I grew up with a heavy dose of Sandi Patty, Michael W Smith (Smitty) and Steven Curtis Chapman. While I still love a good Ol fashion “Go West Young Man” or “Friends are Friends Forever,” if I’m honest, I haven’t listened to “Christian” music for well over a decade. For that matter, I’m still not sure how a noun like “Christian” can be used as an adjective to describe the salvific quality of a collective of voices and instruments, but that’s a whole other conversation completely…
I didn’t intentionally stop listening to Christian music because I had some axe to grind, I just found that it no longer spoke to the Christian story I experienced: a story of doubt despite having all the “answers,” hope in the midst of crisis and suffering in the way of the cross.
The Collection is not only my favorite band of 2014-15, but they are needed water on the dry soil of millennials’ interest in any music remotely “Christian.” Not only is their music creative and of high quality (think Mumford & Sons meets Lumineers), their lyrics cast a Kingdom vision in some of the most compelling and stirring ways I have encountered.
I would argue that they aren’t getting popular because they are “cool,” but because the depth of their music is offering something that goes way beyond cynicism and critique of traditional forms of Christianity and instead offers a robust and constructive way forward.
I spent some time with these good folks a few months back, long after I had become a fan. Here is an interview I recently did with the lead singer and songwriter, David Wimbish.
1. How would you describe your music? Who were major influences?
I like to think of our music as a shy rock kid befriending some band geeks and tripping into an orchestra pit. I’ve heard people say “Orchestral Folk” frequently. My favorite is probably “Big Band Americana”, though it might not be the most accurate. I remember reading an interview with Sufjan Stevens where he talks about how brass instruments can be just as “heavy” as electric guitars. Growing up in a missionary community, I was exposed to a lot of music around the world, and learned that concept through osmosis. I think a lot of the music that influenced me was music that had the same emotions as American music, but with different textures. Many times this was Balkan Brass, Traditional Ghanian, Chinese Folk, Mariachi, etc. Now it has grown to all sorts of things -- Big Band, Classical, Folk, Psych Rock, etc.
2. Would you consider yourself a “Christian” band? Why or why not?
I don’t think it’s healthy, most of the time, for a band to identify that way, because I think it can perpetuate the idea that there’s a gap between a thing that is specifically “sanctified” and the normal world. If people believe that a god created the earth, I would hope very much that they would dwell within his creation, and that includes music, whether it is played by christians or not. That being said, some of our band members identify as christians, and some don’t. It definitely started more in that camp, and I think, in the American south especially, it can be hard to not at least have some connection with the ideas behind christianity as it has such cultural prevalence in this area of the world. Within our band dynamic, we try to promote a space for spiritual seeking, for loving others, and for acceptance, whether it be through christianity or not.
3. In your music, you confront some heavy themes like the death of a close friend. How does your music serve as both an expression of lament and a hope for what has come and is coming?
One of the first shows I played, when I was 13 or 14, I remember my Mum afterwards telling me, “You were very good, you have a lot of potential, but all of your songs were so sad.” I know that’s a bit of a Mum thing to say, and I didn’t have much to be deeply sad about at that time, but I realized it was an easy way to write -- songs come out of our deepest emotions and the most common and universally felt emotion is pain, I think. So I’ve been trying to find a better balance in showing my honest process in wrestling with difficult experiences, without putting a bow on them, and still writing honest songs during hopeful times. I haven’t found it yet -- many newer songs have leaned a bit on the darker side I think than ones from the past. To me, though, what is important is honesty. I think people can hear when you’re lying in a song. Not lyrically, but emotionally. We identify with honesty. And for me, especially while writing Ars Moriendi, I felt really hurt, but I also felt hopeful, and was trying hard to capture both of those.
4. A few of your songs confront experiences of toxic legalism in the Church. Rather than coming off cynical, you paint constructive and beautiful pictures of the hope found in Jesus and the reality of the Kingdom. What has been your personal journey that has led to this point?
Thank you; I’m glad to know I don’t come off as cynical. It’s something I’ve talked with our bassist about a ton, “keep me in check if my lyrics start sounding cynical.” When I was younger, my Mum was the music leader at a church. She helped grow it in so many ways, and it became a beautiful place. At one point though, she was forced out, seemingly because she wasn’t mega-churchy enough. I spent ten years of my life being a part of that community, only to lose trust in people I had leaned on. Does that mean I wasted those ten years, that they didn’t mean anything? The truth is, there isn’t a human soul that has figured out perfect peace and harmony and love with other people all of the time. So any place there are groups of humans, there will always be some sort of toxic practice or thought, it is just part of being human. But, those ten years are part of what made me who I am, just like every hard experience I’ve had. There have been many times in my life that reading the words of Jesus gave me hope that seemed to transcend the bad experiences, and give me vernacular to understand the good parts.
5. So your band has about 87 members. Tell us why and share a bit of your hopes/plans for the future.
Ha -- we may have had close to that many in and out over the years. When I started writing “the Collection” songs, it was a bit of a solo project that selfishly came out of wanting to have a band without losing any creative freedom. I’m lucky to have had so many people be committed to my songs and the vision, even before I had a good way to be committed to them as members. If I met someone that played an instrument we didn’t have, and they seemed like a cool person, I’d invite them to come play with us. We weren’t touring much, so there wasn’t much of a commitment necessary from anyone. It’s grown into more of an actual band, which I am very grateful for because it has allowed more musical and relational intimacy than I was able to have in the past, but it still centers around us being a big family. This past tour we did with 7 members, while past tours have all been with 12, and it felt very small; we kept getting in the van and asking, “Wait, who are we missing?”, though I reckon 7 people is still a pretty big band.
We love being on the road, so I think a lot of our future plans are centered around how to do that as much as possible. We’re also working on getting our album release on Vinyl, Cassette, and putting out a documentary. Maybe some new music this year? Only time will tell -- we don’t always know where to move, but we just keep moving.
NOTE: Their latest album, Ars Moriendi, is off the charts good and where I recommend starting. They are also on Spotify.