Tony Cummings reports on DESPERATION BAND, the youth worship ministry of New Life Church, Colorado
The release of the 'Banner' project by Desperation Band is the latest album in an initiative which since 2001 has reached tens of thousands of American college and high school students desperate for a deeper walk with God. Best known for their songs such as "My Saviour Lives", "Amazed" and "I Am Free", their live worship albums, often recorded at the band's home base, the Colorado Springs mega-church New Life Church, have been international best sellers while their songs have been covered by such acts as the Newsboys, Jeremy Camp and Phillips, Craig & Dean. The band are led by worship pastor Jon Egan. He spoke to Melissa Riddle Chalos about the 'Banner' album.
"We felt like it was time to get back to our roots, to create a soundtrack for the beautiful, compelling things God has been doing here. Most movements last three to four years, but this has been going on for 13. So that's really the idea behind the record. We want to make sure we're singing songs that help young people understand they are in a moment of time but that the Church has existed for thousands of years. We want to place an emphasis on history, returning to the sacred call to worship. . . It's so important for them to understand they are part of a deep-rooted history of Christians who have survived. We love doing new songs, but we are very careful that we are not developing new ideas but celebrating the ideas that have always been true."
Desperation Band call their approach to music "high-energy, passionate new worship songs that convey a raw hunger for God." They were originally formed in 2001, when New Life youth pastor David Perkins launched a youth movement for local churches called Desperation. Perkins suggested that Jon Egan, Jared Anderson (who now is a solo artist) and Glenn Packiam (now lead pastor, NewLifeDowntown) play together with their bands at the first Desperation Conference. Today New Life hold multiple Desperation conferences every summer in Colorado Springs.
In 2003 the 'Desperation' album was released followed by 'From The Rooftops' (2004) and 'Who You Are' (2006). A major boost to the popularity of the band came when the Newsboys released a live version of the Desperation Band's "I Am Free" as a radio single prior to the release of their 'Go' album. It became a hit on Billboard's Hot Christian Songs chart. In 2007 the Desperation Band's 'Sessions & Remixes' EP was released through iTunes and the following year Integrity Music issued the 'Everyone Overcome' album. The Desperation Band's 2009 album 'Light Up The World' showed no let up in the band's strong Jesus focus. Jon Egan told Christian Retailing magazine, "We exist to bring him glory and reveal his truth to a broken world. If we know who he is, we know who we are. If we know who we are, we can live as God meant us to live. . . It's all about his purposes."
Much of the inspiration from 'Light Up The World' came from New Life's initiative in building orphan homes in Kenya and Uganda. At the Desperation conference Egan witnessed stirring sacrificial giving by the students present. "As I watched the students give all that they had, I started to realise that the best way to reach a young person in Colorado Springs was to help them reach a young person in Uganda."
In 2011 a 'Update: Live' was released and the following year Desperation Band's best-selling project so far 'Center Of It All' was issued. Many of the songs on 'Center Of It All' were co-writes between Egan and other worship songsmiths. Egan told David Santistevan, "The most powerful part of this experience has been the community that gathered around the project. Heroes of ours owned this with us. It would not be what it is if not for them. As a writer, I was feeling the need to grow. I sensed that God was wanting me to stretch in new ways. He was certainly leading me to get beyond myself, my vocabulary, my music bents, and collaborate with others.
"I made many trips to Nashville where a writing community has taken shape. Mia Fieldes and I have been writing together for a few years and she is a phenomenal lyricist and song 'finisher'. Paul Mabury is also a great writer. He took songs that I thought were complete and pulled them back. Then we finished them in much stronger ways. Through Paul, I met Jason Ingram and spent four full days with him. This was a surprise relationship. Not only did we write half the songs on the record together, but I made a great friend in the process. Jason came alongside all the songs and helped us make decisions on lyrics, melodies and the little things that make a song, a song.
"Through this process I learned that God is up to something with worship songwriters. I'm sure he's always wanted this, but it looks like we're all getting on board with it. God honours unity. In the Psalms, 'unity' is the place of commanded blessing. I truly sensed the blessing of God as we worked on songs together."
Integrity Music have now released the 'Banner' album. Egan spoke to Melissa Riddle Chalos about the album's title track. "I'd been wanting to write a song about God being our banner, the ancient truth that God is with us, leading the march through history. One of our young guys came in with some music and I brought some direction for the lyrics, and it just came together. It's so ancient, so 'Moses and the Old Testament,' yet to these guys it seems fresh and cool, which I think is great."
A song from the album already gaining popularity is "You Make A Way". Commented Egan, "This song has been blowing up at our church and at youth events. I think they have really connected with it because it gives a voice to people believing for miracles. We did a five-city tour, and in every city I found myself looking at hundreds of 15-year-olds, thinking, 'So much will be thrown at you. . .but the answer has always been Jesus. It always will be Jesus.' When I was fleshing that out for a song, I was reminded that where there was no way, Jesus made a way at the Cross. . .and he still makes a way."
One of the big musical surprises on 'Banner' is "Fun", with a distinct club dance music groove, which Egan co-wrote with Jason Ingram and Cory Asbury. Said Egan, "We're taking a big risk with this one but why not celebrate the kind of love that frees us, gives us joy and allows us to have fun, to 'dance with every reason to dance, sing with every reason to sing. . .'?"
Possibly the album's standout track, though, is "Break Open", which Melissa Riddle Chalos described as "a beautiful moment of complete brokenness and surrender." Talking about the song Egan said, "It's the idea and story of Mary who was criticised for this extravagant thing, pouring her perfume on the feet of Jesus, who rebuked those who criticised her. It's a reminder to all of us that worship is costly. Embarrassing sometimes. It was all over him. It was all over her. Everyone in the room was either criticising or enjoying it. There's a danger in watching someone else break something open and then just being okay with that because you won't be transformed by somebody else's extravagance."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.