Interview :: Shane & Shane

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Shane & Shane about their musical development over the last 16 years, their Worship Initiative project, and their latest major-label release [aptly named] The Worship Initiative. While both Shane’s were on the line, Shane Barnard took the lead answering the questions.


conversation has been minimally edited for the sake of clarity

Ryan: Back in August of 1999 I moved to Lubbock, TX. My very first weekend on campus, I saw Shane Barnard play for the first time at Southcrest Baptist Church. Musically speaking, what have been some of the big growths and changes that have happened since then that define where you’ve been and where you’re at now?

Shane B.: There have been so many and it’s kind of hard to see when you’re so close to it because there are so many hundreds of things that have influenced and changed that. I would say, mainly, back then I didn’t have any kind of history in music at all. So, when I started to play right around that time I was just brand new. Not even a couple of years before then I had the first thought: “I need to sound good.” That was a foreign thought because I never grew up singing, there was no music in my family. So, I think the main thing that’s happened has been developing some patterns and finding things that I like. I think that [I’ve discovered] the beauty of simplicity. Back then I just sort of freaked out most of the time, musically. “How loud can I scream? How fast can I strum? That always equals better.” So, I think [I’ve developed] a little more of a musical taste since then, and that’s been a really big difference. The way that I’ve grown I’ve developed an appreciation for a simple groove that’s just right on and a simple vocal that’s not in the rafters.

Ryan: I’ve followed along with the Worship Initiative project since you launched it last year on Kickstarter, but I wanted to ask you about what the real impetus was behind wanting to do that. I understand what you’re trying to do, but were you seeing something out there as you were interacting with people that said “wow, this is a real need” or “there’s a real gap”? What was the driving force?

Shane B.: The closest encounter we’ve had to that is that we did a songwriting class for 5 years. We would walk with young artists and worship leaders in college by meeting up at our studio 12 at a time each semester. And we’ve always met with worship teams and artists along the way as we travel, but having a close-up, week-by-week relationship with these students we saw a huge need for discipleship. That combined with a passion and a conviction as we would go through the Scripture and see what Jesus has asked us to do in making disciples.

So, we looked at our lives and thought that making as many Gospel-centered disciples as we can from here on out until we die is probably a really good thing. After all those years of getting into the lives of these students and we started to find out that for most of them a lot of their hope was caught up in what people thought about them, what the future would bring, what kind of success they could have. At the end of the day, if you asked them what their passion was, it was pretty far from the person of Jesus. But until [we die to our self] nothing ever really happens. So, within the music community as a whole, the harvest is white.

There are tons of people – thousands upon thousands of people – within the music community at church: players and strummers, people who have been classically trained in piano jumping into the band, lots of worship leaders getting started – maybe a firefighter who kind of leads worship and goes to a small church… There’s this whole group of people that maybe think that preacher is the one who needs to focus on the Scripture and do the teacher thing and I’m just the singer-person. So, we’re trying to call that out a little bit and consider what we are called to do Biblically as musicians.

Ryan: You obviously have a passion for teaching, behind the scenes. As you are on the stage or as you are recording, how much do you feel it is your role to teach theology to the church through worship?

Shane B.: A lot. (laughs) A lot our role. We’re totally into that. When we first started the Worship Initiative it was like: stage one, let’s do the 100 songs that the church is singing. That’s pretty much what we did – barring any song that was way off. And then we surrounded those songs with Bible studies to point people to the Scripture. So that’s where we started. People want to learn the song “Oceans” so we did that to get them in and once they are in we can begin pouring into their lives.

I think a lot of songs to come, that’s what we’re after. Theology inside of our doxology is it. We have the chance of a lifetime to inform people of who God really is inside of music. That is at the top of the priority list, for sure.

Ryan: As you were going through that process, were there any songs that you didn’t agree with theologically? Did anything not make the cut because of that?

Shane B.: Nothing comes to mind. We didn’t come across a lot of those songs in the very top of the list. There are a few where here and there we would change a lyric and just hope that nobody sees it – because a little change can make a big impact.

