Northern Ireland worship group Rend Collective Experiment have just released their new album 'Campfire'. This is no ordinary band, and no ordinary album. Rend talked to LTTM with humour and honesty, telling us why they recorded this acoustic album on a beach surrounded by a group of friends.
Your new album 'Campfire' is a little different to a normal studio album, why did you decide to record this around a campfire on a beach?
Campfires on Ballyholme beach have been such a part of the fabric of our spiritual journey. The student movement "Rend", from which the band grew would regularly light a fire on the beach and share their lives, stories, struggles and victories around the open flame. We found it to be a humble and authentic expression of church. It just made sense for us that, rather than producing a polished live album in a fancy venue, we would go back to our roots in Ireland, get some friends together and sing.
There must have been some practical difficulties involved in recording an album on a beach! How did you manage it?
The process was entirely inconvenient, wholly impractical... and utterly worth it! We had to deal with horrendous background noise from the ocean, the electricity conundrum and some quite profoundly out of tune vocals! (Some of the worst culprits are in the band - a portrait of grace!). The thing is, we don't think that worship music always has to reflect the grandeur of God but can also reflect His incarnate self-something human, real and touchable. This album tries to be those things more than a "Sistine chapel".
Which is your favourite track on the new album and why?
My favourite track is probably "Alabaster". Mostly this is just a sentimental attachment to the memory of recording this as the sun dropped below the horizon, by the calm of the ocean. Singing freely with friends and fellow journeyers of surrender to His majesty was really quite a sacred moment.
You've said that you hope this album is the spark that ignites a whole new approach to corporate worship and community life, can you expand on what you mean by that?
I would love to! The idea behind Campfire is that it would paint a picture of an alternative way of expressing church. An alternative to strict programming of events, complex light shows and gargantuan sound systems drowning out the majority of Jesus followers, who are left feeling like spectators of events rather than participants in a way of life.
The earliest name for Christians was "followers of the way", not "members of the audience"! Campfire points to a simple, elemental approach to faith, life and community. A campfire is a place of celebration, where we sing songs together without noticing who the leader is. It is a place of friendship and fellowship-we share our stories and struggles in the fireside glow of our belonging. It is a place of drawing near to a dangerous and beautiful flame for warmth and safety. We might even catch flame ourselves! Isn't this what our discontented post-modern generation desires from church?
2012 was a massive year for you guys, with several big tours around the USA. What was that experience like?
That experience could be defined as very hard but very worth it. We definitely sowed in tears at points - it was hard for us to leave our community back in Ireland and to embrace the dangerous call of Jesus to the unknown. But we also very definitely reaped in joy. We loved meeting new friends like Tenth Avenue North, the team at Passion City and Matt Redman to name a few.
The response of the global church to our music has been overwhelming at times for us: it's a beautiful thing to lead the church with the little songs you wrote in your bedroom in Ireland. We have learned that Jesus is truly with us, in the midst of bad attitudes, tiredness and financial hardship and that He is "exactly what we need". Maybe "overwhelming" is the answer; both in its positive and slightly negative senses!
What's your song writing process?
Part 1 - prepare coffee to taste...(but always prepare coffee)
Part 2 - find comfortable chair. Sit in said chair (guitar optional).
Part 3 - hope for grace. Record any ideas as and when they come using writing instruments, smart phones, tablets and/or short term memory.
Part 4 - add friends. "worship is a community project" shall be your mantra as they criticise your beloved brainchild.
Part 5 - tinker with the results, experimenting with kitchenware, home appliances and occasionally instruments for sonic development.
Jon Foreman. He is consistently the most imaginative and emotionally provocative lyricist in spiritual pop music. I have also heard he's a very pleasant chap from enough sources to confirm it as true!
What advice would you give to any aspiring bands or songwriters out there?
The pursuit of a glamour is at odds with the pursuit of Christ. The call of Christ is to carry a cross "for the joy set before [you]". A career in music might just be that cross, but be suspicious of your sense of calling and doubt it if you feel called to an idea of celebrity which not applauded in the gospels.
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your mp3 player. What track is it?
Anything by "One Direction". It's all flawless.
What does the next year hold for Rend Collective Experiment?
This year we will be writing and recording our next full studio album. We are pulling out all the stops for this one - it'll be our wildest, most ambitious, boundary-pushing and worshipful record yet. We are also on tour with our lovely friends Tenth Avenue North in the Spring, doing our own intimate, family-style Campfire dates in the UK towards the summer and donning our wellies once again for the British festival season in the summer. Everything else is a secret right now... but you know we always keep LTTM in the loop!
Find out more at rendcollective.com