by Sam Robinson
This week Seattle band Kings Kaleidoscope graced us with glorious new music in the form of a live EP called Live in Color (read my review here). Recorded in a middle school in less than half a day, it’s a recording that shows off the band’s live prowess. I sat down to speak at length with lead singer Chad Gardner about Live in Color, transitioning out of Mars Hill Church, hip-hop, running rampant in a middle school, what to expect from their full-length album, and much more.
SAM: Chad, congratulations on this new live EP. It’s a big jam, isn’t it?
CHAD: It is! Thanks man, it was a lot of fun to make – a lot of fun.
SAM: Is it nice to be releasing some new music?
CHAD: Oh, it feels so good. We have so much music that we’ve built up over the last four years of being a band and we wish we could be releasing music even more regularly so now we’re independent, doing our own thing, we hope to be releasing music hopefully every year. Something at least. We have a lot of content. We have a lot of people – I mean, the band is ten people and all of them are doing their own musical ventures all the time and so there’s always new ideas and new content that’s just naturally coming up. We’d love to just put out more stuff all the time.
SAM: Now I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot, and I thought I’d briefly ask you about your split from Mars Hill Music. That’s how you started the year, with this announcement. Could you briefly share your reasons for doing that?
CHAD: Yeah, totally. I worked at the church for a little over four years, and before that I was also a worship leader at another church and so I’ve been doing that for the past seven, eight years, basically since straight out of high school. It just felt like it was time for me and my wife to move on and do something different. So it’s really a calling thing. We felt like we wanted to step away from Mars Hill Church and do something different. We’re still praying about what that is – it was crazy though because we felt like God was calling us to step out on the water and we didn’t really know where we were going but we knew that we were walking towards Jesus. We’re still doing that now. And with that, as that was the first piece of transitioning from Mars Hill, just for me as working there, then it was like – we have this band that we’ve built up and it’s already in place, we have all these songs, we should probably go ahead and keep going with it, and everybody in the band wanted to do it.
But probably half the band still goes to Mars Hill and we love that church. We had great experiences there and I think Dustin and Zach and Brian and Cam and all the guys there that do the music stuff are top notch. I learned tonnes from working with those guys. I started working for the Ballard campus, which at the time was the biggest Mars Hill church, when I was 23 years old as the worship guy. Being able to learn from the pastors that have been there, that I had been watching since I was in high school, was incredible. So the last four years have been a huge blessing.
SAM: Was it a hard decision to make, to move on?
CHAD: Oh yeah. It was really hard. But I very clearly felt the conviction to do something different and just follow the Holy Spirit. So it’s hard but when you just feel really strongly like God is telling you to do something, you gotta do it. Even when you don’t know what’s next. That was the case for us. We don’t really know what’s next but we’re going to move on. And then at the same time it’s like, why would we not share all these songs with people? It’s a no-brainer. This is a way to share the gospel with people. It’s a way to use the gifts and talents that God has given us. We don’t want to bury all that stuff. We want to use it and tell people about Jesus.
This whole EP thing – we have enough content to make a full-length album, if not two. But this was sort of like: Chad’s been having some downtime, what’s a really quick way to just go do something? So I had a friend who works at a middle school, and we just went there and tracked six songs. We hung out and played basketball in the gym in between [laughs]. We played each song three times and picked the best one. It turned out so good we thought that we should probably release this as an album. Originally we were just going to give away the videos – ‘Hey everybody, here’s some free stuff! This is what Kings Kaleidoscope does for fun!’ Then we were like – this turned out pretty awesome, let’s actually release it and give it away.
SAM: You’ve teamed up with Bad Christian, what was it about them seemed like a right fit for Kings Kaleidoscope?
