by Sam Robinson
Last week Bellarive released their brand new album, Before There Was. It’s an exciting record, filled with dynamic twists and turns, and a message inspired by the book of Ephesians. Read our review of the album here. Just before the album came out, I caught up with Bellarive’s lead singer Sean Curran to talk about Before There Was, summer in Texas, a potential Christmas album, and much more.
SAM: Where in the world do I find you today, Sean?
SEAN: I am in Texas, west Texas. Kind of in the middle of nowhere. It’s pretty hot.
Really? So I’m guessing it’s a little foreign to you, because you’re not from there.
No, yeah. We’re originally from Florida. It’s a long way from Florida.
And you’re missing out on that Florida summer.
[Laughs] It’s pretty hot in Texas too right now, but there’s something different about Florida. It’s really humid there. I mean, I grew up there so I’m used to that but it can be rough.
There’s no beach in Texas… I don’t think?
No, yeah. That’s one of the things I miss the most. Summer at the beach.
So then tell me about this camp that you’re at in west Texas. What vibe is there?
Well it’s a lot of heat. A lot of rain. There’s about 700 students here so at night it’s an outdoor event, so it gets a little rowdy which is fun. We’re just worshipping.
And now the new album is coming out next week. How are Bellarive feeling about that? Excited?
We couldn’t be more excited. Honestly we’ve been prepping for this for over a year! I think last summer we were recording the first demos of what would become the new record. So since then we’ve been experimenting, trying different songs live and in different settings. This growing anticipation of what will culminate next week. We’re thrilled.
How’s the live show going?
It’s great. That’s one of the things that’s made us so excited. We’ve never seen such immediacy to people’s response, and it seems like there’s something about the songs that are really resonating and connecting. That’s such an encouraging thing. Honestly we’ve transitioned for almost a year now – which is weird – into playing almost nothing but new material. For the longest time it’s been connecting so well that it just seems like that’s the best way to go, the best route. But people haven’t been able to have it for themselves and listen to and worship in different spaces, so next week they’ll be able to do that. That’s been the biggest excitement, that it will translate outside of just that live moment into something that can be a little more personal for people.
Let’s talk about the new album, Before There Was. How long did it take to come together?
Well practically we were recording for about a month, most of January of this year was spent recording. That was a fairly short process for us, but we came into it with months and months of experimenting and really hashing out songs. The demo process for us was very extensive. I don’t know how that translates for other bands but for us we spent a lot of time at my house making full demos. We went into the studio with a lot of it thought out, trying to get the right sounds.
Is that how you went about making the last album?
I think the prep was fairly similar and the biggest difference for us this time around is that we were travelling a lot more. It was really more intense. We had to be more intentional with finding time… making time for that sacred space, because creativity is such a strange animal. It can be very elusive at times. We just tried to be intentional with whenever we had a free moment, blocking that out and digging in. Trying to get to some deep water. That’s what we wanted in the studio. We didn’t want us to just go in and track a part, we wanted the songs themselves to have woven into their very DNA the very Spirit of God. We tried to prepare as best as we could so that in the studio we’re really just worshipping. We weren’t concerned with playing it well, or having the right parts, but more concerned with just sensing God’s presence.
It’s a very upbeat record. I’ve read that it’s inspired by the book of Ephesians. Can you tell me about that?
I guess over the past year that book has been something that has stuck out to us… Maybe just how expansive it is. How transcendent a lot of Paul’s writings are there. It helps your brain think outside of yourself. That’s really what we were landing on this past year, figuring out how to really trust God and to have faith in these promises that from him are so eternal. They’re immediate but they’re also eternal. Particularly in the beginning of Ephesians when Paul writes that even before the foundations of the earth, God actually had us in mind and set out to make us a part of his family through Christ. This was God’s great plan that he had from the very beginning. He would go through everything and sacrifice anything to make sure that it happened. There’s such promise there. When we think about God in light of covenant, reading it that way was very inspiring. It’s about trusting that. If we could just trust that, then we find hope beyond understanding. A lot of the songs are a response to that, trying to sort through that, and realise that so many times we get shortsighted in ourselves. We get stuck on these things that are for us so immediate, but God has solutions for that in much more of an eternal way. Hope in Jesus isn’t lost, in fact it was never lost. Jesus was hope for us from the very beginning. Those ideas were just really inspiring to us and the record came from that. Last album we went with a name that came from a title track, but this time it was those three words: Before There Was. It’s as much a complete sentence as it is an incomplete sentence. It alludes to this sense of more. Of supremacy. The idea of how much of a command God has on things. It seems very inspiring. That was the direction we took on it.
