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Alternative rock band, That Praise Song, on life, music and circling back to the heart of worship

“We’re not seeking to tear down, but rather to build up the expression of worship,” says Rev Paul Lau, percussionist of Malaysian alternative rock band That Praise Song. 

That Praise Song entered the worship scene in April of this year and consists of Paul, Chris Lee, and Ivan Tashveer—three lifelong friends who have known each other for over two decades.

Utilising YouTube as their platform, That Praise Song creates covers of well-known worship songs, such as “What A Beautiful Name” by Hillsong, “Pray” by Worship Central, and “Goodness of God” by Bethel Music.

However, their approach goes beyond mere covers. Each song is accompanied by a band talk-through (providing behind-the-scenes insights, technical arrangements, and personal reflections) and a devotion by Paul, an ordained Anglican priest and lecturer at St. Paul’s Theological College.

“I had this thing playing in my mind about how we first connected through music and maybe we could reconnect in the same way, but with more purpose. We cover songs that are already out there, make it unique to our band and Paul could unpack the message and lyrics,” Ivan says.

Now in their forties, the trio has journeyed together through various stages of life. While they currently worship in different churches, their personal faith, passion for music, and commitment to serving God have never wavered.

Two decades of friendship built on a love for music

“We attended the same school; Paul and I were in Christian Fellowship together,” says Chris, who has been passionate about music from a young age. Ivan, who grew up in a Christian family, joined CF as well and became friends with the duo. 

“Chris inspired me,” Ivan jumps in to say. “I saw him at a school talent competition and thought if this guy can sing, I can sing too. So when there was an audition to join Chris’ band, I was determined to get in,” Ivan shares. 

When Yamaha announced its Asian Beat Battle of the Bands in 2002, the trio formed their own rock band, Edge of Fire, to join the competition. They came third in the Regional Finals and went on to compete in the Grand National Finals.

Rock band, Edge of Fire in 2002.

Edge of Fire disbanded when Chris left Malaysia for his studies, and the years eventually breezed by. But in October 2022, Ivan’s godmother passed away and Paul shared the Word at the funeral. 

“I ended up having a chat with Chris, where we both once again could not deny Paul’s gift of speaking and encouraging people through his sermons. That was what got the ball rolling,” Ivan explains.

An entrepreneur and investor, Ivan is the creative guy who oversees the end-to-end production of every episode; he’s also the lead singer, videographer, content strategist and editor. 

Chris is the guitarist and also lends his vocals, while Paul is the percussionist. That Praise Song releases an episode every week, either a cover and band talk-through or a reflection by Paul.

Encouraging authentic expressions of worship 

In recent years, these passionate musicians and worshippers have been dismayed at the growing spirit of criticism found in many videos on contemporary worship today.

“Even if a song is deficient in certain theological expressions, it’s not right to air it on the internet and dress down a person’s heartfelt expression of worship. Songs are not meant to be credos, they’re written in highly contextualised situations. It’s all coming from the right place, the difference that God makes in all spheres of life,” Paul says ardently. 

That Praise Song deliberately focuses on exploring how each song’s lyrics align with key biblical truths. They also invest considerable thought into the progression of the songs, vocal arrangements, and other technical aspects.

For Chris, this folding in of skill is important. “When I was a teenager, I heard my calling very clearly: use your voice to praise God. I’m 42 today, still leading worship in church, still inspired to do it… because God is the focus,” he says matter-of-factly. 

Through their initiative, the band aspires to engage Christians who are curious about the songs they sing and guide people back to the heart of worship. 

“Everyone has their own stage of where they are in their walk with God. We’re all walking this journey at our own pace, coming to a heart of worship,” Ivan says. 

A “lost sheep who found God later in life”, Ivan is now the lead singer of That Praise Song and creative who oversees the production of every episode.

Where is the Malaysian Church in terms of worship renewal today?

Paul believes the Malaysian Church is trying to understand what it means to express worship as a natural and missiological commitment. 

