by Sam Robinson
Releasing next week is Kings Kaleidoscope’s debut LP Becoming Who We Are. It’s an incredible album (read our five-star review here) on which lead singer Chad Gardner shows off his love for music while singing about Jesus, life, and trials that he and his family have faced this year. Last week I spent an hour speaking with Chad about the stories behind the songs on the album, his personal struggles, worship music, and much, much more.
SAM: Chad, how was the pre-order received?
CHAD: It did really, really well. We’ve sold a lot of vinyl, we’ve got some left that we’re still selling off. And we were able to pay for the whole record which was great. All that vinyl and pre-order was with Bad Christian; and now with Tooth & Nail we’re doing the iTunes one. I haven’t heard how that’s going so far but… Even our launch show in Seattle is selling a lot of tickets. We’re hoping to sell it out. So it’s all great, going well.
That’s excellent. Now the album is about to drop. I think it’s incredible. How are you feeling now that it’s about to drop?
I think the band is just really, really excited to be playing music for people. We’ve got tired of just being in the mode of recording and planning and all of the business stuff. Most of that’s been the stuff I’ve been doing, and so it doesn’t feel like we’ve been playing as much as we want to. We’re really looking forward to getting back to the basics of sharing the songs and playing together as a band. Taking the songs out and playing them live for people. Yeah.
When I spoke to you last time, you were about to master the album but you were still finishing off the lyrics of a song. Which one was it?
[Laughs] That was Glorious. The bridge wasn’t finished. And part of the chorus too. So I was trying to capture that all of creation is an orchestra of life. That just reflects God’s glory. That’s what I was trying to thread the needle on.
Can you let me in on how you recorded Becoming Who We Are? You told me last time it wasn’t a traditional recording process…
We recorded the whole record on my laptop. I just got a new MacBook Pro so it was really fast. We were portable, and I had a portable rig. I would actually just borrow really good microphones from all our friends and I made a connection to a guy in Seattle who records a lot of symphonies and choirs. He had some really good ribbon mics and different types of mics for orchestra stuff. So we recorded the drums in a studio that we rented – a grungy punk-rock studio. Then we would take my portable rig from there and go to a couple of different sanctuaries around the city with tall ceilings and really good acoustics, and there we’d record the horns and the strings. Then the guitars and the bass and the synths I did a lot at home, or out – my parents have a farm and I built a little temporary space out there for the summer and I did all the vocals out there. But it’s crazy because if you have a portable studio, which we did, you can find the right environment and room for the different instruments. And then I did a lot of the editing right here in my apartment with my monitors. Basically I’d go out and record horns for four hours on a weeknight and then take it back home and for a day or two edit them and start to mix them, and then figure out what was needed next, then go out to the farm and layer the guitars on it. It was wild! It was an adventure.
It sounds like a stressful, but very cool way to make an album.
Yeah! It was a lot of work, and could be very stressful. But I think it made the record a lot more diverse in the way it sounds.
Would you be keen to record an album in this same way again?
Mmmm… Maybe. Yeah. The thing that’s most efficient with the band is when we get to jam out a lot of ideas. So we jammed a lot of these songs before we went into the recording process. So for me the most important part is the actual writing and editing of all the ideas. And once I know what the ideas are, it’s any means necessary to record them basically.
And what are the age ranges of the songs on the album? I imagine it would cover a lot of time!
Wow. Yes they do. I’m trying to think what the oldest thing on the record is… The idea for Felix Culpa is an idea I had probably three years back that sat on my iPhone as just the guitar riff and the chords and the background noise. There’s an interlude after that song called Ache, and the whole instrumental comes from a song that I wrote when I was probably sixteen years old. I used to put them up on my MySpace! So I dug that up and wanted to add more to it. And as I said, Glorious I finished right up before the record was finished. Seek Your Kingdom was written last year. I Know was written this year. Light After Darkness I wrote this summer with Brian Eichelberger. It spans a lot of time. [Laughs]
Well let’s talk through some of the tracks. First, Glorious. It came together at the last minute, but it does open the album. What can you tell me about it?
Well it’s really funny because the people that are from Mars Hill Ballard will recognise that whole instrumental because that was our arrangement for Amazing Grace musically! [Laughs] And originally we were going to put Amazing Grace on our record, but our multi-instrumentalist in the band – actually, she might be the longest standing member – Nadia, she had the melody and I really wanted to use that melody with that musical arrangement. So we wrote a new song just because I really wanted that melody in the song and I thought that instrumental was so cool that we could make a sweet new song out of it.
