We sat down to talk to Jonathan Ogden, Dave Hailes, and Nathan Stirling of the indie worship project Rivers & Robots about the heart of the band, worship, and missions.
Jonathan shares how it all started with a desire to be creative in worship music. Though he loved corporate worship (Matt Redman is listed as one of his influences), there was still a craving to look beyond the norm. “I remember seeing loads of bands and the creativity of some of the stuff they were doing was just amazing,” he remembers, “and then I was looking at worship music at the same time. Why can’t this be as great as the stuff I’m seeing here?” As Jonathan felt the Lord calling him to start worshipping, he decided to experiment on his laptop with electronic sound and textures not frequented in the church. Although his style has evolved, he still holds innovation in worship music in high regard with the most recent offering, the electronically imaginative The Eternal Son.
He speaks of his writing process: Songwriters are essentially teachers, and teachers are always communicating something they’ve learned. In his case, it’s attributes of Jesus as found in the Scripture. A worship leader at the house of prayer in Manchester, Jonathan values Worship with the Word sets, where leaders will musically muse and ponder passages of the Bible. Nathan adds that at the heart of the band is an unwavering, undivided focus on who God is.
God is not just the focus of their music, he seems to be in charge of the direction the band takes. A pivotal moment in the band’s story is when God showed Jonathan a picture of a boat sailing away from the shore, soon to be joined by other boats. Jonathan knew that Rivers & Robots was just one part of a worship movement of creatives seeking to make Jesus known. Though the band had an opportunity to join a label and have the generic form of success most musicians seek, they decided to turn it down to head in a different direction. Jonathan explains, “I felt like God was calling us to something else, something probably more scary and not necessarily known before. We started this ministry called Set Sail which was basically a platform to get us started as missionaries rather than selling loads of albums and making money that way”. Since 2015, the group has used money from Rivers & Robots’ royalties, gig fees, and album sales to fund worship nights, recording projects and missions trips.
Part of Set Sail is a ministry called Gather, a growing community of worshippers who take their worship to the bars and pubs of Manchester. Meeting at a different venue each month, Rivers & Robots has hosted bands such as United Pursuit and Kings Kaleidoscope, and taken worship beyond the walls of the church. Dave remarks, “What we’re doing is actually quite evangelistic, and people are going to get saved. Because it’s worship, it doesn’t mean that it’s just for the church, but it’s actually for the people who need to know Jesus as well.”
Their heart for missions goes beyond their city limits. Through their connections to missionaries in the Philippines, the band made a trip to minister to people in local churches, schools and prisons.
Dave elaborates, explaining that many children have to live in the same prison that their parents do because there is no one outside to take care of them. As part of their time there, the band had opportunities to lead worship for the weekly church gatherings within the prison. They recall the unique style of worship in the prisons, “they all sounded like Led Zeppelin because they came from clubs where they played that sort of thing. These guys got saved in prison, so they’d never heard worship music before.”
We were starting to see a theme in Rivers & Robots’ stories. Like the worship sets from inside a prison in the Philippines, Jonathan’s worship style doesn’t conform to the general public’s idea of what worship should sound like. His heart is to see worship invade every stream of creative expression, and for him that sounds like ethereal vocals layered over syncopated acoustic guitar rhythms and an electronic drum beat. His creative process reflects the pioneering heart that the band carries, one that discovers where it is going as it seeks something greater. Like it was prophesied over them multiple times last year, the next step in the process is seeing the other boats come around and sail with them, and we are excited to be part of that process.
Buy Rivers & Robots new album, “The Eternal Son” here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-eternal-son/id1109183004
For more information on the band, their ministries, and missions trips click the following links below:
Set Sail: http://www.timetosetsail.com/
Rivers & Robots: http://riversandrobots.com/