by Sam Robinson
2014 is the year of Kings Kaleidoscope.
The band split from Mars Hill Music in January becoming independent and partnering with Bad Christian. They released the Live in Color EP in March (read my interview with Chad about it here), and have spent the time since bunkering down to focus on their debut album.
That’s a lot to squeeze into eight months, but there’s plenty more to come. In the last week, the band announced they had signed with label Tooth & Nail, and yesterday pre-order went live for their debut LP, Becoming Who We Are. Although we know the album title and now what the cover looks like, there’s still much mystery surrounding what to expect from this record. Last week I caught up with lead singer and ringleader Chad Gardner to squeeze more album information out of him.
SAM: How have things been, Chad?
CHAD: I’m doing pretty well. Things have been great. The record is coming together, and I’m working on it right until the very last minute! [Laughs] Right up until our mastering date I’m still working on mixing and I still have lyrics to write and record vocals for one song.
So by the time this interview is published, people will be pre-ordering the album and it’s still happening!
Well by the time people pre-order the album the record will be done. It’ll be mastered two days before the pre-order. But yeah, up until the very last minute the track listing and all of that can change. It’s all pretty exciting.
And you said you’re still working on lyrics for one song?
Which means you’ve still got to record some vocals too!
Yeah – actually the rest of the song is even being mixed but I still have to record some vocals for it. That’s what a lot of our music is like… the music gets written and recorded first and the words at the very end. The issue is that it’s so hard when you’ve had the song for a long time because you want the lyrics to be perfect. It already feels a certain way to you and means something to you, so I’m trying to get them just right for this track.
I’m looking forward to hearing this track! When the album comes out, I’ll ask you which one it is. Now, when we last spoke Live in Color was about to be released. What was the reaction like to that EP?
Oh man. It was really good. It did better than I thought it was going to do. We had a tonne of downloads – I think maybe 7,000 in the first week. We were trying to give it away for free, building more exposure, letting more people know who we were and what we did. And I think it did just that. The video pieces that went with that helped a lot too. Those YouTube videos have been shared quite a bit, got lots of hits. We were really surprised by it. It gave us a lot of momentum to go into this LP and be more excited to do studio versions of some of those songs, and write new stuff.
How does it feel that after so long, that it’s reached the time for people to buy your debut album?
Oh man. I haven’t even processed that yet actually. It’s going to take me a while to process that because I’ve been working on it for so long. I think until it actually releases this Fall and people can actually hear it, then it will hit me: I’ve finished it! It’s all done! I did this record, I recorded it myself, and it’s out in the world. It’s crazy.
You can hold it, put it on your record player, kick back…
That will be very sweet indeed. Can you tell me about how the recording process for the album has been? Has it run to plan?
Yeah, the plan has just been to go for it and figure it out along the way. We haven’t had any particular studio to work out of, so we’ve just been recording it around lots of different places in Seattle. We’ve done a lot of the strings and horns in different bigger, older churches. Big sanctuaries with really nice reverb. We did the drums at a punk rock studio down the street where a lot of Seattle grunge bands have been. Doing vocals wherever I can with an isolated booth setup. It’s really weird because the whole record has been pieced together from all these different places and every place inspires you differently. It felt like a really fun adventure and a really fun challenge to not have any big budget behind us. Just recording it ourselves and letting people that we really trust mix it after I edit the crap out of it! [Laughs]
I imagine that it’s not a traditional way of making an album in so many places, but sounds like it’s more fun!
Yeah, it is really fun. Partially because the band is large and everybody has a different way that they contribute. That’s fun too because I’m getting people in their different elements. So when we record strings we try to find a really, really good environment for string players. And like I said, when we record guitars or drums, we find a place that’s better for them.
Now by the time this is published pre-order will have started. I’m going to try and squeeze you for some info on the album. Firstly, you’ve called it Becoming Who We Are. What’s the story behind the name?
Oh man. Well for a long time we were going to call it Kings Kaleidoscope. Self-titled. But we felt that for four years we’ve been ready to record an album, and finally we just made the opportunity ourselves. It felt like this is a compilation – this is who we are: Kings Kaleidoscope. But actually, it was my wife’s idea to come up with the name Becoming Who We Are and it’s a spin-off of a quote of something she’d been reading but – I think to us the meaning of that title is in a lot of ways, it’s the Christian walk. We are becoming who we already are in Jesus. For us that’s always true because we’re Christians. A lot of the songs that we sing are about that.
