The latest album from singer-songwriter Chris Renzema is titled "Let The Ground Rest." And its April release turned out to parallel the period of "rest" caused by the coronavirus.
"I wrote these songs mostly in 2019, and when (the album) finally came out I had no clue we would be in the year we've been in," said Renzema, 25, during a phone interview.
The theme of the title song is especially fitting. "The idea of waiting in the barren fields for the harvest has become more applicable than I ever thought," said the artist of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Another song, "Springtime," has a similar thesis, picturing the changing seasons. "It became a metaphor about how we constantly have this hope of a resurrection that's happened, but also continually seeing evidence of it," he said.
The album helped Renzema to a 2020 Dove Award nomination as New Artist of the Year. Although he didn't win the award, the nomination was an acknowledgement of his artistry which is not readily primed for radio success.
During the awards broadcast, his music was described as "a sweet and gritty combination of folk and Americana." You can add indie-rock and folk-worship to his acoustic-based styles.
A MUSICAL TRAIL
Although born in Texas, Chris moved to West Michigan during his elementary school years (his parents Ron and Susie Renzema were originally from this area). He attended school in Lowell but graduated from Northpointe Christian High School in Grand Rapids.
It was during high school that Chris began writing songs. He was active at Sunshine Community Church where his skills grew as a worship leader under youth worship pastor Derek Sterenberg.
"I immediately noticed his passion for music," said Sterenberg, now discipleship director at Bridge Street Ministries. "He got serious about following Jesus and started leading worship songs at youth group and it was so powerful," he recalled.
After graduating high school he was part of an EP music release called "Age to Age."
He went to Taylor University in Indiana to study music composition. But he found himself flocking to "open-mic" nights wanting to perform the new songs he'd been writing. Chris officially had "the music bug." After a year he took the leap and moved to Nashville.
"When I was driving down there, I was barely sure where I was gonna live," he recalled. "I only knew one person in Nashville, and I remember praying that if there was one, solid thing I could find... it would be getting into a church."
He did just that. Ethos Church was a place he soon discovered and where he eventually helped lead worship. Although now not a leader in an official capacity, he still helps out occasionally.
Renzema kept writing and recording, putting together a 2018 indie album "I'll Be The Branches." The response to that effort sealed his resolve to make music a prime pursuit.
"When those songs came out I was interviewing with a church in Chattanooga (TN)," he said of a worship leader position. "But that album made me decide to try to be more full time at (song)writing, and this music thing just might be working in a way I could really make a go of it."
Then came his signing with the Centricity Music label, an artist-friendly imprint with a roster including Lauren Daigle and Andrew Peterson. It helped usher in "Let The Ground Rest."
A companion "B-sides" EP is coming in January, with two songs already out of the chute.
"Mercy" is a vulnerable anthem, calling to face anxiety and depression by knowing God's mercy which is new every morning (hear it online).
"When you write something that is specific, and so personal, I think that's where people can see themselves in that narrator space, and feel like someone can see how they're doing, too," he said.
THE PERFORMING ITCH
Live, in-person shows have been few since COVID-19 hit the scene, severely limiting Renzema from road-polishing his new songs. A concert set for last March in Grand Rapids had to be postponed, and then was cancelled.
But hope springs eternal. He's on the bill for a projected May concert at The Pyramid Scheme in downtown Grand Rapids. Renzema has been itching to be back on the road. "Yes, that would be nice – sooner than later," he said.