United Pursuit Band – Radiance

United Pursuit Band

Radiance [2009]

United Pursuit

www.unitedpursuit.com

Producing music out of their home studio on Bank Street in Knoxville, TN, the United Pursuit Band was birthed out of a common desire to seek God and enjoy expressing worship to him through music. More of a collective than a band with a set lineup of musicians, the United Pursuit Band has a large number of members whose involvement is fluid.

The concept behind Radiance is creative and unusual; different members of the band take turns leading and directing particular songs, so the album is highly textured. Each track is stylistically distinct whilst they share commonalities in terms of theme, tone, and instrumentation.

The opening track `Even Now` begins hushed and almost forlorn, before a surreptitious swell, metamorphosing into a truly rocking chorus filled with anthemic lyrics of passionate surrender inspired by God`s goodness.

The message of this album is what unites it. The title says it all: pursuit. Rather, it is a double pursuit; God pursuing us and us pursuing God. Joy and honesty characterize this album. Whether it is in the delicately plucked strings of `Waterfall` or the driving rhythms of `Fill Me Up`, the fact that these kids believe what they`re crying out is tangible.

Amber Brooks – Album Interview

Amber Brooks

Still I Rise [MorningStar Music]

www.myspace.com/ambernbrooks

Amber’s debut album, Still I Rise, is passionate, beautiful, and a cry of the heart for one and for many. One will find a love story in the lyrics; a love story about the pursuit of God, knowing not only that He will not disappoint, but that he has already been pursuing us.

The album’s sound is intense and beautiful. The lyrics communicate an experience with God’s overpowering love. The music boasts a rich diversity of sounds and styles. Piano, guitar and percussion are the staples of this album but Amber’s soaring voice is paired with much creatively textured instrumentation. Listeners of John Mark McMillan, Mute Math, and Misty Edwards may enjoy some of the musical similarities.

Loud driving moments feature the wailing guitars and crashing cymbals that accompany the chorus of “Like You Promised”, the growing wall of sound that comes in like a tidal wave in “Branded”, and anthemic album closer “Heavenly Places”. Tight discordant harmonies segue into richer resolved ones as they accompany a farewell to unfulfilment in “To Whom It May Concern”. Intricate rhythm patterns fill “Hallelujah, Still I Rise” and “Vagabonds”.

Out of Amber’s aim to put words to the experience of God’s consuming love come lines like, “I don’t have all the right words to say / to provoke you to want me / any more than you already do” (“Like You Promised”) and “why are you begging him for mercy / when you could be rejoicing? / The love of a Father has brought you home” (Why Are You Weeping”). God is near, she reminds us, and his heart towards us does not grow cold because what we do or do not do. His heart is always set towards relationship and reunion.

I had the very special opportunity of interviewing Amber about this unique and powerful album:

Craig Ketchum: As I listen to the album, I’m hearing echoes of many different artists and styles. Tell me about some of the influences you have had in songwriting.

Amber Brooks: I grew up on a lot of different genres of music, from rock, to rap, to gospel, to classical. The list goes on. I love style and diversity. Anything from Radiohead to Ella Fitzgerald, you can hear glimpses of them and everything between somewhere on the album as far as sound is concerned. Lyrically, I’m wanting to learn how to say things the way they’ve never been said…but still make sense. I’m trying to learn to communicate things that make people think. Sometimes, we sing and say groups of words that roll off our tongues very quickly because we’re used to saying certain things a certain way. I want words to get their meat back. That’s a learning process for me, I’m getting there slowly. Philosophically and thematically, I was expressing my heart towards God and understanding His heart towards His kids. I might not always get it right, but like I said, I’m learning.

I hear the incorporation of different genres too. There’s some really gritty southern rock flowing through the album, but it’s interpolated with contemplative piano, folksy and country vibes, and such.

I went into making the album knowing that I wanted a lot of diversity, and I knew I would get it with who all played on the album. I always like to hear what people bring to the table based out of their own creative ability.

Did you open up your compositions to their creative play?