CHAD: Well I’m really good friends with Matt Carter who plays guitar in the band Emery and he’s one of the three founders of Bad Christian. It’s funny – when I was working at Mars Hill he led one of the bands, so I coached him, took him through the deaconship process. So it’s a funny thing – I knew him from that and then when I was telling my band leaders about transitioning out, but Matt was like, in a thick southern accent – they’re all hillbillies: ‘Well that just means one thing: I gotta sign you to Bad Christian Records.’ [Laughs] I was like ‘I don’t know, man!’ But it’s not so much a label deal, it’s more of a partnership. They’ve got a lot of guys who have a tonne of experience. Matt as a friend is helping me with marketing strategy and a web store. We’re going to be doing a crowd-fund campaign in the next few months. The goal is to get our first full-length out by July or August, but we need to raise money to do that now that we’re independent. Matt and his Bad Christian team just have tonnes of experience doing that kind of stuff. So it was a perfect blend of – I didn’t have to sign my life over to a major label and spend my life touring – everybody in our band has jobs and families, and they want to serve their local churches first – but we still really want to be able to make music. It didn’t feel like we had to compromise those values and be on the road all the time but it did feel like what we needed to be able to share music and make music and get it out.
SAM: Let’s talk about the EP – one standout is Felix Culpa…
CHAD: Yes! Felix Culpa was definitely the hardest to write… It’s pretty wild. The bulk of that song actually came together the day after I had transitioned out of Mars Hill and I was feeling like… I had been working on that song for a long time but I was feeling like ‘I don’t even know if I can do this. What am I doing? I’ve had all the best help in the world from all these guys.’ And that’s actually when that chorus came together and some of the verses. It was awesome to finish that song and be like: if I can finish this on my own, I think things are going to be OK! [Laughs] That’s actually my favourite song. The concept came from two places. One, I was doing some marriage counselling with my wife and one of the things that was really helpful to me was that one of the pastors was talking about the idea of being able to rejoice in your sin because it’s forgiven. And looking at your sin and saying ‘Man, this is incredible!’ – almost like you look at it and you have joy and you’re happy because it shows how good God is, how much he’s forgiven you for. So that concept had come from that, and I took that back and was talking about it with some other guys, and one of my friends – another pastor – said ‘Hey that sounds like this thing called ‘felix culpa’ which is this Latin term for ‘fortunate fall’ or ‘o happy fault’.’ Same thing. You look at your sin and rejoice because it shows how good God is. And I thought that is a way to explain the gospel. If you had a song where you talk about depth of sin and how terrible you are, at the exact same time of showing how much grace that is. And every time we pile on to this mountain of sin that had been in your life, that mountain is a mountain of grace. Grace upon grace upon grace. Conceptually it’s a tricky song to figure out. It’s definitely not perfect but I’m pretty happy with it.
SAM: I think it’s great! I love how you’ve got that hip-hop feel going on! Are you going to try doing more of that in the future?
CHAD: Yeah we are. Some people might know but there’s a group called the Robert Glasper Experiment. They’re a jazz/hip-hop fusion thing. They have a drummer called Chris Dave. But watching that video was the inspiration for that groove. They have a bunch of YouTube videos.
SAM: Watching that made me think that it would be great to see a collaboration in the future between you guys and perhaps a Christian hip-hop artist. Would you ever consider that?
CHAD: Yeah! My friend is working on writing some rap verses for that song right now. He freaked out when he saw it. We’ve done some stuff with him before. We’ve never recorded any of it, but yes, definitely.
SAM: If you had a wish list of Christian hip-hop artists you could collab with, who would you pick?
CHAD: I have to be really honest, I don’t listen to Christian rap! [Laughs] I usually don’t like it. I think it has a Christian sound to it. I listen to lots of other hip-hop. It’s good – Lecrae and all of Reach Records, those guys are awesome. Humble Beast – everybody on that label is awesome. I just haven’t had time to listen to it. I’m too busy listening to whatever other rap is out there.
SAM: Do you think then that we might hear Felix Culpa on a studio album in the future?
CHAD: Yeah, definitely. I don’t know – we’ll see how this live EP plays out. Originally I was thought these are just live recordings but we definitely want to re-record all of these in a studio. But I might feel differently when we go to track the full-length. Felix though, I definitely want to get a slammin’ studio recording of.
SAM: And speaking of other projects, you released a short remix of this song. Is it true you recorded it on a plane?