There’s a few of your Live in Color tracks on here… Felix Culpa, Seek Your Kingdom… Are you concerned how people are going to respond to these new versions?
I’m really excited. I really get excited for people who either really like it or who get really pissed off about it, because it’s so encouraging when people develop such a strong relationship with another version of a song. I generally always like the first version I hear of a song, so I think most people will like the Live in Color ones more. I don’t know. But it’s going to be a common thing. But at the same time, there’s something fun about pushing on peoples’ opinions of the song. That was one night we played it that way, but we play our songs a lot of different ways and we think that this is a really crazy way to make it. I think Felix is the most different – well actually, Fix My Eyes is actually completely new. [Laughs] But, the version on the album is actually the original arrangement of that song, and for Live in Color it was just an extra where I was like, ‘Hey can we do just one more song?’ and we ran into the gym and we did it – and I love playing it quiet. I think I prefer playing it quiet, but the big arrangement of Fix My Eyes is so sweet that I want to share that with people as well. And it excites me that people will like either/or of them. It’s cool to watch people’s reactions. It’s entertaining.
Yeah. I was surprised by Fix My Eyes when I heard it, but to know that’s the original – wow.
Isn’t that weird?! Also, if people like the Live in Color one, that’s awesome! Cos it’s right there. They can just listen to that one. But there are some people who will like the other one more. Or maybe you like a different one on a different day or something like that.
That’s right. Now I Know. What a mighty track. It’s the first taste we got of this album. Message-wise it’s looking to heaven?
Yeah. We made a beat… I was jamming with Andrew, our drummer, in a green room probably a year ago, and I had this one beat I wanted him to play and then he came up with another beat that sounded cool, and I actually stuck them together. And we recorded the beat – it was a bad recording, in the green room with two little dinky mics – and then I made this whole beat around it. It was this thing we had laying around that was so cool but we had no clue of what song we could write about it. And after sitting with it for a couple of months I knew the song needed to be confident and not boastful, but it needed to have a righteous, confident swagger. Or basically, you’re telling your own heart how confident you can be because of Jesus. So the most lofty thing I could think of was heaven. We decided to write a song based off of how the instrumental was feeling. And at that time it was the summer and my wife and I were going through so much stuff and I literally was going to see the sunset every single night [laughs] because I wanted to see something beautiful and forget my problems for a little bit. So when it came time to write the song I realised how much I was longing to just get away from how hard life was.
The chorus was in place, I had written it as that confident thing I was talking about, but I wanted the verses to be a personal representation of what it looks like day to day, when you long to be in a place that isn’t marred by sin and brokenness. And the pre-chorus is lyrically bridging the gap. ‘I’ve been given a taste for something that nothing in this world can satisfy. But I know that a time is coming when I will be in glorious delight.’ So yeah, I wrote that part with Brian Eichelberger and he helped me glue those two ideas together. Then my sister, who plays cello, came up with the melody for the big choir at the end. And we changed the chord progression in the bridge and it just made it take off at that halfway point.
The way that you developed the sound through that song and then that massive choir and the stomping and the clapping – how did you capture a sound and make it that big?
Writing the parts for that song… The band came in and gave it some energy. We recorded the guitar live and the horn part in the middle, and those big ‘ohs’ and stuff. But the rest of that song was how I would make a beat if I was a DJ or a producer. I was taking Andrew’s drum jamming and chopping it up into a beat. I think actually I wrote a lot of that right after I got my Juno 60 keyboard. It’s a vintage analogue synth. A lot of the sounds were coming from that as I was playing around with it and recording for fun. Then you suddenly make something worth keeping in your back pocket.
So good. Now there’s a few interludes on the album, Bloom and Sift. They could be mistaken for jamming, but I suspect they’re still carefully written tracks?
Bloom was a song that our other drummer John wrote and he put it on his record. And ever since I heard it I wanted it to be the opener to the Kings record. I thought it was really beautiful and an extremely focussed palette cleaner, but his original song is way longer. So I took it and I added some orchestral stuff to it and made it way shorter. I knew we had Felix Culpa on the record and that there had to be some way to get into it and out of it because it’s so heavy, it almost needed some space. So I was fiddling with it and came up with where it goes into utter chaos, which is what Felix Culpa is. We needed something crazy going into that song. That was really John writing something and me tailoring it for use on our record. And then Sift was just me and Andrew jamming. Those drums are recorded in the green room. He’s just jamming and I chopped them up a little bit more, DJ Chad style. Same thing. How are we going to get into Light After Darkness because it’s sonically very different, but it’s so heavy at the beginning of it. So I decided to do a turntable break on the drums at the end of it. And it hits so hard because of that transition. So I’m looking at the whole thing – looking at what’s sitting around and would make the whole record flow really well or make it exciting.
