By Ruth Garvey-Williams
Sitting in the lovely stone chapel in St. Mark’s Church, Dublin, I was blown away by Aisling Glover and sisters Ruth and Abbey Malone. These vibrant young women are three members of the “Chapel Band,” a worship group that shot to unexpected success in the iTunes charts when their EP “Fire by Night” beat the likes of Justin Bieber and One Direction to the number one slot in October 2015. Phil Rowntree, Matty Greer, Michelle Burke and Emi Dragoi complete the seven-person group, which they describe as less of a band and more of a ministry.
The conversation flows with passion and excitement. These friends are so thrilled to be using their gifts for God and by the unexpected opportunities that have opened up. Here’s a chance for you to eavesdrop...
Abbey: Our young adults ministry in St. Mark’s started in this very room. We began with maybe six young adults who were all passionate about reaching other young adults. We wanted a place where we could bring our friends who had never been exposed to church. As we grew, we eventually moved downstairs and that’s where we found the space to use our creative gifts.
Ruth: We were playing for worship every week, using our God-given abilities, and we discovered there were some really good singers and songwriters among us. Daniel, our young adults’ pastor, was in America visiting different churches. He saw worship groups writing music and recording CDs and, rather than getting discouraged, he was inspired. He met with us back in March and said, “We’re gonna do this!”
Since May, we’ve been in the church almost every evening, writing, rehearsing, and recording. It was such an amazing experience to see the dreams that God has put onto our hearts come to fruition so naturally. We know each other and we are genuinely friends. That made it so easy.
Aisling: We were able to criticise each other well - giving suggestions about how we could make things better. These songs come from our hearts. It’s been amazing to hear people say, “That song has helped me…” or “I want to use this song at my own church.” We feel so small sometimes but we can contribute to what God is doing in Ireland.
So what has influenced your music?
Abbey: Growing up in church, we’ve loved listening to Hillsong and Hillsong United, and a bit of Kari Jobe. God has given people like Matt Redmond and Chris Tomlin a gift to write songs for a generation.
Ruth: We all love to have the craic and dance, so we all love dance music. We love to have fun while we are worshipping. We are young and we love the new sounds: the synth, the bass and a good solid beat behind it. We are inspired by what is current in the music arena.
Abbey: We wanted it to be “us” and not to replicate anything. Ultimately, this is our sound. We believed that God would bless our authenticity. This is who we are. Emi is our music producer, but he is also a musical genius. He would have five different sounds but we would choose the one we wanted.
Ruth: Our heart is to be relevant to people. We want our friends to know God, but we want to be normal. We want to share, “This is how I’ve found God in my life and this is the faith I have.” I don’t want to write lyrics that baffle and confuse someone who has never set foot in a church.
Aisling: When we were writing words, we would think about how we could take the meaning and make it more accessible to our friends.
Tell us what it was like making it to number one in the charts.
Ruth: Our huge success was such a surprise - we were shocked. Coming up on the day it was released, we were totally consumed with doing our launch night. We didn’t have time to think about how the EP would do. If it had bombed, we would have been okay.
Abbey: None of us really expected this. It must have been God, because we didn’t plan for it! We are just friends doing life together. We feel God is blessing us. This is not what it is always going to be like, but God must be so thrilled that our song went number one! He gave us our creativity and originality. Why shouldn’t the church be pioneering a fresh sound? Friends that I haven’t seen for years contacted me to say, “Yous are at number one!!”
Ruth: There is something to be said for living normal life in a supernatural way, seeing God doing great things through the “everyday.” The day after we hit number one, I was in a school teaching and Aisling was in college and Abbey was at her placement!
The whole experience was a big risk, but it was a risk from a safe and solid foundation. Our church was so behind us. The leadership of our church supported us 100%; they invested in every way and stood with us. They were such an encouragement. In many ways, this EP wasn’t just about seven people but about the whole of our Chapel Group community saying, “Look what is possible when God blesses something.”
Abbey: It is all a big learning process - a totally new experience for everyone. In order to produce music in Ireland, each song has to have a bar code. Then you have to go through a label, so we set up our own music label (Chapel Music Ltd.). Even in the process of mixing and mastering the music, God was working. The guy we were working with was an atheist. He was quite emotional and said, “There is genuinely something in this music. I can feel a presence.”
So what comes next for Chapel Band?
Abbey: At the moment, we are enjoying the success of the EP and we are excited about that. We are planning for the future and looking at how we can continue to give excellence.
Ruth: Late 2016, we’re hoping to do a full album with all original songs. Definitely we’ll be looking at more writing and recording, and we’ll continue to be invested in Chapel Group as our “home” - regularly leading worship and being part of this community.