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Rend Collective Experiment are an energetic worship band that seem to have brought a sense of refreshment and renewed creativity to the worship music scene. Indeed, their eagerly awaited second album shot up the iTunes charts earlier in 2012, which indicates their huge popularity. Claire Musters had the privilege of catching up with singer and guitarist Chris.
You have recently toured the US with Francis Chan and Chris Tomlin. How was that, and what would you say were the top 3 things that you guys took away from the experience?
The two tours you mentioned have been some of our favourite experiences on the road. Francis Chan and Chris Tomlin are both big heroes of ours and it was a privilege to partner with them in building the kingdom.
Three things we took away from that period are: 1) A renewed passion and focus on discipleship: we are the Church and we are God’s plan for the redemption of this world (as crazy as that sounds!). 2) Deep friendships and partnerships. We now call Chris’s church, ‘Passion City’, our home church and have plans to tour again with Francis and Rachel Chan, potentially in the spring. 3) The importance of humility. Both of these men are extremely humble despite their success and fame, seemingly unaffected by pride. That was inspiring for us.
As you say, you are basing yourselves in Atlanta, Georgia at Passion City Church with Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin at the moment. How did that come about, and what do you feel you are giving out to the church there?
This was a decision we made as a collective following the amazing connection we made with the Passion guys on the ‘And if our God is For Us’ tour. We’re involved in the college-age ministry there at the moment and this has been so life-giving for us. Our heart has always been to encourage young adults to hold fast to faith, rather than allow cynicism and the apathy of comfortable adulthood to take root. It’s been a joy to participate in that at PCC.
You seem to travel around gigging a lot. Are you strict about how much time you take off and how do you keep your energy levels up?! Caffeine and Krispy Kreme donuts are the secret! In all seriousness, this season in our ministry has been enormously stretching in terms of demands on our time and energy. We’re still learning how to adapt to this new rhythm of life. Something I’ve realised is that, like Peter when he stepped out towards Jesus on the water, we sink when we take our focus off Christ for even a second. With Him, however, we have an endless source of power and energy.
What do you feel God is impressing upon your hearts at the moment? (Patrick just chipped in that the fast-food restaurants of America are impressing a substantial quantity of cholesterol on our hearts currently!)
Seriously, the main theme in our collective relationship with God has been that of endurance and perseverance. We have been pressing into the faith passages in Hebrews 11 and 12, which speak of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ cheering us on as we strive to fulfill the challenging call God has placed on our lives. An expression from 2 Corinthians ‘Having nothing yet possessing everything’ has really articulated our standing before the Lord at the moment. We have left our homes, families and comforts to chase His voice and ‘own’ the one thing that matters: a relationship with Jesus.
We have a song called ‘The Cost’ in which we sing, ‘I’ve counted up the cost and you are worth it’. This is the mantra of our collective.
You watched your second album, Handmade Worship for Homemade People, go from No 39 to No 7 on the iTunes chart in January. Now you have had ‘chart success’ have you taken stock to think about your overall success as a band? How do you gauge that?
It was an exciting time! It was a nice surprise but it’s difficult to take it very seriously as a measurement of success. Chart success is laughably fleeting and, even if we had made it to No 1, no one would have remembered a week later. We often say that we gauge our success by the quality of the relationships in the band; with each other and with God.
How does your songwriting process work – do you do that together as a collective or is there one (or more) of you that is most prolific as a songwriter?
Our writing process is ‘homemade’, by which we mean that it is approached as a family, with little regard for carefully following precise recipes and formulas. Some members of our diverse collective particularly come alive during this aspect of our ministry, but we all get involved to some extent. We wrote and recorded our most recent album in the family home, allowing normal, everyday life and spirituality to colour the process.
How much do you think about whether your songs can be sung by congregations when you write?
Our first album was really exactly how we personally would want to do worship, but we realised that that wasn’t quite right. We are a worship band and so we want people to know that we are writing songs for the Church. We are primarily ministers who use art as a vehicle so our second album was very much for the Church. We are here to encourage people to love God more, and want our songs to help them do that. So the songs on our second album have been designed more with congregations in mind. They are bright, short and focused, rather than the epics we were writing on our first album. We are constantly evaluating and reflecting on how useful our songs will be in serving the body, as a priority above and beyond our pursuit of beautiful art. This is a part of how we’ve grown and evolved in terms of approach since our first album.
How do you decide who is going to sing lead vocals on a track?
Experimentation! Usually it just becomes obvious which lead vocal lends itself to a track once you hear it back in the studio. Also, we’ve come to realise that it’s crucial for the lead vocalist to feel a strong sense of emotional and spiritual connection to the message of the song for it to really resonate with the Church– people sense the authenticity – and so that is also a big factor in the decision.
Your name, Rend Collective, suggests a collective of musicians and, while there is a core group of you, you have brought other musicians in at times. Do you have any collaborations planned in the near future?
We have very seldom planned any of our collaborations! They just kind of happen to us, which is all part of the fun! We met one of our members, Jamie, when we noticed he had a trombone with him at a festival we were part of. Of course we invited him to play with us that night and he has joined us on stage countless times since then. These stories add colour to life and bring a vibrancy to our music and approach beyond sheer rehearsed polish (which isn’t really our thing!).
That said, we are looking forward to writing with Matt Redman this summer, and joining our friend and contributor, Beth Croft, on stage at Soul Survivor.
How do you retain your sense of family, which does come across as a real strength within your band?
Our relationships as friends/brothers/sisters all pre-date the beginning of our music ministry together and I think that helps; we are friends first and never really consider each other as colleagues.
We grew up together in a college student ministry called Rend, where we explored our maturing faith in the context of deeply committed community. These values have formed the backbone of our collective. Our first album was birthed out of this community and the journey of faith which we shared in Rend. We were never concerned for musical success but much more for transparency and interdependence in our community – Rend rarely had a band play at its gatherings.
All of this is to say that we prioritise relationships above everything else: between each other and with God.
You always seem to be experimenting and pushing boundaries. Where do you get your inspiration from for that creativity?
Our God is the most creative being in the universe and we all carry His image, so ultimately He is our inspiration. We want to reflect the multi-faceted diversity of His character, using all the material at our fingertips to do so. It can be sad to see worship music only really reflect one ‘colour’ when we have a full spectrum to choose from, so we try to choose some of the overlooked instrumentation.
We find lyrical inspiration from the Bible first and foremost, but also from poetry (a favourite Celtic poet, John O’Donahue in particular) and works like The Cost of Discipleship. That book sparked the themes presented in our song ‘The Cost’, and it presents some of the most challenging and soul-stirring theology I’ve ever read. Also, the old hymns contain such a wealth of truth and lyrical beauty, so we often return to them.
How would you like to see the worship music scene develop generally? ]
At the moment there seem to be two prevailing approaches to modern worship music: one being the pursuit of more artistic integrity at the expense of the average congregation, and the other being the pursuit of greater musical accessibility at the expense of artistic quality. We would love to see these polarised extremes meet in the middle; the prophetic elements of art fused with a pastoral heart.
All Christians are called to follow the example of Christ’s servanthood. Artists in the Church are no exception – they should exist for the edification of the rest of the body. This will necessarily involve compromise for the sake of inclusivity, as there are just some musical complexities which will be unhelpful for a worshipper who has no musical training.
On the other hand, to come to our beautiful, artist-God with mediocre compositions seems to be missing the point. He deserves our fullest, most wholehearted efforts in all our endeavours, creative or otherwise. We must be careful then, not to settle for clichés and lowest common denominator songwriting.
I think wrestling with this tension is the responsibility of the modern worship leader.