20-Year-Old Catholic Music Artist Breaks Out on Spotify

Seph Schlueter says he wants to “wake up Christians to live the life that God has called us to, a life of worship and intimacy and mission.”

(photo: Courtesy of Seph Schlueter)

Seph Schlueter wants Catholics to know that praising Christ in song is not supposed to be boring.

The 20-year-old worship coordinator at Damascus Catholic Mission Campus in Centerburg, Ohio, is hoping to get that message out through “Awake My Soul,” a new collection of songs he and other Damascus staff members have written. The album, which was released June 12, includes “Fire Fall//Heaven Rain,” a song Schlueter composed for last year’s Damascus winter camp. It was the first time he had introduced one of his original songs in that setting and the light-up-the-room response it got led him to record it.

“I knew God was doing something,” he said, “and I wanted to get behind it.”

Since the song was released on Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon and Pandora in October 2019, it has had 110,000 listens on Spotify alone.

Schlueter, who grew up in a household where praise and worship was often a part of nightly family prayer, believes many Catholics have lost touch with the Church’s rich history of worship. His goal, and that of his collaborators, is to give Catholics an opportunity to worship Jesus in a full and engaging way by providing them with music that helps them express their love, adoration and devotion for Christ.

“We just recognize the need, particularly when it comes to worship music. You have groups like Bethel Worship, Hillsong Worship, Elevation Worship, UPPERROOM and others – all these incredible collectives that are writing songs and releasing inspiring worship reaching millions and millions of people. But there has been no similar collective of Catholic worship artists doing the same. That is, until now.”

Although Schlueter, who also plays piano, started writing songs after picking up the guitar at 15, he didn’t begin composing in earnest until his first year as a missionary at Damascus.

“Being a missionary opened me up to God’s heart for his children and just capturing God’s heart: What is God’s heart and how can I sing it into the world? The more I discovered God’s heart as a missionary, the more I started to write from that place. Then the ‘more’ became writing worship music.”

Because worship is key to the Damascus experience and one of the ways young people encounter Christ at camps and retreats on the Centerburg campus, Schlueter had been pitching the idea of doing a Damascus worship album to the leadership. When the coronavirus shutdown hit, Aaron Richards, Damascus executive director of operations and finances, told him, “Okay, we’re gonna do this.” Schlueter said, “And I was like ‘Sweet! When do you want it?’” After Richards said, “Before summer starts,” he paused for a second and said, “All right. We’ve got some work to do.”

Schlueter contacted Nick De La Torre, a producer and artist with whom he had worked in the past, to determine if it would be feasible to record, produce and release a full-length album in little more than a month.

As soon as the project got the green light, the Damascus worship team began to prepare for the recording process. “We had to get all the parts down – the song list, the instrumentals, the harmonies, the last-minute lyric revisions,” Schlueter said. “All of it. Usually, most artists will have at least four months to plan for this kind of thing. We had a week.”

They recorded 10 songs in two and a half days, including a session of Damascus missionaries singing the songs to create the feeling of a live worship event. An intense month of production, song feedback, album cover design, web page creation and developing a marketing plan followed.

The album includes songs by Schlueter, Richards and worship leaders MarySarah Menkhous and Christopher Finneman. In addition, Ali Blazquez, another Damascus worship leader, translated two of Schlueter’s songs into Spanish for the album and also sings on it, as do Schlueter, Richards, Menkhous, Finneman and worship leader Olivia Mandziuk. Apart from “Fire Fall,” none of the songs on “Awake My Soul” has previously been released.

Schlueter hopes to see the music eventually be used by Catholic parishes, youth conferences and other worship events. “Throughout the whole year, we have around 10,000 youth come through our campus and we’ve found that they gravitate toward this type of music ... I think because of the way it’s written and the way it’s done, there’s like a really cool engagement with it.”

In the end, he added, “It all comes down to revival. It’s not about a name or a brand or a group. It’s about wanting to wake up Christians to live the life that God has called us to, a life of worship and intimacy and mission. That’s what it’s all about.”