Andrew Osenga certainly isn't the first guy to write a song about a pensive space traveler. But he might be the first guy to record an album full of those while inside a spaceship.
Well, a spaceship in a manner of speaking: Osenga's vessel wasn't exactly orbit-ready — it lived inside a Berry Hill warehouse, a lot closer to Baja Burrito than Ursa Major, and its plywood construction wasn't backed by NASA, but by a 369-headcount team of fans who chipped in via crowd-funding outlet Kickstarter.
In March, the Nashville songwriter-producer shared a long-brewing notion: building a spaceship-set studio and recording an LP of songs about imaginary future dude/brokenhearted solo space freighter pilot Leonard Belle. By May, Osenga had rounded up nearly $19,000 in pledges; by November, he had an LP's worth of songs recorded. And on Sept. 18, Leonard the Lonely Astronaut was a fully released, fully realized, really weird vision.
"The project is crazy," says Osenga. He conjured Leonard's story as a way to combat insistent insomnia, on doctor's orders. "When you set up with Kickstarter, they don't just accept everything — somebody has to approve it. I sent in my first treatment and the lady wrote back, 'Umm, I don't think we do what you do. ... We're not really making spaceships.' I had to reply, like, 'It's not — it's a set.' "
It was an effective set, too. Friend Todd Bragg headed its design, and a team of 50-plus supporters — some of whom drove or flew in from as far as Maryland and Texas — put hammers to nails over a long build weekend, with Osenga and friends adding finishing details the following week. From the outside, it looked like odd framing left inside a blocky building. But over the threshold, Osenga's "HTV Reveille" — stark white, flecked with space-y vents and panels and lights — felt convincingly intergalactic. And though Osenga's intent was to lock himself inside for daily blocks of Leonard-style solitude (he had a few friends pitch in, but played "about 98 percent" of Leonard himself), the project's inherent fun factor made that tricky.
"People kept coming by," he says. " 'Cause, you know, 'Dude, we gotta go see Andy's spaceship!' "
Folks expecting directly referential, "Space Oddity"-style lyricism will be surprised with the resulting set of melodic pop songs — Osenga ultimately focused far more on the "lonely," less on the "astronaut."
"I wanted to write a record about isolation and loneliness, specifically why we make self-destructive choices to pull ourselves away from each other," Osenga says. "This seemed like a good way of doing that that wasn't wrist-slitting and macabre."
Ultimately, getting the direct support of hundreds of fans to explore that vision made Osenga feel more connected — and more bold.
"I think it remains to be seen how that'll work itself out," he says. "Songs I've written since have all been far more adventurous and exciting. The thought of, 'What's the next project that I'll do?' — it can't be just another singer-songwriter record. [Doing something like this], you set the bar, at least if not higher, a little stranger."
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