When you’re introduced to a band called Army of Three and then see four people, you’re most probably inclined to think, “So… who got added in later?” Actually, no one. All four band members make up the original team. As it turns out, Army of Three has nothing to do with those who make up the band, and everything to do with the Trinitarian God they serve: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Army of Three started with Jeff, Alex, and Edmond jamming after church and dreaming of someday starting a band. Jeff, the lead singer, had encountered a Christian magazine at a bookstore many years ago. On the front cover was a young man dressed in punk attire—crying. Wondering how a guy like him ended up at church, Jeff read on only to learn that this “punk” had not been to church, but to a Delirious concert. He encountered Jesus at this concert, and his life was completely transformed.
“I was like eh, this is so amazing!” Jeff said. “Music allowed someone who would not step into a church to come to know Jesus!” That story resonated with him. “We wanted to bring music out in a way that it is reachable to a particular type of people who would otherwise not come to church.”
So the three of them started praying for a bassist. Not just any bassist, but someone who would have the same style of music and heart for ministry as they did. “We wanted someone who is rooted in church and discipled.” Little did they know that Darren, who was at that time a stranger, was looking for a band that played heavy music and had a heart for God. Through a mutual contact who had heard from both sides, Darren met with Jeff, Alex, and Edmond, and Army of Three was birthed in December 2004.
“They revealed that they were praying for a bassist, and I was praying for a band, so that’s how we knew that this is basically God. There’s no other way,” Darren said. “We literally clicked,” Jeff said. “We all came with the same purpose, knowing what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go with our music.”
Army of Three’s first full-length album, The Beginning of End, was released in 2014 (recorded and completed in 2008 but wasn’t released until 2014, Blind Me To See EP was the band’s first release in 2007). They had the opportunity of working with Chad Blondel, the producer of Hillsong, Planet Shakers, and Youth Alive Australia. While they are very pleased with their first album, the songs in it are more contemporary, and not, as they put it, ‘in your face,’ with the Gospel message.
The band then took a break between 2009 and 2014, during which they each were able to grow in different aspects of their individual and spiritual lives. Darren focused on his pop punk band, An Honest Mistake, (formed in 2008) and has since then become very successful in his work with them. “We [An Honest Mistake] just got signed with a major label. The cool thing about that band is that I was able to go into a lot of places where most Christian bands couldn’t.” Darren’s involvement in An Honest Mistake has given him many opportunities to network with all levels of people in the industry, thus also expanding Army of Three’s connections.
In 2014, Darren was cleaning out his house when he stumbled across an old unreleased album that Army of Three had recorded. It was a worship album titled, Pre-wired To Worship. “While the music and the production were not great, the creativity of the music that was written and the lyrics were still powerful as before,” Jeff said. So they decided to regroup and re-record the album. What happened after that was completely unplanned.
“We went into a jamming studio to jam, but we came up with new music. It just worked out. When it clicks, it clicks. You know that there is a certain anointing in it because everybody is at the same place and we’re like, ‘Wow. That happened.’” They wrote the first song, Wonder of Your Greatness, and then decided to see how far that would go. At one point, they were writing a new song every other week.
“I think what was powerful was that we hadn’t been together for a long time,” Darren added. “But when we came together to write that one song—how we felt, we knew it was right because we were worshipping. Right there in that studio, it was a confirmation that this is what we are going to do.”
“The creative process was amazing because everybody had something to bring to the table. We were doing worship and praise songs. Whatever was being birthed at that time was very timely and we knew it was from God.” Jeff said. “We just wrote based on our personal worship. Worship is a very personal thing. It’s not about other people or the performance, so if you can’t worship, there’s no point in doing it.”
Army of Three is very aware that their genre of music is not typically accepted as “Christian music,” especially in Malaysia, but they seek to break those barriers with their work. “It’s amazing because it shows that yes, you can still worship because worship is not limited. It cannot be put into a box that defines, ‘this is what worship looks like.’ At every juncture in the Bible, different people worship God differently.”
This exciting series of events has led to their recent release of their second full-length album, Heartcore. The name of the album came from a man they had met many years ago in Thailand when they opened for a Planet Shakers concert who had said to them, don’t just be hardcore, but heartcore. “Now that we’re doing this, what he said back then makes perfect sense. It’s what’s in our heart that matters. It’s not the presentation, but the substance behind it,” Jeff said.
With the new release, Army of Three has taken the step to go on tour, and is hoping to make it more than just any tour. “We’re trying to get into as many churches as we can go and to as many places as we can play at. This time around, our songs are ‘in your face.’ We have played at bars, cafes, anywhere that is open to us, and we’re playing songs from Heartcore.
“The responses so far have been amazing, because these are not Christian venues. As long as people want us, we will go and play. At the end of the day, we are worshipping God. That is what we do. That is what we wrote, and that’s who we are. We are sure that it would relate to some people, and we always say that if only one person came to the knowledge of salvation through this, it’s worth it.”