Also, a lot of the songs on this record talk about heaven, and the new earth. In that sense the title is fitting because there’s a pretty big theme on the record of hoping towards that future and hoping towards that end in the midst of struggle. And also, more presently, our circumstances of leaving Mars Hill Church and making this slow transition from only writing music for Sunday mornings to writing… I’m starting to call it “non-congregational worship music”. [Laughs] It’s like worship music that’s very gospel-centred and focussed. And it’s to God often. But it’s not something that would be easy for a lot of people to sing. That’s really who we are at our fore. In another sense we’ve made a transition recently to just playing music that’s really natural for us. And writing lyrics that are more natural for us. I’ve been doing a lot of lyric writing and it’s more personal and it’s less polished. There’s a certain amount of theological accuracy and intention that you have when you write songs for Sunday mornings and not to say that our songs are not true or anything like that, but they have a different feel to them. So in that sense, musically we’re becoming who we really are too. I know that’s a mouthful…
Well, you’re going to get asked that question a lot real soon… Consider this the practice round.
The album cover and the teaser images on social media all have a lot of foliage. Very jungle-centric. What can you tell me about that?
Yeah! We wanted it to feel really wild because again, that’s who we are. But we also wanted it to be organised. So the cover is very jungly, it’s very wild, it’s very natural, but it’s very organised in the same sense. Our music is pretty wild and I think one of my jobs as the guy out the front is to wrangle everybody’s wild creativity and organise it. That’s what the cover was supposed to look like. The guy who made it is named Matt Naylor. He did the Live in Color ‘K’ and the Joy Has Dawned… this! [Pulls out the horn from the EP cover].
Oh wow! It’s become a prop in your house!
Yeah. [Laughs] I have Asaph’s arrow downstairs too.
Right! Your house is the Kings Kaleidoscope museum.
Yeah. So we were having a hard time deciding on the colour palette of the record cover. We had two favourite colours we couldn’t decide between so we decided to do a different one for vinyl. The main one is one colour and the vinyl is another.
Your vinyl fans are going to go crazy for that. Exclusive colour palette!
Exactly. Only available on vinyl. And we have deluxe vinyl which is a pretty wild splatter pattern and there’s only 100. The other vinyl is some cool transparent vinyl. And it’s a double LP so all the vinyl is two records!
I tell you what, by the time this is published, I reckon they’ll all be gone.
[Laughs] I don’t know man! We’ll see!
Well this leads me to my next question… When we last spoke you shared your hopes for the album: “I’m shooting for twenty songs and I’m shooting for it to be an aria”. Have your dreams come true?
Very close. I think we went a little less than twenty. We trimmed down some of the songs but I think some of those might get released later. So collectively that twenty songs might actually be more but we might do B-sides. This record is very close to that twenty. It’s actually more songs but we’re going to split it up and try to focus on a little bit and then we have some extra live stuff and some old tracks… Like we used to do this song called Oh! Great is our God! and stuff like that, that we were going to put on but decided not to. We’ll release them later.
Did the responses to the live tracks [on Live in Color] help guide the track list for this album?
We were wanting to make a lot of studio versions of the songs anyways… I think it made us more scared! People are going to develop these relationships with these live songs and then they’re going to hear the studio ones and be like – ‘Oh…’ Because it’s always different, even when you’re making music you get demo-itis. You listen to the demo so much and when it gets mixed and it’s actually the real thing it’s different… But you know I think it’s cool that people are going to have both. They can always listen to the live one if they like the live one better. For a lot of new people that wouldn’t know us, it’s harder to introduce us via a live recording sometimes. So a studio version that is more tight and cleaned up will translate better, I think.
Last time we spoke you mentioned that you had the album pretty much written, but yet you just told me that you’re still working on lyrics for some songs. Is this album a mix of old songs and new songs?
It is. There’s a few of the older songs on it. There’s a lot of stuff from Live in Color. Then there’s a handful of new songs and also… there’s some shorter interludes and stuff like that. They were made at certain times across the last couple of years that have emotions connected to them for us. So we want to put them on the album and have them serve as palette cleansers. A lot of our bigger songs with the full band are really busy. It takes a lot to listen to them sometimes because there’s a lot of energy – there’s so much going on. I’ve tried to have a good amount of those songs because that’s what we do, and also have some simpler songs. And then making the whole thing feel connected when all the songs have been popping out over the last three or four years, it’s difficult in one sense but in the other sense it’s kinda cool because the record is a snapshot of time. This record – that’s why it’s so big. It feels like such a release for us. The snapshot of this time is over a couple of years instead of a couple of months. Some bands make records in two weeks! [Laughs]
And this is becoming who you are! It’s the story of your band!
Exactly! There you go.
Are there going to be any surprises as far as the sound of the album is concerned?
I think people can expect it to be… I don’t want to say the word ‘digital’ but there’s more songs that have started with me making beats as a producer and then being translated to the band, than we’ve ever done before. Sometimes we have that sound where our drummer is just wailing away. And on other songs, like Joy Has Dawned, there’s a very tight, focussed, drum sound. There’s a few more of those than we’ve ever done before, and I’m really excited about them. It’s just a different way for the band to play the songs. So I’d say there’s a stronger hip-hop influence on the whole record. There’s a stronger influence of sampling different sounds. Stuff like that.
Any guest rappers showing up?
Ah… No. Not on this. But I would love to do a collab someday with somebody. I don’t know.
