An Interview with Wild Harbors

Chris and Jenna Badeker are calling it quits. Kind of.

The husband and wife duo have been playing shows as Chris & Jenna for years in addition to other facets of their careers. Jenna has been a leading lady in a venerable big band outfit. It’s hard to tell, but there might be a picture of her meeting a president at a show. Chris maintains an inspired art and design gig. There’s certainly a picture of him with a penguin, which is nearly as cool, depending on how you feel about presidents. The running thread through all of it has been their folk-pop pairing. Now though, Chris and Jenna say Chris & Jenna are done. They’re stepping up their game with a new album under the moniker Wild Harbors, produced by Andrew Osenga.

Now entering the make-or-break week of an exciting Kickstarter campaign, the pair were kind enough to sit down and answer a number of my questions.

Adam: Historically, name changes are associated with several things. In modernity, rebranding comes to mind, and we know you’re certainly doing that. Leaning towards tradition, names changes come from marriage. Even further back, blessings, curses, and covenant identities. You’ve discussed the name Wild Harbors online some, offering meanings and context, but what’s the personal road leading to this place in the way of identity?

Chris: The conversation about the name began while we were recording in Nashville. The more we looked at the music we were creating, the more it became apparent that the name ‘Chris & Jenna’ wasn’t the strongest choice in terms of giving people a framework for what to expect from this record. Once we started viewing our band name as something that would either enable or inhibit people approaching the music we make, it was easy to be a lot less precious about what we call ourselves.

A: The new sound has an edge of sobriety to it. Not to say that songs from Waiting to Begin weren’t serious, because they were, but sonically, “Monument” approaches the world with its chin stuck out. Was that an intentional studio effort, or is it the natural outgrowth of where you both are right now?

C: I’d say it’s probably a happy marriage of both. We both grew more confident as writers while making the songs for this record. Having a producer who was a vocal supporter during the process also helped us feel more comfortable and confident in what we were creating. We hadn’t shared these songs with many people prior to recording, so all we really had to go on was that we really liked them. In some ways I think that was helpful for us.

A: So, as I understand it, this is the beginning of a chapter where music is not only the driving passion, but the main breadwinning element in your lives. How have these changes worked within your communities? Have people been supportive or offered pushback against the career change?

C: The change is, in large part, thanks to our community. We have a dear friend who is gifted in the ways of budgeting; once he heard we were contemplating a jump, he sat us down and looked at our budget with us. He helped turn a scenario that felt scary and uncertain into something that felt doable by framing the whole thing as a matter of replacing one income stream with another. It was also encouraging that when close friends heard we were considering a change, many responses were overwhelmingly positive. They were excited for us when we were too scared to even let ourselves even think about the excitement. I wouldn’t say there has been pushback, but we’ve had to confront the reality that we’re in a line of work that a lot of people don’t understand. Some people think spending weeks away from home and working ten hour days still constitutes a vacation.

A: How long have these tunes been in the works?

C: A lot of these songs are still babies. The oldest song on the record is called “House on Fire” which has existed in some shape since 2015. Once that song was finished, we wrote constantly for the better part of a year. The youngest song is “Monument,” which we finished about two weeks before leaving to record in Nashville.

A: Do you guys find that you thrive on any potential fear, associated with the new direction, or do you have to work against it?

C: I wouldn’t say we felt fear in regards to what we were doing musically. I’m not sure either of us really knew it was a new direction until Andy [Osenga, the record’s producer] brought up the idea of a name change. That’s not to say fear is absent; I think both of us have had to wrestle down our own insecurities on the way to feeling comfortable in our own skin. So fear is a part of it for me, but it’s a healthy fear, I think. The kind of fear a wide receiver might feel when the quarterback throws him the ball. The kind you’d rather feel because it means you’re playing the game instead of sitting on the bench.

Jenna: Amen. A lot of this process has been realizing how much we were previously operating from a place of fear in our life, which kept us comfortable but dissatisfied, and then working against those tendencies to fight for something better.

A: “Abigail” is an absolute door-kicker of a song. Am I right in that it’s a true story? Second question: if so, what sort of apprehension and excitement accompany loosing a song like that into the world populated by the people it’s about?

C: Thank you! Yes, the song is a true story. Many of the lyrics are verbatim quotes taken from the story as it was told to us. It’s a strange feeling to write a song that way. The family it’s about are as good as blood to us, so there was no question of them not hearing it. We decided to share the song with them personally rather than let them just stumble upon it. I didn’t know how they’d react, so I wouldn’t say I was excited to share it, but I’m very happy that they now know it exists. They love it, which also helps.

J: I think our excitement for it is increasing after seeing their reaction to it. There were a lot of tears shed as they relived those moments through the song, but they now keep talking about how they can’t wait to see what happens as others hear and identify with their story.

A: In that vein, there are a number of lines that really break the boundaries of what’s popularly acceptable and head out into the realm of larger truth. I’m thinking of “Freedom is the presence of the right restrictions” and basically all of “House on Fire,” which is a great marriage song. I know a lot of this process is writing what comes, but what’s your imagined audience for these songs? What do you want them to get out of listening well?

C: I love that that line made it into the song. It’s a paraphrased Timothy Keller quote, and they’re not especially singable words, but Jenna really sold it. We never discussed it, but I think our imagined audience for these songs was ourselves. We spent a whole year writing about commitment, hard decisions and running into the wind. The great irony was that in order to go and record these songs, we had to become people who actually did the things we were singing about. So we were writing, you could say, about becoming the people we wished we were. Everyone gets something different out of music. I guess if it was up to me, I’d want it to be the kind of record people feel excited to turn on when they’re driving in a car. Specifically when it’s warm, specifically with the windows down. Those are my favorite records, at least.

J: Agreed. If I have a hope, for either this record or our band, it’s that others would be encouraged to tackle their own adventures. We’re not special because we’re musicians; God has simply done what He does so well—He has written a unique story for us to be brave enough to live into. He has done so for every person on this earth in the time they have here. The story will not look the exactly same for any two of us. But, as John Irving said, “If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”

There’s roughly one week left to help Wild Harbors reach their crowdfunding goal, and they have less than $4,000 to go. Have a look, and a listen. It’s worth your time to be a patron of this art.

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