Chris Renzema’s B-Sides EP adds some intimate and unplugged perspective to his sophomore LP Let the Ground Rest which was released in April 2020 (just as we were realizing the scope of the pandemic). The EP features five live studio performances, including three versions of songs from Let the Ground Rest, as well as two new songs that are thematically connected to the album. Much of Let the Ground Rest is about God working in our lives, molding us through an incredible journey. His B-sides really delves into Chris’ ongoing walk with God.
The heart behind B-Sides is the idea that growth comes from periods of rest. Growth comes from the unknown, the uncertainty, the barrenness. The album is very season centric. New birth arrives in the “Springtime,” our land flourishes in the midst of the summer, but real growth occurs when we Let the Ground Rest. It’s when we hunker down, look within ourselves and rely on God that we experience exponential growth.
God is active in all seasons of our life, especially when we’re resting and laying low. But it’s hard to see Him in the emptiness. The growth is evident in the Spring through rebirth and renewal. In the Summer, growth is evident through heightened activity and action. Even in the Fall demonstrates growth through harvest and transition. But Winter comes and the growth becomes hidden. It’s often the hardest season, yet when we experience the most significant results. “It’s easy to think that God is in the growth, [and] He’s not in the empty field,” says Renzema in The Smoakstack Sessions video documentary which revolves around the making of Let the Ground Rest B-Sides. He elaborates on what he means by saying that the empty field is often connected with a lack of favor from the Lord. But in order to grow, we need to rest.
Let the Ground Rest was planned and recorded before COVID-19 entered the scene, but B-sides became enveloped by the global pandemic. Each song in the album speaks about the hardship of waiting, resting, wanting. Themes of challenge and change radiate from the deep rooted lyrics. “You can be upset that your plans got destroyed or you can find a new way forward,” says Renzema. This is not only the lesson we can gain from the album, but it’s a true reality of life.
This year has been a test of that reality. What seemed hard in the beginning has become commonplace. So many plans were uprooted or destroyed. “2020 has been really hard,” states Renzema. “I think it has been a journey for me as a writer and a person, discovering what it even means to be content, what it means to let your plans change.”
There’s been a lot of waiting and wondering when God will reveal himself again in the barren land. This pause in life has provided an opportunity to reflect on our self, our society, our sin and our sorrow. “A lot of what I wrote for the last project has taken on new meaning in the pandemic, and singing about waiting on a season to change or sitting it out through a hard thing means a lot more to me now that it did then.”
Even the mechanics of the album needed to shift. With the recording of the live version of Let the Ground Rest, B-sides should have brought together hundreds of people. But, new restrictions needed to be enforced to ensure safety. But through the change and restructure, magnificent music was created. “Still getting to make music with people is a very gratifying experience, and I think that comes across,” claims Chris when discussing the experience of recording the live album during COVID.
This experience was captured in a documentary video which highlights three songs from B-Sides. Chris Renzema reflects, “Making music as a group feels less mechanical and more human.” Having this community was especially fulfilling this year. The Smoakstack Sessions video documentary features the famed Nashville studio with an intimate view of the making of the album.