Eric Owyoung is a great example of a person chasing that God-echo within. You know, they sense God’s desire for their lives and they wake up each morning, have a cup of coffee and work. Hard. The life of a musician is often viewed through rose-colored lenses. But, like anything worth doing in this life, there’s a rigor to it.
Eric’s band Future of Forestry has made a name for itself since 2006, with it’s nine studio recordings (original and collections) and Christmas DVD, Solstice. Eric has garnered a reputation for creating awe-inspiring music with a live concert experience that is beautiful and almost otherworldly.
I spoke with Eric in the early morning hours to discuss the rigor of doing the work that you love, the beauty that comes from pain, and how the church can get behind its artists. In Part II of my interview Eric talks about the reality and rigor of the musician's life and our "treeless" culture.
Tim: Describe your “everyday” and the inspiration that you receive from it. How we can find beauty in the everyday?
Eric: My everyday is filled with the mundane, sitting at a computer answering emails. It’s about doing the most boring, non-musician things anyone would ever have to do. But that’s real life. I think if you’re looking for those “awe” moments constantly and that’s the only thing that’s going to fulfill you, you’re going to be very unfulfilled.
The older I get the more I realize the beauty of life is found in those mundane things, such as being around the people you love and having a family. I would say those moments of beauty, they are seldom those “awe” moments, but when I do have them, whether it’s listening to someone else’s music or watching a movie or just realizing something beautiful or seeing a sunset, I realize how blessed I am to be alive and to have the life that I have.
It’s that one moment that takes all of the crap that happened that day and washes it all away and puts value and meaning into my life. So even though my day may be filled with the mundane, those very, very short moments tend to overpower the length and hours of my mundaneness.
Tim: Let me tell you what I hear you saying. It’s a beautiful thing, I think. You just finished telling me about the shadow part of life and coming out of it in the twilight and then growing into life. Then you explained the misconceptions about the artistic life. I always tell people there’s a rigor to the writing life and I know there’s a rigor to the musician’s life as well. You said it perfectly; there aren’t these constant “awe” moments. It’s the little moments.
What I heard in your thought-thread here is you went from this place of pain and into realizing who you were as just a fragile human in light of who God is. And then you became content, filled with gratitude for where you are in life. And now, when you talk about beauty and about what you do, you’re overwhelmed with the awe of gratitude and contentment and the Lord. Even that little journey you’ve talked through looks beautiful to me.
Eric: You finished exactly my feeling and my story. You filled in the blanks and you’re exactly right.
Tim: What do you think of our culture—we’re not a contented culture, we tend to be always wanting more and more. And yet, people are having “awe” moments at your shows, so you must give them a breathing space to say, “Man, God is great.”
Eric: Don’t get me started on the generation thing—it’s very sad to me where we’ve come with all of our iPhones and computers and what our lives look like. When we talk about shows—people won’t go to shows now, which is very sad, too, because it’s a lot harder to get people to go to concerts. Why would they do that when they can just click on a YouTube video by themselves for free?
It’s interesting because I picked the name Future of Forestry from a C.S. Lewis poem called “The Future of Forestry.” The concept of that poem is about a treeless world that exists because all of the trees have been cut down. Lewis is looking at our lives as being treeless and wondering what our concept of beauty will be if we don’t have “trees” in our lives. He was using the idea of trees metaphorically.
I think he was being literal in some sense, but I think for the most part he was talking about the state of our minds and souls. He had no idea what things would be like or how bad it would be.
I hardly have anybody I can hang out with that isn’t going to pull out their iPhone while we’re talking and be doing something on Facebook. Some of my friends, especially the younger ones, don’t get it. They wonder why I don’t care about Facebook and how can I know stuff if I’m not on it. I say, “Why would I do that? You’re right here. I don’t want to talk to anybody else, I want to talk to you.”
Anyway, the meaning of the band was really rooted in that. I don’t think I knew how relevant that subject would be, but it is. I struggle with it too. I can be at the table and suddenly feel the urgency to pull out my iPhone, and I don’t even know why. And then I think, What should I do on my iPhone right now? I don’t even know what I’m doing with it.
I do believe that we feel connected through that and it is a connection. A lot of the guys I tour with keep up with each other that way and they know what’s going on. In some ways, that’s cool because we know what’s going on in that person’s life, but when it comes down to it they don’t really know what’s going on because you don’t ever post what’s really going on in your life on your Facebook page.
If you do, you’re an idiot. You don’t want to give all your secrets away and tell people all the real things you’re dealing with. So it’s been a struggle of mine to figure out what to do with my life in this day and age, and what to do with other people who are feeling the same way about technology.
Tim: I read an interview where you mentioned that you work “quick and fast and intense,” talk about that. Why do you think that’s good? And then talk about your process.
Eric: The reason why I think that creativity comes from working fast is looking at the opposite of that would be doing something painstakingly long and slow. For example, if I sit down and think I have to make something absolutely beautiful and I have ten years to do it, I’m just going to sit there and beat my head over concrete to try to make something beautiful because I’m trying too hard and not letting it be an outflow of something.
I think a lot of it has to do with expectations.
When we feel a high level of expectation on ourselves and the pressure of that, we unfortunately don’t allow it to be us anymore, because we tend to not see ourselves as containing that kind of “perfection.”
So when someone says, “Just make some music, it doesn’t even have to sound good,” you start making all this music and you listen to it later and it sounds pretty cool. But if it has to be perfect, it warps. We don’t see ourselves as perfect and flawless, and so when we try to do something like that we are actually attempting to make something that is outside of who we are as people.
When I sit down and just throw some stuff out there, whatever sticks sticks, whatever doesn’t I just throw away. With that attitude, I just speed through creating. Instead of thinking here’s my one idea for a chorus, I’ll write 20 choruses within just a few minutes.
I’ll hit record and sing a chorus, throw it out, try another one. I just keep doing that and later I’ll think, These three are good, or They all stink, and I’ll just try again tomorrow. With that attitude, it relieves me of the pressure.
Tim: Do you ever get caught over-editing yourself?
Eric: Oh yeah, and that’s the problem. The more I grow in music, the less I get stuck in that process. I used to record something, spending hours on this one tiny part. I’ve tried to mature as much as I can and step back from it as much as possible.
“The Future of Forestry”
by C.S. Lewis (first published in 1938 under the pseudonym Nat Whilk)
How will the legend of the age of trees
Feel, when the last tree falls in England?
When the concrete spreads and the town conquers
The country’s heart; when contraceptive
Tarmac’s laid where farm has faded,
Tramline flows where slept a hamlet,
And shop-fronts, blazing without a stop from
Dover to Wrath, have glazed us over?
Simplest tales will then bewilder
The questioning children, “What was a chestnut?
Say what it means to climb a Beanstalk,
Tell me, grandfather, what an elm is.
What was Autumn? They never taught us.”
Then, told by teachers how once from mould
Came growing creatures of lower nature
Able to live and die, though neither
Beast nor man, and around them wreathing
Excellent clothing, breathing sunlight –
Half understanding, their ill-acquainted
Fancy will tint their wonder-paintings
Trees as men walking, wood-romances
Of goblins stalking in silky green,
Of milk-sheen froth upon the lace of hawthorn’s
This interview will be printed and distributed in its entirety at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta next week in the Review of Leadership Thought & Practice, of which I am the editor. All content here used by permission.
If you haven't purchased Future of Forestry's latest release Young Man Follow, do so here.
Timothy Willard is the author of three books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life. He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. He lived in Oxford, England for two years studying beauty in the works of C.S. Lewis. He earned his PhD in Theology under the supervision of world-renowned theologian Alister McGrath. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.