Songs4worship.com: Not all of your songs would fit in the “worship music” category. Where does worship fit in what you do?

Fernando Ortega: It’s so much labor and such an expensive kind of energy to write a song, it becomes a worshipful act. I don’t want to let a line go by that’s lame. I don’t want to let a melody go by until it’s just right--not to say that I haven’t done it, but… because they’re important to me. And they’re important to me because it’s what God has gifted me to do. And so it becomes an act of worship to write the song, or to perform it, or to decide which instruments to use. I don’t think I’m conscious of that when I’m doing it; rather it’s clear when I look back and analyze how I feel about it.

S4W.com: Other than the Bible, are there any books that have influenced your creative process?

Ortega:The first one that comes to mind--one that’s always handy by my bedside--is a compilation of Flannery O’Connor essays and lectures entitled Mystery and Manners. I also recently read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and I think it has a lot of those same ideas in it--the labor intensiveness of writing. And then Annie Dillard has a book on writing entitled, The Writing Life, and it has been a big help.

Listen to song clips from Fernando Ortega's album Storm.

S4W.com:What are some of the challenges you face as a songwriter?

Ortega: To be honest, songwriting is often hard for me; it’s agonizing. Just the process of finding out what I’m going to write about in the first place [is often a struggle.] But when it comes, when it finally breaks through, it feels like having a raging fever that finally breaks. I listen to people’s songs and I think, ‘How did they come up with that idea? What a great idea!’ But for me, even coming up with the nugget for a song I have to read and read and read and then find a phrase out of somebody’s novel or poem that I think is interesting. Especially, though, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder for me to write Christian songs because, what can you say that hasn’t been said, and said by some of the greatest minds ever?

S4W.com:What is one of the greatest challenges you’ve faced since you began pursuing music as a calling and a career?

Ortega: To resist the temptation of getting sucked up into the “machine” of the culture and the industry. In today's image conscious and trend-oriented society, there's a very definite pull to stay on top of what's hip and cool and ultra modern. I think artists today feel the same pull, musically speaking. Especially as you get older there's a tendency to feel like you're losing some sort of edge. It's like this whole machine that's perpetuated by the culture and by TV and all that stuff. It reminds me again of that passage in I John that says, "Little children, do not love the world or anything that is in the world." For all the preaching you might do against those things, and for all the resolutions to avoid them, there's always the pull of things like image that can wreck you in no time. And pretty soon you've lost the essence of who you are in the first place. It's awful that people let themselves be hurt by it, but it's very hard not to be.

S4W.com:What’s your take on the powerful connection between music and worship expression?

Ortega:There’s something so transcendent about using your voice to express yourself, about singing notes. It’s such a very human thing to do, but it also makes you feel a certain way, both physically and emotionally. It also adds a corporate element that I think is very powerful because--in a more traditional setting--you are singing songs that the church has rallied around for generations. They’ve used these songs in victory or rejoicing, or in times of despair of longing.