CHAD: Yeah I hate flying. I get really anxious flying, I panic. I hate it. So the way I distract myself is by playing with beats. I grew up making beats and as a hip-hop DJ. So the most recent plane ride I was on, that’s what I did. I remixed that beat for fun! I put it on my Soundcloud, there’s lots of little musical snippets, and for fun I just will throw up little beats sometime.
SAM: Yeah. I’d love to see you make a remix album one day. I know you haven’t even released the studio album yet!
CHAD: That would be so fun man, I would love it. One of our goals is to do a crowd-sourced remix project. For sure on our full-length we will upload all the stems and let people remix it and we’ll have a competition and give something away. So you can remix it!
SAM: My entry would be terrible, Chad. It would have some cheesy GarageBand sound effects in there and nobody would listen to it!
CHAD: [Laughs] Yep! Oh man…
SAM: Now Live in Color, this is the first release since leaving Mars Hill. You mentioned before how you did it on a whim, but why release a live EP? Is it meant to be a bit of a taster for this new Kings Kaleidoscope?
CHAD: Yeah I think it’s just a good way for people to get to know who we are. It’s good for people to be able to see who we are live. That’s a big thing about our band. We’re just a really weird group of people. I don’t know if you can see in the videos, but there’s a lot of nerds in the band. Nobody is really that cool. There’s three music educators, one of them is a professor. One of them is a mathematician, one of them is a rocket scientist, one works at a fish factory inspecting fish for the United States. We’re a normal group of people that really are passionate about music and Jesus. I just wanted to tell everybody a little of who we are by showing us play live, and I think there’s an energy that comes from seeing us that you don’t get on – especially on the last records we’ve done. It’s a taster of the next album for sure, and it’s just a way to say ‘Hey, you might have heard of us. This is who we are, this is what we’re about. This is what we do, and we have lot of fun with it.’
SAM: And you’re releasing it for free as well, was there any hesitation in doing that?
CHAD: No man. I’m really dumb at marketing so I was like: ‘Let’s just record this in one night and then a couple of weeks later we’ll just give away this thirty-minute film.’ Thirty minutes of video. And then everybody was like: ‘Chad, this is really good. Why don’t you let people download the music?’ And I was like: ‘I don’t know if it’s good enough for that, maybe we’ll just give away the videos.’ And they’re like ‘No, you should build momentum and release one video every couple of days,’ and I was like, ‘OK.’ So we changed the plan but I think it’s good. Marketing doesn’t feel bad when it feels like you’re actually able to tell people about something they’re interested in. I don’t want to sell people something. I don’t want people to feel like I’m pulling their leg to get money. If this is something that people want, and they’re interested in, I want them to know about it. And they will know about it more if we plate it out longer, one video every few days. It’s more shares and it’s more people that actually in the end are gonna be blessed by it and find out about it.
SAM: And your fans are frothing for new music, man. Including myself!
CHAD: Yeah, they are!
SAM: You recorded this in a public school in Seattle, how did you line that up?
CHAD: One of the violinists, her name is Julianne and her sister has also played with us before, she plays clarinet. She’s a music teacher at a middle school just outside of Seattle. The original idea was… I was thinking, what’s the least cool place to record a band? We thought of an elementary school library! It’s so not cool, and cool at the same time. You could have everybody playing and all the shelves are as tall as your waist with books on them. We thought that would be so funny. But we couldn’t find one. So the next best thing was Julianne’s sister offering to use her middle school. We thought middle school is pretty good! We got there and we were going to do it in the library because we thought it would sound pretty dead and good, but then we got there and saw that cafeteria and it had all the flags in it. It was just so colourful. Even though the sound is a little more noisy, we had to record it in there. It just looks so cool on video. So we did it in the cafeteria!
SAM: How long did it take you to record it?
