Nathan Cox brings the low-down on Nashville-based rock worship band THE GLORIOUS UNSEEN
With such a torrent of modern worship releases it is getting increasingly hard to find worship bands that stand out from the crowd. But this has been achieved by the Nashville-based aggregation The Glorious Unseen. Both their BEC Recordings albums 'Tonight The Stars Speak' (2007) and 'The Hope That Lies In You' (2009) have received fulsome praise from the critics while their tours of the US with bands like Underoath, Mewithoutyou and Anberlin have ensured that their haunting, ambient take on worship music is connecting with an ever growing fan base.
The band consists of Ben Crist (vocals and guitar), Ryan Stubbs (guitar), Ben Harms (bass), Jon Todryk (drums), Adam Smith (keyboard, guitar and trumpet) and Patrick Copeland (piano). Lead singer Ben Crist talked about the band's latest album 'The Hope That Lies in You'.
"We've written a much more dynamic album. This album was written by us as a full band - as opposed to the last album - which I pretty much completely wrote by myself. I feel that I've really improved my voice a lot over the past year as we have toured so much. Lyrically, I've asked a whole lot of questions in this album. I feel there are times for all of us where we have these questions come to our minds, where we want to ask God - 'How could you let this happen to me?' and also things like, 'How can you still love me in the midst of who I am?' This is where we can be brutally honest with God and tell him our hearts. I don't want to just write happy songs where we can all feel good, because the truth is I don't feel good all the time, I am often times in the midst of a struggle - so I have to convey this with honesty. I've been a bit more bold lyrically this time than in the past. The sound of the album is fresh and exciting - because there were five of us this time contributing ideas. I'm so glad I didn't have to write the whole album myself because, honestly, I was feeling like I didn't have any new ideas musically. It wasn't until all the guys started contributing their personal song ideas that I got really excited about this new record."
Crist first started on his musical journey at the age of seven when he started playing the drums. Said Crist, "I used to watch the drummer at church and thought he was so awesome. As I was growing up I was only allowed to listen to Christian music - so I was into all the early Tooth & Nail stuff. I don't know that I always wanted to be a pro musician, I just kind of liked doing it as a hobby. I never enjoyed taking lessons and all that, I just learned on my own. I just kind of happened to start doing the worship leading thing and I loved doing it."
Crist progressed to playing drums in his dad's worship team in Atlanta
before going on to playing in a hardcore band called Last Caress. When
that band broke up Crist started playing guitar in an emo/rock band
"When that was over I started just leading worship for this Sunday night home group some friends and I started. As the group grew we decided to become a church. I continued leading worship and began writing my own songs. And today we have The Glorious Unseen."
So how did The Glorious Unseen end up on Tooth & Nail Recordings? Explained Ben, "Being in Nashville, there's a natural exposure that you get if you perform music in any capacity. There's obviously a lot of music there. However, I wasn't seeking after a record deal or anything. I guess the first important piece of this is that I began writing my own worship songs. Some of those songs captured the attention of a local publishing guy at EMI Christian Music Group. I signed a publishing deal with them and Tooth & Nail is affiliated with EMI. Chad Johnson, one of the main A&R guys at the Nail, got excited about the worship style I was doing. I think he had also heard about it through some of the bands on the label - as I already had a relationship with some of those bands."
How difficult was it for Ben and his fellow band members to make the transition from church touring to going on the road with full-on rock bands? Responded Crist, "It was a bit strange at first because, given that I had never really performed these songs outside my own church, it has been a bit of a transition to start carrying them out all across the country and playing in many places but, at the heart of it all, we're still at the core just leading worship wherever we go. We don't have to put on a rock show. We're still just basically doing the same thing we have always done, just to new audiences every night. And many of those audiences have no idea who we are, so sometimes it does seem strange. But, when God shows up and starts working through us, it is so rewarding."