Often we get the question of “do you lead a song by a certain ‘camp’?” because when you’re leading that song, you are sort of embracing that group and sending people there and the teaching may be kind of off. That is a genuine concern. It’s hard to find the line of that even when we look at our hymn writers. The guy who wrote “It is Well” went off the rocker at the end of the day. Do we throw out the song “It is Well” because his life and his theology suffered later after that?

So, it’s hard to find the line. I think we have a responsibility as pastors to say, “this is true.” We don’t have to push people into any camp. If there’s a song that is Biblical truth put into music, we’re probably going to embrace it and say this is a great song to get behind. We understand the concern and we’re not really trying to endorse a camp, say Hillsong or Bethel, but really just get people into a place where they can get discipled in truth. But also we want to wrap some truth around those songs. So we’ve gotten our three favorite writers at Desiring God to write Bible studies around every song. So you get songs that are beautiful and metaphoric like “Oceans” or “You Make Me Brave.” Some of these songs could mean a variety of things so we just wrap some truth around it and equip worship pastors with that truth.

Ryan: So, when you’re recording these kinds of songs, how do you maintain the authenticity of the experience of worship in the studio say when you’re on the 26th vocal take of singing “Alleluia”? How do you translate that live experience into the recording process and keep it engaging to the listener?

Shane B: We did 100 songs in a little over a month, but we didn’t sing them [at that time]. I would say that probably 70 out of 100 were super enjoyable and the other 30 were really difficult to get through. We did it just like a worship band, though. I would get in early, come up with an arrangement, and then we would just play it through as a band. Because we were capturing everything on video, we had to play it. There was no “punching in” or “punching out,” we had to play it just like a band would play it. So, that was kind of a cool part because we were kind of like a church band. On Sunday morning there are no start-overs or do-it-agains, you just play the song.

Then, over the course of the next six months, it was mostly really sweet for me. I would come up to the studio most every day that we were in town and crawl into my little vocal booth that used to be a bathroom and put a lot of reverb on my vocal and I would just be tracking alone. We have a computer in there so I can mirror the computer in the control room and I would just get a good mix. In trying to get a vision for 100 songs, I knew I had to make it enjoyable. So I would set up a rough mix of the song, I had good reverb, it would sound like I was in a cathedral and I would just try to have a devotional experience.

Some of these songs I had never even come close to singing before, so I would literally have to learn the song. So, I would sing it through like fifteen times just trying to get the hang of it. But it was actually very sweet. I mean, I cried maybe 20 times just in this little room by myself singing these songs to Him. I didn’t know how it would go, but we did twelve full records in not even a year so it was just a steady pace of tucking inside a little room for several hours a day and trying to think about the Lord through these songs.

Ryan: Did you do anything different to adapt your production process on the official label release that just came out?

Shane B.: We were a little bit more choosy on the songs to take the time and really think about it. On the first hundred songs, the first thirty came really easy. The second thirty was kind of difficult. And the last thirty was nearly impossible to figure out which ones we were going to do. This time we had more time leading up, so there were about five songs that we knew for sure [we wanted to do].

I would say our favorite song on the record – I think it’s the second song – is “Seas of Crimson.” A new Bethel CD had come out and Shane was listening to it while we were recording. We already had a set list and Shane was pushing for a few songs, including this one but it was way out there and it was hard for me to wrap my mind around it. Their new record is so artsy and creative and it took probably a year for them to make it. And the song wasn’t produced in a corporate worship manner at all, so it was hard but he thought it would be awesome. So, we gave it a shot and it ended up being, by far, our favorite song on the record. So some of it just happened on the fly like that.

Shane & Shane: The Worship Initiative

Release Date: April 28, 2015

Two years ago I wrote a history-filled, non-review of Shane & Shane’s Bring Your Nothing record outlining my deep love for these guys and their music alongside its far-reaching impact on me. I mention it because, in this case, my personal history with the artist drastically impacts my evaluation of the record.