CHAD: We showed up at three in the afternoon and set up for a couple of hours. By the time we were done, we left about midnight. So we just did every song three times. Some of them only twice. I think Felix Culpa we did three times, most of them we used the last take. Higher Throne and Be Thou My Vision we only did twice. Then the last one was Fix My Eyes. We were only going to do five and then the last one was Fix My Eyes – I said ‘Hey, we gotta go to the gym and we’ll just bring two mics. Record this really fast.’ That’s why the vocal’s not that high on my mix. For later on, a studio recording, we’ll get a good recording of it. We did that one last one and I’m glad we did cos it looks so cool. My friend Andy is an incredible videographer. He’s doing all the video and just knocking it out of the park.
SAM: It’s good to be able to see what you’re doing as well as hear it. Great idea. In one of the live videos there’s someone playing with a stuffed bird. Were you sneaking around causing mischief?
CHAD: A little bit! Not too much. There’s just lots of fun stuff at a middle school. You can see on the trombonist’s trombone stand – Blake is his name – there’s a little felt sign and it says ‘Mr. Blake’. That’s a teacher at the school, or the principal. So we found that and put it on there. But we went into the band room, and I was like ‘We have to record in the band room because there’s instruments everywhere!’ but our friend Hayley was like – ‘You could just use any of these instruments.’ So we just grabbed everything we could. The vibraphone, a bunch of glockenspiels, a timpani which we used on one song. We just started littering the cafeteria with all her instruments! [Laughs]
SAM: Reel Gospel reader Samantha has sent in a question for you: What does it look like for you to lead the team at Kings Kaleidoscope?
CHAD: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think of myself as a collage artist, or a curator. I mean, honestly, everybody in the band is more talented than I am, in every way. I’m really blessed to play music with them. My job is to arrange and sample all the cool stuff that they do, and then just sing on it. That’s how I learned to make music as a DJ growing up. I had a lot of vinyl records and was making sample-based music from old records. I think it’s just natural that when it came time to have a real band and make a band that I needed lots of different sounds and instruments to sample and put on top of each other because I was used to just being able to look for anything I wanted to on record. So that’s my role – I organise everybody and I focus everybody and come to them with an idea and have them fill it out, then edit. I’m a full-time editor. They play stuff all the time and I say ‘That’s awesome! We need to do that again,’ or, ‘Nah, it’s not what we need right now.’
SAM: One of the tracks on the EP – probably my favourite – Seek Your Kingdom… It’s written from Luke 12?
CHAD: It is. That’s back to how I mentioned the plane stuff. I’ve struggle with panic attacks and anxiety kinda my whole life. And I wanted to write a song… that one and Defender, the line in Defender, where I yell ‘I will not be afraid,’ I just wanted a song where I could yell that to myself! So with Seek Your Kingdom, I had the instrumental idea, the whole thing, even the melody before I had any lyrics. Which is how most of the songs are. I thought, this song sounds pretty but also has a forcefulness to it, and I would love to do a song about anxiety where I could tell myself that everything’s going to be OK and it’s a bold declaration to myself. So that’s where we went – to that text. The whole focus is instead of looking at all the things that you’re worried about is to seek first the kingdom of God, and to look at Jesus. Even at the end of the song, there’s that instrumental that gets chaotic a little bit. There’s a lot of focussing on that chorus – ‘Seek your kingdom / Seek your righteousness’ – and you feel centred, and I feel like that instrumental at the end is like you focus on Jesus, and then you’re ready to walk back out the door, straight into the fear.’ That’s what that part feels like, that I’m walking back into the fear. Straight into the thick of the storm. That’s how I visioned the instrumental at the end.
SAM: I’ve got to say something about the name of this EP that has been troubling me. I’m from Australia and we don’t spell it “Color” but actually “Colour”.
CHAD: No way!
SAM: So for me to write reviews of your album, it’s been a bit of a struggle every time I write that word!
CHAD: Dude, just throw that ‘u’ in there!
SAM: No, I can’t mess with your title! No, I’m not having a go. Why did you name it Live in Color?
CHAD: I definitely wanted to convey that it’s live. I think that’s important when you’re listening to something that’s a live recording! I wanted to have ‘live’ in there somewhere. And I think the word ‘color’ popped out at me when I was trying to think about the personality of the band, the personality of the songs, the personality of the arrangements. We just tried a bunch of different options and thought through a bunch of different things and it was like: I don’t wanna say it’s Live at the Middle School. That’s kinda dumb. Kings Kaleidoscope Goes to School. The word ‘color’ is really awesome, but how do you use the word ‘live’? But it really is Live in Color. And it’s videos too. It seemed like it fit well.
