In an era where a vast number of pop/rock artists are becoming worship artists, Cambridge-based singer-songwriter Pete McAllen is going against the tide. A worship leader who has led with the likes of global titans Hillsong and Cambridge Community Church (C3), McAllen instead felt a pull to say some new things with his music.
After several EPs and a previous worship record, McAllen transitioned his musical efforts into a new collective of musicians called Pyramid Park. With Pyramid Park's debut project Vulnerability, McAllen gives listeners deep insight into his thought process, his struggles and how he worships.
In these 10 questions, McAllen talks about all these things, as well as what motivates him in this new creative season.
Give us a brief tour of your musical history so far.
The new album Vulnerability is the second album that I have produced. Before this, I recorded a debut worship album under my name Pete McAllen, titled I Hear Your Voice, which was released in November 2014. For me, this was a huge leap in my musical journey as writing for and recording a full-length album takes so much more out of you than an EP project.
I began leading worship and writing songs at the age of 16 in a small UK town in Norfolk, and as I grew in confidence as a writer and worship leader I started to release EPs. You can still find two out there: 2008's The Optical Illusion and 2010's Animals In London. In late 2010 I moved to Cambridge from London, having been part of Hillsong London, and began work as a Worship Pastor at a church called C3.
You've been part of some pretty influential churches in the UK, including Hillsong London and now C3 in Cambridge. How has serving in these global/local churches changed you as an artist, as a pastor and as a believer?
Hillsong and C3 have massively impacted my journey as a leader and of course as a worshiper. Going to Hillsong and getting plugged into the worship team was a huge privilege and with a team in its hundreds, you quickly learned about what it takes to be a musician playing in front of 2,000 per service. I played a lot of guitar in those days, and in the early days felt under-qualified. There were a lot of pro musicians in the team, and my standards had to improve quickly. I learned a lot about tone, listening, parts, confidence on stage and of course my spiritual journey skyrocketed--it felt like going to a Bible college. The team demanded a lot of you, but I was happy to give of myself. Little did I realize that it would lead to me being a worship pastor.
At C3, I feel I developed as a leader. The leadership culture in both churches is high, and taking over a group of musicians and leading the team through a season of massive transition grew me as a person, a leader, and musician. It was at C3 that I wrote my best songs, where I grew in confidence and really found out who I was. The leadership position made me realize that I had to step up, and my capacity was significantly stretched. Serving under other strong leaders enabled me to find my place and style.
We're in an era where a lot of pop/rock artists are becoming worship artists, but really, you're kind of doing the opposite of that. You've historically been a worship artist/singer-songwriter, but now are really letting your creativity fly. Talk about the reasons behind this shift.
Honestly, it's not been a deliberate change, but writing the second album has been challenging. Personally, I felt that I had to dig deeper as a songwriter. I also wrote the album in a time of personal struggle and frustration, so it was always going to be a case of writing from the heart and not for a market.
The transition happened quite naturally. During the writing process I had a small brown writing book for lyrics--I like to write things out by hand--and in the front was a quote by Michael Gungor saying something along the lines of, "If I write something that resonates with my heart, then somewhere someone else will connect with it." That has been my motto during the writing process.
I would still call myself a worship leader, but I didn't want to produce an album that is already out there only slightly re-worked. I guess that led to pushing my creativity and working with musicians who were further down the road than me.
Was the artist name change (from your own name to Pyramid Park) also to reflect this new musical direction? What is Pyramid Park?
The artist change was a fairly last-minute decision. We actually had artwork ready for another Pete McAllen album! However, after taking some advice from some people in the industry I realized that the album wasn't sounding like a solo artist or a mainstream worship leader, so the name was changed.
Pyramid Park gives me the freedom to bring in people into the project and to push creative boundaries. It is an artist name for a collective of musicians that I lead. Generally, I'll make the decisions for the direction of Pyramid Park, but live we sound like and are a band.
Vulnerability, you've said, came out of a really difficult season of creative and personal struggle. What was happening, and how did you come out of it to make this record?
Sometimes I think we like to be quite black and white in life, but as I've grown in my the faith journey I realize there is also a lot of grey. Yes, there are very clear truths that are not to be compromised. However, there still are plenty of unanswered questions. Personally, I was unsettled and wrestling with a lot of my values, and realizing that God had put some things in my heart which I'd neglected. My spiritual fervor was lacking and I felt worn out.
