Joseph and Tosha Zwanziger are the Worship Pastors at The Father's House in Vacaville, California, a non-denominational church with a weekly attendance of over 4,000 in 2 locations. In this special guest blog for LTTM, the duo tell us about working with former Delirious guitarist Stu G on their new album 'Shine On Us'.
'Shine on Us' was recorded in January of 2012 at our home church, The Father's House, in Vacaville, CA. Tosha and I have been the Worship Pastors there for about eight years, although both of us have been a part of the worship community for longer. Our Lead Pastor - Dave Patterson - is Tosha's dad, and so she's been here since the beginning, but I (Joseph) have been a part of the church for about 12 years.
Since the beginning, The Father's House has been centered around making a place for the presence of God. With that aim, songs have sprung out of our local expression. As the years went on, the community grew as well as our songwriting.
Today, there's rarely a service where our congregation is not worshiping with songs written from our local writers. It really is a great environment, as songs that came from what God is doing in our church in turn become the songs God uses to do great things and touch the hearts of people, week-in and week-out.
"Shine on Us" is the latest collection of those very songs, and is also our debut album as "Joseph & Tosha Zwanziger." So, we wanted to take you, briefly, through the story, journey, and heart behind the songs on this album. We hope you enjoy it and receive from it!
Great are You God
Joseph Zwanziger & Sean Saugen
It was the day of our annual youth conference, EG (Encounter Generation) Conference, and I was driving home from getting some work done on my guitars. It was an amazing, sunny, California-February day (crazy, right?) and the sun was beaming on the hills as I drove. It really was a sight to take in, as it had just rained, so the air was crystal clear.
It must have been that setting that first inspired the thought, "Great, great, great are You, God!" because that's what came out. Instantly, I knew inspiration had struck.
As I often do, I used the "Voice Memo" app on my iPhone to log ideas and melodies, and got the main hook during the drive. Once I got back, I felt inspired to include Sean Saugen (one of our worship leaders and writers) in the process and so we went to work in my office. Using Post-it notes to hold different phrases, I kept writing down the lines of the verses and we'd re-arrange them in the order that made sense. Sean really did drive much of the direction of the song, and it helped to craft it into what it is today.
It must have been the youth conference being that night that the song originally took on more of a Skrillex vibe. However, with the goal of "Shine on Us" being a little more "organic" in nature, Stu G and I re-wrote the progression to the intro and tag during a pre-production trip to Nashville that I took right before the album recording. We're really happy with how it turned out. (By the way... our youth ministry still enjoys the Skrillex version the song originated in).
Joseph Zwanziger & Stu G
A couple years back, we saw Israel Houghton and New Breed live at a conference in Sacramento. If you've never seen them live, YOU'RE MISSING OUT! If I'm to be honest, the first hour is rather discouraging, as they're some of the best musicians on the PLANET! It almost makes you want to give up and go work a desk job - ha ha! But to watch them worship is truly awe-inspiring. They honestly have the most fun on stage that I've ever seen, and it's ALL because of who God is!
It was standing in that atmosphere that I remember getting the phrase, "Life's too short to hold back..." I wrote it in a journal or my phone (honestly can't remember). I knew it was something, though, that I wanted to write a song from. Well, a year or so later, and inspiration came.
Just to let you in on a little secret of mine - I rarely (if ever) just sit down to write a song (initially). Rather, I worship, and song ideas and inspiration come out of my private devotion to God. Once I get that initial "lead", though, then I'll sit down and do the work of songwriting.
So, the chorus came... "I will give you praise and adoration. Life's too short to hold back my affection. You alone deserve my every moment. I'm a new creation and I live for you." I could envision the rhythm and cadence of how a crowd would sing it too, and I knew I was on to something.
At first, the verses were lacking. I ran them past long-time friend and producer, Brent Milligan, and I got some of the best advice ever - "That's cheesy." Thank God for honest feedback. In need of fresh inspiration, I brought in our guitar-player (and songwriter), Jay Pittard and he brought some fresh inspiration as far as chords go. Then, I was off to the races.
The song came together and we'd been doing at the church with amazing success. Then came my pre-production meeting with Stu, and things changed again. Stu had some great ideas and insight to really take the song over the edge, and he and I re-wrote the lyrics and melody of the verses, and it is what you hear on the album.
