan, the four of us sat down and made it official in the fall of 2008.
We felt strongly there was something special about how the four of us connected both personally and musically. We each had so much respect for who the others were, and that spoke to each of us even louder than the musical connection. We didn't really have a vision in mind beyond wanting to begin making music together and continuing to lead worship and following the opportunities God was giving us. As long as fruit was being produced through our ministry and music, we would continue being a band together.
In 2010, I moved to Cincinnati to begin ministering with a church just north of the city. Finally, Jeremy wasn't alone in Cinci. Michael and Jordan still live in Southern Indiana just outside of Louisville with their families, but we now claim Cinci as our home. It takes some sacrifice living a couple hours from one another, but it's one we make willingly because we believe in what we're a part of. We all serve as worship ministers in all four of our local churches in Cincinnati and Southern Indiana. We each believe in the body of Christ and the value of healthy community.
On a side note, I would add that we wrestled like every band with what to call ourselves. In the end, Michael, Jeremy and Jordan said we should be named "Mosteller" I'm not lying here. They outvoted me three to one. Since I had been blessed with many connections and opportunities under my name, "we" decided to shorten it to my last name so those connections could remain. The guys all like to say I named the band after myself (we specialize in giving each other a hard time), but we all know the truth.
Justin: The dream for This is Life started in about February of 2011. We were beginning our busiest year at that point, and knew we needed some new music to have for our fans and those who knew nothing about us. That's how On the Brightside came about. It was always our intent to make a full album out of or right after we released that EP. We wanted to have the EP for the summer and fall, and then have our first full-length out by 2012. Of course all those plans hinged on how the EP did, and the EP was ministering to more people than ever.
JFH (Cathy): What was it like working with Jason?
At that point we had always functioned on word of mouth. We had never went out and self-promoted ourselves. With the fruit that was being produced we began to be challenged by the thought of if we truly believe in what God is doing through us then we must be willing to promote ourselves in order that more ministry may happen. Not promoting for self-gain, but promoting in the spirit of sharing what God is doing through us. So we started to email people like crazy with our EP just to see what would happen. One of those emails went to a fella named Jason Hoard, and within a few months we were making This is Life at Jason's Black Cat Studios in Griffin, GA.
Justin: In one word, it was right. It was perfect for us. It felt like we had been friends with Jason for years but we'd only met him once. What God was doing in us was perfect for what Jason has in his heart and mind. He brought things out of us that we didn't know were in there. His relational approach to everything made for a real album. Whether it was praying together, grilling out together, talking sports or laughing non-stop, we felt right at home in Griffin, and we think that shows in the album. We'll forever remember working with Jason not just because it was our first album, but because we feel like we made a life-long friend. And having a studio next to Slices Pizzeria helps everything as well!
JFH (Cathy): What are you most happy with about the album? Is there anything you wish you could change?
Some may not realize that for This is Life we did seven songs with Jason at Black Cat, and we were also able to do three songs with our friend Michael Sanders from Jetlag Recordings (www.jetlagrecordings.com) in Jeffersonville, IN. Michael produced our EP On the Brightside and was a huge part of This is Life because of the work he did on those three songs. We're incredibly grateful to both guys and their work and friendship with us.
Justin: There are always things you look back at or listen back to and think, "Oh I wish I could change this or do that differently." I think any artist or person who's growing in their craft will always have those feelings, but overall we feel so good about the album. If we could've changed one thing specifically we wish we could've had more time in Griffin. We did all seven songs with Jason in 4 1/2 days, and can only imagine what other goodness may have come out with more time in our hands. I think we're most happy about how the album is reaching people. We've been blown away by the response. We're continually blessed to receive emails from people who are being impacted by these songs. The impact of the album is the greatest thing about it in our minds.
JFH (Cathy): Do you write your songs together? What's your writing process like?
Justin: We feel like we're just beginning a whole new phase when it comes to songwriting. We do write together, but more so than ever we're all now giving lyrical input, melodic input, structure input and so on. For the album we each brought our piece to the song. I or Jordan would bring the lyrics and melody with some ideas, and then we as a band would dissect it, make it our own, and produce the song together. Now we're all sending voice memos from our phones with melodic and lyrical ideas to one another. We love it this way, and we fully realize that if some of these memos are ever released we'll be forever ridiculed by many. We love writing together, and love that everyone brings value to the writing process.
JFH (Cathy): What inspired the songs on This is Life?
Justin: Simply put real life inspired everything on "This is Life." We didn't set out to write songs to be sung on a Sunday morning in a church or any other venue for that matter. We set out to write the songs that were flowing out of our lives over the past year or longer. A friend said to us a few weeks ago that you have your whole life to write the songs for your first album, and that's pretty accurate for a couple of these songs. The song "Rest" was started back in 2006, and continued to flow out of some highs and incredible lows in life. I never knew whether or not anyone other than me would ever hear that song let alone if it would ever end up on an album. That's the case with several of these songs. They began as songs we needed in a time (like "Rest") or as songs we just found ourselves singing in a moment (like the title track This is Life). From those moments they moved to a broader perspective to become songs for others.
JFH (Cathy): Who have been your greatest musical influences as a band, Christian or mainstream?
