Interview: Sixteen Cities

Jul 22 2010

Rock band Sixteen Cities released their self-titled debut album earlier this year. Based in Portland, Oregon, the band formed in 2004 and release two independent albums before signing with Centricity. LTTM spoke to front man Josiah Warneking to find out the story behind the band's name, what inspired their album and what the future has in store for them.

For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?

My name is Josiah Warneking, and I’m the lead singer and songwriter for Sixteen Cities. I also play piano and keyboards. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by the beauty of the northwest. There’s nothing quite as inspiring as seeing mountains, rivers, oceans and forests every day as a kid. I have wonderful parents who raised me to know and love Jesus Christ. I also have a younger brother, Joel, who shares my love for music. He is the bass player in the band. Before I ever wrote my first song, I took classical piano lessons. That was my introduction to music. I also spent hours listening to my mother play worship music on the piano in the living room. She was our church’s worship leader, and I definitely inherited my heart for worship from her. After learning I could use music to glorify God, both through original songs and through leading worship, I fell head first into the world of Christian music. In high school, I was part of a worship ministry on our public campus, and I saw first-hand how music can affect the hearts of our generation. I think that’s what sold me to the idea of going into full-time music ministry. I didn’t know then that I’d be in a band like Sixteen Cities, I just knew I was being called to use music to reach young people.

The band name comes from quite an obscure bible passage, why did you choose that as your name?

Our band has always desired to be a relevant voice for our generation. We want to write songs that speak to the hearts of young people, and deal with the issues they face every day. Years ago, we heard a sermon about the tribe of Issachar in the Old Testament. They were the men who knew how to lead Israel. 1 Chronicles 12:32 says they "understood the times and the seasons and knew what Israel should do..." We really resonated with that tribe, but needed a name that was easier to remember and spell. So we found a verse in Joshua 19 that says that the "inheritance of Issachar" were sixteen cities. And that’s how we found our name.

Tell us a little bit about your album and what the inspiration behind it was?

When I began writing the songs for this album, I knew I wanted to speak to the hearts of young people. I didn’t want to write an album full of Christianese lingo, speaking in a language that’s hard for un-churched kids to understand. I wanted to write songs that talk about our relationship with Jesus Christ, as if He were truly our best friend and savior. I wanted to talk about God in a way people could relate to.

Each song on the album has a different purpose. Some of the tracks are more light-hearted, with the intent of encouraging and uplifting heavy hearts. Others are more serious, like “Pray You Through”, which has lyrics that speak to the challenges and struggles we face in life, and how prayer can carry us through. Certain songs like “Come As You Are” and “Someone’s Work of Art” deal with the way we see ourselves, and how God desperately wants us to know His heart for us. Adversely, songs like “Winter” speak to the times when we’re simply searching for answers in the midst of a spiritual desert. Overall, the purpose of our first debut album is to share our heart with anyone who has ears to hear, hopefully pointing them to a deeper, more authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.

Which is your favourite track off your new album and why?

To pick a “favorite” track off this album would be like choosing between your children, not that I actually have children of my own. I love each one of our songs for different reasons. I especially love the lyrics in “Pray You Through”, and the message behind the song. “Come As You Are” also speaks to my heart as a song that challenges me to abandon my attempts at becoming “perfect” and simply run into the arms of Jesus.

What's your song writing process?

I like to write songs organically, and not over-think them. I rely heavily on inspiration from God, and fully realize that I’m nothing apart from Him. I don’t consider myself overly artistic, and try to focus on the purpose behind each song. I can be fun to write exciting melodies or deep, philosophical lyrics, but I’m a huge fan of songs that have a real message. Most of the times I sit down with my Bible, and ask God what to write. I always try to keep real-life people in the back of my mind while writing, thinking of how the song will impact someone listening to the song. It’s all about ministry for me.

If you could work with any song writer, who would it be and why?

There are countless songwriting legends in the world. People like Bono, Chris Martin and John Mayor come to mind. However, more realistically, I love writing with Jason Ingram. He not only co-wrote several songs with me on this album, but he also produced many of the tracks. I love writing with people who are passionate about what they do, and keep God in the center of every song.

Who are your musical influences?

I grew up listening to Christian music. I think bands like Jars of Clay, Audio Adrenaline, and DC Talk were some of my favorites. I also love bands like The Fray, Coldplay, The Beatles, and John Mayor. However, I think my greatest musical influence was my mom, who showed me how to worship God from the beginning.

What advice would you give to any aspiring bands out there looking to get started?

I’ve always believed that God honors those who keep their ministry all about Him. There are all sorts of logistical marketing strategies that bands employ to be successful. But I think it has to be about something deeper. I don’t ever want to feel like I achieved anything on my own, apart from God. Musical talent can be learned, and worldly success can occur overnight, but a true heart for ministry is something you can’t be taught. It’s something that comes from deep within your heart. Give God everything, and you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction.

You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your mp3 player. What track is it?

“Fix You” by Coldplay.

What does the next year hold for Sixteen Cities?

There are all kinds of exciting things ahead of Sixteen Cities. Our first radio single, “Sing Along” has just been released to stations all over the world, and our album arrived in stores on April 20th! We have a summer full of camps and concerts all over the nation, and I’m getting married to the girl of my dreams in August! Also, we’re heading out on tour in the fall with a major Christian artist (soon to be announced), and we’re doing a three-week tour in Denmark this winter! Hopefully we’ll get the chance to hang out with countless new friends and fans, and share our message of hope with everyone we meet.

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