The producer, Elijah Mosely, and I just wanted to let the creative musician be themselves and interpret the sound the way they felt it. 9 times out of 10 it was absolutely incredible and added more personality to the song. It was honest and raw, which is the way music is supposed to sound.

Describe the preparation, rehearsal and recording process behind this, your debut album.

It all started with me sitting down with Elijah for a few days just hashing out my influences and getting acoustic cuts of each song. We basically treated it like a science project from there. Throwing away some sections of songs and moving things around; writing lines that make you think and so forth. The songs were already breathing but a lot of the album arrangements were built organically. The recording process was meticulous, which I appreciate in the long run. We would literally spend hours on sections of a song that ended up lasting 30 seconds or less. I had been in a studio before doing backing vocals for other artists, but I never realized how complex making a studio album could be.

What instruments do you play and what do you like about each? What do you compose on?

I play piano and acoustic guitar. I pretend to know how to play other things but those are my main instruments. I mainly compose on guitar, I’ve been playing guitar for about 6 years and I’ve never had lessons. I just play out what I hear in my head. I enjoy playing piano much more. It’s my “happy place”. I could get lost sitting at a piano for hours just making up little things and learning classical songs by ear.  I remember being 2 years old and beating on a piano and screaming at the top of my little lungs having the time of my life. Nothing has changed really.

The album is a really interesting collection, renditions of hymns, parables…could you speak to its themes and content?

Essentially, the album is a compound of 2 years of my life. 2 years of living is a lot of experiences that can seem to last a while. Out of those experiences came a song. The songs weren’t meant to be thematic in nature, it’s just where I was in my walk with the Lord at the time.

What have been some of the most significant teachings or revelations that have shaped you as a worship leader (and thus shaped this album)?

Amber: I think the most amazing thing that was taught to me as an artist was “write like yourself, sound like yourself, create like yourself and don’t be afraid to be honest about it” When we start to walk in the slightest glimpse of who God created us to be, that in itself is worship. It’s not just the 3 or 4 songs we might sing on Sunday morning before the offering is taken up. What I do when I lead worship (as it is with every worshipper) is a direct result of my relationship with the Lord. It’s honest, it’s raw, it’s vulnerable, it’s beautifully terrifying, it can be wild; but that’s what Love does to people. We are individuals for a purpose. We all interpret things differently, and that’s okay. God loves diversity; if He didn’t, we’d all be robots.

What do you hope this album brings to its listeners?

The title itself hopefully encapsulated the mood of the album. It’s about the overcomer. Overcoming fear, heartache, disappointment, false responsibilities, loss, fear of failure, thru knowing God’s heart for His children, not only as a whole but individually. The attitude of “circumstances won’t shut my voice down from loving  the Lord”. My hope for the album the whole time was and is intended to bring hope itself. Encouraging people that life is going to be life and sometimes it’s not fair and sometimes we won’t understand everything; but God’s love is bigger than our understanding. His love is bigger than any circumstances and the whole time we are walking out our relationship with the Lord and learning how to love more, He is cheering us on the whole way, even when we mess up…no…especially when we mess up.

What do the words “worship” and “worship arts” mean to you?

Worship is a loaded word in my opinion. It’s complete adoration to something that you put your faith, hope and trust in. It’s not just an outward expression; it’s a posture of your heart, mind and emotions towards a God that we don’t always understand. Worship is loving and trusting God when it’s hard to. Worship is believing and honoring God when it feels hard. Worship is adoration. Like I said before, it’s not always music and it’s not an experience in a moment. It all boils down to recklessly messy love for God in who He is. Worship Arts is individual expressions of that.

You are a graduate of MorningStar University. What has it opened you up to?

MorningStar was literally life changing. It taught me how to search the deep things of God out for myself in a safe place and encourage me to step out into giftings and experiences that I never thought I would have. Worship leading is a prime example of that. Since I was 13 years old, I was always a back up singer. When I came to MorningStar, I decided I’d audition for back up singing, since that was what I always did; and Leonard Jones (the worship leader) saw potential in me, and encouraged me to dive a little deeper in writing and music. And I’ve continued to grow ever since. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me, an album being one of them as well as ministry trips and being on GodTV. I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to share my heart towards God with the masses. It’s very humbling.

