Amanda Konzelman is into the idea of doing what she calls “life together.” That includes life together with her husband, Aaron, who is also her partner in the band The Union Revival. It includes life with her kids, 10-year-old Grace and 7-year-old Thatcher. It also includes a close network of friends and a couple of college-age girls, whom she mentors.
The Konzelmans have been singing together for 15 years, and their vocal harmonies blend so well that sometimes people think they are siblings. Amanda grew up in Waco and Aaron in Gholson. After living in Houston and Austin for a few years after they were married, they returned to Waco in 2014. The Union Revival’s music is influenced by storytelling artists from a variety of genres, including folk, pop, Americana and country.
Before she was interviewed for this article, Konzelman thought long and hard about its title, “Keeping Balance.”
“It’s brilliant, and it’s also impossible,” she said. “If I spend too much time focusing on, ‘Is everything balanced?’ then I focus too much on the scale and not what’s in the scale.”
There are wonderful things in Konzelman’s scale — music, ministry, family, friends — and not-so-wonderful things, including a series of griefs that she’s begun to address. As she learns ways to take care of herself, she finds she has more love to give to her family, her friends and her music.
Wacoan writer Megan Willome spoke with Konzelman on the phone about the consistent threads of music and ministry in her life, Waco’s great audiences and her journey of self-care.
WACOAN: Where are you from?
Konzelman: I actually grew up in Waco. I was born in Dallas, but we moved here when I was in second grade. I graduated high school in 2000 from China Spring. My parents are from the Dallas area. My parents divorced when I was really young, but they both still live here.
WACOAN: Did you come from a musical background?
Konzelman: Although my mom isn’t musical at all, she’s a huge inspiration to me. She’s one of the hardest workers I know and was my biggest cheerleader growing up through all of my endeavors.
My dad was a country and western musician [when I was] growing up. He had a band, classic country — that’s really my roots. He would play in dance halls and pubs. When I was really young, we traveled and listened to him sing. That’s where my love of music comes from, from my dad.
WACOAN: What is his name?
Konzelman: Danny Ragland. He had multiple band names. It was mostly just local [bands].
WACOAN: Did you ever sing in a choir when you were growing up?
Konzelman: Church choir, specifically, but that’s the only structured music I was involved in, youth choir.
WACOAN: Did you play an instrument?
Konzelman: I did not. I wasn’t encouraged in it. I had a talent, but I never felt super encouraged or where someone gave me permission to say, ‘You can study this. You can actually have a career in some form or fashion.’
That’s something I greatly treasure now with our kids is encouraging that [musical leaning] in them. And it’s helpful to have the skill because it’s taken my adult life — I’m 34 — to learn about the musicianship. It’s great to have the talent, but it’s helpful to have the knowledge. I’m still learning.
I studied music at [McLennan Community College] for a short time, for a year and a half. That’s where I met my husband, Aaron.
WACOAN: I read on your website that you two met in a music class in 2001.
Konzelman: We started singing and playing music together through that. And it didn’t take long before we knew we wanted to be married. I was, like, 19, and he was 20. We got married pretty young, but we loved each other and loved music and had that thing in common.
WACOAN: Were you in the commercial music program at MCC?
Konzelman: We were doing the commercial music program. Aaron was studying audio engineering. He did a couple of majors, that and music performance.
I really had no clue what I was doing. I had gone to Stephen F. Austin [State University] for a semester after high school and was just blowin’ in the wind. I knew going to college was the right thing, but I was on loans and carefree. I decided I needed to come home and live with Mom and figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
A friend introduced me to the music program [at MCC]. I thought ‘I need to be studying music.’ I loved music, but I never really studied it. I started doing that, taking voice lessons, really refining that skill. It was so helpful. It opened up a whole new world to me to really believe that I could have a career in music in some form or fashion.
And meeting Aaron and his devotion to music. He was already a solid songwriter and performer, so I learned a lot from him. That’s really where we began finding our sound was in college.
WACOAN: How did you and Aaron start playing music together?
Konzelman: We also were really involved in our churches, leading worship. He was at Highland Baptist Church, and I was at a small Baptist church in China Spring called Oak Grove. That’s where I grew up in youth group. The first place I ever sang in public was at my church in high school.
