To understand what makes Rend Collective so unique and special among worship artists, you have to go back—way back. Some 1500 years ago, the Irish missionary St. Brendan sailed from the Irish coast without maps or any clue where he was headed. “The only thing he knew was that God had called him,” says bandleader and drummer Gareth Gilkeson. And so Brendan chose to “go”: a bold act of faith that not only echoes the album title As Family We Go, but also speaks volumes about the songs.
It also tells you a lot about Rend Collective, a Northern Irish band that has ventured from its native land at the beckoning of an invisible hand. And they’re doing it differently than most other artists before them, living and working—singing and sharing the laundry duties—as a tight-knit family. It’s just the foundation to foster faith and community through music, and forms the heart and strength behind their latest effort.
And my, how this musical family has grown. This young, freewheeling band has seen so much recent success: from opening for the likes of Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Kari Jobe, to landing Christian radio hits such as the revival hymn, “Build Your Kingdom Here.”
The next logical step, then, was to hunker down in their private studio and work at a brisk, breathtaking pace—cutting the eleven tracks on As Family We Go in two weeks. As Gilkeson puts it: “There wasn’t much time for sleep—just going for it.”
In this case, sleep deprivation yielded divine inspiration. Then again, how many bands brave a family pilgrimage the way Rend Collective does? Or proudly present themselves as examples of a self-styled genre, “celebration music”?
Though that describes the sound on the new disc—a joyful mélange of foot-stomping acoustic grooves and full-on pop pockets worthy of U2—it only hints at the spiritual thread that pulls everything together.
“We want to make music that is journey music,” says singer Chris Llewellyn. “We notice that sometimes music is seen as the end goal, that a worship encounter is having a music experience. But that’s not really it; it should be the soundtrack to mission: community living, the soundtrack to a meaningful worship experience.”
You can hear the results on tracks such as “You Will Never Run,” the debut single. Built around a bracing framework of pounding percussion, chanted backup vocals and indelible melody, it lifts the listener with a strong gust of hope: “Hearts open wide/ Hands lifted high/ Over the clouds, up into the blue sky.”
“It was an interesting song that came about musically first, which isn’t the way we normally work,” Gilkeson says. But that wrinkle only served to reinforce a timeless message: “In an inconsistent world where relationships are sometimes difficult, God never runs away. He never leaves us; he never forsakes us. His love is as wide as galaxies. The father’s heart is always for us and he’s the one that’s behind us.”
Another standout track on an album of standouts (and a Rend Collective favorite) is “Joy of the Lord.” Riding on the upbeat, ramshackle rhythm of handclaps and kick drum, the song glorifies hope that defies dire realities. No matter whether it’s “in the dead of night” or “when the waters rise,” there is but one faithful response: “I’ll lift my eyes to you.”
“Joy is when we sing through brokenness,” Llewellyn says, quoting the song’s chorus: “‘In the darkness I’ll dance, in the shadows I’ll sing.’ It’s setting those two things side by side. Sorrow can’t extinguish our joy, even in deep suffering: the joy that the Lord gives us.”
And then there’s the thrilling excursion from God’s Kingdom to God’s Country. “Ireland’s Call” is a veritable movie set to music. An enticing mix of banjoes, pipes and rolling snare drum sets the stage for a sweet sonic trip. Close your eyes and you can spy the rugged hills of Galway jutting to sea; open your heart and you can feel Rend Collective’s love of homeland, which transcends all divisions between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland (which Rend Collective calls home): “Shoulder to shoulder, we’ll answer Ireland’s call.”
That fearless anthem comes within the context of an overarching call—one that has changed the band members’ lives as much as they yearn to transform worshippers and listeners.
“The consistency of God was on our hearts much of the last year,” Llewellyn notes. And with the album done, “We’ve gotten to the point where we’re looking back at where we’ve been; we see how far God’s taken us and how he’s never left us.”
And so 15 centuries ago, an emboldened St. Brendan embarked on a magnificent, mysterious journey, leaning on the breath of the Holy Spirit as much as the winds in his sails. That could’ve marked the end of the story. But as inheritors of his brave brand of faith, Rend Collective has picked up the narrative, enveloping it in music that guides listeners into sacred seas of worship.
Here’s another way of viewing it: With Rend Collective, the family isn’t limited to a clan of Irish musicians. You’re part of it, too. As Family We Go is as much an invitation as an album title. Take it up. Turn it up. And prepare to be amazed, for the “we” not only includes this extended family, but a Father who leads the celebration—and gives light and life to this rousing slice of celebration music.