Alex elaborated a little bit about going to play at such venues: “Over the years they kind of know who we are and what we do. We’ve played in the same places, and they just willingly invite us back. So it’s a good sign that they appreciate us and respect the talents that we have, and at the same time we enjoy what we do.
“Last night, we were at a bar, and it was a Friday night crowd. We went there, we said who we are, and the cool thing is, a few people came up to us and asked, ‘Hey, can we have a chat with you? When you mentioned Jesus…’ I ended up praying for this guy last night! We never know what God is going to do with us, and we’re just prepared for that.”
In the past ten years, there has been little to no mention of Christian bands in Malaysia. Army of Three plans to change that. “There are no bands that are openly going out and proclaiming Jesus, so that’s why we wanna do it.” Darren said. They have also recruited several other Christian artists and bands to join them on their tour. Relent, South and the Lowlands, Kent Sim, and Sam Lopez have caught their vision, and are in this with them.
“The goal is not so much to promote the album or to promote us, but to promote the movement that we are doing. We are using music to reach out. When we play at churches, we are encouraging the people to worship, to know that worship has no boundaries, and to encourage the musicians to start something of their own—write original worship songs!
“Hillsong, Planet Shakers, Jesus Culture—all great. But why can’t Malaysia start something? Why can’t we write something of our own that the whole world will start singing? If we do it together, in no time, we will be able to win Malaysia. That is what the Heartcore tour is about,” said Darren.
“I think there is a need for it,” Jeff added. “There are bands out there, but many of them are comfortable in their churches. The Heartcore tour is for the Christian artistes. Over the years, we each have had different experiences, and we are at a place where we can put them all together. We have the chance to help others grow, and go further than we could possibly go. We also want to discover new people, and be their support system.
“We hope that when we are done doing one tour or one cycle of it, we can all come together and say, ‘Hey guys let’s do something!’ And that will encourage even more people. So it’s a ripple effect thing that we hope will take place. We will disciple them and let them disciple other people. There are only so many people we can disciple at one point, and only so many skills that we have, but others can pass it on and nurture other artists.
“The Heartcore album is just a tool for us to speak to the young people to do more than just go to church. So we want to make that challenge. We can do workshops in leadership or tech, spiritual life, etc. We thank God for that, because in the couple of years when we weren’t that busy doing things, we were able to build that part of our lives and character. Now we’re ready to handle a lot more than we were before. So Heartcore is indeed a movement of music, and also a discovery of supporting many more Christian artists that are out there.”
“The big idea is to gather the right people so that we can move together,” Darren continued. “When you move in groups, you’re always stronger. We’ve got a couple bookings in churches. We’ve sent over 90 emails and we’re just waiting for replies, but we’re not expecting them to reply anytime soon. Many of them don’t even know who we are. But that’s fine. 2009-2014 was the explosion of social media and we sort of missed that. But God has His timing.
“When we go out and we get all these people, we also want to start an agency. We will go into talent development. We will go into management. In the end, we will end up becoming a label. We will be able to produce, guide, train, and be rooted in the Word but at the same time be super amazing artists. So when we go up on stage, people will want to listen.”
Darren shared about how he was in the middle of the MTV Worldstage at Sunway Lagoon years ago with 20 thousand people, singing and jumping at the songs that were being sung, and thinking about how awesome it would be if those 20 thousand people were worshipping Jesus. “Of course we can get 20 thousand people every Sunday worshipping at different churches, but if you’re worshipping publicly, it is a completely different thing.”
“We could just call some big time Christian band from the US, but why do we need that when we can start something here in Malaysia? By doing this tour, we can actually work towards that.” At the same time, Darren also pointed out that Army of Three, and all the other bands who would like to be involved in eventually putting together something like a music festival, must first work at getting their name out so that people would actually know who they are and show up.
“Once we’re able to establish this movement, with all the right people talking about it, people will know who these bands are when we have a music festival— rather than if we bring in ten bands from different nations that people don’t know about. Everything has to start from the inside, and from the ground up. That’s what we’re trying to do.
“Right now, Malaysia needs it. The one thing that is unshakeable is our faith. That has never changed. We have a God bigger than anything else, but at the same time we cannot sit and be silent. Comfortable Christians will never change the world.” Darren also added that he personally hopes to break the stereotypes and religiosity that abounds in our Christian culture, pointing out that the Kingdom of God should be our main priority.
“There is no better time than now. Churches are growing. But what’s more powerful is if these churches came together and did something big. At the end of the day, we are building God’s kingdom. That’s the most important thing. What matters are the people outside who don’t know Jesus. The goal is to start something first. Sooner or later, others are going to catch on.”
*Army of Three is currently on tour. If you would like to know their schedule, book them for an event, invite them to your church, or get in touch with them about your musical aspirations, please contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/armyofthree
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