by Sam Robinson
Reel Gospel’s first music interview for 2014 is with Seth & Nirva Ready, a married couple and two wonderful musicians from Florida, USA. Both have been on the Christian music scene for years – Seth doing background vocals for the likes of Chris Tomlin and Kirk Franklin, and Nirva touring with TobyMac and the Diverse City Band. The pair have now joined forces to make their first album together – I Need You – packed with an array of music styles and a whole lot of heart. I caught up with Seth and Nirva to hear the stories behind the record, to talk collaborations, and find out what’s to come in 2014.
SAM: You’re married – what is it like to make music together?
SETH: It’s been a really enjoyable process for us. We’re both kinda laid back, so for the most part it’s been more pleasure than pain. Although there’s a couple moments where I probably get on Nirva’s nerves because I’m a little OCD at times. And she’s more the feeler, I’m more the detail-oriented person. So there are times when we have to definitely work on relationship features [laughs] during the recording process. But overall man, it’s been a huge blessing to us to finally do stuff together since we spend so much time doing it separately.
SAM: Your first album has just come out – I Need You – how long was this in the pipeline? How long did it take to come about?
SETH: Y’know honestly it took about five years. And I know that’s super long, especially for an EP, but the reason it took so long is because we had so many other things that sort of took priority in our lives, or we would have to pull it on the back shelf from time to time and see where we’re at. But we did start it like five years ago with some songs that Nirva had written even before that. And we just started out just messing around and saying man – what would it be like to do stuff together? I guess that process over time has been a long road.
NIRVA: We were also living in Tennessee when we started this process and when we moved to Florida, which was two-and-a-half years ago, we almost thought that this journey of music and pursuing it as a career had come to an end because we had both taken different positions at a college university at the time, and then at a church. So we felt, maybe, the musical season was over. But we ran into a producer, a friend introduced us to a guy who’s a genius who helped us actually complete it. So that’s been a blessing.
SETH: Yeah. It has been a huge blessing meeting him.
SAM: It’s a really great album – I love all the musical styles. The first track is called Praise Him featuring Gabe Real. It’s got a lot of soul. What can you tell us about this track?
SETH: Well that’s one of the ones that Nirva had started writing probably – ten years ago? With Pete?
NIRVA: Yeah, Pete. I met him while I was doing some travelling and music in Nashville. He and I got together and worked on it. It’s just a fun praise party type of song that talks about telling your testimony about how good God has been in your life, in a fun anthem kind of way. Seth’s creative genius ways along with our producer Matt got together and just added a lot more flavour to it and made it just a fun song. Gabe Real who is my band mate, we’re both members of Diverse City Band with TobyMac, and he just agreed to come and put some love on the song as well. So grateful, he’s so talented. So that’s the song, it tells of the testimony of God and hey – if he’s been good give him praise.
SAM: I really like how the stories are shared on that track. I feel like you’re introducing yourselves to the listener. Is there anything else we should listen for?
SETH: Maybe just the fact that I think at least me and Nirva on the first half of the verse were just telling little stories, little anecdotes about who we are in funny ways. And the second half of the verse tells of our journey with God more in that spiritual sense. In the first part of my verse I say a line that a lot of people don’t know what it means. I say ‘I’m a sucker for a meat and three and a sweet tea’. And in Tennessee, that basically means at a country restaurant where you got a meat, three vegetable sides and sweet tea, and that’s my favourite meal. So we threw in lines like that just to get people little hints of our quirks and who we are and all that good stuff.
SAM: Your CVs are quite impressive – not sure if you’d call it a CV – Nirva you’ve been a backup singer for TobyMac, and Seth for Chris Tomlin and Kirk Franklin – what’s it like going from that to now fronting your own act?
NIRVA: You know it’s been something that’s been stirring in my heart for a while. While I do travel with Toby often and I’m on the road a lot, while I’m home Seth and I get some opportunities to sing and do music together and I always loved and enjoyed it. So it’s kind of natural doing music with your best friend and partner, so for me it’s not a huge transition and I’ve had some friends say ‘you’re a different person on stage’ so for me the transition isn’t too drastic, it’s just as fun as travelling with Toby. It’s even better because I’m with my hubby!
SETH: I would say for me, it has probably been more of a gap. Singing background, so many times I would just focus on the singing part and the step to the front and carrying the whole thing requires so much more thought on my part. So I feel like it’s a lot more intense and I just have to think about a lot more things like cueing the band, connecting with the crowd, and making sure I’m in the moment with God and hearing from him and communicating with him… Just being aware of so many factors I guess creates a bit of a transition for me but I have been doing it now for seven years on and off, so it’s been a process of learning how to transition back and forth between being on the front and being on the back.
SAM: This album has such an array of different styles – I’d call it maybe eclectic. Do each of you have different styles or influences that you wanted to bring to the record?
