Interview with The Many

2019-11-25T19:59:38+00:00

When I was side-hustling as an Uber driver in Chicago, one of my favorite landmark’s to pass was the historic LaSalle Street Church, mainly because they have a large banner draped on the building that says “Of course we welcome refugees – we’re Christians.”  This is the place where The Many formed as a band, and they carry the same intentionality of diversity, inclusion, and justice in their music. Yet, The Many hopes their songs allow you (and maybe even your church) to sing along with these hope-filled anthems.  Their new album Love > Fear (such a great album title) is now available on Spotify and all music platforms.  We had the chance to talk with the band’s founders Gary & Lenora Rand, plus the three principle singers Leslie Michele, Darren Calhoun, & Hannah Rand, about the making of their new album.

UTR:  How did The Many form as a band?

Lenora:  Gary (my husband) and I started talking by how there was all this stuff going on in the world – injustice, exclusion, racism, violence, fear, hatred, loneliness – and yet we found it nearly impossible to find songs or written prayers to bring into worship gatherings every Sunday that addressed any of that – acknowledging questions and doubt, or provided room for lament.  So I started writing some prayers and responses for worship at LaSalle Street Church and some song lyrics too – and Gary and our daughter Hannah starting writing tunes for them. And then some people started asking us to share some of the things we were creating, and so The Many came together as a way of getting the music out there to more people.  Of course The Many took on a life of its own. We have become like a family and the songs these days grow our of our lives together, out of what we’re seeing and feeling and experiencing in the world and in our own faith journeys and in relationship with each other.

Gary:   From the start, we wanted The Many to be multicultural and multi-racial and we wanted to be a group that could have authentic relationships with marginalized communities that the church has often excluded.  In retrospect, we are so grateful for God’s obvious hand in bringing the group together.  Darren is also the worship leader at Urban Village Church in Chicago; Leslie is a music leader at Willow Chicago Church; and Hannah is also our primary songwriter.  Lenora is the lyricist in the group, and she also does most of our liturgical writing, and I sit in as producer and guitar player. I write a few of the tunes as well.

UTR: Your music has always carried a sense of warmth, hospitality, and intentionality. Does The Many have a specific mission/purpose?

Darren:   I like your description. It captures much about who we are and how we go about what we are doing. It’s our vision to offer songs for worship that reflect a different picture of God than we have sometimes experienced in churches.  Songs that remind us of God’s extravagant love and that “there’s enough to go around…” something it can be really hard to believe these days. We sing songs that are often healing for people who’ve been hurt and excluded. Songs that are authentic and honest, that are justice-focused and inclusive, that make space for lament. Songs that reflect Jesus’ words to us in Matthew 22 that our first calling as Christians is to love. “We are on this earth to love” is a line that was in one of the songs from our first recording, the Advent/Christmas album from 2015 and it’s been something we have continued to sing wherever we go –  it’s been such a powerful thing to hear people sing together.  A big part of our vision has always been the hope that others will find these songs meaningful to sing in their own spaces – in sanctuaries, living rooms, basements and bars.  I lead worship in a bar on the northside of Chicago once a month, and it’s been great to hear people sing our songs in that setting, and very gratifying to hear that communities all over the world are singing our songs.  We recently heard from folks who are singing “All Belong Here” in Paris, France.

UTR: As you were working on the new release Love > Fear, how did it differ from past albums you’ve made?

Hannah:  This is the most ambitious album we’ve ever done. We’re so proud of our past albums, both All Belong Here and Advent & Christmas Vol. 1 – but we wanted this album to stand out with a higher production value. We used some of our favorite musicians who had played on past albums, including pianist Rob Clearfield, bassist Pat Mulcahy and drummer Quin Kirchner, but we also invited some musicians we have always wanted to play with but hadn’t had the chance, like pianists Tim Grant and Ben Lewis, and percussionist Alfonzo Jones. These Chicago musicians gave the songs on the album new perspectives and brought out things in them I didn’t know were there.  We also spent a long time trying to get the overall sound right, and we’re grateful to Blaise Barton, our engineer at Joyride Studios, for not kicking us out of the studio when we were too nit-picky. But the sound is really important to us. We wanted it to sound commercial but make sure our audience could sing along.

UTR: You could have said “Love > ___” (any number of things). Why do you think it’s important for culture and the Church to address the topic of “fear”? 

Leslie:  I think Americans are more afraid than they’ve ever been. I’ve read that many are calling this “the age of fear.” Growing out of that fear is increased hatred, exclusion, alienation and loneliness.  People are leaving the church, racism is a plague on our nation, economic injustices leave so many in need.  We hope these songs offer space to honestly name and lament all that’s wrong and scary and hard in our world and in our lives, while also offering hope and the reminder that “love is greater than fear.”  We think it is the Gospel of Jesus that love is the way to healing and wholeness.  Fear is the response that we are seeing all around us.  But as Martin Luther King, Jr, said, we have “decided to stick with love.”

UTR: As people listen to the new songs on Love > Fear, how do you hope they are inspired?

Darren:  It seems to me that people are tired of just coming to church and being expected to put on a happy face and pretend everything’s OK and then going back home to the chaos of their lives.  We often see in our gatherings that somehow our music has attracted both people who are  “every Sunday” church-goers and also, just as many people sitting right beside them who have given up on church and who feel that they are done with institutional gatherings, but who are still longing for Christ, longing for the experience of the spirit, looking for hope. They find that our music and the gatherings we create around the music give them space to feel connected to that deeper longing that they have. Maybe they can’t engage with church right now, but they do feel like they can engage in some kind of significant way with the honesty in this music. And I think that is something that is important to us.

UTR: Can you share more about the good work you are doing at pluralguild.com?

Gary:  Thanks for asking.  The Plural Guild is how we got started in all of this.  And as we have traveled around the country with The Many, we’ve met many folks who, like us, are working and praying for more authentic, honest expression in their worship and ministry.  So we are continuing to offer what has been helpful for us and to develop new work, new strategies, new educational offerings that we hope will be helpful to others.

Lenora:  We like to say that the music,  prayers, meditations and liturgies you find on pluralguild.com are made for people trying to make sense of it all personally, and also for pastors and church worship leaders trying to develop inspiring, creative, transforming worship experiences that help us love God, everyone and everything – on this earth God created. And we’re always in the process of coming up with new things, too. So wherever we go we tell folks, “Tell us what you need, tell us what you’re missing, tell us what you’re longing for” and we’ll see if we can help.

For more information about the music and ministry of The Many, visit www.TheManyAreHere.com.

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