Once lost, Nick D’Andrea begins to find himself with ‘Aslan’

When the musician started work on a new solo album early in 2020, he didn’t anticipate that he would be documenting his faith journey

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Nick D'Andrea

In 2019, Nick D’Andrea spent about a month on tour with the band he was in at the time, Doc Robinson. Going in, the musician had high expectations for the shows, having long dreamed of being able to take his music out on the road, performing for audiences across the country on a nightly basis. But from the onset he was completely miserable.

“I expected there would be a feeling of accomplishment, or that it would be fulfilling in some way. And it was the exact opposite, where I’d never been as depressed in my life,” said D’Andrea, whose wife was pregnant with the couple’s second child at the time he was on tour. “I felt horrible the whole time. And when I got home, it took me a long time being in a low place to realize what the core issue was, and what I ultimately realized, with the help of a lot of people, is that God was missing for me.”

D’Andrea revisits those lost tour days on “Running Scared,” the opening song on the musician’s new solo album, Aslan, out Friday, March 12, on which he finds himself stumbling through the world in darkness, a sensation countered by the chipper instrumentation, which is universally bathed in light. As the album progresses, though, D’Andrea gradually emerges from this low point, eventually landing on the record-closing “Thanks.” Here, amid tender acoustic strumming, the musician offers his praise to God while allowing his roots to set at home, far from the 2019 tour dates that once left him feeling so spiritually distant. “Heart growing everyday/Learning how to stay/Where I belong,” he sings.

“I feel like each song I wrote tried to push a little further than the one before it,” D’Andrea said. “With ‘Running Scared,’ it was the first song on the record, and it’s about that experience of being on the road and knowing I’m not in the right place. Starting from there, I think, each song moving forward is trying to take another step toward God, and then another step.”

Early in 2020 when D’Andrea started work on the tracks that would become Aslan, it wasn’t his intention to document his faith journey. At the time, he was just trying to untangle a number of seemingly disparate thoughts, writing songs about seeking light amid the dark (“Here I Am”), the necessity of hope (“It’s OK”) and the amount of knowledge that will forever remain out of frustratingly out of grasp (“One River”).

“It was one of those things where I was almost [documenting] these journal entries when I was in this transitional state,” said D’Andrea, who grew up Catholic and experienced his “born again” moment in the months after he finished recording (he now says the process of creating the album helped soften the soil, in effect, allowing that greater seed to more easily take root). “Because of the way I grew up and my relationship to religion, I never thought Christianity or Jesus would have anything to do with my life. … But as the album progressed, it all kind of led there.”

The cover art for the Nick D'Andrea album "Aslan"

In retrospect, D’Andrea now believes that the title track, “Aslan,” which also served as the basis for the album cover by artist Adam Hernandez, foreshadowed this larger spiritual journey. At the time he wrote the song, which emerged from a guided meditation session that the musician attended with his wife, Jesus hadn’t yet entered into his thought process. 

“During the meditation, they have you do this visualization thing, where you go into a dream state,” D’Andrea said. “And when I was in [that state], they asked me to find my spirit guide, and it was a lion. And you’re supposed to ask its name, and I did, and it said, ‘Aslan.’ 

“And I know as I’m saying this it sounds weird, but I grew up reading the Narnia books as a kid, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I always loved that [Aslan] character, who was essentially a stand-in for Jesus. … And I think that foreshadowed the direction the record took, since it ended up being about Jesus in a lot of ways, and that wasn’t even my intention at the time.”

D’Andrea said this spiritual journey was further aided by unfolding as it did amid a challenging, COVID-marred year, when the musician often wasn’t alone in trying to suss out silver linings.

“In all of my friends, I felt the same kind of searching happening. It was a really raw kind of year, where no matter where I looked I saw people wrestling with themselves. And seeing everybody in these vulnerable states and facing hard truths, it really influenced how the songs turned out,” D’Andrea said. “I don’t think I could have made the same kind of album in a different year.”