The Indie Synth Worship of South of Royal

I love hymns accompanied by booming pipe organs in cavernous cathedrals. I also love hymns accompanied by synthesizers and drum machines in warehouse-style evangelical megachurches. Both can be beautiful ways to worship our great God, and I think more churches should make room for both styles (and everything in between).

South of Royal is a church-based worship band that demonstrates the “synthesizers and drum machines” style of hymnody. Called everything from synth pop rock to indie synth worship, the band is pushing the musical boundaries of worship in wonderful new ways. Their combination of “theologically conservative yet musically adventurous” is something I believe more gospel-centered churches should emulate. God created us to be creative; why shouldn’t church musicians be known as the most creative of all musicians?

Based out of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas, South of Royal gets its name from the church’s location (one block south of Royal Lane) and also from their posture before the King. I recently asked the band a few questions about who they are, what they’re trying to do, and what they might say to other worship leaders looking to push aesthetic boundaries in church music. Watch a music video for South of Royal’s “Hold Fast” below, followed by our Q&A.

What’s the story of South of Royal? What is your goal as a band?

Steven Cooper (songwriter, bass, synth): We started as a worship band at The Village Church Dallas (on Walnut Hill). Daniel Clay, our lead singer, was the worship pastor there, and the rest of the worship band is made up of volunteer members of the church. In 2016 we started looking for ways to put our own spin on songs we were playing at church.

Daniel Clay (songwriter, vocals, keyboards): We wanted to start using different instrumentation and try out new arrangements to popular worship songs and old hymns. Coop has always been a fan and collector of synthesizers, growing up in the ’80s I guess, so he started playing a moog instead of a bass, and our drummer started incorporating more electronic drums, drum machines, and samples. Then we took off from there. Our hope is that people will not only sing our songs when they are at a church service, but that they would be encouraged by it in a difficult season of life, turn it up on their way to work, while working out, or on a Saturday morning. We also hope to show that worship or church music doesn’t have to sound like a certain style. There are so many topics, instruments, and sounds available to us. Christians should be leading the way in creativity in musical writing and production. Even if our contribution to this end is slight, we hope that someone might stumble across our music and be motivated to try something new.

For musicians who make music primarily in the context of the local church but whose music also reaches beyond their church, how does this relationship work? What are the cautions and opportunities of having dual audiences (a specific local community and a general global church)?

Clay: We started writing songs in response to what we were experiencing ourselves and what people in our church were walking through. Our intention was to give voice to the needs of people in our circle, reminding them that they aren’t alone and that there is hope in Christ. Of course, we wanted it to have wider appeal than just our church. But that wasn’t what drove our writing. It seems that writing from a personal and local perspective has borne a broader audience than writing from a broader perspective would have.

I would say focus on what’s around you and how you might be a benefit to the people you know. Being specific will likely appeal to more people (by accident) than purposefully striving for mass appeal ever could. I would also say to never use your congregation or position as a platform to gain a following. Probably 50 percent of our church has no clue who South of Royal is, and I love that . . . usually. We sing our songs but don’t push our band.

How would you encourage worship leaders and musicians in local churches who want to push musical boundaries but who might feel constrained by the limitations of tradition and congregational tastes?

Cooper: I would encourage them to start the process slowly, but steadily. If you hear other instruments or arrangements in your head, or wish you could lead songs from other styles of music, you should share that with your congregation. I don’t know how the church benefits from a worship methodology that says all songs should sound the same and be led from acoustic guitar.

I don’t know how the church benefits from a worship methodology that says all songs should sound the same and be led from acoustic guitar.

At The Village Dallas, we used to start off worship sets with something new. One song out of the four would have an unorthodox musical element or new vibe for worship music. We started by subtly rearranging songs we were already singing, perhaps replacing a traditional bass guitar with a bass synth, or using more loops and a drum machine rather that the live kit behind a plexiglass shield. To take it a little further, we started rearranging old hymns. It was helpful for the congregation to already feel comfortable with the lyrics and basic melody of the song. We took “All Hail the Power of Jesus’s Name” and wrote new music around it, including a new chorus (listen on Spotify).

It’s going to be too much for a worship leader to show up one Sunday with three original songs all led from a synthesizer, while also mixing in a hip-hop feature. I think you need to communicate why the band is trying new sounds and ideas and gradually introduce them over time.

Where can people listen to your music?

We just released our latest single, “The Future Is Yours,” and we are headed back into the studio to record five more songs in 2019. You can hear our music on all major online platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, and so on. Here is a link to our latest single:


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May She Be My Delight: A Prayer for Every Husband

Barely able to bend over anymore, his love made him into an amateur gardener.

