Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus
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Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus lyrics)
Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus Biography
Worship Circus keysman Josiah Sherman sits at an archaic synth contraption, a wooden panel spotted with buttons, knobs, needle meters and keys. He holds a few notes with one hand and uses the other to tweak the dials and levers to generate an ominous electronic squeal and rumbling bass. "That sounds like something from Scooby-Doo," the recording engineer comments while listening to Josiah's handiwork. "Everything Josiah does is somehow rooted in television from the '70s." A boyish smile cuts through Josiah's whiskered face ...
Heads tilt and ears strain to decipher the muffled transmission leaking through Gabriel's effects pedal as the final chord of "Dead Man" lingers in the air. Talk radio? Airport announcement? Commercial? The voice isn't supposed to be there, but somehow the woman has permeated the studio walls to make her presence known. "The E" paces the control room with his hands clasped atop his head, listening. He flops his hands to his side then clenches his fist, "What is God saying to us?" . . .
Just outside the recording studio, Gabriel sits on a large rock underneath a towering tree with his Bible and a notebook. Lyrics aren't finalized, and he's deep in thought. Gabriel glances heavenward, listening ...
Over three days in May, The Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus entered Supernatural Studio in Oregon City, Oregon, to record the first batch of new songs birthed by a new line-up: Gabriel Wilson (vocals, guitar), Solo Greely (guitars, vocal), Eric "The E" Lemiere (drums, vocals, guitars), and Josiah Sherman (piano, synths, keys, vocals). The result, The Listening e.p., is a five-song collection of dark, powerful songs that brings the band back to their indie rocker roots and showcases the new soul of The Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus.
"It's a completely different band," Gabriel admits, "and, at times, quite honestly, so different, it's difficult to call it the Worship Circus, because it doesn't feel the same at all. The Listening is the first set of songs we wrote that really didn't have to do with a Vertical worship experience. We've always had songs like that, like 'Ride' (off Welcome to the Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus), which are talking to people and encouraging them. This Listening is actually more heartfelt-like the Lord had deposited these lyrics that were largely directed toward people's hearts, almost like these were songs from the Lord to people. That's why we called it The Listening; it was time for people to actually listen to the Lord."
"It's kind of like the Bible," The E adds. "There are the Psalms which are really praise-oriented, but there are also instructional passages with words directed to people."
There is a pronouncedly darker tone enveloping the new Circus music. Though brushstrokes of shadowy brilliance are nothing new for the band (consider "Scary Drifter" off A Beautiful Glow, or "I Will Wait" from the indie masterpiece Big Star Logistics), some longtime fans might be confounded by the lack of shiny, happy sing-along tunes included on past releases.
"We really like dark music," Solo admits.
"If we had our way, we'd only play really dark, ambient songs and not really go into 'The Blood of Jesus' and 'The Party Song,'" Gabriel confesses. "We're not really as moved by that stuff as we are 'The Undiscovered' and 'Untitled.' But we can't really do that in Christian circles, because it would go over people's heads." Gabriel is quick to explain, however, that the absence of brighter, corporate worship tunes doesn't mean there's no "Worship" left in the Worship Circus.
"We're still very much a worship band," he says. "Being a worship band isn't about leading congregational songs. For us it never has been. We have had more congregational songs in the past and still pull them out in live settings. But being a worship band for us simply means pointing people to Christ-to make people aware that the presence of God is here. They can pray to the Lord; they can feel Him-He invades their conscience. It's more about leading prayer and communication with God and less about leading songs. It's our job as musicians to go out and do what the Lord has called us to do-play the music that we know He's given us to play, music that we really believe moves His heart and touches Him."
The Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus' aim has always been to touch God's heart. When Gabriel assembled a worship team for the 1998 Tom Festival in Stevenson, Washington (captured on the rare disc Live at Tomfest), he gathered musicians from his home church, Evangel Christian Fellowship, in Longview, Washington, including members of the local band Underground 30-Solo, Josiah, and guitarist Bobby Love (formerly of Tremolo Cowboys), along with longtime worship partners Blurr (Gabriel's wife) and drummer Zurn, among others.
"We were seriously, like, the fringe folks from the church circle of Longview. We were the weirdoes," Gabriel says.
After a musical mission trip to Africa in 1999 (a journey the young Bobby and Josiah could not make), Gabriel knew the Lord had called the band to hit the road.