Back in February of last year, I saw that Shane & Shane had set up a Kickstarter campaign for a project called The Worship Initiative, a website and resource for local church worship leaders. The site would feature song tutorials, videos, Bible studies, and more. It sounded really cool. In addition, Shane and Shane revealed that they had already recorded 100 songs for the project which would also be built into their proprietary system, but would also be available in album format to project backers. They made their goal of $150,000 and the site is live – check it out.

Last year, I noticed that the Worship Initiative “albums” were being released on Spotify and Amazon. In total, the band put out 10 albums totaling 100 songs – most of them familiar worship songs from the last 20 years, but a few were more obscure. The production quality was really basic, which was at points a turn off, but understandable given the context.

So, when I saw the announcement of this record from their label, I figured that they had culled together their favorites from that project and decided to promote it as an official release. From listening to the record, it seems like I was maybe 50% right. The songs on the official The Worship Initiative album are not found on the previous independent releases, save for two “radio edits” at the end of the record. The songs here seem like they may have been favorites that were not featured previously. The production is similar, but definitely enhanced from what we’ve heard over the last year – but it’s still not the same as the tone and style of their previous major releases.

The song choice for the album is a good mix of familiar and more obscure selections originally recorded by a variety of artists. Only one original song, “God of Ages Past,” is included. I was surprised and excited to hear a couple of my favorite songs from Hillsong bands make the cut, “Scandal of Grace” and “Man of Sorrows.” This recording was my first exposure to “Forever” (originally by Kari Jobe) – which, oddly enough, seemed to be everywhere just a couple of weeks ago. While I’m not a huge fan of the song lyrically, I really like the inclusion of “You Make Me Brave” simply because it provides a welcomed and much needed change in the tone of the record. In my opinion, the best is saved for last with “All the Poor and Powerless.”

Many of the tracks on this album sound very much the same in tone, pacing, arrangement, and even lyrical content. This makes it hard for me to sit and listen to the record as a whole – but for someone who is looking to learn these songs, each individual track is a phenomenal reference tool. Still, their previous record of worship cover songs (Dare 2 Share) felt like it had a much better flow and the songs sounded far more unique.

As a complete work, it’s hard for me to call this an album. The best descriptor that I came up with is that it is more of a “resource.” While the individual songs are great, the collection of songs does not offer the same type of flow or continuity that I would like to hear in what I would describe as an album. I’m certain that the songs hold up well in the context of the overall Worship Initiative project and fans of the band will want to hear their take on these songs. I, for one, would like to hear a live recording of a setlist like this, so that I can feel more a part of the experience.

Shane & Shane: Bring Your Nothing

[Disclaimer 1: With all due respect to Shane Everett (whose Window to the Inner Court is a fabulous record), I knew Shane Barnard first and have always referred to the man himself and the collective plural as simply “Shane” and I don’t plan on changing that here.]

[Disclaimer 2: I’ve never tried to build this brand on the idea of journalistic integrity. My name is the URL. I’m no critic, I’m just here to share my passion and hopefully pass it along to you. That being said, this is not really a review at all. It’s the story of trying to journey alongside an artist as life takes you in different directions.]

[Disclaimer 3: I’ve written about some “religious” records already and kept my thoughts mainly focused on the music and left my spiritual thoughts on a fairly sentimental level. Maybe that’s for fear of not being a believable writer. Maybe that’s for fear of offending any non-religious readers. I hope that in doing so, I’ve gained enough credibility with those who might be turned off by that sort of thing that you might allow me a little more freedom today. I think that no matter what you believe, we can all learn something from one another’s journey and I hope you’ll take the time to read this.]

One of my first experiences in college was a Shane Barnard concert. I knew of Shane because, well, let’s face it, I’ve always had my finger on the pulse of culture. I picked up a copy of his Rocks Won’t Cry record that night and if it had been a cassette tape I would have worn through it over the ensuing college years. I would try to find ways to get out of my own responsibilities on Tuesday nights to go across town and hear him play. I would download concert bootlegs of crappy recordings from all across the state. Shane was my guy. He was playing music that was honest and real without a trace of hokey. He was talented in every dimension – as a songwriter and vocalist. He was the guitar player we all aspired to emulate.