When we got engaged, we started serving at Highland. We started leading worship together and singing around Waco, and those two things have been the consistent threads: music and ministry. We’ve been married almost 14 years. We’ve done worship ministry. We’ve moved quite a bit — Austin, Houston. We did worship ministry full time, about six-and-a-half years.
WACOAN: Did Aaron come from a musical family as well?
Konzelman: He grew up out in Gholson, north of Waco. They were a home-school family up until college. They have a rich music background. His parents, in the ’60s and ’70s they did world tours with one of the first contemporary Christian bands, The New Creation Singers. His grandfather was a traveling evangelist.
WACOAN: Describe the sound of your band with Aaron, The Union Revival.
Konzelman: It can cover a lot of genres. It’s mostly a modern folk Americana. Some of it you could call folk-pop or pop-folk. There’s a lot under the umbrella of folk and Americana, so many subdefinitions. I feel like ever since The Civil Wars came out — do you know them?
WACOAN: I do.
Konzelman: They were a huge inspiration for us. There’s a market for this, and people like these old harmonies. Some people think we’re actually siblings, that blending element [of our voices]. It’s because we’ve been singing so long together.
We wanted to get back to the roots of storytelling music. It’s obviously very trendy. We love country, but there’s this element missing in, well, they call it ‘bro country.’ We love the deeper storyteller-style music in country.
WACOAN: Where did your band name come from?
Konzelman: Our band name took some time to figure out. Because we are married, we wanted that to be a large part of our story and image and name, so naturally, ‘union’ made sense to us. And our hope in writing these kinds of songs is that there would be a ‘revival’ of sorts in the folk/Americana genre, a shifting back to the roots of storyteller music.
WACOAN: It looks like you’ve toured a lot internationally. Was that before the kids were born or when they were very young?
Konzelman: Yes, we have traveled quite a bit: U.S., South America and parts of Europe. Most, if not all, of those trips were before kids or when Grace was a baby. Plus, they were mission-oriented trips with our churches.
WACOAN: It looks like Aaron plays guitar and harmonica, maybe some piano?
Konzelman: He plays acoustic guitar, harmonica, bass, percussion, piano. Hopefully, Aaron will give me guitar lessons at some point in our busy schedule. He teaches guitar lessons during the week, and I’ve said, ‘You’ve got to give me a slot.’
WACOAN: Who does the songwriting, you or Aaron?
Konzelman: He is the main songwriter, and what happens is he will typically have the inspiration, either in the form of a melody or a lyric. He will pretty much hash out himself the foundation of what the song is going to be, and then he’ll bring it to me, and then we start playing with it together. He is an out-of-the-box thinker, whereas I’m a bit more structured. We’ve written a couple of songs together from scratch, but that’s not the norm for us.
WACOAN: You mentioned you lived in some other places for a while. How did you decide to come back to Waco?
Konzelman: We moved back to Waco in 2014. We were in Austin before that.
Through some mutual friends we started staff writing for a publisher in Nashville, [Tennessee], Platinum Pen [Publishing]. It’s a small publishing company, and they mainly publish country music.
First, we worked out a contract for some single songs, so they would pitch some of our songs to artists. Nothing got picked up, but after a trip up there they offered us a position as staff writers. We wrote from Waco and traveled up there a handful of times to do some co-writing. We thought for sure we were going to move, thought it would be a great career move, good for our music.
Then we were driving back home [to Waco] one time. The kids weren’t with us, and we were talking, and we both felt so strongly that we shouldn’t move. It was a bit of a gamble and a sacrifice [to not move to Nashville] because the huge yes for us in Waco was community and family, especially for our kids. Most of their childhood we lived out of town. All of their best friends and our best friends are in Waco. Through the years Waco has been our foundation, our place of refuge, our place of safety. We honestly thought we would never move back, and once we were here and the thought of leaving again — the thought was just so clear that we weren’t supposed to. Our kids needed a place to thrive.
WACOAN: I did some searching online, and although I could find track samples and videos of your songs, I didn’t see an album.
Konzelman: We were recording an album up there [in Nashville]. Things were moving at a good pace. It was everything we’d ever wanted, and all of a sudden it halted a little bit.