"We didn't have a van, we didn't have anything. We had to pare down to just the four members who could tour," Gabriel recalls. "Bobby and Josiah had to finish high school. (Solo's parents pulled him out of school so he could pursue the Worship Circus ministry.) It was very sad, very hard, but we had to do it. A month later, a van was donated, and we recorded Big Star Logistics three months after that."
Once critics and fans caught the swelling wave of high worship generated by Big Star, things began to happen quickly for the Circus. They signed a record deal with Vertical Music, and soon extensive tour plans followed. Around the same time, Solo fell in love and got married. He and his new bride received the exciting but surprising news that they were expecting a "honeymoon baby." With new family commitments, Solo didn't feel he could dedicate himself to life on the road. The band called in friend Eric Lemiere to fill in for Solo on guitar for the Beautiful Glow tour, which was the Circus' first headlining tour.
"We didn't know if Solo was coming back, and it was a really scare time," Gabriel says. "Solo's like my little brother."
During his year away from touring, Solo became a student of the recording studio, learning as much as he could about engineering and taking on producing jobs for independent artists.
The draining schedule of the Beautiful Glow tour pushed both Blurr and Zurn to long for home and family. When the band returned to Longview from a short European excursion in December 2003, the two called it quits, which left Gabriel in a quandary. The future of the Worship Circus was clouded by cumulative fatigue.
"We'd been gone for two whole years! I felt like I lost two years of my life toward the ministry," Gabriel admits. "I'd even gotten tired of us, and even gotten tired of seeing magazine ads for us. I needed a break. I was going, 'Lord, I need vision. I need you to renew my vision.' And the Lord said, 'If you don't know where you've gone, then go back to where you started.' That was a really pointed word spoken directly to my heart."
Gabriel plugged back into his church, reunited with friends, and started producing again with his fellow Glitter Twin, Solo. He also began brainstorming which musicians from the Longview pool would work well for a new line-up of the Worship Circus. Eric, who had filled in on guitar for the Beautiful Glow tour and had played some keys for other shows, was willing, but with Solo back in the band there wasn't a need for a third guitar on stage. Still, The E had another musical card he was holding close to his chest.
"None of us even knew that Eric played drums!" Gabriel laughs.
Josiah also came back on board, since Gabriel and Solo were already familiar with his amazing piano abilities.
"Josiah worked with [The Glitter Twins] on a bunch of projects (Jason Harwell's Alive in the Fall, Greg Sanders' Frequency Worship). He's had 11 years of classical piano training," Gabriel says. "Josiah's the kind of guy who will stay up all night just writing songs. That's how 'Untitled,' 'Like I Do,' and 'The Way That Love is Made' got started. We'd hear this sequence of something Josiah started, and we'd do something with it: change the tempo, change some of the keyboard lines to guitar lines, change the drum grooves. It was really effortless."
The new line-up has done more than just fill the gaps left by previous players. Gabriel says the band has had a rebirth.
"Josiah has sort of infused us with brand new life," he comments. "For me, I've been doing this the longest, I've started looking at this through new eyes ... like, 'This has to be a trip for Josiah!' is what I've started to think. Here we are standing in front of 1,000 people, playing with Delirious? and it's our first real show. This has to be amazing. He's never seen these states before. ..."
"Flying for the first time," Josiah adds.
The new line-up instantly clicked with Delirious? when they shared the stage for some dates in the spring of 2004. For the young men of The Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus, forming a friendship with the biggest Christian band in Europe is unreal.
"I grew up listening to them and playing their songs in church," The E says. "It's pretty crazy that they are now our friends."
"It's also a huge stamp of approval from a Christian community that's always had a tough time figuring out what it is we do," Gabriel states. "From the worship community we'd hear, 'Are they a worship band?' And from the rock and roll community, 'Are they a rock band?' Working so closely with Delirious? is a big stamp of credibility."
The Circus will be joining Delirious? on that band's largest European tour ever this fall.
The Worship Circus has also fully embraced their indie status and are currently unsigned. The band has entered into a licensing agreement with the Furious? Label for European distribution of their music. The Circus is also planning to step into the studio again when time allows.
"We'll definitely be recording a lot more, prepping for a Listening full-length album," Gabriel says. "We also have a real desire to do a live worship record and DVD. We're trying to figure out how to pull it off. We want to do it in Longview, and we want it to be really congregational." He notes that while many embrace the Circus' recordings, worship leaders sometimes shy away from trying the songs live because of the elaborate production used on the albums. "We want to show people that four musicians can pull it off live."