Last Thursday, February 2nd, our little student lounge was filled with hushed whispers and people reclining comfortably, listening to the poetic rhythms of Trent Monk. The setting was intimate, with the lights dimmed so he was the main focus as he ran his trained fingers across his guitar and displayed remarkable range, with his voice quieting his college audience with poetic verses.
After a brief interview with the thirty three year old musician, and hearing his wide variety of lyrics, I was moved by his vision and the unique way that God is using him. Unlike some popular Christian artists, Trent Monk’s lyrics are deeply poetic and thought provoking. No matter what style he plays in, whether it is reggae, blues, or soft acoustic, his verses are highly visual and usually entwined with his life’s journey.
When asking him what he thinks of bands like David Crowder, Third Day, and other groups that focus on worship with repetition and simple choruses, his answer was unexpected.
“There’s a time and a place for that genre. I love that type of music too.”
Although those simplistic worship songs are not his style, the worship aspect of them is evident in his lyrics. In his song, “The Twenty-first Time,” he sings about what it really means to be the body of Christ, and what our responsibility as representatives of this looks like.
The first verse begins with a downtrodden man, homeless, sleeping under the stars at the corner of Carter and Vine, and though he is in misery, he is passed by again and again. He is one of the world’s poor, with his hand out in cry of help but is ignored although he is constantly noticed. The second verse is about a woman who is twenty-nine who feels forty-eight and is trying to raise her kids, while forced to go into the welfare system. The chorus is repentance for the callous behavior of passing over them and a call to action to his listening audience.
“When I needed a savior, I found him
He gave to me, so I give back to them”.
This is a plea for compassion is for anyone that professes that they are the hands and feet of Christ. It is a message that we all need to be reminded of, and Monk, through his highly visual and poetic style, relays this message with anguish in his voice, and tremendous versatility on guitar.
This versatility and precision is present in his playing as well as the topics of the songs he chooses. Whether it is singing a love song to his wife (that made all the girls swoon), belting a chorus to discourage Christian complacency in the church, or playing a lightning fast solo to one of his blues style songs, Monk knows that he has been given a divine gift. The life lessons and humbling experiences he has had along the way fuel his lyrics and presence on stage.
Perhaps that is why his songs are authentic, because to Monk, there is no separation between faith, art, and life. As the crowd in the student center looks on Monk cries out:
“My heart is dying, Lord I’m crying out for help…I fall to the ground, I want to be better”.
But through this darkness, there sprouts joy, beauty, and peace. His song, “Paradise,” is a tribute to the calm when God is in control. He praises the Lord’s sovereignty under the reggae influenced, “Beautiful You”, as the crowd participates, clapping to the island beat. Under the upbeat bluesy feel, “Into Orbit”, he sings about a relationship that will never fail, never discourage, and ends it with a spirited solo, alternating between diverse guitar distortions.
It was a pleasure to see that Christian music can be creative, moving, energetic, and genuine, as Monk demonstrated. So many times we repeat the same words in unison and they lose meaning. With Monk’s music that is impossible because, like a good poem, the lyrics, the complexity of the style, and the heart behind the words, offer fresh insights into the character of God.
There are seasons of brokenness, repentance, joy, strength, power, and peace in the Christian walk and music should reflect every aspect of the journey. I was gladly surprised when Monk proved this to the TFC community. It was a refreshing change of pace, a break from complacency, and a good pattern for any Christian artist to follow.
If you missed him last Thursday or you were impressed and want to find out more, or support him, catch him on Facebook, YouTube, or iTunes. I’m sure he would appreciate the encouragement.