And as soon as I heard the album is inspired by Ephesians, I thought of Ephesians 1:4, us being chosen in him before the creation of the world… It really makes that album title come alive.
Yeah! That’s it.
Now listening to the album, it’s amazing. So many of the songs are a decent length, longer than the standard 3-4 minutes. Tell me about your songwriting style and why your songs often run for 5-6 minutes.
We are bent towards a little bit more of a longer song. I think maybe it’s this idea of journey… As humans we’re fickle beings and I think we’re trying to get to this intimate, vulnerable place. Something that requires a bit of transparency. We’ve sectioned ourselves off so much in this world that we believe it takes a little bit to get there sometimes. It takes stepping into something in a steady pace and allowing the Holy Spirit to pull down those walls, peel back those layers, to get to this moment where your soul is singing. You’re in this place where these words become a prayer and all else fades away. Sometimes it takes more than thirty seconds for us to rid ourselves of these other things that ultimately mean nothing but for some reason we hold on to so tightly. The songs are also very personal. They’re not necessarily these blanket statements strung together. They’re really how God is moving in our lives. Much like the psalms, or what David might be going through. They can be up and down. There’s spurts of energy, or might be introspective. But that’s what we see when reading the psalms, they’re all over the place. There’s a guy trying to sort it out, but he’s going to God with it. That’s really our foundation for how we process. As we process we pray. We write. And then something alright sorts itself out!
Yeah. Now let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. Lazarus is one of the lead singles. It’s full of these incredible dynamic changes… How did that song come together?
We were inspired by that idea of transcendence. That what God is sorting out is not just a good to better, or a bad to good, it’s a death to life thing. That got us exploring the idea of Lazarus. I grew up in the church, so I felt very comfortable with that story in a sense that I knew it. But then I think this past year as we were digging into it again, I had this revelation that is actually happened! This is not just a retelling of some ancient thing, it actually happened. I think then, it quickly followed with this idea that most of the time I would read that story and separate it from myself entirely. I think that is happened once and it might not have anything to do with me, personally. But really – we were struck with the idea that is has everything to do with us. What Jesus did to Lazarus – his whole point of being on earth and walking that road was so that he could do that for us. He came to earth to do a lot more than raise one man from the dead. His whole mission was to bring us to life, and to breath life back into our bones. So there’s a retelling of that story and a hope to expand that perspective into all of us. We are all dead men walking without the breath of life, without Jesus. If you really think about that story, it’s a little crazy. We wanted to capture the mood of that in something that might even feel just a little dangerous. Sonically we tried to create some energy there too, which ended up being a little fun.
For sure. It sounds fun too. And then, the track Save Us continues that idea. You cry out for salvation. Is that a response to our state of death in Ephesians 2?
Not as much as just maybe the idea that there’s this one moment in 2 Corinthians where Paul is saying ‘What do we have to fear?’ and they’re in a vulnerable place. His response is something to the extent of, we’re worn out, we’re wiped. We feel like we’re at our end. Like we’re close to death. Our next step is death. It’s being vulnerable. He’s painting this picture of a tight spot. But his follow-up is that we serve God. Even if we feel like we are dying, that’s OK because we serve a God that can raise the dead. But sitting in the tension of that is something that we do shy away from. As people of faith, we don’t really know how to deal with tension. That song was really coming out of some personal stuff in our lives and also a response to that passage. Yeah, we’re in the thick of something, and we don’t even see the light of day in that moment, but even in that moment we’ll ask God to save us because we know for his glory, that he will. And that he already has. So taking some confidence even in the trial, that God is reigning… Honestly, even if we die in this, he’s already made a solution for that too. It’s kinda heavy but it was a song that sat in that: trusting even in the dark. That’s probably the most journey song we have, it’s really long! [Laughs]
I think one of my favourite songs on the album is Hallelujah, to Saving Grace. It’s such a song of rejoicing. You say that death is dealt with. Where did this song come from?