NIRVA: You’re right. We definitely are lovers of different styles of music, and travelling doing background [vocals] you get to immerse yourself in different styles as well. Singing with Toby, he’s such a mixture and hodge podge of rock and pop and R&B and rap and so many different styles. And I think getting to portray that on this project has been really really fun and kind of natural.
SETH: Yeah. It’s been really neat because Nirva is a lover of 80s music and she’s been in the CCM world for a long time. I’m in a sense the opposite. I was a 90s guy and I loved R&B and I was pretty much immersed in the gospel world my whole life. So I’ve just come to learn CCM through her lately. So we’re coming from different perspectives and meet in the middle and sometimes we’ll lean towards each other depending on what the song is, but it’s been a neat process to find the sound and I think you’re right when you say that it’s eclectic. It’s very eclectic. But I still feel like it pulls together and has some central threads running through.
SAM: Yeah, absolutely. All Praise features TobyMac – I was pretty surprised when I heard this one. I’d call it a club anthem almost! What can you tell us about this song?
SETH: [Laughs] You know that it was a very interesting song. Like Nirva said we are at our local church – I’m the young adult pastor there and she’s on the worship team. Our pastor was teaching a series on glory, and we actually sat down with a group of folks to write a worship song for that. And I don’t know what happened but some time between sitting down to write a slow worship song and the end, it ended up like you hear it now! So lyrically it really was this big anthemic thing telling the story of how to prepare for God’s glory in our lives and what that looks like in meeting him face to face. I don’t know why, but in the melodies that we did I just kept hearing it with that kind of track in it. I asked our producer, what if we took this and made this an up-tempo dance feel but with these worshipful, almost King James lyrics? And that’s what came out the other end! [Laughs]
SAM: Why did you choose to name the record I Need You?
NIRVA: Since moving to Florida and leaving Nashville… Nashville is known as Music City and it’s where you go when you want to pursue a career in music. There’s so much music there – country and gospel – and moving here it felt like God completely… it wasn’t even a new chapter it was a whole other book of life. So we immersed ourselves in doing ministry and doing life with other people. And doing that we realised we really needed the power and the presence of God in our lives in order to do these things that he has called us to do. And so we were just studying that and learning about abiding in Jesus, in his presence and his Spirit dwelling in us. So we’d just come to realise more and more how much we need him in our lives, and not take that for granted. I think that was sort of the theme of the season we were in while finishing up the EP.
SETH: Yeah. And I think it had almost a sense between Nirva and I as well – just how God has brought us together. So it has two meanings to it and even as we took the picture that ended up on the front of the album where we’re kinda holding hands, it’s a message that we need God and we also need each other to really walk this kingdom thing out to its fullest potential right now.
SAM: What are you hoping this record will achieve?
NIRVA: Naturally, when you release something you hope that it will do well and reach a lot of hearts, and that people would enjoy it. And of course, you want it to most definitely minister to the heart of those who are listening. But you know, I look at it like anything else. We just want to be stewards of the gifts that God has given us and want to get it out there and to as many ears as it can fall on. We would love that. We also look at it and pray that God would open more doors to share his message, for us to travel together more often and all of those good things…
SETH: Yeah. And yeah I guess I would say the central aim like Nirva was saying, is that people would be drawn to the love of God and the freedom… We co-wrote or wrote on all of the songs and so what has been in our hearts over the past few years really came out on this album, and I think one of our central purposes is that what God has put in our hearts would come out through the music and it would land in other peoples’ hearts and draw them closer to an interactive walk with God that would really change their lives. That would be the ultimate goal definitely.
SAM: One of my favourite tracks on the record is Whole World. The message is that you want the whole world to know the saving power of Jesus, which I think is fantastic. What can you tell us about this song?
SETH: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head there. The message is real straightforward and it’s clear. I think it came out of a prayer time I had with God. I was really just feeling intense sorry for people that are walking life outside of God’s kingdom and apart from him, and just what they’re missing out on. And y’know, it just rose up within me this expression – God I’m available, I’m here, anything I can do, I want the whole world to really know you. And not just know things about him, but really know him cos he’s the most beautiful lovely being there is in existence. And for people to miss out on him and everything that he brings us is the biggest tragedy that I’m even aware of. It’s more tragic than anything else we experience: the fact that people would reject the knowledge of God. And it sort of was just a prayer song – God, I want the whole world to know you. The verse is about hearing you and seeing you in a dream, seeing you in a smile – any little way, God just reveal yourself to people in our lives through our ministry, whatever we put our hands to, we want the world to know you.
SAM: And there’s some very smooth backing singers on that track, are they friends of yours?
SETH: [Laughs] Correct! They are – and it’s funny because that track was one of the ones we started in Nashville, so the BGVs that are not Nirva and I on that song are good friends of ours from Nashville who are some of the most incredible singers and – people we just look up to as vocalists who are incredible. To hear them sing on the song was a pleasure for us.
