Creative Pursuits

By Kathleen Seaman

Four locals discuss their art and creating in Waco

Pictured: Photos by cecy ayala,

No longer Waco’s best-kept secret, our creative community has seen incredible growth in recent years. And every genre of art seems to have representation — music, photography, painting, film, graphic design, ceramics, literature, jewelry. The support for this diverse landscape comes not only from adoring patrons, local businesses and community members, but also from the artists themselves.

No matter how big Waco gets, it seems like it will always keep its small-town atmosphere, and that includes lending a helping hand to a fellow neighbor. Or in this case, a fellow artist. As different individuals have found success in the expanding art scene, countless have reached back to lift up other aspiring creatives — whether that’s helping them build relationships, giving them a job or offering them a space to showcase their work.

Wacoan writer Kathleen Seaman recently spoke with a couple who has spent their marriage telling stories through music, a potter who loves to create art that people interact with every day, and a gallery owner who’s making up for his late arrival to the art world by exploring several forms of expression. They each discussed their creative journey, the pandemic’s effect on their work and the ways they’re helping grow their realm of the local art community.

The Lifelong Learner

Mark Kieran

“I’ve dabbled in everything from blacksmithing to leatherwork to woodworking.”

Kieran has been interested in art his whole life. He’s played guitar since he was a child, he later picked up leatherworking, and he’s also dabbled in blacksmithing. But it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that he began to paint. He taught himself by experimenting with different techniques and also by watching one of the original virtual teachers, painter and TV art instructor Bob Ross.

When Kieran first came to Waco, the arts community wasn’t what it is today, and it’s only been in recent years that it’s begun to bloom. With the hope of helping foster the emerging arts scene, Kieran, along with fellow Waco artist Susan Sistrunk, opened a gallery to sell not only their own art but the work of other artists as well. Located uptown on Washington Avenue, the Kieran-Sistrunk Fine Art Gallery is located in a historical home that doubles as Kieran and Sistrunk’s residence.

WACOAN: What was the motivation behind opening the gallery?

Kieran: Over the last three or four years, we started to have this vision for making things and selling them in addition to the art. Susan’s been an artist her whole life. She’s trained. I just started painting about 10 years ago. Selling art is an interesting business to be in.

We had both exhibited around Texas in different cities and then at galleries and things. It’s kind of an uphill climb, and we thought, ‘Well, let’s open up a place that we can work out of, show our own art and then see how many other artists we can get in here.’ It was two years ago in March.

We found this place [in October 2017]. We just went, ‘You know, let’s look for a place downtown,’ and this place opened up within a couple of weeks. It was amazing. This is a pretty cool house. It was built in 1910.

WACOAN: Do you showcase all different types of art?

Kieran: We try to do different stuff all the time. Everything from abstract to realistic landscapes, traditional Texas landscapes. [One] New Orleans artist was a jazz theme mostly. We’ve had a sculptor in here that has shown, but mostly paintings.

WACOAN:: What does an event look like here?

Kieran: Normally, we feature an artist every month, but with the way things are right now, we can’t really have openings. We would feature the artist in [the front room, off the entryway]. Right now, we’ve got a bunch of our own art that we’re trying to get rid of.

Then [in the dining room] is our boutique. I do the leatherwork and the silver and copper jewelry; Susan does the beadwork. Then the clothing is just hand-picked. We ordered most of this from a couple of companies that we work with in Nepal, just stuff that we like.

We do have odds and ends from other people in the area. Pottery from Doreen Plott; she has Mammoth Creek Pottery. Spices from Old Dutch Spice House. We try to work with people around here.

We start pretty early, like at 4 o’clock. It’s usually on a First Friday [of the month], and it goes until like 9 p.m. We have sangria and refreshments in the kitchen. People can just come and look. Sometimes a live musician, sometimes recorded music.

WACOAN: Where are you from originally?

Kieran: I was born in Massachusetts. I spent part of my childhood in Colorado and ended up here around 1990 or ’91. I’ve been here since.

WACOAN: How has the art scene changed in Waco since you moved here?