Kendrick! [Laughs] There you go. No… We were trying to do a rap on one of the songs but it didn’t fit well enough. We’ll do that as a side project somewhere down the road. I would love for us to be able to be like The Roots of Christian music someday.
That’s pretty much who you are though, really! A lot of members, a lot of cool music.
[Laughs] That’s who we are! The Roots of Christian music. There you go. Amazing.
And once there’s some Christian talk show you guys will be the house band.
Oh man. Christian talk shows are not a good move!
No. Or maybe you guys could just stand in the corner during the Bad Christian podcasts and play for some transitions?
That would be amazing. Oh my gosh.
Are there any tracks on this album that you are able to reveal to us?
Yeah. There’s one song called I Know, that – I don’t know if it will be the single, it might be the single – it talks about heaven and it basically looks for glimpses of heaven on earth. Longing for our true home. The chorus is a bold, confident statement of: I know that I will reach the throne of Jesus. I know that I will reach heaven. It’s a song that I’m really happy with. It was one of the first songs that I wrote all the lyrics for by myself and it was just beat that I made a demo of. It was really cool and we were trying to figure out if I could make it a song. The band tweaked around with it, came up with some new melodies, and it’s one of those songs that we were like – ‘I don’t know how cool it’s going to be…’ and then it flipped on us, ‘This is going to be the jam of the record!’ I’m excited about it.
Are you doing any hymns on the album or have you left that behind?
Yeah we do! We’re doing let me see… [counts] there’s at least three I think. Two or three or four. There’s a lot of songs! I can’t know off the top of my head. There’s a few hymns on the record. I’ll give this hint! There’s a pretty sweet remix of a hymn we’ve recorded before. It uses some of the same pieces but we, over the years as we played it more and more live, it got more complex and also at the same time tighter. That was really exciting for us so we re-recorded it. And I’m really excited about it.
That hymn pretty much feels like the album cover. So when you hear it, you can guess which hymn it was which felt like the album cover.
A wild, tropical jungle hymn… I don’t know any hymns you’ve done before like that?
[Laughs] Yeah! A tropical, jungle hymn. That’s it.
Now you mentioned last time that you were hoping to crowdfund this album, and I assume that’s part of this big pre-order and package options?
The pre-order is our way of paying for the record. We’ve been paying for this recording ourselves. Making the record ourself. Producing it ourselves. And just learning as we go how to do it. It’s been really exciting and fun but part of that is we don’t have a big bank behind us. We just have all the people that love our music, and it’s incredible that people do! So yeah, for the people who want to buy vinyl, that will really help us pay for the record.
That’s a great incentive… In fact tell us, why should people pre-order now rather than wait until the album is released? Why do you think that would be a helpful thing for your fans to do?
Well if people pre-order now it helps us to pay for the record. And also, it’s the only time you’re only going to be able to get some of the stuff. It’s very exclusive. We’re giving away the single. You’ll be able to download it immediately if you pre-order. It won’t come out otherwise for a while. And we’re also giving away a track that will never be released again. A full Kings Kaleidoscope song that will never be released again. It’s only for those who pre-order. That’s a big incentive. Also on some of the vinyl orders some of the exclusive stuff, we’ll never press it again like that. We’re just trying to make some really special products and things that our biggest fans who really support us would love to have. And give it to them in a way that only they can get it.
As a side note, I don’t have a record player but I think I might need to get one.
[Laughs] You do! You do.
Other than the vinyl, are there any other merch options that you’re particularly excited about?
Yeah, we designed a shirt that’s like a jersey. A vintage baseball-type jersey. And it’s pretty cool… We were trying to think of what number to put on it. Because every jersey needs a number, you know? We decided to use the number 10. It became obvious when we picked it. 2010 was the year we became a band. We’ve always had about ten people in the band. We thought this was sweet, and that people could feel a part of the team wearing the jersey! So we didn’t just want to make another band t-shirt. We wanted to make something sweeter. Most of our work has gone into designing the vinyl and the CD artwork. It’s been months actually, just tweaking it and making it exactly how we want it.
And what lies ahead for the time between now and the album release?
I think just building up. Releasing a single. Maybe a few other songs along the way. Just all the normal promo stuff for the album. We’d love to play out some more. Right now we’re talking about a listening party live in Seattle for the record where we’ll play it and talk about the songs. But we’ll also stream it live online on Google or something. So anyone can watch us, stream the record before it comes out… I’m not sure if it’ll happen but something like that would be really fun to do. Talk about the songs, talk about the recordings. But yeah, we hope to do a big release show here in Seattle when the record comes out.
Better book my ticket. That would be a killer show to be part of.
Chad, all the best for the pre-order period and we’ll talk again when the album is released to find out more about these songs!
Totally. I’d love to.
Becoming Who We Are by Kings Kaleidoscope will be released later this year. You can pre-order it now at kingskaleidoscope.com. Connect with Reel Gospel on Facebook and Twitter for more updates on the album as they come to hand.