From the first note to the last

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Former and current One Accord members Stephen Witt and Jake Felstow talk about “Burn the Ships”, their new worship album

The album art to “Burn The Ships,” designed by Caleb Schmitt. Provided by Stephen Witt.

 

It was summer time, and Stephen Witt and Jake Felstow were rooming together in Mensing. They had been playing music and writing worship songs together when they began to speculate. Felstow asked, “what if we recorded an album this fall?” Witt was hesitant. Costs needed to be considered and people needed to be brought together.

“I had been thinking about doing an album sometime in the next 10 years,” said Witt, “probably after I graduate is when I’ll have time.” However, Felstow was insistent. After some time, Witt agreed to record an album.

Within three weeks, musicians and a sound engineer were committing to the project, and they had planned their Kickstarter launch, which was successfully funded. An impulsive thought had turned into reality. Now 10 months later, the album is complete, the Stephen Witt Music website has been launched, and all is ready for the album release party, which is coming up next week.

After the planning was finished and the funding received, the process began. Witt collected all of his musicians and began executing his vision for the worship album. “At first I was like, ‘Oh, I’m the worship leader, I’m in charge, what I think is what we should do,’” said Witt. But as the recording process began, Felstow continually pushed back on some of Witt’s ideas. This led him to fall into a co-producer role. “I didn’t realize that what I was hearing in my head didn’t have to be exactly what I thought it should be,” said Witt.

With more time in the studio than in a traditional live worship set, Witt and his team took the time to explore creative options and made plenty of mistakes.

“Do not be afraid to take risks and do things you have not heard done before,” Felstow advised new recording musicians. There are a lot of options inside a studio that aren’t available in a live setting. “You can take a salt shaker and play it as a shaker. You can play a table and mic it up. You can set something on fire and record the sound of it burning and that can be an instrument in a recorded project,” said Felstow.

Ultimately, Witt and Felstow found that as they worked on their album, experimenting with sounds and making mistakes made for a much better product. “Be risky enough to make mistakes. A lot of the best moments on the album were originally mistakes,” said Witt.

Four months, 11 tracks, 150 hours, and countless mistakes later, the album was recorded and mastering had begun. At this point, the album had been going by the name “Heart of Flesh,” which is the name of the last track on the album. But Witt just didn’t feel like it was the right name. “We got to the second listening party for the final mixes of the album, and Witt said, ‘I don’t know if I like the name of the album anymore,’” said Felstow. Witt felt that “Heart of Flesh” didn’t accurately represent the message of the album, so the name needed to be changed. They brainstormed some ideas and came up with “Burn the Ships”.

The title comes from a story about Hernán Cortés and his conquest of Aztecs in the 14th century. When the Spanish warriors arrived on the South American shores, legend has it that Cortés ordered that all of the ships be lit on fire so that they could not go back home until the job was done. Witt heard this story from his pastor, whose message was on dedication to God. “I have built this ship to try and find satisfaction in other places,” said Witt, “and the Lord’s really calling me to come back to His shore and burn my ship.” This matched with the theme of Witt’s album: total surrender. The problem was that there was no track to match this new name.

The day after brainstorming the new name, Witt had written and shared the chorus of the new title track with his team. One week later, the entire song had been written, recorded, and sent off for final mastering. The album of 12 tracks was complete. The only thing left for them to do was to plan the release party and send the album out into the world.

From this point forward, the goal has not been for the album to sell well or to build Witt’s brand. In fact, Witt’s expectations have already been met. “This album is mostly about expression,” said Witt, “I wanted to be excellent, but I wanted to see if I could get my brain into a recording.”

There are also hopes that people can connect with God through this album. “I hope it leads people to Jesus. I hope it gives people words to pray, to sing, words to interact with God,” said Witt. Felstow and Witt want to honor God with the best of their musicianship. “I hope that people will be impacted in some way,” said Felstow, “even if it’s one simple lyric in the whole album that pushes their faith in God, then I’m satisfied.”

“Burn the Ships” will be released on Tuesday, April 28th on iTunes, Google Play, etc,. A pre-release concert will be in the Sanctuary the week before, April 21st. Tickets will be $5 and include a free download of the album. Tickets can be purchased on the “Burn the Ships (Album Pre-release Concert)” Facebook event .