But on the business side, I feel like we’ve stepped into a season where we’re trying to make it profitable for an income as well. We’re working the business side as much as the artistry side. So now we’re in this place of figuring out how to succeed in our music from Waco.
One huge success is just the community and their support. It’s been completely overwhelming. We’ve been back in Waco almost three years. It takes a while to grow a base of support, people who will come and see you and who are there almost every show.
Last week we posted a video, did a Facebook live video of one of our songs. This was just last Saturday [of Labor Day weekend], and we got 5,000 views.
WACOAN: What was the song?
Konzelman: ‘Church House.’ It’s a song that uses a lot of spiritual lingo — ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found’ — that kind of thing, but it’s in the form of a love song. It pretty much talks about how we’ve all got baggage, we’ve all got mess, we’ve all got hardships. As long as we’re together we can make it.
We got a great response [to the Facebook live event], and we’re so thankful. It’s encouraging us to start recording, to start getting a product that we can sell and give to the community.
WACOAN: Where do you play? I saw on your schedule for September that you’re playing at Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits and First Methodist Church, and I’ve heard that you do gigs almost every weekend.
Konzelman: Yes. And one place we’ve played for three years is Valley Mills Vineyards. They took us in. They didn’t know who we were, and we’ve been playing there once a month. We feel like part of the family, and that’s true everywhere we sing. We’ve been folded into the family and the community.
Just a couple of weeks ago we had a couple who one of their first dates was at Valley Mills Vineyards, and then a few months ago they came again, and they are engaged now. And she got on the stage during one of our set breaks and proposed to her fiancé — he had proposed to her, but she wanted to propose to him too.
That’s why we do what we do. Not only for us. A lot of our songs, most of what we write is real life, which is messy and raw and sometimes beautiful, and it impacts people. That’s what music does. Those are the moments that we live for. That’s everything for us.
WACOAN: You mentioned your kids earlier. Tell me more about them.
Konzelman: We have two. Our daughter, Grace, is 10. She’s in fourth grade, and she goes to Woodway Christian School. Our son is 7, Thatcher. He’s in first grade, and we’re home-schooling him.
He actually does a mix of home school and a group called Classical Conversations [a classical-style Christian education community]. We meet at a church [Trinity Lutheran Church] and have school one day a week, and the rest of the week we implement that curriculum and supplement [at home].
WACOAN: Have you home-schooled before?
Konzelman: I’ve been kind of a recovering home-school mom. I tried full-time home schooling with my daughter. It’s not my strength. I really like a preexisting structure, so creating that structure can be difficult for me. It is certainly helpful for me in this preexisting [home schooling] community.[Thatcher] has a lower, not severe, sensory processing disorder [SPD]. It took us five years to figure that out. We’ve now known for a couple of years. It’s been a journey finding out what works for him. We’ve tried a couple of things that didn’t work.
In this season of our lives I really feel like both of our kids are where they are supposed to be, which is huge for my mama’s heart. It’s taken us a while. We feel like his SPD is manageable, and the older he gets, the easier it gets to work through these things.
It’s been a journey for me, for sure. When your kid gets that label of something, that can be either really freeing or you feel super oppressed. For me it was freeing to figure out, but it was really hard for a season to cope and to figure out that my kid’s different. He doesn’t fit in with what people say the norm is. There are some things that surround his disorder that have challenged me in the last year. I feel like I’ve grown a lot. Being OK with what our kids struggle with, it’s not the end-all, but we can work through it.
WACOAN: How do you want your kids to be involved in your music as they grow up?
Konzelman: The cool thing about as they get older, Grace is now 10, and she comes with us, depending on where we sing. We did a First Friday [downtown event] last weekend at The Praetorian, and she came. She brewed coffee and made friends. She’s my little extrovert.
That is super important for Aaron and I to involve them more and more. And when we travel that they feel a part. As they get older, I would love for them to come with us wherever we go. I would love to jam with our kids someday.
WACOAN: What do you want them to learn, musically?
Konzelman: For sure, we’d love for them to learn the music side of artistry. Grace is taking violin at school; she just started. It’s classical, but it’s a great foundation for her. She’s learning how to read music. That’s huge!