I had always wanted to take a crack at writing a song that in some way resembled a hymn. It was very intimidating, just because hymns have this eternal quality and most of them are so ancient. But that song started to take shape, and one of the things I had always noted about hymns that I thought was so powerful, was that most hymns are pointed but they’re unpacking the full gospel. Every single movement is another step in understanding and unpacking the layers of the gospel. So that song in the first three movements, we were hoping to do that, share the gospel in the full scope. First our condition. Our situation. How can I even approach your throne? Not by my blood, that’s for sure. Really understanding our position towards God. Then, understanding – and this is something really only hymns talk about, we should talk about it more – God paid it. He sacrificed a lot to make this happen. And Jesus laid down his entire life. He left his throne. He carried the weight of our sin, it was something that was very brutal. It required everything, absolutely everything. He set us free. And then that last phase is that through all of that, we now have great confidence to boast in Christ. To be able to carry Christ’s righteousness in us. Grace isn’t something that just saves us from sin, it actually commissions us into God’s kingdom. It replaces sin with his righteousness. We just wanted to tell that story, and then the very end is what makes it a little bit more modern. This huge chorus that says something that we should all want to be rejoicing in, in that moment. We resonate with that song. It’s just a statement of faith. This is why we sing! This is what we believe!
And I want to ask about one more song, From the Very Start. Listening to it, it’s something that could fill an arena. There’s a lot of looking at God’s eternal perspective on this track. What does that mean to you?
Yeah. That’s an intricate question. Specifically for the song, I guess the content of that song… If there is a song that maybe would fill a void as a title track lyrically, we would probably say it is that song. That so directly talks about the content in Ephesians. The idea of sovereignty and God being in control beyond our ability to see. So we really like that song because it helps to put a nice little bow on everything we’ve done for the first eleven songs. And in the way it was produced, it got a magical sense to it. Musically there’s something about it that’s consuming and captivating which is fitting for how expansive lyrically it is. It’s talking about stuff that’s very big. That’s the reason for the song. When it comes to sovereignty, I view that as a very three-dimensional thing. Or maybe even four-dimensional. Something that has so many layers to it and in some ways is beyond our ability to comprehend. It’s this unbelievable certainty that God knows and is in control in faith and confidence of my existence. Through trial and tribulation, through mountaintop and valley, through good and evil, God reigns. He circumvents that in some way. All of these things are going to bring him glory. Reading the scriptures, God set it all up. By design, his plan is complete. His plan is for him to reign supreme. I think he’s so supreme, so sovereign, that it doesn’t make him uncomfortable that people don’t totally understand. [Laughs] He circumvents all of that. But I do love to ponder it. I’ve made peace with having faith in that covenant, despite how sometimes I feel I can see it so clearly and other times I feel like I can’t see more than three feet in front of me. That’s part of the journey too. We’ve been designed to be dependent on God in that way. Even physically, the very breath we breathe, he didn’t have to design us that way. But he did. There’s a dependence on his supremacy, and that’s what makes grace so beautiful. It’s completely something that he extended to us without our ability to earn or deserve it. I don’t wanna just ramble but so much of the songs are us sitting in the wake of that. Sitting in the flux of what that means and trying to sort it out. I guess when you get a glimpse of something profound, that’s what turns into a song. The rest of the time, it’s just junk. [Laughs]
Really? Have you rejected junky songs for this album?!
Well we don’t write many songs. So that’s something we’re very cautious of. Mostly we will only pursue something that we really believe in. You’ll throw out an idea and write away we’ll know if we’re going to chase that down or not. But out of the songs that we felt like we chased down, there’s maybe twenty of them. Then we turned that into twelve. And even then, out of the twenty there’s still four or five that we were really disheartened that they couldn’t make the record. At that point, it’s like, how can you put twelve songs together that are saying something cohesive? If one song says something very similar, maybe it’s for a different time. In our hearts it wasn’t so much about quality as much as putting your best foot forward for the time. So you’ll probably hear those other songs in some capacity down the road as we still are affected by them.
OK then. Maybe on the next album?
Maybe! That’s right. Or a Christmas album. One of them in particular is just right for a Christmas album.
Have you always dreamed of making a Christmas album?
Yes. It’s been very much on our bucket list. I think that particularly is a timing thing. We have about five songs right now, and a few of them are renditions of Christmas classics and then a handful of them are what we consider Christmas content. Singing about something specific like the start of Jesus’ existence. We would love it. We will. At some point, we will.
Well I look forward to opening presents to your music, one day. Before we wrap, what’s next for you guys?
Well the summer is really conference camp world. We have one more, about a week-and-a-half left of that side of things. Probably what we’re most excited about is that in the first two weeks of August we’re going to Europe. We’ll spend some time in the UK and Hungary. We’ve never done anything like that so we’re just thrilled, so excited to see what it’s like over there culturally but also to share music with other believers across the world is a very powerful idea. That God’s hand is moving in this way. It’s so much bigger than what we allow ourselves to see sometimes. We’re pumped for that. But yeah, that’s August.
Sean, thanks so much for your time!
Before There Was by Bellarive is available now on iTunes.