Now when we last spoke you gave me clues for the album. You said that there would be a tropical jungle hymn that would match the album cover. I’m guessing this is All Creatures?
I love how it begins with the running water sounds…
Actually, you’re going to laugh. When we recorded the choir vocals I got everyone to rub their hands together and finger snapping. So it’s funny because it’s actually fake jungle. But that song always sounds jungly to me. John, our second drummer, he was teaching music at a middle school so I went there one day with the portable recording rig. They have all these bells there and he had a vibraphone and we dampened it. He did all those cool parts at the beginning of it. We’ve been playing All Creatures live pretty much like that for probably a year-and-a-half, so we wanted to record it that way. The drummers are just going bonkers, and it’s really fun to play live.
The percussion is just so warm and bright on that song. The glockenspiels get a good workout.
Yeah, glockenspiel and vibraphones and there’s string parts and then there’s… both the drum kits are just really locked together. They’re doing stuff that’s so complicated but it sounds really tight at the same time. It’s so unique. I’ve never heard anyone drum like John and Andrew.
That song has swagger.
It does! [Laughs] Goofy swagger.
Now I want to talk to you about Dreams. This is probably my favourite song on the album. It to me sounds like something you’d hear on Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz record.
I love that record.
Can you tell me how a track like that comes together?
Yeah. That whole song was inspired when I got this little keyboard. I’ll show it to you. This little funky OP-1 keyboard (see photo above). So this keyboard is amazing. It’s made by a company from Sweden. It’s designed beautifully and incredibly inspiring. But basically there’s that really weird drum sound with percussion that goes ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo’ in it (heard at the start of verse two). That was an effect on this keyboard. I was playing with this beat and it was so sweet and I knew we had to write a song for this. But it was really out there. The song is really out there. Because it was so out there I decided to write it loosely based on a dream that I had two years ago where I was dreaming. It was actually taking place around Ballard but the whole world was incredibly vibrant and colourful. Colourful to an extraordinary extent. I don’t know how to describe it. But basically at the end of the dream, I knew that everything was vibrant. I felt the Holy Spirit more intensely than I ever have at any time in my life tell me, ‘You may try and fail, but in me you’ll never be a failure, and I love you.’ And I woke up right after and was just balling. I was telling my wife that God told me he loved me. I got my phone and I just started typing everything that had just happened to me, and it was pretty incredible. The whole rest of the day I was like, ‘I know that God loves me. This is insane!’ But because it’s a dream you take it back into reality with you and there’s no way to easily explain it. Even now I’m explaining it to you and it’s like, ‘Well, what does that mean theologically?’ I don’t know! I just had a crazy dream that was colourful and I knew that God loves me after it. [Laughs] But why not write a song about that?
So that’s what the song is. ‘The colours of your world echo in my dreams.’ Then the crux of it is that middle breaking point where it’s, ‘In the moment it’s clear and I know, yes I know, that I’m loved’. ‘I’m loved.’ And I’m just singing that over and over again. So yeah, I think that song is really special to me because there’s a lot of songs on this record that aren’t congregational, but that song in particular is one of the first ones where I was like, ‘I’m literally going to write a song about whatever I want to, and there’s nothing wrong with that.’ I’ve been in an environment where it’s been intensely writing for church – which is awesome, there’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m not railing against that at all – but it’s been refreshing. I didn’t come from a lot of songwriting before I jumped into the church stuff. So for me it’s been taking more faith, and been a lot more challenging to dive into writing songs where I get to be vulnerable. You don’t really have to be vulnerable when you’re writing for a congregation. You’re more focussed on being correct. It’s a lot less scary. It’s way more scary for me to write a song about dreams and then have people look at it – ‘This is a worship record! What the hell is this guy talking about?’ [Laughs] But it’s a really important moment in my life, and the music fit me putting that story to it.
Let’s talk about 139… Actually, do you call it ‘one-three-nine’ or ‘one-hundred-and-thirty-nine’?