From a creative perspective I was leading worship a lot with songs that were pretty similar several times in a week, and I think the creative in me was crying out for more. I felt it was a time to really really reconnect with God, being transparent and pulling off the masks that can easily creep on without meaning to in ministry.
You've traveled the world and recorded a number of projects, and have been the worship pastor at C3. Lots of successes, to be sure, but what are those you'd consider being at the top of the list for you? What gets you up in the morning?
Success is hard to define. I'm one of those people who believe that there is always more, but if I'm not careful this can lead to being unappreciative of special moments. Yes, there have been crowds of thousands, but also rooms with only ten people in them.
I think the best moments have been when I've sensed the presence of God moving as I play, and seeing people respond. It's in those moments that you take a picture in your mind and carry it around with you. They are the segments of time when you think, "This is what I was called to do." I love it when we've been super creative yet laid it down in favor of the presence of God. I remember times in L.A. leading worship, where people were making decisions to follow Christ and God was clearly meeting with us. Then I recall times in our home church where we were worshipping as one.
I believe songs can change lives. There are times when you will know that a song or a moment in worship touches someone forever, but many times over you won't even know--and I love this. For me, it's people being impacted by the presence of God and if my songs and my leading can help in this, then I'm very happy.
How does Pyramid Park complement what you do at C3? Do these two expressions play nicely together?
I'm now no longer the worship pastor at C3, but still part of the worship team. I've taken a few months off but will be back leading worship in my home church. This is important; I want to invest where I'm planted. My gifts are for the body of Christ, and I'm excited about leading worship as a "volunteer" rather than a staff member. I think it will bring a different perspective. C3 have been very generous; they hosted the Pyramid Park album launch party and have been cheering me on. I would love to continue to lead worship at church for as long as I can.
How would you best describe the calling God has placed on your life?
To carry the presence of God wherever I go. Coupled with this, it is to song-write, lead worship, create and bring a prophetic voice into our world. As the years go by, and I get older, my heart would be to father other worship leaders.
Production-wise, Vulnerability is top-notch and refreshingly unpredictable. How did you arrive at this sound--and how would you describe this sound?
Thank you! I worked with a fantastic producer Iain Hutchison in Glasgow, Scotland. Iain and I had a conversation before the project about references. He generally doesn't work on worship projects but was interested because of my reference list. I love Mutemath, Asgeir--lots of UK indie bands--but also love electronic and dark pop music. But when I worship on my own at home I'm massively into United Pursuit and Housefires.
In the studio, we would start every day worshipping to either "Seek First" (the Housefires version) or "Every Cell" by United Pursuit. We wanted to really worship throughout the day and laid down our ideas and ambitions in the studio each morning. This helped us hugely, because our spirit to spirit connection enabled us to make tricky calls, and I believe God-inspired moments and ideas. We're both pretty decisive and have strong ideas, and so it surprised me that there was an incredible amount of synergy between us.
We also didn't want to make a record that we would be bored of. We cut a song that wasn't exciting us enough, even though it was half finished. Initially, the sound was going to have far more space and ambiance, but as we got into the album we both realized the album required more intensity in sound.
It's hard to describe the sound, but it's probably going to be boxed into the alternative/dark pop category.
We pull up your Spotify account: The playlists/artists most played by Pete McAllen are what/who?
If I'm learning songs for church or other events then it'll be a worship playlist. If not, I'm really enjoying Mutemath's Play Dead album, Asgeir, and a UK worship leader called Danny O'Callaghan who's got an EP out titled Sons of My Father.
What's next? How can people be praying for you?
All prayer is gratefully received! I'm doing a few dates in Germany in November, plus playing quite a bit in the UK during the fall, followed by a trip to New Zealand in January. I would love to connect more in the US, having not been over for several years. We also have a few videos in the pipeline, plus an idea of a follow-up EP based on Vulnerability. We would love prayer that the music will connect and reach with people beyond Christian circles and that God would open up doors for us in the right places around the world.
Marcus Hathcock is the Executive Editor of NewReleaseToday.com, a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader living in Boise. He has released an EP, Songs For Tomorrow, and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.
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