Kieran: The environment here in Waco has changed quite a bit. In the ’90s, I worked construction and didn’t really focus on art much at all. I started playing music again in the late ’90s. When I did get into doing art 10 years ago, there was just no market for it here at all really.

A little place opened up a few years ago on Austin Avenue called The Cast, and I sold a few paintings out of there. It was a good thing for a couple of years. It eventually folded.

It’s just been the last three or four years that [the art scene has] begun to improve. I would think that Magnolia has something to do with bringing more people here, which brings more ideas with it. Creative Waco and Fiona [Bond] have done a tremendous amount of work. All in all, we have tried to also help improve the environment, and I think we probably have in some ways.

WACOAN: You said you have only been painting for 10 years. When did you become interested in art?

Kieran: I have always been into the arts from [the time I was] a small child. I started drawing and ended up in music. I’ve dabbled in everything from blacksmithing to leatherwork to woodworking. Music was really the biggest thing for a long time. I played in a few bands semi-professionally for a few years, played in churches as well. But about 10 years ago, I quit playing music and got really interested in painting as an expression.

At the time, I was going through some pretty hard times in my own life. I got interested in meditation and Eastern philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism to try to find my way out of a very stressful and anxiety-ridden life that I had ended up in. The search for inner peace was the thing that drove me at that point. I became interested in trying to express themes through painting.

Many of my early paintings were dark in theme and also in colors. But as I found my way through it, I got interested in more vibrant colors and deeper themes, happier themes, if you will. It’s been a journey for me.

All of my painting has been by inspiration and wanting to express something. And being artistically inclined and having drawn so much as a younger guy, learning to paint was not a monumental thing for me. Obviously, it took a lot of work and time, but it came fairly naturally for me.

WACOAN: When you say learning to paint, was it all self-taught?

Kieran: Yeah, pretty much. You know, I watched some Bob Ross, if you’ve seen him.

WACOAN: Of course.

Kieran: I just experimented as well and tried stuff. I painted over things a lot because it didn’t look too good at first. I’ve slowed down on painting recently because I’ve gotten back into music.

WACOAN: What are you working on?

Kieran: I’ve written about 20 new songs, and I’m working on two albums. One will be a meditation album, and the other will be kind of world music infused with blues and a little rock ‘n’ roll. Some of it’s instrumental, some of it’s got voice on it.

WACOAN: What type of instruments are used?

Kieran: I’ve got a keyboard. My main instrument is guitar. I play that. The bass guitar, my son’s actually playing some bass on the album as well. Then I’ve got an instrument called a tanpura. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Indian music at all, but [it creates] that shimmery, buzzy drone that happens. It’s a stringed instrument.

WACOAN: Besides current events in your life, are you influenced by other artists or anything else?

Kieran: There are a few artists that I was influenced by quite a bit. Alex Grey is one and then the surrealists — [Salvador] Dali and others.

I got into abstract pouring. A lot of people are pouring now, but I wanted to create something with as few lines, as few details as possible, and you still know what it is. We had a show here called The Divine Female. It was a female form show, and I did two for that.

‘Sunrise on the Ganges’ I did after attending an exhibit from a photographer named Greg Davis, who was with National Geographic. He came here to town, and he put on a [presentation] about the Kumbh Mela, a giant festival in India. That inspired me because I liked stuff about India.

I did a bunch of these big [paint] pours, and a lot of times, I will paint into them. If you look at them long enough, you’ll find the little images that are made into them.

WACOAN: What materials do you usually use to paint?

Kieran: I use acrylic and oil. A lot of times, I’ll do the acrylic pouring and then go in with oil paints and paint details.

WACOAN: How did you get into leatherworking?

Kieran: I started doing that when I was a kid. As a young guy, I was involved in ranching for several years. I grew up around farming and ranching in Colorado.

I started making belts and things, sort of the Western-style stuff, and trying to sell it, more of as a side thing. But then three or four years ago, I was thinking, what can we do that we enjoy and that we can make a living at? Well, I can try doing some leatherwork again.