The songs on this album are about everyday life. The ups, the downs, the in-between, the reality of who Christ is, the reality of who we are in Christ, and the reality of what this life means in light of knowing the kingdom of God is at hand and has come in Christ. Redemption has come and all things are being made new as it says in Romans 8:18-25 and 2 Corinthians 5:17-20. Life is always seen in perspective of those realities, and the songs on this album flow out of that.
Justin: This answer comes from the whole band, and therefore it's all over the place. Bands like Lifehouse, Needtobreathe, Coldplay, Matthew, Copeland, Radiohead, Switchfoot, Pearl Jam, Muse, and Sigur Ros have been big influences throughout our lives. Artists like James Taylor, Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, David Crowder, Tim Hughes, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, The Temptations, and Steven Curtis Chapman have also influenced us in a big way.
JFH (Cathy): You were recently invited to participate in Centricity Music's Artists' Retreat in Washington. Tell us about your time there, and what you took away from the experience.
Justin: Our time with Centricity and all the other artists was an unbelievable blessing. A trip like this is something you never forget and can never say enough thanks for. Centricity invited us along with about 16 other artists/bands to spend a week in a beautiful town called Winthrop, WA. The week was set up for them to pour into us and for us to pour into one another.
JFH (Cathy): There are many noteworthy things happening for you guys this year. You're opening for The City Harmonic on June 16th during their first headlining tour. You won a contest to open the Spirit Song festival in Ohio at the end of June, where you'll be performing ahead of Jeremy Camp and Switchfoot. You also won to open at Rock the World on August 25th for Jeremy Camp and Tenth Avenue North, and you're performing at the Awaken Festival in Ohio in September with the Newsboys and Building 429. This has to be an exciting time for you. Does the attention surprise you?
Beyond the label's staff, everyone there was either an independent artist or band. Their goal for the week was to come alongside us and teach us how to grow in this journey we're on. Musician (keyboardist for Amy Grant), producer (Rich Mullins), writer, and Belmont University professor Reed Arvin poured into us all week about creativity. Pastor Milam Byers from The Reversal (ministry in Nashville for artists www.thereversal.org) poured into us spiritually throughout the week. Writers like Mia Fieldes, Sam Mizell, James Tealy, Jeromy Diebler, and Brian Hitt were available for us to write with all week. Incredible food, incredible scenery, hot tubs, deer, homemade ice cream... Like we said, it was an unbelievable blessing.
We can't wait for our fans to hear the songs that came out of this week. We're thrilled about the relationships we developed throughout the week with everyone there, and can't wait to see how God uses them in the future. The generosity and sincerity of the folks from Centricity is incredible.
Justin: It's definitely been crazy exciting and surprising for us! It seems like every week for the past couple months we've been calling one another with some type of great news. We are grateful for the opportunities coming to us, and so blessed by all the support of our fans. It's blowing us away the things that are ahead for us, and we can't wait for the summer to officially kick off. We're honored to be sharing the stage with all of these artists, and honestly we're as excited to see them all live as we are to play alongside them.
JFH (Cathy): You'll also be in front of what will probably be the largest audiences in your careers so far-have you thought about how that will feel?
Justin: Well we hope it feels great! We hope our fans come out and join us, and we hope we make many new fans along the way. We will always put the same heart and energy into what we do whether it's 25 or 2,500. The more people the merrier!
JFH (Cathy): Several of you have young families. How will you handle the demands of being on the road during the upcoming year?
Justin: This is a question we're always processing together. Three of us are married to amazing wives, and Jeremy is single with great roommates (I had to include that). The Loys have three amazing kids, and my wife and are getting ready to have our first baby in November. It's a crazy exciting time for our families and our band. Our wives are seriously incredible! They believe whole heartedly in the vision of our band, and genuinely support us in amazing ways. There is no doubt as things pick up we will be entering new territory for all of us. We continually ask other bands doing this how they handle it, and we try to learn from them as much as possible. The strength of our families, the strength of our friendships in the band, and the strength of the communities around our families give us the ability to do what we do. We're blessed by great support, and great willingness by our wives to be such a vital part in this with us.
JFH (Cathy): You work with an organization called Project Mañana. Who are they and what's your connection with them?
Justin: So glad you asked. Project Mañana is an organization in the Dominican Republic dedicated to bettering the lives of children, families and communities through nutrition, education, and guidance. They are completely Christ centered, and are making an incredible impact there in the DR.
JFH (Cathy): Is there a particular Bible verse that resonates most with you-one that represents the band's outlook or mission?
Our good friend Brian Berman is the Founder of Project Mañana, and after hearing the vision of the organization through several friends we knew we wanted to help them. Ten percent of all our merch sales go to support Project Mañana. Last year, we helped them launch and open an elementary school there based on sponsorships. After just a year, over 115 kids have been sponsored and the children and school are growing like crazy. Families are being strengthened, and hope is being brought to the community there. We hope your readers will consider helping us help them. They can go to www.projectmanana.org for more information.
Justin: We believe Jesus is the perfect example of who we were intended to be at creation, and for who we are becoming now. We try in everything in life to only listen to the Father and respond to Him in life. We try as men and as a band to empty ourselves so that Christ can be our all, as Andrew Murray talks about in his book "Humility." We are constantly striving to live out Philippians 2:1-11.
To find out more about Mosteller, visit their Facebook page!