Serving an Irish stew of folk rock worship
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With their appearance at the Winter Jam in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, the Irish Christian folk rock group Rend Collective continue what seems an unlikely success in worship music that began nearly two decades ago in Northern Ireland.
Among those who find it unlikely are the band members themselves. As guitarist Patrick Thompson said, they didn’t even really see themselves as a band to begin with.
“We were all college age in 2002 and calling ourselves Rend when we started it,” Thompson said in an interview with Whatzup. “We were in Northern Ireland, we had turned 18 and left school. Our group of friends were dealing with growing up with life hurting them. They were facing grief, bereavement, getting jobs. There were a lot of friends hurting and who had moved away from their church and their faith. We decided to build a community to explore those questions. The church deals well with a lot of things, but back home the churches were not handling these transitions well.”
The word “rend,” an Old English word that appears in the King James Bible, means “to tear.” Thompson said the phrase, “rend hearts not garments,” spoke to the band. In Rend Collective, they sought to open hearts and, as Thompson said, “in that space, work through those questions together. We all had this experience to share, and we wanted to find words for that group of people to show where life and faith interact.”
Rend Collective began writing songs, and their drummer, Gareth Gilkeson, was already interested in recording and production. He also had a place for them to record, although it wasn’t necessarily a grand space for creating music.
“We were recording EPs, but we were recording in Gareth’s bathroom so I didn’t have a great vision for what this was going to be. We were just putting the music up online and giving it away for free.”
The Tomlin Effect
It was when fellow worship performer Chris Tomlin brought them on tour with him in 2011 that Rend Collective quickly moved beyond their bathroom recording sessions. Having reached that point surprised even the band itself.
“You can’t get that kind of thing to happen by trying,” Thompson said. “Only the Lord makes that happen. Before all of that started happening, we really weren’t that good. In 2008 people wanted us to start playing around Europe, and we started playing festivals and warming up for other bands. But we went from playing to 20 to 30 people to playing in front of 6,000 with Chris Tomlin in just a year and a half. It was nerve wracking, but we decided to have confidence in the Lord. We knew He had his hand on it. The Lord has a plan for us, and we were grateful to be here. But it was terrifying.”
From traveling around Europe to covering the United States, Thompson said that seeing America has been fun for them in recent years.
“There are so many great parts of touring,” he said. “It’s been especially great since now we bring our families on the road with us. My wife and I are amateur photographers, and that’s been a great creative outlet for us as we’ve taken pictures all over the United States.”
Good news for other acts
Last year’s album, Good News, has taken Rend Collective to a new level and brought new fans to their music. Although contemporary bands of all genres tend to take a couple years between albums, since touring is now the far more crucial endeavor, Thompson said that Rend Collective is always thinking about the next batch of songs, the next album to record.
“We always have our fingers in two pies,” he said. “We always record when we’re on the road. Touring is a big part of things now, but right now we’re recording an album. Actually two albums, but one is a little bit of a secret. Even when we’re touring, we take time during the day to write and record. Sometimes stuff doesn’t come. But we’re hoping that we’ll have a new full-length record out by this time next year. We’ve released eight albums since our first in 2010, so we’ve pretty much been firing them out every year.”
Rend Collective also likes helping out other acts who might be facing challenges in getting their music heard.
In starting Rend Family Records, they hope they can help others find the success they have. Rend Collective isn’t interested in cornering the market as much as they are sharing the wealth.
“We realize it’s a challenge for a band to fulfill what their calling is,” Thompson said. “In a world of streaming and social media, there is so much material out there that it’s hard to stand out in a crowd. To get from the U.K. to here, there’s not a ton of opportunities. We decided to start a little record label and take some of those bands out on tour with us.
“We’ve developed a following in the last 10 years and have developed some knowledge we want to share. We just want more worship bands to get a chance to be heard.”