Call it what you will. Call it old school rock & roll meets 80’s prom music haunted by the ghost of Pink Floyd. Or call it a time-warped, telescoped sampling of the history of rock n’ roll. For INO/Vertical/Epic recording artists the Rock ‘N’ Roll Worship Circus, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. It’s not about a brand name anyway. It’s about a passion.
When the Worship Circus’ indie debut was picked up in 2000 by Vertical Records, it sparked a chain of events that took them out of their comfort zone as worship leaders in the Northwest and pushed them into three years of frenzied cross-country traveling, playing a lot of unexpected venues. The release of their new CD, A Beautiful Glow, reveals them now as a band that has matured, adapted and thrived in the midst of that flux. Their identity, musically and spiritually, has deepened along the same lines they laid out in their debut. It’s fair to say that A Beautiful Glow shows that the Worship Circus is the same band they always were, only more so.
“When you strip all the music business part of it away,” says Gabriel Wilson, the band’s lead singer and one of two guitarists, “it’s really all about God and us anyway. From the beginning, the Worship Circus has been about reaching the heart of God by the expression of our hearts in worship. We live for those moments when everything around us just falls away and we know we’re singing directly to God. But our calling isn’t just to go there ourselves, it’s to bring other people there with us.”
Infusing their latest project with “the intensity of rock n’ roll and the atmosphere of praise,” the Worship Circus has succeeded in creating a work that is compelling, moving, joyful, expressive and somehow unselfconsciously “cool.” The songs on A Beautiful Glow sparkle and breathe with myriad influences and subtle experimentation but never lose their way. Musically, the Worship Circus always seems to get where they’re going, and they definitely enjoy the ride.
From the soaring modern retro worship of “All I Can Do” to the cheeky, Lou-Reedish “Gift of Cool” (based on actual events in their hometown), to the psychedelic, twelve-string guitar overload of “The Loveliest Bride” (featuring Sheryl Crow’s producer and co-writer Jeff Trott on sitar), the Worship Circus instinctively push their music toward expanding the parameters of what is considered “congregational worship.”
The project’s first single, the title cut “A Beautiful Glow,” sounds like what might have happened if John Hughes had ever invited The Cult’s Ian Asbury to front the soundtrack for one of his 1980’s teen movies. With powerful, plaintive vocals laid over a track that’s all pogo bounce and energy, “A Beautiful Glow” earns you “cool points” just for listening to it.
“‘A Beautiful Glow’ is a prayer to God to open us up so that the light of Christ is seen in us,” Gabriel explains. “It’s really the center of the record. When we sing the words ‘All I have is all I am in You,’ it sums up everything we’re about. That’s what we want as a band, that’s what we want for this record, that’s what we want for our hearts, our lives, everything. One of the reasons we wrote ‘A Beautiful Glow’ was to keep us focused and on track through the rest of the recording process.”
One of the project’s most unexpected and memorable moments comes by way of the dreamy and beautifully understated third cut, “The Blessed Tune.” Inspired lyrically by the paradoxical power of Christ’s words in The Beatitudes, “The Blessed Tune” exudes a peaceful strength that is rooted in the firm confidence that the words sung are indeed eternal and true.
“I’m not like this with any of our other songs,” says Worship Circus keyboardist (and Gabriel’s wife) Blurr. “‘The Blessed Tune’ is a song I can listen to over and over and over and just lose myself in. It‘s like it has its own existence apart from us. It’s one of those songs that we just have to see as a gift that we were blessed to be a part of.”
During their ten years of playing together as worship leaders, Gabriel, Blurr and drummer Zurn Praxair developed an alchemist’s approach to songwriting, experimenting with three decades worth of influences and learning to instinctively draw off of one another’s strengths. With the more recent addition of guitarist Eric Lemiere, nicknamed “The E,” into the band, that chemistry has become even more dynamic. And yet, it has also become a means by which the members of Worship Circus have seen people drawn together across a wide demographic gulf.
“I can’t say exactly what it is,” says Zurn, “but it seems that God has used our music to break down dividing walls between people groups.”
Blurr adds, “One of the coolest things I get to experience on a regular basis is when a parent walks up with their kid after a show and says, ‘This is the first time we’ve been able to worship side by side and both really get something out of it.’ Our favorite nights are those when we can look out into a crowd and see a 4-year old, a 14-year old, a 40-year old and a grandma all worshiping the Lord together. It’s like a tiny picture of heaven where we’re all the same, all equal, all united in worship.”
While the Worship Circus maintains their unapologetic worship focus on A Beautiful Glow, they still can’t help but express continuing surprise at the sort of venues in which they’re being invited to lead worship.
“I can sympathize with the Apostle Paul sometimes,” Gabriel says. “Paul really wanted to get back to Jerusalem to minister, but the Lord kept calling him to places where the church hadn’t even been established. In the same manner, as a band we grew up leading worship in the church, and for the longest time, we kept saying, ‘We wanna do this in the church. That’s our home base. That’s where we’ve always done it.’ Instead, we find ourselves in situations where kids have come to see a rock show, kids who have never connected to a worship band. So there we are, leading an evening of worship and prayer and evangelism that no one expected, and by the end of the evening, they’re worshiping with us.”
Gabriel concludes, “At some point we finally realized that whatever God is up to with this band, it’s a pretty cool thing. We’d better just go with it.”