I got some deerskin. I started making these purses. Deerskin is really soft. I started that, little pouches, bigger purses, leather journal covers.

Then jewelry, I started with hammered copper — little bracelets and things — and then I branched off into silver — bracelets, little pendants and started casting pendants. We went down to Terlingua in West Texas. There’s a guy down there named Paul Wiggins who is an old-school silversmith. He let us come down, and we camped and stayed for a week. He showed us some techniques. I started trying to do these pendants and things. It’s a learning process, always, and it’s fun. People seem to like it, so that’s good.

WACOAN: And you also dabbled in blacksmithing?

Kieran: I started because I wanted to learn to make horseshoes because I was shoeing horses, and then it grew from that. Usually they start you out when you’re blacksmithing making things like fireplace tools, little decorative iron grape leaves and things. I did some of that, which has helped me along the lines of doing the finer metalwork because I’m a little familiar with metal and fire.

The creativeness has been a thing for me most of my life. It seems to be an ingrained theme for me.

The Artisan

Jonathan Martin

“I would come in early just to get in the studio, especially throwing on the wheel. I fell in love with it.”

Jonathan Martin loves creating functional art. Originally from California, Martin came to Waco in the late 1990s to attend Baylor University. After graduation, he worked in various fields and spent several years teaching in the classroom, but he ultimately decided to pursue a career in pottery. He opened Black Oak Art in 2008 and initially worked out of his garage studio. Drawn to the idea of creating practical pieces that people would interact with every day, Martin began making what has now become his signature item: a coffee mug. The studio is no longer in his garage, and today, Black Oak employs a community of artists to craft each of its handmade pieces for individuals as well as local businesses like Magnolia and Common Grounds. In addition to Black Oak Art, Martin and his wife, Sara, own Gather, a retail storefront for custom pottery and essentials for entertaining at home.

WACOAN: When did you start making pottery?

Martin: I was introduced to pottery in high school. We actually had a full ceramics program. I wasn’t even sure exactly what it meant, but I was like, ‘That sounds easy, and I’ll get an A.’ So, I signed up for it.

WACOAN: Was it easy?

Martin: It was, and I loved it. I would come in early just to get in the studio, especially throwing on the wheel. I fell in love with it.

I always liked making things. In junior high and high school, I thought of art as the ability to draw something, but I loved making things, especially three-dimensional things. I just never really put that together.

As I got into college, I started pursuing that a little bit more and eventually went ahead and changed my major to art. I tried to spend as much time in the ceramic studio as possible.

WACOAN: Do you remember the first piece of pottery you ever made? Do you have any particularly memorable pieces?

Martin: I don’t remember the first piece I ever made because it would have been in high school. Actually, some of those I do remember because my mom still has them. Sad-looking little salsa bowls or something.

There was this one, I was so proud of it. In normal art class, we had done a basket weaving project, and I thought, ‘Oh, that would be cool to weave clay together to create a bowl basket.’ I think I liked it because it wasn’t like someone said, ‘Make this piece, and this is how you do it.’ I went to the teacher and said, ‘Hey, I have this idea. I want to weave the clay together. I want to do it in the shape of a bowl.’ It worked, and I thought it was way better than I do now when I go back and look at it, but my mom used it for years for her fruit basket on her table.

Other than that, there were a couple pieces in college that I was proud of. Unfortunately, with pottery, you just end up with so much of it. At one point, I had been lugging around all these pieces from college and some from high school. I decided I needed to edit it down.

I put all my pieces out on the table. I split them up by year. I picked like two pieces from each year to keep, and then I gave away or threw away the rest of it. That was great.

So, then I put them all on this cabinet that I had attached to the wall myself. A week later, I came into the studio, and the cabinet had fallen. All the pieces were broken. I think I got a couple out, but it was a little sad because I had just edited it down. These are the ones I’m going to keep forever, and then I broke them all.

WACOAN: At what point did you start to pursue art as a profession?

Martin: All of it was nice and visionary my sophomore year [in college] when I was like, ‘What do you want to do? What do you have passion for?’ But when I hit my senior year, I was like, ‘Oh, what am I going to do?’

