Record day: Students band with Rend Collective
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Cameron Stow
GCU News Bureau
The long but glorious day began with Desiree Aguilar providing one of many reasons why it was going to be so great for students from Grand Canyon University’s Center for Worship Arts to work once again with Rend Collective, the popular Christian band from Bangor, Northern Ireland:
“They have the best accents on the planet.”
Then Gareth Gilkeson, Chris Llewellyn and Patrick Thompson walked into the five-month-old GCU recording studio around 9:30 Monday morning, and it was as if the clock had been turned back 50 years and the Beatles had just arrived. Which was appropriate, given that Gilkeson got one look at the students’ new digs and said, “We’ve been working at Abbey Road (the recording mecca in London where the Fab Four once made records), and this is better.”
Gilkeson and his bandmates were on campus for the second time in a little more than a year to have Worship Arts students sing group vocals. A year ago Rend Collective was recording a Christmas album and wanted to try out the GCU students. It’s not hard to see how it went, considering how quickly the band wanted to get back together — and considering that GCU is the only university that gets this privilege.
“We’ve played concerts a couple of times here, we’ve met the students, and one of the things we love is the whole worship program,” Gilkeson said. “Anything that develops young people in worship music, not just telling them how to play their instruments but treating them Biblically and how to be good servants and how to serve the church, that’s at the top of our priority list.
“That’s something that we as a band never had and something we’re passionate about. We love coming to GCU for that.”
Llewellyn said, “One option for us would be to go to Nashville and just get a load of guys in the room and pay them. We might get a good result, but it really wouldn’t feed into the kingdom in any way, shape or form.
“What’s awesome about this is that it’s relational at this point. We know these kids, we’ve been here before, we’ve seen them at our shows, and it feels way more like church. That’s what we want to reflect on the record — we want to reflect church, not industry.”
Long day but smooth
When it was time to head into the studio and start recording, Gilkeson addressed the students — yes, the accent is fabulous, Desiree — and reminded them, “We’re 100 percent normal people.” When he was done and asked the usual, “Any questions?”, he quickly followed it with, “Any accent issues?” More laughter.
They spent the rest of the morning in the studio before taking a lunch break, then came back for another 2½ hours in the afternoon. Aguilar and another second-year student in the program, Maddison Harris, agreed that the studio made working with Rend Collective much easier than the last time, when the recording session was in a small room elsewhere on campus, and having Worship Arts students audition to cut the group to around 30 (split about 50-50 male/female) also helped.
“It was a lot different, based on the fact that we have a recording studio now,” Harris said. “Everything was more organized. It was a quicker process, and it being a smaller group, we got to know Gareth and Patrick and Chris more. It was a more intimate setting. It was more fun. But last year was so much fun, too, because it was our first experience.”
Aguilar said, “It was really fun. The level of talent has increased exponentially. It’s really good. I think everybody knew what was going to happen this time around, and I think we fell into what we needed to do more quickly. And the studio makes everything so much easier.”
Important gathering place
The studio quickly became what it was designed to be — the hub of the Worship Arts program — when it opened in late September. Eric Johnson, who came to the University last summer to be the studio’s manager, has watched with appreciation as the students have turned this into a year even more memorable than the program’s impressive start in 2014-15.
“It sometimes feels like a dorm room at night, but they are very good about keeping the culture and about respecting the facility,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a culture up here that says this is not your average classroom. It’s not a club, it’s not a hangout. This is a facility for nurturing musical growth, and that’s exactly what happens.”
Johnson said two student bands already have sprung up out of the program this year, and Llewellyn, for one, can see why it’s going so well.
“GCU is the only program that we know of that really does a good job chasing after this thing, which is training people in worship leading — not simply the creation of music but actually focusing hearts toward Jesus and learning how to prompt others to do the same thing,” he said.
From recording to performance
They finished the last of eight songs around 4 p.m., closed just as they had opened — with a prayer — and then let out a big whoop for what essentially was an all-day celebration. The fact that Rend Collective’s concert at Gila River Arena in Glendale was to start in less than three hours made it all the more amazing that the band was on campus, and for this long.
“It’s a real testament to them. They have a show tonight,” said Josh Wathen, who got to do the Rend blend for the first time. “It’s a real pleasure to get to work with the professionals and get a look at the artistry side of things. It was a long day but definitely worth it.”
Llewellyn’s assessment of the students’ ability and work ethic was equally positive.
“These guys crushed it,” he said. “What we love about it is that worship leading is so much of the time seen as almost like a glamorous role in the church, but that’s not really what it is. It’s a service role. It’s washing feet, and effectively these guys today have washed our feet by serving the project that God has given us to do, and hopefully they’ll be blessed for that as they blessed us.
“We’ve got some servant-hearted kids who are very talented. That’s a great combination.”
It seems indicative of the kind of thing that seems to happen daily on the fourth floor of Building 57, on Camelback Road in the southeast corner of campus.
“You never know what’s going to happen in here,” Harris said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Like Rend Collective might show up?
“Yeah. There you go!”
And if the members of Rend Collective are talking, these students are listening. The accent is great, but even more important is that they’re all speaking the same language — the language of faith.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.