"Art must be an expression of love or it is nothing."
— Marc Chagall
It has been said that the very best art comes as fruit from a life filled with experience. We Are The Monks, the sparkling acoustic debut from husband/wife duo Trent and Shellie Monk, eloquently shares life lessons learned by the young couple on the sometimes-winding road that began many years ago and has brought them to an invigorating new destination.
Trent Monk’s journey as a singer/songwriter began in college, when he and friend Michael Neagle joined forces as Monk & Neagle, an acoustic pairing whose passionate following in their native Texas led to an acclaimed national platform. Well-loved on the college circuit, Monk & Neagle recorded two critically-praised albums on major Christian labels, while their songs “Dancing With The Angels” and “Twenty-First Time” become Christian radio favorites.
The duo eventually decided to chart different paths, and the changes left Trent confused, burned out and unsure of his next step.
“[The transition] just left me wandering for a little bit and that’s when Shellie and I met. God’s timing was more evident than any other time in my life,” Trent remembers. Set up by friends, the two hit it off instantly. They were both healing from wounds inflicted by recent hurtful relationships. “And the rest is history,” Shellie adds.
At the time, Trent was convinced music was no longer going to be a part of his life. “I really believed I was done for good,” he affirms. He decided to pursue different avenues that found him doing carpentry work and attending culinary school, while waiting tables. It was in the midst of this season that he realized music still had a hold on him. “You gain a lot of perspective when you are hustling tables,” he says with a laugh. “In the midst of all that chaos and confusion, God brought me back to why I started doing music in the first place.”
It was time to pick up his guitar again. But this time, Trent realized he didn’t want to do it alone. He asked Shellie to marry him and travel full-time at his side. She said “yes,” which meant giving up her position as an elementary school physical education teacher and golf and basketball coach. The newlyweds put their belongings in storage and hit the road, living out of a suitcase with literally no home to call their own for the first six months.
Trent released two solo projects: 2011’s Dreamer and 2012’s Trent Monk Live. An old song made new quickly reestablished the now-seasoned artist. Continued strong audience response led Trent to re-record “Beautiful You,” a selection from Monk & Neagle’s sophomore effort. Collaborating again with producer and friend Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, Kari Jobe), the out-of-the-box acoustic offering became a Top 10 hit at Christian radio and one of Billboard magazine’s Top 50 Christian Songs of 2012, a nearly unprecedented feat for an independent artist. Poised for a successful solo career, something still felt incomplete.
When Shellie, who had no prior musical experience, began singing background vocals and playing shaker on a few songs during concerts, Trent knew he had found the missing piece. “It was a very natural progression of seeing her talent in a beautiful and raw form and just coaxing it out of her a little bit at a time,” Trent explains.
“I was honestly completely content with hitting the road with him and being the supportive wife, and then it organically grew into me having more of a musical role alongside Trent on stage,” says Shellie. “If someone were to have asked me when I met him if I would be on stage, or if we would be recording together, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy,’” Shellie laughs.
With Shellie singing background vocals more consistently at Trent’s live appearances, fans began asking where they could purchase recordings of the duo—and why Shellie’s name wasn’t on the t-shirts! Feeling led to make the jump from Trent’s
successful career to that of a full-fledged duo, Trent and Shellie headed into the studio with producer Mitch Dane (Jars of Clay, Bebo Norman) to record their debut album as We Are The Monks.
“I feel more at home as part of a team,” Trent elaborates. “That to me is a true testament to God’s plan and His calling on our lives as a couple, both personally and professionally. He has a way of putting a little exclamation point on ‘That was Me!’ so we can see and acknowledge His work; It’s a beautiful thing. I thrive in this, especially with my best friend and wife.”
Trent wrote all eight tracks on We Are The Monks, three of which he co-wrote with Dane. Musically the project is open and organic, allowing ample space for the duo’s passionate vocals and heart-felt lyrics to take center stage. The collection authentically captures the very attributes that make their live shows, which are primarily acoustic, so compelling.
The collection kicks off perfectly with the rollicking sound of “Walking on the Water,” an undeniably catchy challenge to live a life of faith. From there, strong familial threads run throughout the project, a natural theme given Trent and Shellie’s relationship and the recent birth of their first child, Oliver. Songs like “Stronger” reveal Trent’s gratitude for the relationships in his life. “I feel like that song captures two things that have made me stronger—my relationship with God and my relationship with my wife,” he comments. “Here We Go” takes he and Shellie back to the beginning of the surprising journey that has led them to this new season of music ministry together.
One of the recording’s most intimate and powerful moments is “These Arms,” which Trent wrote in anticipation of Oliver’s birth. “I just couldn’t wait to hold him. It was becoming so real. I want us to always be his home and his shelter,” Trent shares. “The first time we did the song in front of an audience, we could hardly get through it,” Shellie adds. “But every night when we sing it, we see parents and grandparents connecting to the message.”
The powerful “My Help” serves as a personal testimony of the Hope that Trent and Shellie have found to be True, regardless of the circumstance. A concert favorite, the song promises to be embraced by congregations across the country.
“Rise,” produced by long-time collaborator Ed Cash, serves as a fitting closer for the debut offering. The duo first performed the foot-stomping, congregational-friendly anthem at a college retreat where they remember nearly 200 students worshipping at the top of their lungs. The song’s initial response has indeed been indicative of how audiences have continued to resonate with the music, night after night.
“We love how the record turned out,” Shellie shares. “First and foremost, we hope listeners are fed, challenged and encouraged by the lyrics. Ultimately, we hope that people are drawn closer to Jesus.”
“It is our desire that people will not only be entertained by the songs on the record, but that they may find themselves in worshipful moments,” Trent adds.
And as they are transparent about their own journeys, Trent hopes listeners will be encouraged by the stories of healing they’ve experienced from past relationships and the joy they’ve found together in this new season of marriage and family. “We hope that our relationship will be a light and minister to people who are in marriages and relationships. God has a beautiful plan in that.”
The Monks continue to be surprised by the plan that’s unfolding in their own lives. They may not know exactly what the future holds, but they know Who they’ll be following every step of the way. “I know as long as we have our heart and mind set toward Him,” Trent concludes, “He’s going to continue to be faithful to lead the way.”