Tony Cummings quizzed Tom Mills and Sophia Jenkins about the website and record label THE PUSH COMMUNITY
Even in these times of continuing crises for the Christian music industry there continues to be a veritable flood of contemporary worship albums. One of the best of recent times is the multi-artist album 'Everybody' emanating from an exciting new initiative based in Bognor Regis called The Push Community. The loose collective of worship leaders and musicians is the brainchild of producers Tom Mills and Steve Harding who down the years have clocked up a massive amount of production experience with acts like Onehundredhours, Verra Cruz, David Gate, Nick Herbert, Sam Lane and UK Vineyard, Cathy Burton, LZ7 and Ishmael. With Cross Rhythms radio currently giving considerable airplay to the 'Everybody' track "God You Are Good" by Sophia Jenkins. Clearly the time is right for Cross Rhythms to speak to Sophia and one of the founders of Push Community, musician, recording engineer and producer Tom Mills. We began by asking Tom to give a bit of history.
Explained Tom, "The Push Community began as an idea in the heads of Steve Harding and myself possibly as far back as 2008. The early thoughts were to start a small record label and the reason for this was to get more music out there. Steve and I have worked together for many years as producers and session musicians and have worked with bands, singer/songwriters and worship leaders that have buckets of talent and gifting but very often don't know how to move forward with it. So the 'indie' label idea seemed like a good way to help move things forward for people. We spoke to our good friend Doug Ross (Spilt Milk Bookings) about the idea and realised very quickly that the three of us had similar hearts and visions. It became clear that it wasn't just about making and selling product. We were passionate about people, music and how God interacts and connects with us through music, creativity and our worship. And so The Push Community began, in that the three of us started to chat with people we knew who were writing songs and that we felt might want to be involved and connect with other people who were doing similar things. So the emphasis before we even started became people rather than product. And the first person we chatted to was actually Soph. That was in 2010.
"Our emphasis on people rather than product didn't mean that we didn't want to make records, that was still very much a part of what we wanted to do but we didn't want that to be the focus. So we set up the label side of things (PushMusic Records) to primarily serve what the Push Community was doing, so if and when we wanted to release some music we had a way of doing that. The Push Community exists to encourage community among songwriters and worship leaders, to support, inspire and help develop each other in the gifts that God has given us so we can serve and bless our local churches."
The tracks featured on 'Everybody' come from a wide variety of sources. Said Tom, "All have different stories behind them. For example 'Carry Me' was written by Aaron Frith many years ago when Aaron and myself were in a band together. 'Everyone' was written and recorded up at The Grand in Clitheroe when Neil Wilson (onetime frontman for the fondly remembered band Steve) invited me to work on some songs with him. 'True Praise' was written by Tim and Mairi Neeves for a film they were making called 58. We originally recorded it with Aaron singing it which was the version used for the film and then we recorded a new version with Mairi singing it for the album. And 'The Rescue' was written by Mark Underdown who moved to Canada just as The Push Community started. So this album is really an example of what we've been up to as a community over the last few years and in some cases over the last 10 years."
The Push Community is still growing. Said Tom, "We are in the process of working out how more people can be involved. We are not a closed club that you are either in or not. We would love to connect with more people who are passionate about worshipping God and making music. We love to meet face to face so we have been having gatherings in living rooms over the last few years where we worship together, eat and share songs. We can't fit many more people in my front room so we are now looking at alternatives so more people can come along. Recording and releasing a song is an overflow of what happens in the community. So far we have recorded and produced the songs ourselves but that's not something we are precious about. We would want the recordings to be of a high standard if we were going to release them but that doesn't mean that we can't share songs with one another that are in demo form."
Push's first single release, now a Cross Rhythms turntable hit, was Sophia Jenkins' "God You Are Good". The singer/songwriter spoke with a certain irony about her background. "I was born in Chichester in 1994. My childhood was pretty standard. . . for someone who was taken around the planet with mission focused parents! I went all over Europe and Brazil, ending up living in Belgium aged 12. that's when i really started to song write. Even at 12 I had a lot of feeling I wanted to express... both about getting to grips with my faith and coping with such a changing world. I have really been blessed that my mum & Dad have always pointed to Jesus, so from a very young age that has been a reality... but coping with a new culture, language and so much change was a real challenge. It took a while to settle in that place, a new church where dad was the Pastor, and a very different school environment, but after the first 3 months I was being home schooled. My folks planned the academic stuff in the morning and artistic for the afternoons... so I had freedom to play my guitar & keys and the songs started to come in this place where i could express all these emotions. This really made a difference to where I am today, because from that moment on I would just be worshiping Jesus' in my room and a song would come. Its were my heart would be exposed to him and this became my place of release and hope."