King of All
The whole picture of this song is obviously of the grandeur and majesty of God. It is a picture of everything in creation, earth, and heaven joining to declare that there is no one like Him, and He is the "King of all."
This song truly is special. I don't know of one time that we've done it in the live setting and it has bombed. It flies every time. It never ceases to amaze me how when we "as a congregation" focus solely on who GOD is, that He shows up.
This song is truly versatile, too. In the album version, Tosha and I share the sections of the song in the key of B. I've led the song entirely by myself in the key of E and it works well, especially bringing the band down and letting the congregation carry the Bridge themselves. I'm sure whatever setting you lead it, you'll find that this song really does have an amazing way of connecting a room-full of people with God.
Come Sweet Presence
Stu G & Joseph Zwanziger
"Come Sweet Presence" was a song idea that Stu gave us for the album, to help round out the overall blend of songs. We wanted something a little more "up-tempo" for Tosha to lead, and Stu said, "Here's something I've been working on."
I must say, it was a dream and humbling for Stu to invite me to reconstruct his song as needed. So, I had some ideas, worked on it a bit, and then Stu and I whittled off the edges when we were together in Nashville. We worked relentlessly to make sure the song said what it needed to say - no more, no less. It really is a great invocation song and the Church needs more of these.
You Are Beautiful
Call me a "softy", but I've always been inspired by great landscapes, sunrises and sunsets, and other displays of God's creative beauty in nature. That's where this song came from.
"You Are Beautiful" is one of the first songs I wrote after Tosha's solo project, "Pages", where we got to write a lot of stuff that wasn't overtly "Congregational" in nature. So, that "hat" was still on and it pushed my writing in this direction - vivid word-pictures culminating in a desperate cry for Him to "Shine on us" (hence the title of the album).
I think the words speak for themselves. It was a battle making sure that every line packed a punch - lyrically, verbally, and in meaning " without being cheesy. I think it did that (Stu said it's his favorite song on the album).
I personally love the production, craftsmanship of the band, and all the aspects of the song and how it all leads to the cry that basically says, "God, we've seen your glory displayed around us... Now, let Your glory shine here, now!"
As recorded, that bridge leads into a pretty easy "flow" that lends itself well to a congregation lifting their own song in spontaneous cries to Him. Powerful stuff.
"My Salvation" along with "Come Sweet Presence" were some of the last songs written for the project. Musically, "My Salvation" is very simple, and I simply rely on the alternate tuning that I play in on this song (DADF#AD for all you guitar guys) to bring a unique sound as well as the tension-release of the production to provide the affect the song brings. The complexity of this song rests in the lyrics.
I remember the day I wrote this song. I wrote it in the middle of one of pastor Dave's messages during service (shh... don't tell him). It really was cool because I wrote it without being able to sing, play, or hum anything, and when I tried it after the service, it all worked!
It was the "well" that this song was written from that made it unique. I think it was in November/December of 2011 when I wrote it, and during that time, Tosha's grandmother (whom she was very close to) was fighting a losing battle with cancer. I knew that a very tough season was ahead and so I really do think this song was preparatory for that time to come.
Essentially, the first verse speaks of how God is our salvation in the tough times, verse two speaks of how God is our salvation in the great times, and verse 3 sums it up that He is our salvation in every season.
The idea for the song came from a simple revelation I got during my devotional time, meditating on Luke 2, when Simeon saw Jesus as a boy and he said, in verse 29, "Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations." So when Simeon saw Jesus, he said, "I can die now, because I have seen Salvation" (speaking of Jesus).
I had written the simple chorus, "You are my Salvation, I am lost without you" a month before the whole song came together, simply as a way to end our young-adult service that Tosha and I pastor. We were doing John Mark MacMillan's song "Sins are Stones" and for that particular setting, I needed to end the song "Big", so I wrote that little tag. When we did it in that service, it flew through the roof! It really was an amazing moment.
So, I wrote the verses to "My Salvation" in church and paired them with the tag/chorus that I had written earlier, and there you have "My Salvation".
Jesus, My Everything
"Jesus, My Everything" is a song I had written a while back. I honestly couldn't tell you the time/place surrounding it other than the fact that it originally stemmed from a time of personal-worship with God.