I moved to Colorado and worked construction. I moved back home, and I thought, maybe teaching. I loved Waco and wanted to come back here, so I ended up calling Waco ISD. They actually needed an art teacher [immediately]. I flew out, taught one year. Then the next year I substitute taught, and I worked some part-time jobs. I said I’m going to go for it. I’m going to try to do the pottery thing. I got a wheel, I got a kiln, and I was working at this little coffee shop out in McGregor.

I love making functional pieces. I enjoy doing some sculptural stuff, but there’s something about the idea of making functional pieces that people are going to use every day and interact with.

I started making as many pieces as I could, and then I thought, OK, what now? How do I sell these things? I did the obligatory friends and family sale where I opened up the apartment, but that only works one time, maybe every 10 years. People will get tired of that.

I had no business background, and I just boxed everything up. I got little white boxes. I wrote a little A2 and A3 on them. I had taken pictures with my digital camera, and in a three-ring binder, I made a catalog. This is an A3, and this is whatever.

I put all the boxes in the back of my truck, and I started driving around town. This is ’02, ’03.

WACOAN: Pre-Facebook and most social media.

Martin: Yeah, there’s really not any of those things. We’re still making the transition from Yellow Pages to Google.

I would drive down Valley Mills Drive, and I would go, what kind of place wants to buy pottery? I had some vases, I had canisters and some teapots.

I think I sold a few things. I got some stuff on consignment. It’s kind of funny now, but there was Rosetree [Floral Design], which was where [Silos Baking Co.] is now. I went in there, and [the previous owner] bought some mugs from me for herself, but then she really did want some more flowerpots and some other things.

That’s when I actually sat down and started calculating it out. I thought, OK, she wants this many. This is how long it’s going to take me. I also realized, oh, I don’t have a big enough kiln to do some of this stuff. I was getting some samples ready for her, and I just hit different roadblocks. My kiln broke.

Sara and I were long-distance dating. She was a missionary in Beirut, Lebanon. I was planning on going out there to spend three or four weeks with her, and I thought, if this trip goes well, I’m going to ask her to marry me, and we’ll probably be married by next year. I probably need to get a real job.

They offered me a full-time position managing that coffee shop. I started working there, and like with anything, you get busy. My small, yearlong attempt of trying to start a business kind of fizzled out. Sara and I did get married that next fall.

We ended up going with a church planting team out to Los Angeles, and this was 2005, 2006. When we came back to town in ’08 was actually when Black Oak started.

I was teaching again, but I had a full studio set up in my garage. It was my second wind at it, and I didn’t know what to make. You come back from a full day of teaching, and you’re just tired. I [decided to] make mugs, because they’re easy, they’re fast. So I started making mugs.

At some point, Sara said, ‘You can’t bring any more mugs into the house. Why don’t we invite our friends over? We’ll do a Christmas sale.’

One of our friends was Jill Mashburn, who owned Common Grounds at the time. She said, ‘I love these mugs. We should sell some in Common Grounds.’ When Jill said that, already my mind was going, how can I customize this pottery, especially for businesses?

Then word of mouth around town, different people, The Bear Mountain, some businesses would order them for gifts. Then Magnolia was just a home remodel company at the time. I knew [Joanna Gaines] from college, and she was like, ‘Hey, we’d love some mugs to give as gifts to our clients.’

There were times where I was like, I’m just making mugs. But I think what kept me going was, especially with Common Grounds, I started adding them up. I thought, I’ve sold them a thousand mugs or whatever, maybe at the time it was like 200. But there are 200 people out there that are interacting with my pieces every day. They’re opening their cabinet, and they’re picking that mug. I’m adding something to their lives.

The fact that they’re not just this factory-produced piece from overseas, but this is actually handmade here, that really excited me. We just kept going with that idea, and now we make all kinds of pieces. The mugs are still probably our biggest seller.

WACOAN: Obviously in the beginning you were making every piece. How does production work now?