Ah, we call it ‘one-thirty-nine’. I dunno.
Lyrically you’re talking about God’s care and his massiveness – such a great reflection on the psalm. How has that been a comfort to you this year, because I know this year has been a hard one for you and your family.
Incredibly. And I wrote that song with Brian Eichelberger. He helped me write lyrics for it. I feel like a broken record, but that song was a beat that I made that I took with me and listened to it a lot while I was travelling. A couple of years ago I went to Europe. I was in Paris and London and Italy and I’d listen to it while I was on a train or a boat or an aeroplane. So whenever I started playing it again it had a lot of emotion attached to it of me being different places in the world, being away from home. Psalm 139 is one of my favourite psalms. It seemed like a perfect text to put to emotionally how attached I was to the instrumentation. So – man, I would say that this year that song has been incredibly close to my heart because of all the stuff my wife and I have been through. We lost her father to cancer. We lost our son to a stillbirth. We both had to leave our church and both of our jobs. It’s been hard. Knowing that God knows absolutely everything about us when the psalm says, ‘You hem me in behind and before,’ I just think of God being at my back, at my front, he knows all my past and future.
Lyrically we tried to capture the stuff of the psalm where it talks about God knitting us together in our mother’s womb. He knows all our thoughts. And then at the same time just having the knowledge and faith that he loves us. Those two things combined are miraculous. It’s incredible that God knows us that intimately and deeply, and his love for us is that of a father. Just like a father loves his children. When I think of that song, it always reminds me that God is my Dad and he really cares about me and knows me as his little baby. He’s Abba. That’s what that song is about.
Redemption in Motion – you break out the autotune on that song!
Yeah! [Laughs] That one was like – I wanted that beat to play out for a long time so I did a bunch of riffs… It’s like a stream-of-consciousness almost, y’know? And then some of the band was like, ‘I don’t know, this is weird,’ and others were like, ‘This is amazing!’ So we felt it didn’t have to be part of the same song, so we made it an outro. And so we kept it. But it almost didn’t make it! I love it though – I love the melody on it. That’s the thing about this record that I really enjoy – there’s really carefully penned lyrics and there’s totally stream-of-consciousness on the fly. That song is like that, Ache is like that. It just captures that there’s an art to the songwriting, and there’s also this incredible release – spilling your guts, whatever comes out. Even if it doesn’t make perfect sense. The record does all of that, and I just love that.
The track Zion is about your son that you lost earlier this year. I imagine it must be an intensely personal song for you, and it wouldn’t be easy to share such raw emotion with everyone who will hear this record?
Man… That’s a hard question to speak to. I think that really, on this record I stopped caring about – it wasn’t as though I stopped caring about the people who were going to listen to it but I stopped caring about trying to be something other than myself. I think that there is for everybody in any life stage or position or something, there always seems like a ladder to climb, and ideal type of person to be, including in the worship industry. It sounds weird to say that, but that’s been me, I’ve been a worship director. ‘You’re going to make a worship record, it’s like this,’ or, ‘This is what you’re going to do if you’re going to make a record with hymns on it,’ and it was like, ‘Look, I am a person that feels deep things. I lost my son this year and I’m going to write a song about it.’ If I’m going to give the world a record that is a snapshot of my life over the last couple of years, how could I not include everything? I’m not saying that other people who make worship records are doing it wrong or anything, but for me at this stage of my life the best thing was basically to flush out everything that’s going on in my heart and in a sense it’s really freeing to be able to be yourself. That’s where the title of the album comes from. At the end of the day, as Christians, if we don’t believe that we’re really valuable and loved and accepted for being exactly who we are – even as sinners – what are we excited about?
So being able to have a song about my son who’s in heaven, Zion, on the same record as How Deep the Father’s Love or something like that, is fitting. Those songs should be next to each other, or even the others, Dreams. That’s all part of who I am, it’s part of who everybody in the band is, even everybody that’s listening to it. It’s unfortunate that people cordon their lives off: ‘Well now is the time when I think about hard things in my life, and now is the time when I don’t.’ I don’t know. It’s all together.
And I figure it speaks volumes when we’re real with each other. Worship is life anyway, right?
Yeah. Probably one of the biggest evidences of God’s grace in my life this year is that he has given me faith that he is incredibly good. Our family has seen four deaths in the last six months. And God has given me faith that he is good. That’s a gift that I believe that at this point. Who knows where I could be outside of God holding me. And I’m struggling right now with a lot of anxiety, I’ve had basically a nervous breakdown, but still I could be way worse. Being able to acknowledge that on a song like Zion – it’s a song of faith and it’s a gift of a song that God has given me that faith and that belief that I’m going to see Zion again.