SAM: And those flags in the videos are full of colour!
CHAD: Yeah, exactly.
SAM: Let’s talk about Defender. It’s a mighty track. It’s got great movement and you wrote it with Zach Bolen from Citizens. How did that song come together?
CHAD: I would say pretty much every single song – I’m not a lyricist at all. Like I said I’m an arranger, producer kind of person. That’s how I think, that’s what I’m gifted at. That song, I had a full demo, I know what I wanted every instrument to do. The band had jammed on the musical ideas a couple of times… And – this is how almost every single one of these songs starts – I even had the melody, the vocal melody, and the syllable count, the cadence, everything almost! But I’m not good at putting down lyrics. So I just brought the whole thing to Zach and was like, ‘Hey dude, let’s jam on this.’ And over a couple of hours one afternoon we worked through what it could be about and came to Psalm 18 and thought it was a sweet story to tell, and thought it would be cool to declare the name of Jesus and attributes about him as a response to that fear. So we knocked out most of the song in a couple of hours and then we finished the last verse a couple of weeks later.
We called it Wall Leaper for a while [laughs] because in Psalm 18, David is in trouble and he cries out to God for help. God basically equips him and gives him strength to actually fight the battle. He doesn’t take away what’s going on. He removes him for a little bit, he gives him strength, and then he tells him basically ‘Go to work!’ I thought that was awesome, but David says: ‘By my God I can leap over a wall.’ So we called it Wall Leaper for a long time.
SAM: I guess this may not apply to a live EP, but is there a message or idea running across it?
CHAD: There’s nothing intentional because it’s a collection of some songs that we’ve had… Did you pick any out?
SAM: No, not particularly. Other than – and I could have been reading into it too much – Be Thou My Vision may have been there because you’ve gone through this period of leaving Mars Hill and now have this new scope.
CHAD: Actually, that might be subconscious. I do a lot of things subconsciously. Actually – I’m almost positive that’s the case. When I was making that really hard decision, I would sing that song on Sundays and that song was the most powerful song for me during that time. The last couple of months I was working there. ‘God, what do you want me to do?’ That song would just destroy me. That might be why it ended up on this record, for sure. But I think a lot of the other songs… we’ve done a lot of hymns and I haven’t ever written anything for any of our other EPs yet. This is the first time that that’s happened and I think that it’s the first time that I have been able to share some of that personal stuff. Just the anxiety stuff. Or this is a story from the Bible that means a lot to me and I want to share this. So if there’s any theme, I don’t know if it’s a theme, but it’s a feature of the first time I have really put my own voice out there. I’ve done it musically before but I think it’s the first time it’s happening with new songs.
SAM: Let’s talk about the next step for you guys. This full-length album has been in the process for a long, long time. Is it weird that you can just pump out an EP in an afternoon and evening when an album takes so long?
CHAD: Oh man. Yeah. It is weird. I mean… the only reason the album has taken so long is there’s just been technical difficulties and not being able to get in the studio. Plans being switched. That’s it. I really have a lot of confidence that this band is incredibly talented – I’m not talking about myself but the group of people that God has brought together and the gifts they have is just wild. None of them are full-time musicians. None of them tour. They all just have families and they do this for fun. That to me is wild – how good they are, and how humble they are. They’ve put up with me for the past couple of years as I was working at a church, just playing with me, and now it’s like – ‘Guys, we can do whatever we want.’ [Laughs] ‘Holy crap! What are we going to do? We could do anything in the world!’ And so our first experiment is just recording some live videos and throwing it out there. That is pretty cool – what else could we do?
OK, I might even throw this out there. For the full-length hopefully coming out this summer, I’m shooting for twenty songs and I’m shooting for it to be an aria. A huge movement. There’s an incredibly talented choir in Seattle that we’re going to work with. Like I said, one of the guys in the band is a professor at a university in Seattle for music, he does composition. It’s not even to make a statement, it’s just who we are, it’s what we like to do. We just wanna love people with what we’re doing, and love God with it.
