Three artists talk about expressing their faith through music.
To write lyrics about faith has never been a conscious choice for Nick Dow, but an element of his life that naturally seems to find its way into his music.
This year has been a big year for the 24-year-old Auckland-based songwriter. In March, he released his debut album Layers—a stunning exploration of jazz and R&B largely driven by his distinctive and soulful vocal work. The album was recorded over 16 days in Lyttleton with Ben Edwards, an award winning producer who’s worked with a range of contemporary Kiwi artists, including Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding.
‘I was actually sick the whole time, which wasn’t ideal,’ Nick admits. ‘I still listen back to the album every now and again and hear my voice isn’t quite sounding like it usually is.’
Versatility is certainly a word that comes to mind when describing Nick’s talents; in the last year alone he’s toured as both a violinist and keyboardist with prestigious Kiwi artists Jamie McDell and Teeks. His own record has also seen him perform ‘live to air’ on Radio New Zealand. Not to mention the release of a unique music video for the song Layers.
Born and raised in Christchurch, Nick’s musical endeavours began at around the age of five; the violin and piano gave him an early calling for jazz and classical music.
A Hunger for God
Nick wasn’t raised in a Christian home, despite attending an Anglican school. Initially it was a group of musical friends who drew him to a church community called Majestic. But, throughout his teenage years, he often felt he was looking for something greater than himself.
‘I didn’t have a really crazy moment, or a super spiritual experience, it was probably the community that drew me to faith,’ says Nick. ‘It basically just set a fire in my heart for God and I think through that I’ve kept going.’
Playing the violin has since become his favourite way to worship. ‘I think maybe what happened was I realised that God is the only one we can fully rely on.’
Art and Honesty
Nick is clear about having an honest approach to writing and performing music. He says he’d rather be authentic and see where things go, than be concerned with becoming the next Michael Jackson. ‘I want to write honest music that comes from my heart ... even if it’s not intentionally writing about God, he’ll come into it somehow anyway.’
He is an active member of Central Vineyard Church in Auckland and upfront that his faith hasn’t always been a straight and easy path—coming from a non-Christian home has certainly presented its own challenges. ‘I have so much gratefulness to God for keeping me in church, I know so many people go there and walk away again.’
Nick is still working four days a week as a teacher aid at an Auckland school, despite a successful year behind the piano. But he’s aware it’s early days for his song writing career. ‘I just want to live the journey and keep growing … even if it’s not fully in the Christian element I still believe it has the power to lead people to God … at the moment I’m just trying to figure out which direction God wants me to go next.’
CHARLES AND EMILY—ARO
For song writing couple Charles and Emily Looker the #vanlife has become a natural habitat for inspiration.
On December 17 last year, the pair officially became nomadic touring artists; they have since lived out of their van, as well as the occasional cruise ship, while performing across Aotearoa and the South Pacific as musical duo Aro.
They have played as far south as Stewart Island, which has meant regularly washing from a solar shower—yet Emily is adamant they’ve maintained decent standards of cleanliness and hygiene. ‘I don’t think there was ever a point where we were like “man we’re really gross”,’ she laughs.
‘It was interesting because I considered myself an extrovert before living in the van with Emily,’ Charles says, surprisingly.
Their name Aro is derived from the first part of Aroha (love) and means ‘to face or turn toward’, an idea which fits with their musical conversations around love and identity.
A Bi-cultural Aesthetic
Aro is currently recording its debut studio album Manu, a collection of music inspired by native New Zealand birds that was written from the back of their van.
Charles is a 28-year-old Māori who grew up in tikanga Māori, speaking te reo, which means biculturalism has become an integral part of Aro’s musical aesthetic. This involves drawing from traditional Māori methods of composition along with lessons we can take from nature.
‘Traditionally Māori would compose waiata based on melodies or tunes they would hear in nature,’ Charles says. ‘Through that we’ve talked about the characteristics of the birds and we’ve translated that into ideas we can relate to.’
Job 12:7–10 has become an influential verse in their writing: ‘But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all humankind’.
Emily is a 26-year-old who has written and performed music for over a decade. She describes their album as ‘… a native-jazz-pop-R&B album … it’s taken on a lot of our different flavours.
‘We’re really excited about the way the album is heading … it’s almost like it’s going in its own direction and we’re just going along with it.’
She, too, is also thrilled to be able to embrace a growing resurgence of te reo in her song writing. ‘I think people are just kind of realising how much we’ve missed out by not celebrating or living in a way that celebrates both cultures.’
Faith on Tour
Emily says expressing God’s love has always been a core foundation of her art. ‘Once you know that love and have received it, I think it kind of flows into everything you do … be it relationships, song writing, even in the food you cook.’ She believes that ‘God is ever present and we don’t have to make a point that he is, because he just is.’
Manu is set for release early next year and will see the couple return to their van for a 20-date nationwide tour.
‘Our goal on this album is about sharing that love for people and the hope that we see each other and ourselves the way God sees us,’ says Charles. ‘Our biggest dream is to show people the example of love through Jesus Christ, or through living that example as best we can.’