His second indie record, later co-opted as his firs major label record, Psalms, succeeded in keeping the feel of the live experience and rawness that Shane was known for. This came in no small part thanks to the fantastic collection of songs (in many a late night sing-along we would all vie for position to see who would play “Psalm 145” first) and the simple, but complete, production work of David Parker and Chris Clayton.

And then, nothing changed. But everything changed. I left college. Shane was no longer playing across town every week. The bootleggers graduated and moved on. Major label deals being what they are kept new content from flowing freely or quickly. And subsequent records took on a more “polished” feel giving us 2-3 great tracks per record as opposed to the previous 7-8 out of 12.

Do you have an old friend from high school or college – not your best friend, but just someone you were really close to? Say you haven’t talked to them in a while – 2, 3, 4 years, maybe longer – but you re-connect on facebook and decide to get together. You’re glad for the connection, but don’t make much of a big deal about it. Then as the day and time get closer, you find yourself getting nervous. You feel unexplained feelings. Is it nostalgia? What is it? You begin to realize the size of the hole left in your heart from being without this person. The feelings of loss that we’ve learned to suppress and glaze over throughout the years are finally revealed as a facade. You missed this person and it kind of hurts. Then you sit down with them and it’s the most awkward thing ever: an internal (possibly irrational) flood of emotion and an external lack of any topic to connect on. You leave the interaction feeling devastated, deriding yourself for expecting anything different, grateful for closure, but sick from it. This is my experience in listening to the music of Shane Barnard. Depressing, isn’t it.

Obviously, college is an emotion-filled, awkward, coming-of-age time in life. You experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I experienced all of that with Shane (in my CD player). I looked to him on 9/11. If he had cancelled his service, I would have requested to cancel mine. I’ve listened to his set from that night over and over for the better part of 12 years and while “good” is not the right word for it, it is transcendent. His set from the service before Christmas runs laps around his actual Christmas record and was the only Christmas music I would listen to for years.

When I was in college, I had a lot of problems – I just didn’t know it yet. I was active in my religious functions. I was a leader. And it wasn’t fake or forced or disingenuous. But I was incomplete. I had never dealt with my own brokenness. I think we learn to band-aid ourselves quickly and avoid pain as much as possible very early on. And many of us never go back and deal with it. Shane’s voice, persona, and music somehow shined a light into those dark places and brought out an emotional response in me that I hadn’t really experienced before.

In his less-heralded (but no-less-wonderful) work, Ruthless Trust,author Brennan Manning points to St. John of the Cross’ classic Dark Night of the Soul.  (I cite Manning because I can’t wade through John.) In it, he remarks that in the early stages of our faith, we are afforded an emotional “crutch” (if you will) to bolster our faith. Over time, however, we may find that crutch removed and the question is posed by God, “do you trust ME – or just the feeling of me?” Manning suggests that in this time, the believer will find no solace in those places of old. That his heart will not be stirred by song as it once was.

This is my present burden. So, when I see that Shane – the one who once served as a place of solace – has a new record releasing, I reach out like a thirsty man in a dessert in hope of a drop of water. And time and again, the well is dry.

Like the friend from college. Shane has not changed. That is to say, we’ve both grown and gone our separate ways. We’ve both married, had a some kids, and put on a few pounds. He’s still writing the same music (though the production is way more “slick” than I would like). It’s not his fault that we don’t connect anymore. It’s not mine. It’s just the way of life.

The opening track reminds me of Mumford and Sons (which you know is not for me). “Eyes on You” reminds me of Vocal Few at the beginning for some reason (which is cool). “Without Jesus” is hokey, plain and simple. The master-work here is “You Love My Heart to Death” both on a production and theological level.