SAM: Wow. Twenty tracks! That’s a double album!
CHAD: It is a double album, man! Yeah it’s cool too because the band is pretty tight. I mean, I think that Bad Christian has been saying we’re a collective, but I don’t really know what that word means. It does feel like we’re a ‘band’. It’s the same people we’ve been playing with for a long time. The two drummers I went to high school with. The cellist is my sister, Lindsay. One of the guitarists is my cousin, Ryan. I’ve been playing music with these people for a long time.
SAM: So we can expect this in the American summer. And you mentioned earlier you want to crowd-source funds for it?
CHAD: Yeah, definitely. Especially since pretty much the whole album is written. We could go record it pretty quick, and so if we get the funding to just go do it we could turn it around really quick and do vinyl, CDs, all that stuff. I’m excited to make it – I’m just bursting to get into it and knock it out.
SAM: And I think that now you’ve released these live songs people will be even more eager to get their ears around it. Now, I want to talk about the last track Higher Throne. It paints an incredible picture of Jesus on the throne. Did it seem right to wrap the EP with this song?
CHAD: Yeah. We were going to finish it with Fix My Eyes, because it seems like the lo-fi recording. Ending with Higher Throne, that chorus… when I sing ‘All my life is solely for your glory,’ it’s just like – what else are you going to say after that? You can’t really say anything else after you yell that. There’s no room for anything else. That song is a song by the Gettys who have written tonnes of amazing hymns. They wrote Joy Has Dawned, the lyrics for that song that we did on our Christmas album in 2012. I’m not primarily a lyricist, but I came up with the idea for Higher Throne musically and thought it sounded like heaven. OK – what’s the best song on heaven? And we just looked for one and we were like ‘This is incredible.’ I started singing it on top of my music. It’s a DJ thing, I’m a remix kinda guy. Then I just add the chorus to it. It just seemed like you couldn’t follow it with anything else, so we put it on the end.
SAM: You’ve talked about the album release, what other things have you got planned for the rest of the year?
CHAD: We don’t really know yet! We’re getting lots of requests to play different conferences and things like that. So we’re picking and choosing those wisely. Like I said, we’re not a full-time band and there’s ten of us so it’s hard to move us around. I think our biggest thing is going to be creating content and releasing music. We love playing live but it just has to be the right kind of gig. But we’re doing some of them. We’re going to be playing some different things around the US this year and then we probably will do a short tour at the end of summer after we release the full-length. So that will be fun. But like I said, we probably won’t be out for months at a time because people have normal jobs in our band. It’s weird but with the music industry now you can just tailor it to your life. This will be all of our part-time gig but we do it because we want to. It’s just a creative outlet for all of us that’s fun. The biggest thing that I think about is in the scheme of music, I really like what I create and there’s a sense that I’m doing this music because I’m doing it for myself. Not in a selfish way, but – if what I’m making doesn’t affect me, I’m not really doing it. So I make music that really speaks to my heart. Being able to do it for that reason is enough. And watching God then take that and use it to really move other people is like a miracle. I just think in the scheme of things, I’m never going to be as good as Michael Jackson or Kanye West. I don’t need to be. I’m making this because it helps me. But how amazing is the miracle that God uses it for things that are much bigger than I could ever be used for. When you hear about somebody that gets saved listening to one of your songs, which has happened before, you just go: holy smokes. That’s the legacy. That’s beyond what a Michael Jackson could do. Somebody’s going to heaven, not because of what I did but because God used something that I did, just to express myself. That’s just a miracle.
SAM: Chad, thanks so much for speaking with me and sharing the stories behind this incredible EP. I’m very keen to hear this full-length album, and all the best with it.
CHAD: Yeah man. You can hopefully tell I’m stoked out of my mind to keep making music.
Live in Color by Kings Kaleidoscope is available as a free download at kingsklive.com until this Tuesday 25th March. Physical copies and merch bundles are also available for purchase.