Sorted’s editor Steve Legg caught up with Rend Collective frontman Gareth Gilkeson and asked him about the band, their new album and life on the road.
Gareth, thanks for joining us. Tell us about how the band was formed.
The band was formed actually, first of all in a community. We started in 2002 as a gathering called Rend, which I pastored, and Chris [Llewellyn] led worship at. It was very much focused on community, authenticity, just trying to create a space for people in their 20s and 30s, who we had noticed were leaving church and we wanted to have a place where they could experience God in a way that made sense to them. That’s where Rend came out of. We actually didn’t write any of our own songs for seven years, and then after about seven years we started writing our own stuff, which is kind of crazy but kind of fun to think that. Our focus was on the community and the kingdom of God before it was art. I think, in the Church, ministry and art need to go hand in hand and it’s been a real crazy ride we never imagined, actually. Touring the world, just being a worship band, leading everywhere. It feels so privileged, but it still blows your mind sometimes.
I’ve been speaking and performing at your church, Bangor Elim, for nearly 30 years. It’s an amazing place with incredible people. Have they been cheering you on from the beginning?
Yes, Bangor Elim is where Rend started, we were in the sports hall there. It’s amazing we go back every year and do a hometown gig at the church.
How much has their support and encouragement meant to you?
They’ve been right behind us. I think this year we did four nights in a row, but they’ve been so supportive and just a big part of what we do, so we love them.
What was the big break for you?
… You have to remember doors don’t open overnight. All of us have dreams in our hearts but it takes years. I remember praying and praying and praying and it was probably ten years before what I felt like God had put on my heart had actually come to fruition. Martin Smith of Delirious? heard our album, I mean I don’t know how, because I thought it was only our mums that had had heard it. He gave it to Chris Tomlin and Chris Tomlin invited us on a tour of the US and then Martin helped us with shows and leading worship in churches in the UK. That was really the moment for us, of breakthrough.
Travelling the world in a tour bus sounds pretty glamorous, but what is it really like?
Yeah, travelling the world in a tour bus sounds glamorous, but it’s not glamorous at all. I mean, you’ve got a lot of sweaty, smelly bodies in a small, tiny tin can. We also have three kids on the road, Chris has his little baby. … But its community, it’s probably like travelling gypsies, but it’s close quarters [and] there’s something about that that just moves you past being friendly to people and actually being family.
Talk us through a typical day on the road.
A typical day on the road is probably waking up at 6 a.m. with the kids, and the bus still driving at 70 miles an hour to get you to the next place. You get up and watch some kids’ TV shows and try and put some Rice Krispies into their mouths and then once we’ve done that we do have a lot of the day to prepare or to have family time. Because we have a team with us, our crew will go out and set things up, and they’re amazing. So, we’ll do some school with the kids or maybe we’ll go out to a coffee shop, or go play somewhere, maybe find a park, find a swimming pool. Then we’ll do interviews at the place, meet local church leaders and then play the concert. Then be very tired and come back and eat some junk food, and then go to sleep. That’s what a typical day is.
Gareth, you travel with your wife and children, and other band mates. How did band life change when kids came along?
Life on the road did change a lot when the kids came along, mostly because it used to be very simple, you could just do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, within the confines of touring, of course. I think it’s been healthy for the band to have kids because it makes you feel still connected with life rather than disconnected as this weird person living this weird lifestyle … It’s kind of unusual that you feel that you’re still having a normal life. It’s been difficult, certainly up three times in the night pacing the bus trying to put a baby back to bed. But the kids love it. They’re all very socially developed, because they’re with adults a lot, and, you know, it takes a village to raise a child and it’s amazing to see that on the road.
Are there home comforts you take with you to make the experience more pleasurable?
The home comforts that we like to take on the road, no matter where we are, you know, if we’re flying somewhere, or if we’re travelling on a bus, we have one of those hand-grinders so you can grind your own coffee beans and an aeropress so you can make your coffee anywhere you want. And we always have good old Northern Irish tea bags with us, and we sneak in some chocolate. You never know where you’re going to be, and you can’t really trust the chocolate!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson we’ve learned probably is that relationships are more important than music or anything, that if you haven’t got that right, there’s just no point in doing it. Conflict isn’t a bad thing, conflict, is healthy, if done with humility.
Tell us about your new album, Good News.
… We’re very excited about it. Basically, there’s so much bad news in the world right now, we felt we had to proclaim the good news of Jesus. Not to diminish the difficulties and struggles that we as a human race are going through right now, but to remind the world there is good news and that good news is Jesus. This is our favourite record we’ve ever made. We’ve written real deep hymns, we’ve written lamentations, because there’s never really any of those in our normal church service[s]. We wanted to proclaim the good news for those who are struggling, we’ve written upbeat songs, and we took two and half years and we really prayed and thought about this seriously. So, we’re excited.
TV, newspapers and the internet are full of bad news. How important is this message of good news to the world we’re living in?
The good news really is something that we need to proclaim. It’s important for the Church right now … with the media focusing on the bad news. It’s important for the Church, now more than ever, to proclaim the true gospel.
‘Gospel’ isn’t actually a religious word. Gospel just means ‘good news’ and we as a Church need to carry the gospel of Jesus
What’s your hope for the new project?
I really hope that this new project will be an encouragement to people through difficult times, it will be something that will just encourage the Church.
Is Belfast or Dublin still your favourite place to play?
I’m just going to say “Yes”, they are our favourite place to play. You know, we very much have a weird identity crisis being Northern Irish. Are we Irish? Are we British? Are we Northern Irish? I guess the answer is “Yes” to all three. We’re playing in Belfast in the biggest arena this May, and I cannot wait. It’s going to be the concert of our lives. We’ve already sold 5,000 tickets, I can’t believe the support of people at home. And then the next night we go down to Dublin and we’re playing in a club down there. I’m so excited to be able to play in both capitals – it means so much to us.
Thanks for your time. What are you most looking forward to this year?
What we’re really looking forward to is this whole Good News Tour. We’re going to do 45 dates in the US, we’re doing over 20 dates in the UK and Northern Ireland, we’re playing in London in Shepherd’s Bush, we’re doing the Big Church Night In, then later on this year we’ll be going to Europe, and I think that’s just real exciting too. We’ll be going to Germany and Holland and lots of different countries in Eastern Europe. It’s going to be a blast. We’re just so privileged [in] what God has put on our hearts and what he has done with us. Really this is such an important time for the Church to be proclaiming good news and we’re excited to be a part of that, and we thank you for supporting us.