SAM: I’m keen to do something new on Reel Gospel in 2014, and I’m going to challenge you to the first one. It’s called the Fast Five. I’m going to throw five questions at you that hopefully you’ll be able to answer. Do you think you’re up for the challenge?
SETH: [Laughs] Should we have some espresso or something?
SAM: I think you’ll be ok – I’ll go easy on you because you’re the first to do it. Here we go. First question – winter or summer?
SAM: Why would you say winter?
NIRVA: Because we’re in Florida! [Laughs] I’m kidding…
SETH: It’s cosy, y’know? Our favourite thing to do is put on a fire and drink coffee, with the cold outside and watch a movie. That’s winter to me, I love it.
SAM: What’s the last movie you saw, and was it any good?
NIRVA: Oh yeah – Saving Mr. Banks. It’s great.
SETH: That wasn’t the last one – we saw Pride & Prejudice last night and it’s incredible. Both of those are good! [Laughs]
SAM: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
SETH: I know what yours will be – hers will be chocolate!
NIRVA: [Laughs] Yeah, I’d have to agree.
SETH: I would say mine would be a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
SAM: Oh, I’m with you Seth. [Laughs] Question four – what’s your favourite book of the Bible, if you have one?
NIRVA: I would say right now it’s Revelation. I know that’s weird to say because I shy away from that book, but the things in that are so fascinating, and the word that says ‘set your mind on things above’ – that book takes me right there. It paints a picture of what’s going on in heaven, what’s to come, and it just does it for me.
SETH: Yeah, and actually that verse she just quoted is from my favourite book, Colossians. I really love chapter three – that journey and spiritual formation is like my memory chapter I’m trying to work on. I love that book so much because of what’s contained in it, especially in that third chapter.
SAM: Brilliant. And last question – what album can’t you get enough of at the moment… other than your own?
NIRVA: I think anything that Brooke Fraser writes, I’m all over it. Who else… I’ll say this, of all the recordings we’ve probably worn out together, there’s an old school artist Lauryn Hill – Miseducation. That’s a fun one that we’ve worn out. But currently […] I go through phases. That’s a tough one, I’ll have to pass!
SETH: I think when I pull out my iPod out and listen lately it’s still all Kirk Franklin – Hello Fear.
SAM: Ah – are you on that Seth?
SETH: No, I stopped singing with him before that album. But I still am a big fan and love his music. He was one of my favourite artists growing up as a kid and still remains to this day. I love his flavour and how he creates his albums. I think he’s brilliant.
SAM: Well you’ve passed the Fast Five well done – it was a success.
BOTH: Thank you.
SAM: Well you dropped this album at the end of 2013 and 2014 is now ahead of us. What have you got planned for the year?
NIRVA: You know we’re going through a week where God is re-centring and re-focussing and it was exciting to release the project but I think God is drawing us to the main thing, and that’s a kingdom focus. We’re going to continue to pour in to the lives of our church and the souls that God brings our way, to establish relationship with. And opportunities are coming, so we are just walking through those doors one step at a time. I think the hardest thing to do in the world is plan your own life, but we’re excited about those that have come, for instance this interview is a blessing. So we’re just taking it one step at a time, walking through the doors as they come. But we’re going to maintain as much as we can that kingdom focus, that kingdom heart. Just seeking first his will in our lives, in our marriage, in our relationships.
SAM: Would you like to tour this album?
SETH: I think so, yeah. We definitely, like Nirva said, if those doors open this year I think we would be open to doing it, if we can work it out schedule-wise. She’s still with Toby so that takes priority and I’m still at the church with the young adults. So we’re juggling some balls there, but I think if it were to work out we’d love to do it.
SAM: The song Found a Love is quiet, it’s gentle, what can you tell us about this track?
NIRVA: As you said, it’s more a mellow worship song. And just talks about finally realising that we’re created for his pleasure, for his purposes and his will, and resting in that and receiving his love. It’s just an ultimate experience. And so, as a result, you just worship him. Hallelujah! It’s that kind of song that talks about that experience.
SAM: The album ends with a remix of I Need You as done by Shonlock. Whose idea was it to get him to do that?
SETH: Yeah, you know the first version ever that we started working on of I Need You was one that our producer Matt had brought to us, and it was a different version to we ended up having. There were elements in that original version that I liked and so I asked them – ‘Hey, would it be cool if we did a different version of this and put a little more hip-hop or dubstep on there, to try something a little different?’, and he was like ‘Yeah, let’s do it, let’s see if we can get somebody to do a rap on it.’
NIRVA: I thought of Shonlock and he is just a lyrical genius. I love his heart and passion, which you can see on the song. He brings an awesome verse which captures the heart of the song. So he was kind enough to grace us with his presence. I think he did an awesome job. I was excited about that version.
SAM: Seth & Nirva, thank you so much for your time today and all the best for 2014. It’s a great album and I hope many people can hear it and be changed by it.
I Need You by Seth & Nirva is available now on iTunes.