 

What Is Worship?

“In the company of Jesus, there are no experts; only beginners”, Jason Upton sings on a live recording of ‘Between the Graveyard and the Garden’ from his new album On The Rim Of The Visible World. This attitude is one of a humble heart – a soft heart that admits that God is God, and that I do not have everything together. It is a posture of worship.

In contrast, the church finds itself pressured into ‘professionalism’ in ministry and in worship. Professionalism is not a bad trait, but in the church setting, it can spring from roots of what the Bible calls the ‘fear of man’. “In a nutshell, the fear of man can either be a fear of what others think of us or will do to us, or a craving for approval and a fear of rejection”, writes Carolyn McCulley in her articleWhom Do You Fear?

Worship is not quite understood in some common contemporary interpretations. When a congregation is rehearsed into standing to face a particular spot in their building, they can be tempted to devote their attention to practiced musicians onstage and a bright PowerPoint overhead. To an alien, might it look as though the congregation was worshipping their own church?

I had a dream recently that I was in a church and the pastor stood up and announced that it was time to worship. At that moment, the ushers flung the doors open and the congregation poured out into the streets to minister to the homeless in downtown Vancouver. That would be beautiful worship to the Lord.

What is worship? Is it even best represented by music? (I say this as a worshipping musician.) If I allow myself to cling too tightly to a closed definition of what worship is or what it is not, I run the risk of making myself an ‘expert’ on a matter that belongs to God. In fact, arguments and judgments over what ‘styles of worship’ are suitable or unsuitable can divide a church. Might I suggest that there is no particular style of worship at all? Instead, a worshipper exhibits an authentic lifestyle that seeks to please God.

The Lord says this of some: “These people come near to me with their mouths and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13, NIV). What of those rules can we recognize in our own life or in our own community? The judgments we make about our worship, or worse, the worship of others, are a dangerous pitfall. That judgment could stem from different roots, but God’s response is the same: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (Romans 14:4, NIV).

Seemingly, God created worship with an “outside the box” approach in mind. Besides singing, dancing, or playing music to God, how else is worship expressed? Surely I worship God when I sit back and recognize his power. He longs for us to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) When I humble myself before God and recognize what little I have without him, I honour his wisdom, supremacy, provision, and power!

Worship, too, is trusting God. By trusting his word, I declare that I know him and I know who I am in his kingdom. After learning that his sons, daughters, livestock, and servants have all been brutally killed, the Old Testament prophet Job tore his robe and shaved his head, then fell to the ground in worship. After this, he declared, “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:20, NIV).

Worship is closely related to our attitude, perspective, and actions. God declares that he detests hypocritical praise, saying, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me! When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you. Wash your hands and stop doing wrong. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:13-17, NIV).

Worship is in the practice of reconciliation; 2 Corinthians 5 expresses that we have been given a “ministry of reconciliation”. God loves reconciliation more than the offerings of our mouths.

Worship is a posture we assume before God. “Worship is the only possible response that we can have when we see Jesus for what he truly is,” muses Mark Watt, worship co-ordinator at Tenth Avenue Church in Kitsilano, Vancouver. “After we`ve realised the sheer vastness of everything God has done for us, and how he views us, our only response can be utter awe. After Jesus` resurrection, when he appeared in the room to visit his disciples, I`ll bet that some would have started weeping uncontrollably, and some laughing incredulously. Some were probably whimpering in utter amazement. When you are overwhelmed by Jesus, there`s just a gut response. We know they fell and clasped his feet in worship”.

Deep reflection and prayer for self-awareness may be required to overcome the “rules” we and those around us have constructed around worship. However, once we have realize that worship has little to do with form and everything to do with content (the heart), we`ll become more open to it not always looking as tidy as we once wanted and we`ll worship God the way he wants.