Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jay Interviews Josiah Warneking: Sixteen Cities Interview

Thanks to Centricity Music, I had the privilege of interviewing Josiah Warneking, lead singer for the brand new band Sixteen Cities. I asked Josiah some heartfelt questions, and he graciously took the time to answer. First is my question in white, followed by Josiah's answer in orange.

Josiah, you wrote or co-wrote 8 of the tracks on the debut project from Sixteen Cities. What is the writing process like for a debut project?

Writing for this album was an amazing experience. Before we signed our record deal with Centricity Music, we were an independent band in the northwest. I had never been to Nashville before, and was completely new to the Christian music industry. The only songwriting experience I had was writing by myself for our independent albums. It was a huge contrast between writing for this debut album! I was able to write with some of the best songwriters in Christian music, and learn so much more about writing as a whole. It was also encouraging to get such positive feedback from these professional writers. They helped give me confidence to continue writing and trust that God can use me to reach people through my songs. It’s an incredible feeling knowing songs that you wrote in your bedroom are being listened to all over the world, especially when you know God is speaking to people’s hearts through each song.

I noticed the very uplifting lyrics presented in the songs off this record. How do public school students and their parents respond to the message of the gospel that you present? Do you guys have a favorite testimony?

We have never tried to hide or mask our love for Jesus Christ in our songs. All main goal is to be a relevant voice for our generation and point them to a real God. There have been several mainstream outlets for our music this last year, and we have been amazed at the feedback. We were able to partner with a ministry called Dare 2 Live to perform and minister in dozens of public high schools in Washington and Oregon. We were able to sing about our love for God in the middle of high school gymnasiums, and see thousands of students give their lives to Jesus for the first time. We haven’t received any negative feedback from parents, because they see the positive affect God has on their kids’ lives. Another way our music has been able to reach the “un-churched” was our song “Sing Along” being added to the playlist for Hollister clothing stores. Hollister is a part of the Abercrombie & Fitch family, with over 600 retail locations all over the world. When our songs was added to their in-store playlist, thousands of young people flooded our Myspace, Facebook, and website, sharing how much they loved the song. We actually received an email from a girl who worked at a Hollister store. She said she was folding clothes in the middle of the store on a Monday morning, having a horrible day. All of sudden, our song “Sing Along” started playing in the store, and without ever hearing it before, she threw her hands up in worship, and praised God for the entire duration of our song. She told us that it was a powerful reminder that God deserves our worship wherever we are – even when we’re folding clothes on a Monday morning.

Being a debut artist, what is it like to get the chance to share the stage with popular rock artists (such as Kutless)?

It is a surreal experience to share the stage with artists that you grew up listening to. It’s a great opportunity to minister to people you might never have met otherwise. But if I were to be completely honest, even though we have loved the opportunities to play alongside hugely popular acts, we still treasure the ministry that happens at summer camps and youth groups. Sometimes the “big” shows make it difficult to connect with young people, and show them how much Jesus loves them. We always want to remain the kind of band that truly serves our audience, and do ministry on and off stage. It’s our prayer that we’ll never stop humbling ourselves and giving our time and energy to share the love of Christ, even if that means playing volleyball with kids at summer camps or hanging out in Taco Bell with a youth group after a concert.

Has anything unusual happened to you guys while performing?

One time we were doing a concert in Kentucky, and a girl in the audience brought an 8 ft. inflatable kangaroo into the auditorium. We were so confused! Apparently their church had recently finished a vacation Bible school with a “safari” theme, and she thought it would be funny. There have been countless other random experiences during a concert, but I guess that’s just part of the job. We don’t mind, it keeps things interesting and unpredictable.

You probably hear this a lot, but you guys sound a lot like The Afters. What are some of your musical inspirations?

Our musical influences are about as unique and different as the members of the band. We all grew up in the church, so worship music has been a large factor in our “sound”. Some of us grew up listening to Christian music like Jars of Clay, Audio Adrenaline, and DC Talk, while others were raised on The Beatles and Coldplay. Personally, I think my biggest musical influence was my mom, who was the worship leader at our church. I remember hearing her play songs on the piano in the living room every night, and that’s how I learned how to truly worship God.

"Pray You Through" is my favorite track on the record, and I know it is special to the band as well. What is the inspiration behind the track? Is there a particular story that shaped the song?