Martin: That was quite the process over these last six years. As orders increased, I had to figure out, how do we do this? I was throwing and doing every handle and all that stuff.

I started with hiring somebody to do the easiest task, which was putting the handle and the stamp on the mug. That was the first step in taking the process and breaking it down into its parts by skill level. Then we figured out a way to do the handle a little bit easier. I hired someone to do handles, someone else to roll out the stamps. Then eventually I passed off the trimming of the bottom of the mugs. Throwing is the most skilled — sitting down at the wheel and throwing the mug — and I was having trouble finding someone to do that.

I had a connection from that [first attempt at the pottery business]. I got hooked up with this guy who’s a great potter. [Now] we have two main potters. We have two others that will jump on and off [the wheel] if we need more throwing. We have people that trim [the mugs], handle stamp assembly. Then we have a [married] couple that runs the back end, runs [all the pieces] through the kilns and glazes and all that kind of stuff.

WACOAN: How has the pandemic affected the business?

Martin: The business has gone pretty well. Magnolia is our biggest client, but we also do all of our custom retail through Gather. When the shutdown happened, it happened at the worst time, right before Magnolia’s big spring season hit.

We stopped everything. I applied for the [Paycheck Protection Program] loan, but until it came through, I furloughed everybody except for five of us. I set up my studio at home, and we had a couple of people that set up some home studios, too. We figured out ways to get it done without anyone being here.

When the PPP money came back through it coincided with Magnolia realizing what we realized too, which was our online sales did really well. They said, ‘Hey, this actually looks a lot better than we thought.’ They put in some new purchase orders, and we were able to use that same work-from-home deal. I said, ‘If you want to work, we have some hours, and you can do it from home.’ We did that, and we kept most people.

WACOAN: Were you able to use any of the time during the shutdown for the creative process?

Martin: We definitely did some more prototyping.

Sometimes when you have total creativity, it’s debilitating. It’s like, ‘Where do I start?’ Something that we’ve noticed, especially those of us that come from art school, it was very rarely open like that. Even if it was in the upper levels, there were still some parameters that your professor gave you and said, ‘We’re working on bowls but give us your interpretation.’ There are at least some sort of boundaries that I actually think helped to aid in the creative process.

We have this spectrum where, as artists, we have full creativity and then as workers in the production studio, no creativity. It’s like, make this piece the way it’s supposed to be made. Our customers want it to look exactly the same, but you’re learning a lot of skills that are going to help when you start to go to the creative side.

What we’ve found is these places in the middle. When we went to total creativity, we got a lot of random things. We actually have an artist collective where we’ll go to the farmers market or different trade shows and things like that, where people can bring their personal pieces. But what we found was when we said, ‘Hey, just make a bunch of stuff,’ we got eclectic stuff. What I’ve found, especially in pottery, is the process is actually in the repetition. If you have an idea for a piece, you may need to make that piece 10 or 20 times before you really hit the one. Once you get in the kiln, you can’t go back and change it. With a painting, you could go back and forth with it a bunch.

What we’ve found was giving some parameters and saying, ‘We’re looking for pieces that look like this, and we’re all going to make a set together. We’re going to interpret this same thing together,’ we were able to elevate the pieces that we were creating.

Whether it’s a customer, or usually Sara, coming with a problem, ‘I really want a piece that looks like this, or I really like this style,’ that gives me the jumping point to then go in and be creative with my solution. A huge part of the enjoyment of it was making a piece that was perfect for somebody. I like the idea of solving those problems. I actually really enjoy that.

WACOAN: Any plans for the future for Black Oak?

Martin: Right now, just keep going with this. The artist collective, I am actually really excited about getting that back up and running. We have a lot of artists here, but we’re producing functional things. That’s a little bit of a disconnect sometimes, the definition of an artist.

In our culture, especially over the last hundred years when more things became factory produced, art got relegated to this super sacred area in galleries, magazines or museums, and everything else was just mass production. I really like the idea of finding the gap in between. That’s the idea behind our artist collective. We’re melding, blurring the line between artist and artisan. We’re bringing our creativity into our items, but we’re also meeting a need and enriching people’s lives through it.

