Florida native Aaron Rios is a worship leader who has led worship throughout the United States and in several countries. He has spent years as an artist in the indie rock scene. Now, he's moving his musical talents to the worship genre. Recently, Aaron released his new EP, Hiding Place. The release, Aaron says, is a "start of a new journey, a departure and reset after years of making music outside of the Christian market." I connected with Aaron to talk about his music, his creative influences, him living in quarantine, and his new EP.
Why write and perform worship music?
Long story short, I was living pretty backward. Life had become difficult and heavy until I surrendered my life to Christ. It was a wild moment when I fully met Jesus. Though I meant well, most of the music I made was about expressing my heart and life. I felt God call me into worship to express His heart. I have really felt led to stick primarily to worship music, as well as helping other people encounter God's presence.
What are some of your creative influences?
It's a mixed bag that probably wouldn't make sense for a lot of people, since most of my musical ventures were outside of the Christian music industry. Most of my main influences have been from mainstream music: experimental, grunge, emo, and so on. My top influences would probably include Jeff Buckley, The Beatles, Radiohead, U2, Foo Fighters, and Copeland; I think the '90s had some excellent bands.
I have a deep contrasting influence with gospel and contemporary Christian artists as well; Israel Houghton, Michael W. Smith, Michael English, and Cody Carnes are fantastic musicians. I can never leave out the older Christian band, Seven Day Jesus. Unfortunately, they don't exist anymore. I was a huge fan.
I've fallen in love with worship groups, such as Planetshakers and Hillsong Young & Free, as well as Elevation Worship. I know it's all over the place, and I could go on. But, I always listen to learn and most music can teach something.
Tell us about your latest music.
My new EP, Hiding Place, began as a few songs I wrote and added to my Sunday morning worship sets. I wanted to make songs that were easy to sing. Songs I felt familiar with. I wanted songs that expressed a simple message that helped listeners immediately connect with God. I wanted songs that, even if you were not a believer, you can sense a change in the atmosphere when you listened to them.
Originally, the songs were piano ballads. But, the moment I hit the studio and focused on developing the music, I started adding more color to it. The music became more sophisticated. I kept tinkering with the songs, turning them into polished pieces.
Casey Dawson, a friend who co-produced and engineered the EP, really did a terrific job mixing the music. I'm grateful for some friends who contributed; my drummer Joshua Mangual is one. Another is Scott Haggins, my friend from Florida. He and I have done a few projects together. Artists Shaun Combs and Luiz Cardoso also contributed their talents. All who contributed are amazing and generous people.
My hope is you hear a worship song that moves you. Something that you can easily connect with. But, something that reveals more to you each time you listen. I always loved that about bands like DC Talk: the more you listened, the more you could hear whether vocally or instrumentally.
What’s been the best and worst part of quarantine for you as an artist?
I have so much to be grateful for. I recognize so many people have been hit hard because of the coronavirus. People have lost jobs. Some are dealing with an uncertain future. And, many have even lost loved ones. My heart breaks for those who feel lost and alone.
Sitting back and feeling powerless to do anything to help people beyond giving out food doesn't feel like much of a contribution, but it's something. More than ever, I want to play these songs live and hear people worship with me. I feel like these songs from Hiding Place have something to offer people. Songs that are appropriate for now.
Now, more than ever, we need hope and unity in our nation and, call me crazy, but I fully believe worship is powerful. Worship is key in bringing unity within the body of Christ. Uniting our voices together and being still in God's presence can change things. I look forward to playing these songs and seeing what God does.
I'm finishing up a book that has been in development for a while now. In fact, it's almost finished. I hope to get that out this year and, of course, I plan to continue writing music, too. I have tons of songs to demo and develop. I'm looking forward to putting out a full-length album in early 2021.
How can we be praying for you?
It's about making Christ known. I have spent more years than I care to count doing music and chasing career on my terms. The minor success I've had in the past, are meaningless if they are not impacting someone's life.
Today I am a pastor as well as a musician. I'm not looking to balance it out - and in doing so, do life 50%50. I'm looking to do both to the fullest capacity. I do not believe we have to swap one gift for another, I believe God calls us, and life helps us to develop an arsenal to use for the kingdom.
I consider music another tool to make Christ known. So in that, I'm praying and asking for prayer that this go around, I truly do it all for His glory, and that whatever I do, that it might have relevant impact in someone's life.
Kevin McNeese started NRT in 2002 and has worked in the industry since 1999 in one form or another. He has been a fan of Christian music since 1991.
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