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Conant High School graduate’s band releases national debut album

  • Bass player Jonathan Mason, left, lead guitarist and former Jaffrey resident Joel Rousseau, vocalist Andy Needham and drummer Andrew Picha of The Andy Needham Band first established roots in the Monadnock region in the mid-2000s and is performing nationally today.<br/>

    Bass player Jonathan Mason, left, lead guitarist and former Jaffrey resident Joel Rousseau, vocalist Andy Needham and drummer Andrew Picha of The Andy Needham Band first established roots in the Monadnock region in the mid-2000s and is performing nationally today.
    Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Drummer Andrew Picha, left, bass player Jonathan Mason, vocalist Andy Needham and lead guitarist Joel Rousseau, formerly of Jaffrey, released their national debut album “Lifted High” this September.

    Drummer Andrew Picha, left, bass player Jonathan Mason, vocalist Andy Needham and lead guitarist Joel Rousseau, formerly of Jaffrey, released their national debut album “Lifted High” this September. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Bass player Jonathan Mason, left, lead guitarist and former Jaffrey resident Joel Rousseau, vocalist Andy Needham and drummer Andrew Picha of The Andy Needham Band first established roots in the Monadnock region in the mid-2000s and is performing nationally today.<br/>
  • Drummer Andrew Picha, left, bass player Jonathan Mason, vocalist Andy Needham and lead guitarist Joel Rousseau, formerly of Jaffrey, released their national debut album “Lifted High” this September.

Joel Rousseau, a 2006 Conant High School graduate and former Jaffrey resident, grew up in a musical family, but never imagined that his original Christian songs would be heard on the national stage. Playing guitar is his
  primary passion, but for many years it was also a secondary source of income for Rousseau.

Under the guidance of his dad, Mike Rousseau, owner of Rousseau’s Music in Jaffrey, a young Rousseau experimented with a number of instruments, but quickly fell in love with the sounds of the guitar.

“It is a very versatile instrument,” said Rousseau, now a North Grafton, Mass., resident, in a recent interview with the Ledger-Transcript. “Plus, it was also the one thing that I had. My mom played the piano and my dad played the drums.”

Rousseau’s passion and commitment for playing the guitar in high school and at small-scale performances in southern New Hampshire have since led him to pursue further study of the instrument at the college level as well as professionally.

When Rousseau isn’t taking undergraduate courses in guitar performance or contemporary writing and production at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., he is touring the country with his longtime friends and fellow band members under the name, The Andy Needham Band. The group released its national debut, a self-published album, “Lifted High,” in September and has since created quite the buzz on iTunes.

“Our primary focus is worship music,” Rousseau said. “We want our music to be really accessible and not so complicated that people can’t use it at their home churches or camps.”

The group’s mission, Rousseau said, was inspired by its beginnings in the mid-2000s at the Monadnock Bible Conference, a year-round non-denominational Christian camp and conference center located at the base of Mount Monadnock on Dublin Road in Jaffrey.

Andy Needham, a native of Winchendon, Mass., for whom the band is named, spent every summer at Monadnock Bible Conference beginning when he was just 8 years old and eventually became the director of its youth program. There, he joined youth volunteers Rousseau and bass player Jonathan Mason of Worcester, Mass., and they began traveling throughout the region under the name, Arise.

As a result of their performances at the camp and elsewhere in New Hampshire, Rousseau said the band members formed strong relationships in the Christian music community, as well as established a devout network of followers, who turned out regularly to see them perform.

When Needham decided to move to central Massachusetts to lead student ministries at a local church in 2008, Rousseau said that marked a new chapter for the band as well. Leaving the band name Arise behind, they became known as The Andy Needham Band, in recognition of their lead singer and songwriter, Needham.

Rousseau said it became clear to the band in early 2011 that making music was what God had called them to do, and they left their day jobs behind to perform. At about that same time, drummer Andrew Picha, a native of Chicago, Ill., and a recent Berklee College graduate, became the newest member of the band.

“We had gotten to the point where we were turning down performance dates because they didn’t fit into our schedules,” Rousseau said. “We realized it was a good problem to have as a band.”

In November 2011, Needham and Mason drove to Nashville, Tenn., in hopes of finding a producer and recording studio that would help them achieve the professional quality recordings the band desired, Rousseau said. It was there that the guys met Grammy Award-winning producer Mitch Dane, who two months later was helping The Andy Needham Band record “Lifted High” at Sputnik Sound studio.

While the band does not have a distribution deal for the CD, Rousseau said the band is working with a disc manufacturing company to fill CD orders on band’s website, www.andyneedham.net, and to sell them at concerts. Digital downloads of “Lifted High” are also being sold on iTunes and amazon.com.

“There is less emphasis on physical copies nowadays, so we sell it primarily online,” Rousseau said. “We decided that finding a distribution channel wouldn’t be the best use of our resources right now.”

The band has been diligently performing up and down the East Coast and networking for many years to get their music into the “right people’s hands,” including radio, magazine and online publications, he said. And, thankfully, he noted many have been willing to support the band’s latest project.

While a lot of worship music tends to gravitate towards one genre, Rousseau said what makes The Andy Needham Band unique is that it offers listeners a little bit of everything. Electric and acoustic guitars, drums, big vocals, simple harmonies and orchestral arrangements represent the diverse mix of sounds people can expect to hear on the band’s debut national album, “Lifted High.” One song, “Open Arms,” could even be described as a Jack Johnson-meets-Jason Mraz groove, Rousseau added.

“The central message of the album is summed up in the title track, ‘Lifted High.’ ‘May the matchless name of Jesus be the anthem of our lives,’” Rousseau said, quoting the song’s chorus. “It’s not just about honoring god through music. It’s about how we live our lives and how we treat other people.”

The band is planning a number of performances in Hebron this winter, with a possible show in Jaffrey in spring 2013.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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