The Storytellers

Amanda & Aaron Konzelman

“All of the songs that we write, we pull from actual experiences with people.”

Folk Americana duo Amanda and Aaron Konzelman have spent their marriage creating songs, gigging all over Texas and leading worship. Both were raised in Central Texas and come from families with musical roots. In 2012, after deciding that Konzelman might not be the easiest name for fans to Google, they labeled themselves The Union Revival, a name that symbolizes their marriage as well as their desire to revive a forgotten style of musical storytelling.

While they’ve led worship together for the past 20 years, Aaron recently left his role as a worship pastor to begin a new position with the Waco Hippodrome, which he is determined to establish as the anchor for downtown’s live music scene.

WACOAN: What is your music background?

Aaron: I’m a fourth-generation musician and pastor. My parents did music professionally their whole life. They were a touring contemporary Christian music group, [New Creation Singers], all through the late ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s with Word Records. They were kind of Jesus hippies.

My dad was an audio engineer for Word Records for about 20 years. I lived in the studio with my dad and learned how to produce and write music. I started traveling and touring with bands when I was about 13 and started leading worship full time when I was about 15.

Amanda: My dad was a country and western musician just local to Central Texas. He worked for TXU, but on the weekends, he would travel and play with his country band at dance halls. My mom and I would go watch him. We always had music playing in the house, and my dad was always writing and playing his guitar and practicing. I had a natural love and attraction to music early on. Country is my roots.

WACOAN: When did you start performing as The Union Revival?

Aaron: We came up with that name back in 2012. We were looking at all of the divisions that were happening in our country, and we started thinking we want to bring back this idea, this ‘revival,’ per se, of relationship and storytelling and letting people into our lives by telling true and real stories set to music that maybe people can relate to. We just came up with the combination of the words ‘union revival,’ being that we’re married and being that we were trying to revive this old forgotten style of storytelling.

Amanda: I remember, it was around that time, that The Civil Wars were a duo. When they came out, I remember feeling so validated because we write these story songs and a lot of them are heavy. [The Civil Wars] were singing, and a lot of their songs were like, ‘Whoa. Heavy.’ And their harmonies and how they sung together is how we sing together. I remember feeling like, OK, people really like this style, this approach to songwriting.

WACOAN:: What is your method of songwriting? Do music or lyrics come first?

Aaron: For me it’s 50-50. Sometimes I’ll sit down, and I’ll start playing a melody. When that melody and chord starts to tell its own story, it starts to make me feel something or think about something or remember something, just the sound of the notes, that will inspire a lyric.

My goal is always — and this is what my dad taught me — is that the music itself tells the story, and then the words also help tell the story. If both of them are telling the story together, then it’s going to be a really powerful message.

Amanda is kind of like our producer. She’ll come up with ideas or lyrics, or she’ll tell the cool stories. When we sit down to write together, she’s the one that goes, ‘No, not that one. That one. Not that note, this one. Say this instead of that.’ She molds this raw thing that explodes out of me into something that actually makes sense.

Amanda:: I like that. Wow. I’ve never gotten that title before.

Yeah, I concur. He is the primary songwriter. I don’t play [an instrument], so he comes up with all of the instrumentation. It’s exciting when he brings me a melody and whatever he’s coming up with.

All of the songs that we write, we pull from actual experiences with people. We have a song called ‘I’ll Be Fine’ that I wrote when we lived in Houston after watching a homeless man in the Montrose area with a sign.

I remember his sign asked for money, but one of the things that it said was, ‘Just come sit with me for a while. I’d love some company. I’m alone. I don’t have any family.’ I watched all these people walking by, and some people would avoid him and go to the other side of the street. And some would throw money at him, and some would try to lecture him on all the ways he’d screwed up his life. So, we wrote this song, about this idea of what if this guy had a voice to actually say what he wanted to say instead of just a piece of cardboard with some Sharpie on it?

