Tony Cummings chatted to Chris Llewellyn, the vocalist with celebration band REND COLLECTIVE
As just about any reader of this website will know, Rend Collective have risen to become the most popular Christian ministry band in Europe. From Thursday, 1st February they will be proving the point when they begin the UK arm of their Good News Tour. Kicking off in Stoke-on-Trent where they will be playing to 1,500 people eager to get happy because of the new life to be found in Christ, the celebration band from Bangor, Northern Ireland, will then undertake 11 more concerts in February then six more in May ending in Belfast on the 19th. I spoke to vocalist Chris Llewellyn about their travels and album.
Tony: It's become clear that Rend don't consider 2016's album among their best. But I for one think your 'Good News' CD and vinyl is possibly Rend's best so far.
Chris: Thank you. I think for us, the rush and the pressure that was on us was just something that we never wanted to repeat. It kind of almost informed what we were doing with 'Good News' in the sense that we just wanted to sit down again and recalibrate and work out what is a Rend Collective album supposed to sound like. How do we make this as Rend Collective-y as possible, rather than trying to work out, I don't know, what's going to work on radio or all these kinds of questions that people in suits like to ask you.
Tony: You've always seemed to me though that you've by and large flown your own way. Obviously, if you've got a record company behind you, footing some bills, to some extent you have to do what they say. But you know what you want to do better than they do, probably.
Chris: Right. Again, it's like anything else in life, having the courage to actually follow the dreams that God's given you rather than the ones that seem to make sense, the kind of human ones. You kind of think when you're with a major record label you can have the wool pulled over your eyes that everybody else knows what they're doing and it's not really true. That's just not how the life of faith works and it's not how art works. We've learned that a little bit the hard way.
Tony: Tell me about 'Good News' because this is kind of tied up to some extent with this decision that you've made not to call yourself a worship band but to call yourself a celebration band.
Chris: Absolutely. It's kind of a logical follow on in many ways from what we were saying on 'The Art Of Celebration'. We've always been about joy, we've always been about fun and freedom and life. On this record, the difference between it and 'The Art Of Celebration' is that we wanted to connect it up with this idea that gospel is not a religious word, it's not a political word, it just means good news. So for us as worshippers, for us as evangelists, telling other people about Jesus that colours everything. What we have is not a sales pitch or apolitical campaign slogan but we've good news. We've something that's worth celebrating. When we're talking about preaching the gospel, we're talking about sharing a fantastic message that is for absolutely everybody. So we wanted it to sound joyful and we also wanted it to be really rooted in the simple old-fashioned gospel that we believe in.
Tony: But that old fashioned gospel has to work out in a life which is full of difficulties and problems, doesn't it?
Chris: Even in the process of the 'Good News' album one of the things that we were most afraid of was coming over like we are Christians who have our heads in the clouds and have no idea of what real life is. When you look at the psalms, yes, a lot of them are psalms of celebration but in that hymnbook that we have in the centre of our Bible a lot of them are actually laments. These are psalms where you bring your broken heart right before God without editing or polishing anything at all. We wanted to reflect that a little bit on the record as well. We have a song called "Weep With Me" on the second half of the record which was kind of inspired by - we led worship once as part of a Make A Wish event and in the middle of that heartbreak we realised that even though we were singing things that were scriptural truth, I'm not sure that up until this point that we had a song that was the appropriate scriptural truth for somebody who was really wrestling and trying to make sense of the goodness of God in a difficult phase of life. So that song "Weep With Me" is kind of a real anchoring point on the 'Good News' record for us. It reminds us that there are different colours of good news. There's the kind of good news that makes you dance because you've just got a raise at work. But there's also a much deeper kind of good news that says even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I'll fear no evil because our God goes with us there.
Tony: You mention the psalms but those were written by people who were going through horrendous difficulties, people trying to kill them, for instance. To some extent you could only write a lament if indeed you are facing a lot of difficulty. Are you effectively saying that some of these songs were birthed out of difficulty for the band?
Chris: Yes, absolutely. After we had finished the album cycle, certainly Gareth, the drummer and co-leader of our band, went through a period of real depression. We just began looking around us at what other people had, other people's successes, all the immature stuff that human beings do and that instagram makes us worse at and honestly, we wrote this song "Counting Every Blessing" in that season. The only antidote to this depression, this constant cycle of looking at what other people have and never measuring up, is to go back to our roots and realise, hey, we have a gospel, we have a father who speaks love over us in all situations. We were blind and now we can see, we were lost and now we're found. We need to remind ourselves of these blessings, these truths. And that's where the song "Counting Every Blessing" comes from. It doesn't really sound like a lament but it was the journey we were on, one of a little bit of depression.
Tony: Do you find, though, that there are still elements in the Church which just don't get what Rend Collective are about?
Chris: (laughs) Yeah! Rend Collective in many ways is an acquired taste across the board. You've got the crazy instrumentation; you've got the fact that we're from Northern Ireland and we don't know how to be polite. I think in some ways, particularly when we're in America, our message can be a little bit challenging, particularly this one about good news. We're really keen to point out that the gospel is not supposed to be a religious or political term that we use for our own gain. And secondly, the word 'evangelical' needs to be reclaimed particularly in this land because it's supposed to mean something beautiful, it just means 'carrier of good news.' When we as evangelicals walk into a room everyone tenses up wondering what we're going to do to them. It is just so opposite to the effect Jesus has on people. When we say that and speak that out over here it can be polarising.
Tony: Was 'Good News' written and recorded over a long period?
Showing page 1 of 2