I’m sure that will bless so many people.
Yeah. And you know, that encourages me but it’s like, that’s still not why I’m doing it. Which seems selfish but it’s really not. I know that people are going to be encouraged by the worship songs on the album and that is incredible, but I believe that’s what God is doing with the songs. I’m just singing them because I need to sing them to myself. [Laughs] And whatever else God does with them is a miracle. But I’m not responsible for ‘Hey everybody, here’s these songs, they will change your life.’ I’m singing them to myself. If God speaks through them to other people – that’s amazing – but I’m not responsible for them being moved by the songs. That’s God doing that.
Let’s talk about just one more track, Light After Darkness. On that song you seem to be asking for hope and help and it’s so layered. What’s the story behind that song?
I found this hymn where all the verse text comes from. It was unlike any other hymn I’ve ever read. It’s old English style, still very hymnish. But it wasn’t a song that was necessarily about a theology or even specifically about God. It was just incredible poetry that really moved me. Looking through the song, I had to ask what the focus of the song was. It’s like Ecclesiastes a little bit, that there’s a time for everything. Knowing that about life, knowing that you’re going to suffer. And suffering is suffering, you can’t necessarily get out of it. Or knowing that you’re going to have times of joy. What is the thing that holds you together, looking at your life going, ‘Well, I’m going to be in the desert in a couple of years, and it’s going to really suck.’ Do you lose faith in God knowing that he’s going to take you to the desert? No. You need faith. You need hope. So that’s where the chorus really encapsulates that: ‘Give me the hope for tomorrow, give me the strength for today. You are the promise of peace on my pathway to faith.’ I could pray that every single day knowing that I don’t really know what’s going to happen to me at any given moment, but I know that hope and faith are two things I desperately need always that only God can give me. That’s kind of where the lyrics came together.
Now the Kings LP as we know it is done. That’s been a long time coming. You’ve said before that you recorded much of the album at Mars Hill but couldn’t release that, and now you’ve recorded the whole album over again. My question is, now that this album is finished, are you glad that this is the album that we’re hearing?
I’m 100% glad it is. And not because the other one was bad, but it was a different purpose. It was much shorter. It didn’t have any of these new songs. It had more old Mars Hill songs on it. I think I was under the umbrella of specific vision and mission which was writing songs for the church that I was helping lead. It’s amazing that I got to do that for a season, and I would love to do that again someday at some church, but I don’t think it’s the record that God really wanted me to make, and I don’t think it’s the record at the end of the day that I really wanted to make. I think I really wanted to make something that was all of me, or all of the band. Basically stretched beyond what would be used for a Sunday morning worship service. And I think we got to make that record. I’m really, really happy with it.
That’s great to hear. You’re launching this album next week at a show in Seattle with Citizens & Saints. Got some exciting things planned for that show?
Oh man… As always, whenever Kings does big events… I can’t give it away actually! I’ll give a clue. There’s going to be a cool surprise.
Sounds intriguing! What does 2015 hold for you and Kings Kaleidoscope?
We really just want to play songs for people. Personally I’m just trying to get to a healthy enough place that I can tour. But the stress and the anxiety of the year has been weighing on me and I’m taking every step to really rest and seek help with all that. But it’s really difficult to get to a place where I know I can go on the road for a bit. But we do really want to play the music live for people. We’ve really missed the rhythm of playing every Sunday for church. That was so fun for us. Just the thought of playing live and going bonkers for people – we’re itching to do it. We hope to be playing a lot. I already am working on songs for another record. I don’t know when that will come out or when we’ll start recording but we already have four or five song ideas that we can start building off of.
That’s great. Thanks so much for sharing such an insight into Becoming Who We Are, Chad. It’s an incredible record.
Thank you for the love and support and encouragement. It’s been great talking about all the songs! Like I keep saying, there’s one part of me that’s like, ‘I just made this record because it’s what I wanted to do and in a sense what I needed to do.’ But the fact that people really like it is also really special. I’m just glad, y’know!
Becoming Who We Are by Kings Kaleidoscope will be released this coming Monday, 27th October. Pre-order it now on iTunes, or get physical copies here. Read our review of the album here. Tickets to their Seattle album launch on 27th October can be purchased here.