Amanda: One of my favorite memories is one of our first gigs in Austin. We were playing at a place called the One-2-One Bar, and we were taking a break and went over to the bar. There was a girl sitting there, and she was crying. I asked her if she was OK, and she told us a story about how one of our songs made her cry. I don’t remember the exact story, but it was just a really hard time in her life, and that was really huge to me because I thought, wow, she’s connecting with something. Maybe this is helping her not feel so alone in her situation. She understands this happens to all of us, this pain.

WACOAN: How would you describe your sound as it is today?

Aaron: I would describe it almost more as Americana. Kind of a combination of Ray LaMontagne, with John Denver, with Simon and Garfunkel, with Johnny Cash, with The Civil Wars. It’s acoustic-guitar-driven, and it’s centered around the idea of telling a story.

Amanda: Lots of really tight harmony, melody lines.

Aaron: Very traditional folk melody.

Amanda: Some of our songs even, instead of a bridge, it’s just a vocal something or other. Sometimes it’s very spontaneous. I’m not spontaneous, but Aaron is. He will go off and write something in the middle of a song or write a new melody in the middle of the song. I’ll be like, OK, here we go.

You know how they say if you have a family of musicians, they sing well together. There’s this kind of synergy that happens. We’ve been singing together for almost 20 years. It’s weird. I feel like I can sort of telepathically know where he’s going. I know, oh, he’s here, and he’s about to go here or here.

It’s the same with leading worship together. He’s been a full-time worship pastor for so long, and we lead together, so in church as well, same thing. There’s just this intuitive connection that we carry with us on stage.

WACOAN: Where do you lead worship in town?

Amanda: In the spring [of 2019], we helped plant a new church in town called Renew Church. Aaron actually just stepped down as worship pastor about a month ago, and he’s off to something completely new. It’s the first time in our whole marriage we’ve not been in full-time ministry.

WACOAN: What’s your new venture?

Aaron: The last five years, I’ve really gotten into doing marketing and ad writing. So when I stepped down from the church, I came on full time as the marketing and communications director for the Waco Hippodrome and all its restaurant venues. Then also they’re kind of tasked with relaunching live music in Waco and trying to bring back live music to downtown.

When we moved back in 2014, we spent the last six years integrating into the Waco music community. We’ve gigged a lot. Then I contract regularly with The Backyard to run sound for their shows, and I used to run sound for the Bosque River Stage. That’s let us create these relationships with all the venues in Waco and all the musicians in Waco. Now, with the Hippodrome, [I can] very quickly reach out to that network and be like, OK, we’re launching. We’re going to turn Downtown Waco into a music district like Austin, like Sixth Street. There’s going to be something going on every single night of the week here. It’s allowed me to be able to create these ideas of concerts and open mics.

We’re going to be starting weekly comedy battles there at the Hippodrome. We have live music every single weekend, Fridays and Saturdays. Then we have open mics and karaoke. We’re launching all this stuff to try and get people to stay in that downtown area instead of just going to one place and leaving.

WACOAN: How has the pandemic affected you musically?

Amanda: We totally jumped on the bandwagon of Facebook Live, Instagram Live during the shutdown.

It wasn’t super consistent, but it was something that we definitely went to when we needed that creative outlet.

WACOAN: If someone is new to your music, what song should they start with?

Amanda: ‘Train.’

Aaron: ‘Train’ or ‘Healing Hands.’

WACOAN: What stories are those two songs telling?

Aaron: ‘Train’ tells the story about saying goodbye to people you love but knowing that it’s not goodbye forever. It was written at this time in our life when we were saying goodbye to some family members that we were just having a falling out with. They didn’t approve of our choice to be in the church and do the things we were doing. We were kind of saying goodbye, but it wasn’t really goodbye because we’re family still.

It’s set in this storyline of a soldier in the Civil War waiting for the train to come pick him up to take him off to war. It’s this back-and-forth, kind of call-and-response of the soldier saying something and then the wife saying something back. It’s the story of knowing that they’ll find each other again someday, even if it’s in the next life.

‘Healing Hands’ is a love song. It’s just a straight up, ‘Hey, let’s go hang out at this old church and make out in the back pews.’