When I wrote “Pray You Through”, I don’t think I fully understood how much of an impact it would have on me personally. The initial inspiration for the song came after remembering all the times I ran out of words, and had no idea how to help a friend through a difficult situation. I used to want to “fix” everyone’s problems, and simply give people the answers they were looking for. But when people face life’s truly monumental obstacles, like a death in the family or a divorce, it’s hard to offer simple solutions. I soon realized that all I could do was be there for my friends, and pray them through their situations. But there have been countless stories unfolding that make this song special to everyone in the band. God has been using “Pray You Through” in powerful ways. When I think about the people who have been touched by our music, my mind always goes to the story of a little boy named Caleb. On our tour last fall, we were honored to perform at a benefit concert for an 8-year old boy named Caleb who had been diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. The whole community had come together to support Caleb and his family, and we were able to sing and worship with them for an evening. Sitting in the front row, Caleb had a huge smile on his face, despite sitting in a wheel chair with oxygen tubes in his nose. Even though he was tired, he begged his parents to stay until the very last song. We were inspired by the strength of this little boy, and loved spending that evening with him. About a week later, we received an email saying that Caleb had passed. Little did we know, the show that night had been Caleb’s first and last concert. Holding back the tears, we continued to read the email. Caleb had listened to our CD every day after the concert, and our song “Pray You Through” was played at his memorial service. A few months later we had the opportunity to visit Caleb’s family, and his parents said how much our music helped their family to trust in God for their hope and peace during such a difficult time. It’s stories like this that humble and challenge me to continue going wherever God sends me, and write whatever song God has for me to write.

How did the members of Sixteen Cities originally meet?

The band first came together in high school. We all went to one the largest public schools in Oregon, and felt an urgent need to start some kind of ministry to reach our campus. So every Wednesday morning we’d get together and lead worship and pray with our peers. We had no idea what we were doing; we simply knew that students at our school needed to know the love of Jesus. After our first year of meeting every Wednesday morning, over 100 students were coming regularly. Not long after that, we spread the ministry to nine other high school campuses in the Portland area and began doing rallies to unite all the students from different schools in one place. It felt like God was starting a movement in our city, and without ever planning on becoming a band, we were finding ourselves involved in a full-time music ministry.After graduating high school, we knew that God wasn’t finished with us yet. So we prayed all summer long, and felt God calling us to continue our ministry to young people through music. And the best way we could do that was to start a band; and the rest is history.

What advice can you give to teenagers and young adults that are aspiring to be full-time musicians?

The best I can give to aspiring musicians is to always remember why you are doing music. This industry has a sneaky way of making performers think that it’s all about them. Staying humble and focused on Jesus is paramount in being the person God has called you to be. I say this because there is no amount of musicianship or talent that will change lives without the power of God being the center of it all. If you set the tone in the beginning, making it all about Jesus, then God will bless your every endeavor and set a path before you. Other than that, I would say it’s important to work hard and treat every one you meet like they’re the most important person in the world. You never know who God will use to open a door for you. Oh, and it’s also important to write really good songs.


  1. Excellent Interview! Sounds like these guys are the real deal! I can't wait to hear the whole album! Keep up the great work!

  2. I LOVE this interview, Jay... and I LOVE Sixteen Cities -- they rock! Thanks for posting this... it is very inspiring!

  3. Wow! I'm going to go buy that album just because of reading this! I haven't seen genuine heart for God like this in so long it is SO refreshing!!! I can't wait to listen to it!! Father bless these people as they serve You and walk in Your will for thier lives!

  4. These guys are the real deal - they just spent a week with our youthgroup, came to service pool parties & paintball, even painted a porch - hung out with our kids. Their music has been amazing to listen to - God's message of love & redmeption just oozes out. They sang "pray you through" and I just cried thinking of all the prayers I've gone through and all I still need to go through to get my teenager past cutting and other attempts to hurt herself. She will always struggle but she turned around and saw my tears while the band sang and she gave me a hug. These guys are awesome - they speak for God. I pray they always will.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing that, Anonymous! I very much agree... these guys are the real deal, and how they are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ is very inspiring and encouraging. So cool that they came to your youthgroup -- I'm looking forward to seeing them tomorrow for the second time! :)


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