It’s my pleasure to introduce to many of you Ascend the Hill. My friend and fellow Denver worship leader, Chris Martin, pointed me to them a few months back. They do consider themselves a worship band, but their music is very much performance-oriented. Musically, their style reminds me of Death Cab for Cutie (think early material like Photo Album, and Transatlanticism) and Band of Horses. The lead vocalist is a robust tenor, and the drummer has a way of taking simple meters and giving them a very creative, rhythmic feel. Their electric guitars are chimey and ethereal. In addition to appreciating the music, I personally enjoy it. Ambient indie rock is my cup of tea.
Ascend the Hill is based in Tampa, FL, and they’re on the Come&Live label, a missional non-profit community of artists who consider their bands “musicianaries.” Ascend the Hill’s latest album, Hymns: Take the World But Give Me Jesus, is of particular interest to me because they’ve done some creative setting of old hymn texts to new music (sometimes preserving the original melodies). My favorite track is the first, “The Love of God,” a fairly recent “old hymn” (1917) by Frederick M. Lehman. Its third verse is exquisite:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
You can listen to this song and others on their myspace page, but I’d certainly encourage you to buy their music and support their artistic enterprise. It is my hope and prayer that Ascend the Hill won’t make setting old hymns to new music a one-shot deal. Most of the hymns they explore are fairly recent in church history, and they would have much to offer the Church by exploring the vast arsenal of hymnody across the span of the last 2000 years.
Recently, I had the privilege of meeting (via email) one of the band’s members, Seth Davis, and he graciously gave his time to engage in the following brief interview.
Tell us a little bit about your band.
Our band as a whole has a ton of influences because each individual person in the band come from completely different backgrounds of music. I personally grew up playing punk hardcore and loved bands like Life in Your Way, Have Heart, Verse and so on. Later I got into more experimental indie stuff like where a lot of the ambient sound comes into Ascend the Hill.
What are your thoughts about the state of modern worship today, and how do you hope to contribute to its growth and development?
This question is always difficult for me to answer because personally there hasn’t been a ton of “worship” music I can connect with. Don’t get me wrong I can worship to just about anything but I find myself listening to This Will Destroy You during my quiet times rather than Hillsong United. Although I believe some of the more mainstream Christian worship is great from some people, I can’t connect with it. But there are some amazing worship bands evolving and getting more recognition like some good friends of ours, The Ember Days, personally my favorite worship band. It makes me happy to see some of these new ambient worship bands grow and evolve.
Your latest album is a project which re-dresses old hymns. What inspired you to do this, and what do you think hymns have to offer the modern church today?
The whole hymns record just seemed to happen. Honestly the whole record is just a testimony to who God is. The music, ideas, inspiration—it all came from Him. I am just happy He let us be apart of it! I think it has shown a lot of kids what hymns really mean and how intimate and amazing each and every lyric is. We didn’t want people to miss out on these songs.
What kind of feedback have you received from your fans about doing a hymns project?
The feedback has been far beyond what I ever imagined. The people that support our band are just phenomenal.
What’s next for Ascend the Hill?
We are currently taking a short break until January 5 and we leave to New Zealand to tour over there with The Ember Days. We’ll be over there a month then tour another month in the states when we get home. There are talks of Canada here soon, and we will be writing a new full length very soon!