It’s awesome for me because I didn’t read music, and I want them to grow up with the skill. They may not stay interested in it, but right now they both love music.
Thatcher, he loves to sing. If [the music is] hurting his ears, then he’s like, ‘Turn that off.’ What is amazing about the sensory processing issues for him is he has an amazing ear. His ear is super sensitive. He can hear something and sing it pretty verbatim, the same way he heard it. His memory for music is pretty fantastic. He loves drumming on things — boys love to drum, right? A drum set would be a great investment.
WACOAN: Do you have help with the kids, since your parents live in town? I would imagine that’s a necessary part of being able to perform.
Konzelman: My mom and stepdad and my dad are our family, our family anchor here in Waco. If we do a show on the weekend, my parents are watching the kids. They typically spend the night, have a slumber party with Grandma and Grandpa. Our kids love that.
If Aaron and I have an event, I’ve got a great network of sitters, four or five girls, when we have weeknight shows. They’re like aunts to our kids. It’s important to us to have girls who will invest in them and not just get a paycheck.
WACOAN: How do you manage performing and parenting?
Konzelman: I ask myself that daily — are we managing this well? I don’t feel like we were managing everything well when we first moved back [from Austin]. Aaron was let go from his job, and we moved back to Waco. I started dealing with anxiety pretty bad, grieving the loss of what we had, the loss of relationships.
And then earlier this year Thatcher had a dentist appointment, which are typically hard for him, and I had a panic attack or something — I don’t know what to call it. For the first time in my life I felt immobilized by anxiety. It made me take a hard look at things like, what are we doing? Why am I feeling this way? A really good friend of mine suggested I talk to a counselor and figure this out.
So I found a life coach/counselor. She lives in Austin. We Skype one to two times a month and talk about managing life with strong emotions and grief. I learned that I’ve got a lot of grief and a lot of loss in my life. So we’ve been doing that for about three months now, and it has been an amazing step of faith because sometimes there can be this negative view of saying, ‘I need help.’ As women, for sure, as moms who work, I feel, especially in my circle, women in my generation, it’s hard to say, ‘I can’t juggle all this.’
I’ve been thinking about the title of this article, ‘Keeping Balance.’ It’s brilliant, and it’s also impossible. If I spend too much time focusing on, ‘Is everything balanced?’ then I focus too much on the scale and not what’s in the scale. Then something falls, and it takes that much more energy to pick it back up. That’s what happened when I had my anxiety attack. I’m not investing in me — I’m investing in a lot of other things. Then I don’t have the capacity to balance.
WACOAN: How do you unwind and decompress after a show? Do you crave quiet, or are you up until 2 a.m.?
Konzelman: [A show is] three to four hours of packed adrenaline and being social. Afterward we typically plop on the couch and watch an episode of ‘The Office.’
I am definitely a night owl. I’m not a morning person — that goes for both of us. We write at nighttime when the kids are in bed. Aaron loves to go out on the back porch and pull out his guitar and jam around, and then he’ll come inside, and we’ll work on something together.
I am more of an introvert. We both can fall right on the line, but he’s more extroverted.
WACOAN: Are you still at Highland?
Konzelman: We worship every week at First United Methodist Church [FUMC]. Aaron works part time; he’s on staff part time there. It was a year in May that we’ve been there. They have a contemporary service on Sunday morning, and we practice midweek with our team. Even though it is work, it’s another way for me to connect with my faith, and it really propels me to have that energy for the rest of the week. I love corporate worship, and I love worshipping with the body of Christ. It plays a huge role in our lives, for sure.
When we moved back to Waco, I wasn’t sure we’d work for another church again because it was a hard season [when we were in full-time worship ministry before]. We were hurt by a group of people and never thought we would do it again. FUMC called us about a year and a half ago for their contemporary service, and we were serving at Highland, serving on the worship team. [FUMC] offered Aaron this part-time job, and we were like, ‘We don’t know if we want to get back into the church world and be on staff,’ but we met with the pastor, and he has a heart of gold, and we were sold at that point. We’re really folded into the family.
Church work is hard. It can be extremely exhausting, depending on the leadership. We are extremely grateful. It feeds my identity, my faith, many of these areas we’re talking about.