Sophia spoke about "God You Are Good". "I was a fair while ago I actually wrote the song, but what i recall is having a real revelation of how good God is... literally that simple. In a year of quietness yet quite a bit of confusion, where his goodness was revealed; and this song came out of this place. I was overcome with the truth that even in a place where many mistakes where made, his grace was sufficient, which then left me in a complete awe of just being desperate for more of his presence. And when my confidence was gone, he would just remind me of who he ha called me to be and how he sees me. To be honest, in the most difficult times and even recently I've had to sing this song to myself over and over again just to remind myself of this truth, He is good... 'Cause in this world, everything will try to tell you otherwise. The recording of the track was awesome. Tom and Steve are not just producers and songwriters, they're really good guys and being new to the whole recording thing, they not only made me feel comfortable, they made me laugh, a lot! It became my joy to be in the studio, thinking of new ideas and generally having fun, it was great."
Cross Rhythms suggested to Tom that today the multi-nationals are dominating the modern worship scene so that "unknown" songwriters can't get their songs heard beyond the confines of their local church. We asked for Tom's thoughts. "First of all I'd have to ask the question 'Why do songwriters need to have their songs heard beyond the local church?' Maybe that song was intended for their local church and that's it. If you write songs as a job then I can understand the need to get that song to as many people as possible otherwise you are not going to pay the bills. If that is the case then it makes more sense to me to look at the whole music industry where there are lots of different ways of earning a living from writing music like radio jingles, TV commercials, film scores, computer games and for a few - pop music. There's nothing wrong with that. A plumber must make people aware of his skills in order to get work. He also needs to be good at what he does, if he is not good, people won't hire him. Same for songwriters. But I think it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to write a world changing worship hit that very often doesn't even end up working in your own church. I am as guilty of this as anyone else but I'm learning to re-focus on Jesus in my surroundings, my church and my community. If you are a worship leader or someone who writes for a worship leader who generally plays at massive festivals then great, write for the nationwide or worldwide Church, but if you lead worship at a Baptist church in Bognor Regis like me, write for that. This is really something that is burning in me at the moment. Songs and sounds for YOUR community! If you don't know Matt Redman don't try and write his next big song! Write your next big song for you and your next door neighbour."
Tom continued, "Has worship music become over commercialised? Maybe, but I think the good is still outweighing the bad. Are the big companies dominating the scene? The 'known by the masses scene' yes, maybe, but that's okay as long as the grassroots scene continues to be inspired, develop and grow. There is lots happening and what happens next I believe will be very significant in the future of worship music. If the bigger companies end up being a bottle neck for new music, which is definitely a reality because they may be the bigger companies but especially in the UK they are not that big, then as long as the new writers and worship leaders don't see what already exists in the 'known by the masses scene' as the only way to go then it should all work out okay. What we don't want to see is new worship leaders and songwriters saying 'I'm not going to bother with this worship leading, songwriting lark 'cause they won't let me play at Soul Survivor and Integrity won't record my album'. As I said before we must ignite our local communities with our worship songs and sounds; that's our scene."
Tom admits that he has been doing a lot of thinking recently about the reason for writing songs. He mused, "It's easy to think the life of a song starts when it is released for the world to hear but I believe this isn't true. I think there is life in the song before the song is even finished. To write a song you need to be inspired. If you are a Christian you may often find that your inspiration comes from God, whether that be from the Bible or a sermon or from spending time worshipping. If the writing of a song has caused you to turn your focus towards God then it has already produced goodness. Some of my most intimate times with God have been while writing. Some of these songs have never been heard by another person but I believe they have already been successful. If songs are written as an overflow of worship then it shouldn't matter whether that song reaches the whole world or just your mate at home group. That doesn't mean to say that I don't think songs should travel and become known by thousands of people, I just don't think we should hang the success of a song on how many copies have been sold. I do believe there are new depths of worship that we haven't yet reached, new sounds that we haven't yet heard and a greater realisation of Heaven on Earth to be seen. I hope and pray that the next generation of worshippers and writers are moved and inspired to take things further, not to get stuck in what works or what is cool. If God's paint box has colours we haven't yet found, then I want to find them. And then when I find a new colour I want to see how it mixes with all the other colours; that one new colour could bring new depths to a painting, in fact it could completely change how it looks. But it never seems to erase the old colours, it just seems to work with them to create something new. We have so much to be thankful for in worship music, the people that have gone before us have given us so much. Now we must take it and move forward."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.