Houston's Ecclesia Church sits on the edge of downtown like a frontier outpost. During the week, it's a community outreach centre, art gallery, coffee house, and recording studio. But on Sunday, its space becomes sanctuary to the homeless and drug addicted, as well as to the high profile attorney and suburb-dweller who fill its seats.
The church is also home base for the Robbie Seay Band, forming as much of their identity as the music they play. Pastored by Robbie's brother Chris, Ecclesia's services are a mix of the liturgical (weekly communion, communal prayer) and experiential (an artist painting on stage during the service. The Band can be found leading worship for the church most Sundays, except when touring takes them away from home.
Long before the release of their critically acclaimed 2005 Sparrow Records debut, Better Days, the Robbie Seay Band began developing a reputation for their unique style of worship music, grounded in community and in the life journeys of each of its members. In addition to Robbie, who serves as the group's voice and principal songwriter, the Band consists of long-time friends Dan Hamilton and Ryan Owens. Dan has played with Robbie for a decade, dating back to the Metro Bible Study for which they, Caedmon's Call, and Watermark led worship. Ryan approached Robbie eight years ago at a Bebo Norman concert to ask if they needed a bass player and has been with them ever since. "We have grown up together," Robbie says of the Band. "We have walked side-by-side for nearly a decade, in the context of our community and living a normal life together. That makes the music more meaningful."
Known for an alternative worship style that features raw, insightful lyrics coupled with an equally edgy and engaging sound, the Robbie Seay Band's much-anticipated sophomore Sparrow release, Give Yourself Away, finds them pushing their musical craft to new limits under the guiding hand of producer Tedd T. (MuteMath, delirious). The sound of "Give Yourself Away" carries a new energy and relevance, an aggressive step forward from "Better Days." The album bears the influence of British rock (Travis, Keane) as well as modern worshippers such as David Crowder Band and Tim Hughes.
"Give Yourself Away" also marks the first time the group has turned over production reins to a sole producer. "Tedd's imprint is all over this project," explains Robbie. "Crafting this project with Tedd has been a natural growth process for the Band; he stretched us and challenged us. It's been the best experience I've had in music."
But it has always been the poetic, vulnerable and honest lyrics that have set Robbie Seay Band apart. "This project contains a lot of the stories of our lives from the past year," said Robbie. "It is a missional record, almost a rebirth of how we're seeing our faith and how we're seeing a lot of young Christians respond to the need around them," explains Robbie. "As believers, we are being awakened to the call to give of ourselves, to live out life together honestly, in community. As we find hope together, it pushes us to be proactive in our faith."
The project begins with the anthemic call to action "Rise", which charges "Rise, rise, people of love, rise/Give yourself away." "If you choose the life of God," says Robbie, "it's not going to be easy, but it's an amazing life to lead."
"New Day" is a pop hit-in-waiting written to Seay's wife, Liz. "It's saying that the world around us is pretty messed up, with war and injustice, but in this brief moment, there's still the hope of God that's always surrounding us." The equally upbeat "Song Of Hope" is an invitation to engage with the living God, the Source of that Hope.
If these selections represent a new direction, "Shine Your Light On Us" is vintage Robbie Seay Band, a part of their repertoire that Robbie says people really connect with. "It's identifying our pain and our sorrow", the things I've gone through, the band's gone through, the community's gone through, they're the same," he says. "The lyric says, I've been broken down. I've been holding on, but there's hope... God shine your light on us."
Seay has seen the larger church community in Houston tested by the influx of Hurricane Katrina refugees, and has been encouraged by the response. "For the first time in a long time, I've been proud to say I was part of this bigger picture", a bigger church. Looking at churches responding to people in need... that's what Jesus did. In my city and around the country, that's happening."
This experience and Ecclesia's efforts in Africa inspired the song "Go Outside". "We really just became more aware of the need in the world and of how materialistic and selfish we are. That's kind of where the record began to go outward. We've received hope and grace, and "Go Outside" is about sharing that.
"Faith is fairly stale if we're not active and aware of the need around us," Robbie says, returning again to the theme of Give Yourself Away. "When we go back to Scripture, it's full of loving the orphans, the widows and the poor, and you look at Jesus and who He was and come away with that."
To this end, the Band is taking steps to raise awareness of the tragedy affecting many children in Uganda. Inspired by the film "Invisible Children", and the book "Girl Soldier" by Grace Akallo, the group hopes to help educate others about the plight of the Ugandan people, especially the children. The band encourages its audiences to support Compassion International, or another outreach of their choosing, during its shows. The key, Robbie says, is to do something.
"I hope my music and life somehow may serve to encourage other believers to be proactive in their faith," concludes Robbie. "For it is only as we bless others and offer grace that faith goes beyond words, and truly comes alive."