Tony Cummings quizzed Jake Espy and Tyler Roberts of Morrison, Colorado's RED ROCKS WORSHIP
The American religious scene today has dozens, possibly hundreds, of megachurches which, following the pattern established by Bethel and North Point, are now recording and releasing their own modern worship songs. It can even make some kind of economic sense to do so, as long as they record their albums live, don't bring in top producers (they cost) and their congregation, or at least a large part of it, can be persuaded to buy the resulting albums. And if these churches can get a record label/music publisher or a distributor involved and the unit of worship leaders and musicians who recorded the album begin shooting and releasing videos of some of the songs on the project, they MAY, and it's a big may, end up with an international modern worship hit, one which is sung in tens of thousands of churches around the world.
I don't know whether the talented songwriters, singers and musicians who make up Red Rocks Worship, the creative offshoot of the Red Rocks Church in Morrison, Colorado, have dreams of creating the next "Good, Good Father" or "Death Was Arrested", but Cross Rhythms can attest to the quality of their output so far. In fact, a song, "More" from Red Rocks Worship's 2015 mini-album 'Into The Light', made it to the Cross Rhythms radio playlist. With a fine new album, 'Spark', released, now seemed a good moment to talk to Jake Espy and Tyler Roberts, two of the worship leaders in the team, about the flourishing Red Rocks ministry.
Tony: Why the name Red Rocks? Is it a town, or a suburb?
Jake: "Red Rocks isn't a town per se, it's in Morrison which is a small town. The church was named Red Rocks Church because it's right next to Red Rocks Amphitheatre which is a historic outdoor amphitheatre much visited by tourists. The original location for our church was right up the road from there, so that's kinda where the name Red Rocks comes from."
Tony: So how did Red Rocks begin recording and releasing its worship songs?
Jake: "We fell into it in an unexpected way. It was never an intentional thing. About six years ago, the directors of our church decided 'Hey we'd like to give the church and our volunteers the week after Christmas off,' just to kinda let 'em relax and recuperate. But they still wanted to give them a church experience so they got the idea 'Why don't we film a pre-packaged message video type thing that we'll push out to the church online, and that'll be church for the week and everybody can kinda watch it from home'. Then they said, 'But we'd love to have some music to go along with this thing, do you guys have any original songs that we could record for the purposes of this vigil?' At the time we hadn't really been writing; I think we had exactly four songs that we'd cobbled together. So we recorded four songs, and that's what went on to this Christmas special thing. Then one of our directors just kind of as a passing comment said, 'You know we should put this out on iTunes, since we've already got it done.' So we put it up on iTunes and we called it 'The Rooftop EP'. It ended up doing really, really well and going to number one on iTunes. We were really surprised by that.
"Then we ended up doing the same kind of Christmas special the following year so we needed more music, so over the course of the year we wrote some more songs. And that did well on iTunes, too. Because of that we started to get some attention from record labels, and people were interested in what we were doing, and then we started to have conversations around 'Is this something God is asking us to do?', 'Is this something we should pursue/doing a little bit more of?' and the right opportunity presented itself, and we were able to partner up with Essential Worship, which has been fantastic."
Tony: Now, intriguingly, I've been told that the song which Cross Rhythms have picked up on - the three Cross Rhythms radio stations have been playing it quite a bit - isn't a song which you've performed very often. It's the song "More". Are you surprised to hear that that's the one we've picked up on?
Tyler: "Yeah, I think 'More' is a really great song, and [I'm] a little surprised that that's the one. But hey, that's awesome. I remember when, at the time, one of our worship leaders that used to be here, Nicole, I remember when she sent that to me the first time; it was just a song she had written with some guys in Nashville, and she wanted to know if I thought it had anything on it. I remember listening to it and I was like 'We have to do that at church right away'. It's a really powerful song, [it] talks about I just want more, I just want a touch from his robe, or for him to steal the weakness from my bones - I mean that's just, that's the lady with the issue of blood reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus' robe, and so, am I surprised that that's the one? Maybe, but that doesn't take away from the song, I think it's an amazing song, and it just points everything back to Jesus."
Tony: Now you've got this project called 'Spark', and that consists of a lot of individual tracks which you're releasing one at a time. Is that correct?
Jake: "Yeah, it is a full album, but the full album is not actually getting released until September. So it's just basically a release strategy where we've been rolling out the songs one at a time."
Tony: What song or songs so far have been getting a bit of traction?
Jake: "The response has been fantastic, both from our church and outside of our church. A song that has connected with lots of people is 'Breakthrough'. It was written and sung by another guy on our team, Corey. He does a fantastic job. It's been kind of an anthem for our church in a lot of ways; it speaks to [us] when we're going through a hard time or a tough situation, you know, who/where do we put our hope? Can we rely on the fact that God is this guy who can move mountains and break down walls? And it's basically an anthem of hope, looking to God and saying 'God, I believe that there's going to be a breakthrough in this situation that I'm currently in.' It's a song of belief, and it seems like our church has really latched on to it."
Tony: Now so far, have you had a chance to perform these songs outside your church? Have you done any touring?
Tyler: "We've played a few different shows, a few different events. We're hoping to ramp up in the autumn; we just signed with a booking agent in Nashville; we don't have a ton of stuff on the schedule yet, but we have a couple [of] things in New Jersey in September. Then in the autumn we're gonna get out on the road and start taking these songs to other churches, other conferences and get 'em out there."
Jake: "One of the things we've been trying to figure out is how much work we can do outside our own church; you know, we're church worship leaders, our focus is the local church. Leading worship at our church is where our first focus is, but we're now trying to figure out how can we really steward our time well and not leave our local church in a bad spot. We've had some touring requests and stuff, and we've been trying to figure that out but, you know, it's challenging as a local church to figure out how do we tour, but still have people at church services."
Tony: Is Red Rocks Worship something that, now that you've had a bit of focus and publicity, is going to gradually fade away from national or international attention? Or is there a lot more to be achieved? Do you have any idea at the moment which way it'll go?
Tyler: "I think we said it earlier, we don't really know, it's kinda up to God. The stance that Red Rocks has taken from day one, with our leadership and our church and now our music, we have open hands, so whatever the Lord wants we'll do, we'll just kinda follow that. We're not trying to reach for anything or grab for anything by any means, but what I do hope - what I really believe actually - is that God is doing something amazing in our church by releasing his power, and I think that it's moving also through our music. So our hope is that we can kind of bottle up what God is doing within the four walls of Red Rocks' church, and take it out to the world, and expose more people to Jesus and to his power. So however he wants to do that, we're 100% in it, we're in it for the long haul. I wouldn't say this is something we did just a couple of projects and then we're just gonna fall away. We're in this man, we believe that God has called us to be influencers, we believe that God has called us to point people back to him, and the way we do that is through our music. We're just gonna keep writing music, keep following God, and just trust in him with open hands."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.