Sharing his experience with over 50 churches, he observed three distinctive features of Malaysian church worship today:

  • Our worship is contextual to current issues and needs (e.g. justice, fighting oppression)
  • Our worship emphasises a God of the present, not just the future, and
  • Our worship is a reminder to the Church that Jesus Christ is the centre of it all.

However, he has also seen churches get caught up with different preferences — more liturgical, hymns, highly credal in nature, songs that address God only in the second person and so forth. 

“In my opinion, many churches seek to emulate others in terms of song choice, appearance, arrangement and so forth. Some general stereotypes would be that Chinese Methodist churches largely sing classic hymns in Mandarin, or urban Klang Valley churches dress their worship leaders as though they’re going for a TED Talk,” Paul observes. 

He challenges churches not to settle and recognise the God-given talents among the members within your church. 

“Work with what you have. If you have someone who plays the saxophone, think of how you can incorporate it into your praise and worship. The church is about people being part of a community, contributing what God has given them. It may be a rojak combo, but it glorifies God,” he says.

It’s important to recognise the God-given talents within your congregation and make worship meaningful, say Chris and Paul, who serve in their church’s worship ministries.

Chris adds that mindset is very important and that worship leaders must understand the importance of preparation. If people are watching and not participating, he says, it just becomes a show.

“If you’re leading worship that week, one way to make it meaningful is to discuss what the sermon is going to be and align your song choices with it. Another practical step is to have a bank of songs that your congregation is familiar with, making it easier for them to focus on worshipping God.”

For the trio, worship is a response to God’s revelation

Interestingly, Ivan, Chris, and Paul currently worship in churches of different denominations. Ivan is a Methodist, Chris is a Baptist, and Paul is an Anglican.

It is their shared love for responding to God through worship that has formed the strong foundation of their lifelong friendship and now That Praise Song.

According to Paul, “Worship is our response to God’s revelation.” He references Matt Redman’s song Seeing You, emphasising that worship is not something we engineer but a genuine reaction to encountering God.

The band jokingly acknowledges that That Praise Song has been labelled as “archaic,” but they are comfortable with it. “Our genre is rock and alternative rock, with some unique vibes. It represents who we are.” 

While staying true to their style and maintaining a heart of worship, they also emphasise the importance of pursuing excellence.

They quickly add that, as Christians and worshippers, Sunday services are not merely a way to recharge for the week ahead but a culmination of the relationship individuals have cultivated with God over the past six days.

In their view, the posture of worship primarily stems from an individual’s prayer life, which then extends to a congregational setting where they celebrate and share what God has done in their lives during the preceding week.

Their aim is to encourage both worship ministry leaders and congregants to carefully reflect on the songs they choose to sing, fostering a thoughtful and meaningful worship experience.

In life, these men walk as brothers of the faith

It’s clear that these men share a bond of friendship some can only aspire to have; throughout the interview, they’re generous in their compliments and in lifting each other up.

Now in their forties, the trio has journeyed together through various stages of life, including singing or performing at each other’s weddings.

For Chris, That Praise Song is the fruit of Ivan’s life having been transformed by God’s love. “The Ivan that we knew 23 years ago, I would have never imagined him spearheading this project today,” he says. 

Ivan nods in agreement. “I was a lost sheep found by God’s grace later in life. My wife, Angel, was the one who turned the screw in my heart to go back to God,” he shares, adding that today, he sees the time and effort placed into That Praise Song as a form of worship unto the Lord. 

“The real head of this project is God, and we count on one another because we know each other’s strengths not only in music but in our abilities and ministry. I count on the wisdom of Paul and Chris in matters of faith and seek their counsel,” Ivan says.

In the future, the trio are exploring unpacking well-loved songs from the past two decades so that “timeless messages get echoed in today’s age.” 

Chris and Paul have also written several worship songs, which we may get to hear someday. 

But for now, their hope is to build bridges, affirm what God’s already doing and encourage churches to be more Word-based in their worship.

“We’re learning. We’re trying. How can we support and encourage other Christians in their walk with the Lord? How can we minister to others?” 

To learn more about That Praise Song or check out their latest drops, click here.

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