Every morning, 90-year-old Roy braced himself against a tree to stab at the roots of a neighboring tree that threatened to destroy his wife’s grave. Though gone for over a decade now, he spoke of her and cared for her like she went to be with the Lord yesterday. He wielded his strength for her in life, and now bent his aged back to protect her in death.

His happiness in the beloved of over fifty years brought tears to my eyes. He recounted how they walked to church together, raised children together, grew old together, laughed, cried, and prayed together.

He told us how they first met and how he, a rascal in his youth, first kissed her in the middle of the street. His bobbing eyebrows, musical intonation, and watering eyes bore witness: His delight in her had not diminished. It burst through his smile, seeped into sentences, and stained the knees of his pants with cemetery mud.

Out of reach, out of earshot, out of this world, his heart still sung her name.

Is She Our Delight?

For reasons we can’t always articulate, scenes like this touch us. And rightfully so.

His delight in his bride communicated something more than her value; it communicated something of heaven. When God surveys the earth, looking for an analogy for his omnipotent happiness in his redeemed people, he points down at the fervor of young husbands, an ardor that only increases in godly men like Roy.

For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you
(Isaiah 62:5)

Christ rejoices over his bride. We will spend all eternity immersed in the heat of his love. But after the diamond in this verse began to captivate, it also cut. When others observe my relationship with my wife, can they see anything of God’s delight in his? Can others plainly see that I call my bride what my Lord calls his, “My Delight Is in Her” (Isaiah 62:4)? Is Christ’s love obscured in mine?

I extend my conviction for other husbands’ consideration: Is she your delight? Do we paint (not perfectly, but truly) pictures of God’s passion in our marriages? What banner do we fly over her? The wife in the Song of Songs attested, “His banner over me was love” (Song of Solomon 2:4) — can ours say the same? Brothers, may it never be said of us,

“His banner over me was indifference.”
“His banner over me was harshness.”
“His banner over me was regret.”

Lord, help us.

Marrying the Wrong Girl

The story of Jacob’s first bride should haunt us.

It was plain to all that Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah” (Genesis 29:30). Rachel was beautiful; Leah possessed “weak eyes” and was less attractive. Jacob labored seven years to win Rachel, and “they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:20); Jacob regretted Leah the moment he realized his uncle tricked him into marrying her instead of her sister. After marrying both, Jacob flew two different banners over each the rest of their lives. And God saw it.

Leah’s Maker — whose image she bore and whose concern she had — looked at Jacob’s marriages, and what did he see? Rachel, Jacob loved; Leah, he “hated” (Genesis 29:31). God, seeing his daughter so despised, looked upon her affliction of a loveless husband and opened her womb instead of her sister’s (Genesis 29:32).

Climactically, agonizingly, she birthed child after child, hoping with each new son, “Now my husband will love me. . . . Now this time my husband will be attached to me” (Genesis 29:32, 34). Finally, with the birth of her fourth, Judah, she gives up her hopes of husbandly love and turns to praise the Lord.

Whatever cautions this story holds in warning young women against idolizing a husband’s love, we shouldn’t overlook the tragedy: Her husband’s banner over her was disdain. Is she automatically an idolater because she longed to be delighted in by her husband? What about women like Leah today? Perhaps her final declaration of divine praise speaks as much indictment on her husband as it does sanctification in Leah.

The point stands for husbands today: We did not marry Leah. We did not marry the wrong girl. The ring, the covenant, the marriage makes her, at all times, our Rachel. Not to be overlooked. Not to be despised, compared, or assumed. She is flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. Your lovely deer, your graceful doe. Your lily. Your beautiful one. Your well of desire and spring of delight. And she does not need to bring you children, success in your career, or an airbrushed physique to receive your blush-provoking, grave-protecting love.

A Prayer for Every Husband

God does not tolerate his church. He does not ignore her. He does not wake up in the morning thinking he married the wrong girl. Familiarity does not dampen his passion. Eternity will seem like a moment to him because of his love for her. She does not scheme to win his embrace. He spent his strength for her in his earthly life and was pierced for her transgressions to stab at the roots of death and shield her from the grave.

This is amazing love, a holy love, a love that, to give an earthly analogy, God displays through husbands in our marriages: “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).

Our delight in her is about his delight in us; our marriages about his (Ephesians 5:32). We, like Roy, follow our Bridegroom — braving Satan, the flesh, and the world — to plant our flag over her: She Is My Delight. Not, “She is my cook and cleaner.” Not, “She is my children’s mother.” But, “She is my chosen, my favorite, my fairest one.” She seeps into our sentences. Our hearts sing her name.

Time and again, let us pray, “Lord, may she increasingly be my delight.”

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