From the first time he picked up a guitar, Andy Needham’s passion has been to express worship to God in new songs. Before he knew two chords, he was filling notebooks with prayerful offerings of honest praise. Within months of his Youth Pastor discovering his hidden talent, the then-15-year–old was leading the youth praise team.
Monadnock, a camp in southern New Hampshire was the real incubator for Andy’s ministry as a worship leader. He spent every summer there from age 8 and eventually became a part of the year-round staff, directing the youth program. Summer and Winter Camps offered a platform to lead thousands of students from throughout New England in worship.
It was here that Andy began assembling a team of young adults that shared a common heart for worship and passion for music. They began to travel around the region under the name “Arise.” In this season Andy met and began playing with longtime friends and band-mates Jonathan Mason and Joel Rousseau.
Jonathan began as a drummer, then moved to guitar, and then settled into his current role of bass player and band manager. Jonathan is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and has studied at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Joel grew up in a musical family but didn’t pick up a guitar until high school. One of the first songs he learned was one written by Andy. The guitar became Joel’s passion and eventually led him to Berklee College of music, where he recently completed his second year with honors.
Music has been a primary passion, but always a secondary job description for Andy, Joel, and Jonathan. As Youth Director, Andy would lead an army of volunteers, plan the program, hire the summer staff, and, in his free time write songs and lead the band. Jonathan and Joel volunteered at every opportunity, working countless hours cleaning and staffing the snack shop, so in their “off time,” they could lead worship with Andy. It was this season of hard work and ministry that cultivated the team’s passion to serve together.
In 2008, Andy moved to central Massachusetts to lead the student ministries at a local church. “Being in a local church helped to ground me in God’s passion for His people. I have always loved worship but needed to be reminded that, when Jesus left the earth, He didn’t start a camp or a band; he started the church.”
Leaving camp life behind also meant entering a new chapter as a band. Jonathan and Joel expressed a desire to continue pursuing opportunities to lead worship as a band. Having left behindthe name “Arise” at the camp the guys asked Andy if they could be simply known as, “The Andy Needham Band.” Lead guitarist Joel Rousseau recalls, “It was our idea, not Andy’s. We really just wanted to keep things simple in our new chapter, and people knew Andy’s songs, so coming up with a new band name seemed unnecessary.”
Opportunities were slow at first without the built-in audience of the camp life. But a handful of opportunities kept growing each year, leading to over 50 events in 2011. It was at this point that the band had to ponder the next steps. “We knew we had more opportunities than we could take as a part-‐time band. That was a good thing, but we also recognized that the next step would be a big one. I had a great ministry job with something my wife and I really enjoyed called a salary. But God was calling us to a faith journey, not a career. Genesis 12, the calling of Abraham, ‘Go to the land I will show you,’ was our key passage in that season of decision and fervent prayer,” remembers Andy. Each of the guys in the band sought God individually and together about leaving their jobs to pursue the band full-‐time.
It was also in this season of change that the band’s long-time drummer, Nathaniel Cook, transitioned into a role with a local ministry. Preparing to launch full-‐time without a drummer was a scary position, but God had a great plan. Andy attended a small, local worship concert featuring a group of students from Berklee College of Music’s Christian group. It was here that Andy first met Andrew Picha, who would become the band’s new drummer.
“It was obvious right away that Andrew was a great player,” Andy recalls, “but when we sat with Andrew and shared our heart and heard his passion to use his gifts for leading people in worship, we knew we had more than just a new musician.” Andrew graduated from Berklee College of Music, and a month later was on the road with the band, learning songs on the fly.
In November of 2011, Andy and Jonathan drove to Nashville with a week’s worth of meetings set up, seeking the right fit to record the band’s debut album. Jonathan remembers, “We knew we needed to have a ‘no apologies’ professional quality recording that really captured the great songs we were leading. Our trip led us to every spectrum of experience, skill set, and budget.” This packed week of meetings included Sputnik Sound and Grammy Award-‐winning producer Mitch Dane, who has worked with artists like Jars of Clay, Bebo Norman, and Brandon Heath. There was an immediate connection and different atmosphere that really compelled Andy and Jonathan. Two months later, the full band began recording at Sputnik Sound.
The experience of working with a producer like Mitch was unforgettable for the band and the results were stunning. The band worked hard to record the entire project themselves and spent hours reworking and rewriting songs. The creative environment resulted in a completed project that showcases the distinctive artistry and accessibility of the worship-hearted songs upon which the band has built it’s reputation. Drawing on a combination of tested material and raw new songs, from top to bottom, the project has no filler tracks.
The road ahead for the band is both exciting and unchartered, especially as a New England-‐based act. Their schedule has exploded to over 130 in 2012 and all of this has taken place prior to the release of their upcoming project. Andy summarizes their passion this way: “Our desire is to awaken hearts to the transforming glory of God. We want the songs we write and the way we lead them to tell the story of a great God and a glorious Gospel. Jesus is alive, and He is alive in New England. We want to be holding high that banner from a region that is often considered to be tough to reach.”