Crist spoke about his worship music influences. "I'm 29 years old, so I haven't been around forever, but I have grown up in the Church since I was born, so I've seen how worship has progressed over the years, or at least in the last 29 years. I grew up in the Vineyard Church, and in like, I would say, the early '90s, maybe even late '80s, Vineyard Church had the Vineyard Music Group. They put out records that got national distribution in Christian bookstores. And that was a new thing at the time. Worship leaders like Brian Doerksen and Kevin Prosch, they did some really, really cool stuff, man. That was really groundbreaking at the time. And then, as I remember it, around '96 I first heard Delirious?. When I did I was like, 'Whoa! This is such a step beyond anything I've ever heard before.' It was like a new wave of stuff. And honestly, in my mind, everything that happened after Delirious?, like Passion and all that, it's all been kind of this one big deal. I'm not trying to talk about The Glorious Unseen as if they're groundbreaking or anything, but I do feel like what we are doing is a new expression of worship. Now going forward from here, there's going to be a lot of other bands coming up that will kind of carry this new sound. Because worship always has to progress and be given a new sound."
Crist continued his thoughts about the modern worship scene. "Now, what's happened with the whole Delirious? and Passion and Hillsong thing is that that's become extremely, extremely popular. And it's even had a lot of radio and marketing success, and made a lot of money. A lot of money. And, naturally, that's why it is continually being regurgitated, because there's so much money. And of course there are some great songs, like 'Here I Am To Worship' and 'Everlasting God' and all those current hits. [They're] great songs. But you know, there's always a new marketing swing on it, there's always a new voice. You put a new voice to an old song, and it's going to come alive again and you keep making money on it again. It's nobody's fault, it's just a natural business move. You know, we play those songs too. We'll go out and play youth camps, and we'll play 'Here I Am To Worship' and we did a version of David Crowder's 'O Praise Him' and on this new record we did 'How He Loves', a song by John Mark McMillan from North Carolina. And so we're doing it too, to some extent. And that's good because you'll have a Tomlin song, but some crowds don't like Tomlin's style. But I know it all gets controversial, because people will say, 'You shouldn't mix ministry with money'. But that's kind of how the music business is run. That's just kind of how it goes."
The first recording made by The Glorious Unseen was the independent EP 'Embracing The Call'. Then, after the release of 'Tonight The Stars Speak' (2007), the EP 'Cries Of The Broken'. Explained Ben, "There aren't really any new songs - there are a couple b-sides that we recorded for 'Tonight The Stars Speak' that didn't make it onto the record, and we put those out with 'Cries Of The Broken'. But the thing about that acoustic record is that we essentially made it for free. There was no budget to make the record. We did it in an in-house studio in Nashville. I just used my acoustic guitar, I did some piano on it, we had some backup vocals, brought in some cellos and harps, and that was really cool. So we essentially made it for free, and we put it up on NoiseTrade, because it was just kind of an in-between album before the newer album."
Crist is clearly excited about 'The Hope That Lies In You'. Crist talked about his favourite songs on the album. "I love all of them! There's a song on there called 'We Can Be Renewed', it's an intense one. That song's out of my marriage, and that is my prayer for our marriage when my wife and I are going through a tough time, and to be able to sing that song every night - it's essentially just a prayer, and I'm excited. I think that'll impact a lot of people. In this current culture, there are a whole lot of broken relationships and relationship struggles. And for people to be able to hear that and hear that we can be renewed and that God's heart is for restoration is going to be really encouraging. So I'm excited to play that. And a song called 'Sustain' that just talks about being on a spiritual battlefield and what it means to be in spiritual warfare and I'm really excited about that one. It's powerful. And we got a song called 'Awakening' that we just sing 'Hallelujah, hallelujah' at the end. And I'm excited for all these new ones. The live experience of the new songs is a really good flowing time of worship."
For the future Ben recognises that prayer support for The Glorious Unseen is vital. "I'm asking people to keep praying for us, because when you're out here doing ministry like this - you know, we are out here doing what God has called us to do. This isn't a money-making scheme, this is because this is our hearts. And when you do something like this, you get out here and travel around and do this so much, you're on the frontlines of a spiritual battle. We are impacting people in ways that would turn their hearts toward God and we are impacting a scene of people who previously may have not been so passionate about God. And when we do that, the enemy would basically want to take us out because we're doing something that he does not want to happen. It's a battlefield out here. And we need prayer covering from anyone and everyone who could lift us up in prayer."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.