The song really does describe what Jesus did for us through His death, burial, and resurrection and the new life that we have in Him. It's a simple, yet profound, song that people at our church have always loved. Honestly, I knew it belonged on this album, but I knew it needed new life.
Enter, Stu G. While in Nashville, we worked it a bit, changed some chord patterns around, and wha-la! It is what you hear on the album.
All My Love
I wrote "All My Love" a little before Tosha's "Pages" album, which is where you'll hear a much different, studio version of that song. While the studio version is great, we've always loved how it goes over in the live context, which is why we decided to re-release it on "Shine on Us."
This song dangerously skirts the lines of "boom-chuck" worship of the 80's in the name of indie-rock. If I said this song weren't influenced slightly by John Mark MacMillan, I'd be lying; especially the verses.
I love the lyric and rhythmic flow of this song, with one of my favorite lines being, "I give the best of me for you gave the best of Yourself for me". To be honest, we even sometimes tag the Chorus of "Best of You" by the Foo Fighters in sound-check... though we've never had the gumption to ever do it live.
This song is a fun one to co-lead with Tosha, and - like "My Salvation" - represents the strength of co-leading with your wife and fellow worship leader of about 10 years (we've been married for five, just to clarify).
All of Me
Joseph Zwanziger & Stu G
"All of Me" was up for the roster on Tosha's record, "Pages", but seemed to not fit in the flow of that album. So, we "tabled" it until this album, and I'm glad it made it.
There are a lot of great worship-anthems on this record, and so one thing I wanted to do was to give the listener a change to "breathe". So, we pulled the production on "All of Me" way back and let it be a "breath of fresh air" to the listener as well as the congregation on the live-night of recording. We're really happy with how it turned out.
The problem with this song, originally, was the imagery. The final product was a testament to the co-writing process, as Stu and I both knew that the original 2nd verse needed some work. The problem was that it, like "You Are Beautiful", used vivid analogy/metaphor, but "All of Me" was written a year or two before "You Are Beautiful", in which time my writing had matured. So, the word-pictures in the 2nd verse of "All of Me" really weren't up to par with those in "You Are Beautiful". So, in order to make the two songs "fit" on the same album, we went back to the drawing board.
Honestly, we almost hid writers-block and would've had to scrap the song from the lineup. But after exploring every possible angle, scripture, and story, we finally came up with a verse that really served the song well but brought a different angle to that verse, strengthening the song.
"With the song of all creation - I sing to you. With the prayers of every nation - I cry to you."
Ultimately, this song's chorus says it all: "Everything, all of me, I am because You are God. I'm lost without You. All of my world revolves around You, my God."
I Want to Hear You
This was one of the most highly-anticipated songs on this record for those around The Father's House. This was the first song I had written after our last live-record, "Eternity's King" in 2008. We've been doing this song at church and at conferences since then, and every time we've done it, people always asked, "Where can I get that song?!?!" So, we knew we had a good one.
I still remember the night I wrote "I Want to Hear You". It was before we had kids, and Tosha was still overseeing all the worship at our youth-ministry, Gen.Life. So, Wednesday nights were my free time - many of which, I'd spend worshiping or in my quiet time with God. (I don't want to sound overly spiritual, so truthfully, I'd also go over to our youth pastor's house sometimes and build up my Tiger Woods Golf player on Xbox so that I stood a chance against him when we'd have an occasional golf battle).
It was one of those Wednesdays (the quiet time version, not the Tiger Woods Golf version), and I decided to turn all the lights off in the house, light some candles, and seek God. I grabbed my guitar, threw on a cut-capo (if you don't have one, they're great for new voicings and inspiration), and started to play/worship.
I started to "jam" on the main groove that you hear at the beginning of the song on the album. I was a huge Dave Matthews Band fan back in the day, and so that's where that influence probably came from. As I was playing, what came out was my honest cry to God: "I want to hear You, I want to see You, I want to feel You standing next to me".
I'm not kidding when I say that the verses seriously were my prayer to God. They were honest. Raw. Revealing. And because of that, so many people have used them to propel their pursuit of God to a new place - and I'm humbled by it.
