For six years, New England-based pop/rock band Right Hand Shade has leaned full-throttle into their God-given gifts, performing on stages across the Northeast and watching many dreams become realities: Recording with award-winning producers, receiving national radio airplay with multiple singles, appearing at high-profile festivals alongside national industry acts, and signing with TMA Media Group and Fuse Ministries. But the fulfillment of these dreams and RHS’ rise as one of the fastest-growing Christian acts in the Northeast has also come with its share of losses and soul-searching questions. Just as their 2018 hit “Just As I Am” explains:
Just as I am, with every broken piece
You lift me up, back to my feet
And you’re always gonna be for me
If you ask the band members what their fans connect most with, they’ll tell you it has little to do with their vibrant rock/pop approach, their unique blend of different musical influences, or their skilled musicianship. It’s not their soulful and lush vocal harmonies over catchy guitar riffs, or their adventurous production that pushes beyond the expected boundaries of style. What seems to unite RHS fans most is the band’s willingness to present their songs while at the same time laying their souls bare with authenticity. Matt Jones explains, “We’re not pretending to have it all figured out. We’re just being faithful to the ministry that God has given us, and sharing our message wherever we can. I think people tend to relate to someone who has been broken, who has walked through pain and has asked God, ‘Why am I facing this thing?’, but who has also been redeemed and has found the hope and freedom in knowing that our God will never leave or forsake us. He alone will give us the strength to overcome. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I trust that my Father already has it in His hands. Whatever we are facing, He is still in control, and we can trust Him. Our songs are written from the roots of those experiences.”
Years before forming the band, Matt would learn just what it means to trust through the diagnosis of his 15-month-old daughter with type-1 diabetes. He explains, “my wife Erin and I were newly married, young parents just starting our family, and we ended up in the pediatric intensive care unit one weekend with this diagnosis that we never saw coming. We had no idea how we were going to care for our baby girl. I’m not going to lie, there have been some really hard days. It’s a chronic illness; it never goes away. You don’t get to take a break or vacation. It’s always in the back of your head, and the enemy loves to nag you with the ‘what if’s’.” As the years went by, Matt would experience God’s provision for his daughter time and time again. And then 2020 happened.
Like so many other artists, the pandemic brought unforeseen challenges for rhs. First there was the loss of live shows, and with it the funding for their second studio album. Then one of the band’s beloved summer camps closed its doors for good. Next Emma, the band’s only female member, stepped back from the lineup due to health concerns. And if that weren’t enough, Matt and Erin would end up in the emergency room once again, but this time with their only other child, their son. Matt continues, “It was like deja vu. We were going home with the diagnosis of a second child with type-1 diabetes. Our daughter had a one-in-a-million chance of getting this, but what were the chances of our son getting it too? We truly felt like we had the wind knocked out of us, like we had been brought to our knees.
“But when we’re in those valleys of uncertainty, God has an amazing way of meeting us there and teaching us to trust. It was in that valley as I was praying for my children that God reminded me: I may not know why my kids have to face something like diabetes, but I do know the One who created them and who loves them more than I could ever comprehend. You see we serve a God of hope. We serve a God who keeps His promises. He’s the same yesterday, today, and will be tomorrow. No matter WHAT we’re facing, He does NOT make mistakes. Ever. And if He has the power to bring dead things back to life, then He’s got my children right in the palm of His hand. He loves them even more than I could.”
Out of this place Matt and Taylor penned the songs for the follow-up album Rise. The title track encapsulates the heart of the album:
Joy comes in the morning, the sun’s gonna shine
You’ll dance, dance, dance on the sorrow
From the ashes you’ll rise, rise, rise
Released in July 2021 and produced by Chris Hoisington (The Brothers McClurg) at Old Bear Studios in New York, Rise finds the band exploring new territory, pushing the creative process, honing their sound further, and capitalizing on the strengths of each band member. Blending elements of surf-rock, pop-rock and gospel, and layering complex vocal harmonies, intricate rhythmic patterns, and signature RHS guitar riffs, the album takes a decidedly new direction. with Hoisington at the helm, the band recorded the entire album twice, with both lo-fi and hi-fi approaches, and then layered the tracks, weaving the lo-fi and hi-fi into the sonic landscape in a fresh and innovative way. Drummer Kevin Donovan explains, “this album is going to be a crusin’-to-the-beach-with-your-friends kind of vibe, a step in a totally different direction from what you’d expect from a Right Hand Shade album”.
Rise features ten tracks that are sure to resonate with the times, celebrating God’s faithfulness, embracing His freedom, and living with the expectancy of all He has in store for us.
“Free” opens the album as a celebratory surf-rock cut written around a catchy electric riff with plenty of Beach Boys-esque vocal layers.
Breaking free from gravity, I’m walking on thin air
I can feel you lifting me, above the atmosphere
“This I Know” is a tight groove-driven R&B outing with powerhouse vocals about the assurance of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter what we’re facing, our Father is going before us.
For I know that I know that I know, I feel it down in my bones
I’m hanging onto this hope
That you will go, you will go, you will go, You will always go before me
You’re never gonna leave me lonely
This I know
“Eviction Notice" is a declarative, contagious, rock-driven joyride about kicking shame, fear, doubt and worry out of our lives.
This is your eviction notice, you gotta go, you gotta leave
You stole too much from me
This is your eviction notice, though you’re mad, I’m not afraid
For my price is paid
It seems God had a plan along, even in the naming of the band. Speaking partner and band pastor Dan Elliott explains its origins from Psalm 121: “In this Psalm we see a picture of safety and security in the arms of our Father. So often we are ready to fight and win our freedom from the difficult circumstances of life, and as a result find that we are completely defenseless against all that comes against us. The name ‘Right Hand Shade’ was born out of a desire to see all people find their peace under the shadow of the right hand of God. We are freedom advocates strictly focused on proclaiming that Jesus desires to draw all people closer to Himself. Our prayer is that whoever finds themselves in contact with us in any way would experience a closeness with God that brings peace, safety and wholeness.”
Despite RHS’ seemingly quick rise to legitimate status, when asked what the future holds, Matt is quick to point back to the scripture that defines so much of who the band is: Jeremiah 29:11. “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.’ This scripture was written as an acknowledgement of the difficult times the Israelites would face in Babylon. But God’s promise in this scripture remains. As long as He gives us this platform, we’re going to remind people that although we may face tough things, maybe even impossible challenges, if we fix our eyes on our God, not only will He redeem and restore us, but He will give us a testimony that only His work in us can produce. Our purpose is to remind anyone who will listen that God truly does have a future and a hope for each and every one of us.” As the lyrics of one of the band’s original favorites remind us, THE BEST IS YET TO COME!