WACOAN: You work with your husband, you perform together, you worship together. That must require good communication skills.
Konzelman: Absolutely. I feel so fortunate to have married him.
Are you familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test? We don’t have any letters in common. He’s ENTP, and I’m an ISFJ. We couldn’t be more opposite. I’m telling you, it’s a miracle, Lord, that this works!
I fell in love with him before I knew anything about him and vice versa. It was truly love at first sight, but it’s so true. I’m so thankful, and of course, there are hard times we go through, just like anybody else, trying to figure out, ‘What are you saying?’ and ‘What do you mean?’ But somehow it works, and we work well together.
Most of our marriage we have worked together, or he’s worked from home and I’ve home-schooled. I love his company. It’s given us strengths in music and in ministry to communicate with people we don’t have anything in common with — we’ve learned how to from each other.
Music is usually the glue, the thing in common. We’re together all the time unless I’m going to read, or I’m going to yoga, or I’m meeting a girl from church in a mentor-type relationship.
WACOAN: Who do you mentor?
Konzelman: A couple of girls at FUMC. The term ‘mentor’ feels like so much pressure, but we just do life together. One of the girls is a worship leader as well and a musician. She wants to lead worship and also do music. She’s a college student at MCC. I learn things from her, definitely. She’s in a different generation than me. There’s that beautiful give and take.
WACOAN: What keeps you in Waco?
Konzelman: Our friends are a dream. It’s really dreamy that we have such a strong network of friends here. We go back to the early years of our marriage. Some of them, it’s been 14 or 15 years that we’ve done life together. We do dinner with all of our kids and all the parents, typically once a week. We’ve got a gazillion kids [from] four or five families. We do vacations together. We just live life together. It’s messy, but we are committed.
That’s one of the main reasons we stay in Waco. We’ve walked through some hard things with each and every couple. [We say,] ‘You’re important to me, and we’re never going to give up on each other.’ Most of us are business owners, entrepreneurs or full-time ministers or musicians. So we have this bond in common. We all work pretty hard and juggle a lot. We help each other and watch each other’s kids. All of our kids are best friends.
WACOAN: I found a song of yours, ‘The River,’ on an album by Brett and Emily Mills of Jesus Said Love. Are you involved with them?
Konzelman: Yes! Brett and Emily of JSL [Jesus Said Love] are some of our best friends I was telling you about. They’re a part of our little tribe in town, and we’ve known them for about 14 years. We’ve done lots of music and collaborations over the years — worship, youth camps, albums and music for JSL. And we have been a part of the last two Wild Torch fundraisers at the [Waco] Hippodrome.
WACOAN: With so much going on in your life, how do you take care of yourself?
Konzelman: For me, personally, the last two months I’ve started doing yoga at Yoga Pod. It has made all the difference. I’m not a true yogi, but I love the yoga barre class. I love the barre! The fun thing about working out my muscles, it’s almost spiritual for me, even feeling the soreness. I’ve never had a place to go work out. It’s the first time I’ve been a member somewhere. I go two to three times a week, and it is definitely a time for me.
I do that, and I’m a huge reader. One or two times a week I’ll go to Common Grounds or Barnes & Noble, and I typically like Barnes & Noble because it’s that forgotten coffee shop — the younger generation, they don’t go anymore. It’s quiet. I’m in the middle of the ‘Divergent’ series [by Veronica Roth]. I love fiction. I did ‘The Hunger Games’ [series by Suzanne Collins] earlier this summer. I don’t have to be in mommy mode or music mode. I can just experience this fun adventure.
If I’m not reading fiction, my other favorite type of book is history. Right now I’m reading ‘Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness’ [by Eric Metaxas] about Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, women in history who have changed history.
I love to write as well, journal. It helps me decompress. I made notes before we talked, things I wanted to make sure I said.
WACOAN: It sounds like you’ve made a lot of changes in the self-care department recently.
Konzelman: I’ve only discovered all this about myself in the last three to six months. It’s interesting that you guys called and asked me to do this. I finally feel I am learning how to take care of myself and how to invest in who I am and learning how to unwind and how to have me time. It gives me a greater capacity to love my kids better, to love my husband better.