"I don't want to play the guessing game of where You are and where You're not. I wanna get caught up in everything You are - mesmerized and in awe." Then I'd sing that chorus hook again. Just as simply as the first verse came, the second did as well as a continuation of my heart to God. "God, You know You take my breath away everytime You're in the room. So lead me straight to the place where You are found. 'Cause there is nothing I won't do."
As I sang, I was reminded of all the amazing encounters with God I'd had in the past and how, truly, my heart was, "God. There's NOTHING that I won't do when You move. I just so desperately want to be RIGHT where You are, DOING what You're doing."
The Bridge of the song then wraps it all up, really reminding ourselves of what we know God to be doing when we gather, but just a real cry saying, "Yes God, and more of it!"
I hope the raw-ness and real-ness of this song enables your cry to God in a new way.
More of You
"More of You" was really written in a similar way as "I Want to Hear You", just in a different season.
Every Thursday night, we have our all-church prayer meeting for one hour. We really do consider it our most important meeting as a church, because all we do flows from prayer and intercession. Every Thursday, hundreds gather with us and we all pursue God together through worship and prayer.
Many times, I'll spend personal time with God before the prayer meeting. It's an interesting concept - to pray and worship in preparation to pray and worship - but it's needed (especially as leaders). If I'm to lead hundreds of people in the most spiritually demanding service we have, I need to "prime the pump", so to speak, to make sure I'm ready to go.
It was one of those private times before the all-church prayer meeting. I think it was an especially tiring day - busy, all over the place, meetings, difficult situations to deal with, etc. So, when I shut the door to my office and grabbed my guitar, "More of You" simply came out as a prayer.
The Chorus you hear was literally my prayer-song to God on a busy, taxing day: "All I want is more of You. All I want is more of You. Jesus, I want more of You in my life."
Then, the verse flowed - again, as my prayer to God: "Fill me to overflow Your power and virtue, Lord. Make me a light that shines Your glory, Lord."
Probably because I was tired and feeling less than ready to go lead a prayer meeting, the Bridge was me "Strengthening myself in the Lord", as David did in the Word. "I was created for heavenly places, ruling and reigning with You. You've made me holy, shown me Your glory, and made me who I am in You."
Honestly, we've used this song in our all-church prayer meeting before, and it's amazing how intercessory this song actually is. You can exhort and pray through each section for a different purpose and it leads to some pretty cool places in an all-church type prayer meeting.
Honestly, "All Glory" is one of my favorite songs on the album. I really feel like the writing was really unique, non-cliché, and a great way to end the album with the picture of joining with Heaven's worship because of how amazing God is.
One line in the verse that I know can raise some eyebrows is, "You're the God who heals every disease." But I know people ask themselves, "Does He?" That's where faith comes in. Ultimately, this line wasn't my idea, but comes straight out of Psalm 103:3 that says "He heals all your diseases". So God can but we know through experience that He doesn't always do it in every situation. That's where faith comes in. Faith-filled worship is when you can declare Who God is and What He does, even though your experience may not line up with your declaration. But if our declaration is always determined by our experience, our worship will be powerless. It is when men and women of God can declare Who God is in the midst of a situation that He can be enthroned on that praise and show up and show off because He gets "All glory."
I love the picture that, "You overwhelm fear with Your peace." We are so easily overwhelmed by fear, that to think that God overwhelms fear with His peace is such an amazing line. I don't know where that line came from, but I'm glad it did!
I could go on and on, but the rest of the song really speaks for itself. In light of all that we sing in the verse, the Chorus and Bridge are the only logical conclusion. All glory is His and so "I will lift my hands, bow my knees, and lay my crown before You now."
Well, there's the song-by-song description of "Shine on Us". I hope this has helped you songwriters get a glimpse into my process. Know that it's not the only process, and that even for me, it's always evolving. As songwriters, it's important to always be learning, gleaning, studying other writers, and absorbing inspiration wherever you can find it. Oh, and one more important thing. STEEP yourself in the Word of God. Through this song-by-song description, I think you can tell that a LOT of what I write is straight from the Word - either direct quote or paraphrase. I'm a firm believer that if we're going to get a room-full of people singing the same thing at the same time, what is more powerful than declaring the Word of God and Who He is!
Find out more at JosephAndTosha.com