by Sam Robinson
Last week Seattle band Citizens & Saints announced that new music is on the way, in the form of an expanded edition of their sophomore record, Join the Triumph, originally released last November. To understand more about the release, and the new songs, I spoke to old mate and C&S ringleader Zach Bolen.
SAM: Why don’t you share with me about the new music you’ll be sharing soon?
ZACH: When we were still leading at Mars Hill Ballard, we had done a lot of hymns and arrangements that we really liked. And what was happening in that time was basically Spencer, Brian, Adam and Nathan – we all started playing together quite often, and what happened naturally now that two new people [Spencer and Brian] were part of it, is that the sound started to evolve a little bit. So even though Join the Triumph, which was recorded before this, had a certain sound, it’s not very reflective at all of what the music of Citizens & Saints will sound like in future. That’s mainly because we want to write true to what’s happening in the band. I think there will be similarities obviously.
But we realised that we have a couple of songs that we wanted to get out there. For instance, we’re releasing an arrangement of How Great Thou Art, which is a really guitar-driven, heavy song. It’s probably one of my favourite hymn arrangements that we have ever done. It’s just big, electric guitars and a huge chorus. It’s really cool. And then part of coming out of this Mars Hill season – Natalie and I, when I first resigned, we probably spent almost every morning on the couch together praying for one another. We were going through the psalms, and I guess you could say we got stuck at the first eight psalms. I just kept seeing these different themes such as, ‘in peace I will both lie down and dwell in safety,’ ‘I woke up, and you’re there’… All these different passages that point to the peace of God. These themes were that God is our God of refuge, our God of peace, our God of joy. So two songs came out of that, and we thought we should share them with people that have been following us, or who are into our music. It’s kind of a taste of what’s to come in some ways. I don’t know what we will release another album for a while, especially now that we’re travelling around a lot more, we felt like we should add some more songs to this album.
So really, what you’re going to be looking at is more of an album that is not a separate release. Digitally, it’s like, here’s three more songs that are a part of this album. Even the track order changes slightly. There will be new artwork that will go along with it. So the biggest thing for us is that we knew we had spent a lot of time making Join the Triumph, and I don’t feel as though its lifespan is done. I think there’s still a great amount of people who need to hear the songs that are on this album. That was the inspiration behind putting these extra tracks on here. There will also be a remix of Father You Are All We Need by Chad from Kings Kaleidoscope. It’s really a bunch of special little treats.
Another thing that you’ll probably notice with these songs is that, especially coming out of Mars Hill, we have a lot of upbeat songs. That’s probably the thing that we’re most well known for.
Party anthems! Yeah, exactly. I think that’s good, and we’ll keep doing that… The reason that was the case is that it was true to who we were, we loved writing those; but also that was where Mars Hill was at. The leadership wanted a lot of songs that were party songs. Coming out of this, it hasn’t really been a party season. And so, I wanted to write songs that you don’t always need to clap to every time – we still want to do that – but there’s other songs yet to be written, and other ways of doing that. That’s what these songs are about.
One song is about the exodus, essentially, and how we relate to that. One of the biggest themes I realise coming out of all the Mars Hill stuff that I’d never really thought a tonne about… I’d thought about it but not in this way… the love of God. It was something that I would talk about but I don’t know that it’s something I believed was necessarily for me. Probably the most practical way that I saw this happen – and it’s really subtle but very different – is that we started going to this church where the pastor one week is talking about communion. And I’ve always known this to be true, but I just hadn’t literally participated in a church where this was a priority. The pastor said the highlight of the gathering of God’s people on Sundays is communion. That’s the high point. Up unto that point, communion at every church I’ve been part of had been this response to the word being preached. It was meant to be a time of introspection, not celebration. And he painted this picture of what communion is meant to look like: God has offered us himself, and he’s not offering himself to us as soon as we get ourselves cleaned up. He loved us when we were wretched, when we were reckless, when we were dead in our sin. It was such a mindshift for me, to go up to take communion with a smile on my face, ‘Sweet! This is awesome!’, instead of beating myself up – ‘Oh man, what did I do this week?’ So honestly, the last few months, thinking about that, and even reading through passages like Psalm 18 – ‘You set me in a broad place because you delight in me.’ That’s what this song is about. This song is about God leading the people of Israel, us even, out of sin and slavery and death. And even though we start thinking that this place that he led us to ain’t that great – ultimately what we get to rest in and know is that God loves us and he delights in us. That song is called Save Secure.
And then another song is just about God being this hiding place, where we can go to for refuge and peace. He is this haven that we get to run to our entire lives and we find peace and rest and joy in him, and safety and security. That song’s called Hiding Place. So, How Great Thou Art, Save Secure, and Hiding Place will all be there. And none of them are clapping songs. How Great Thou Art is probably one of the most anthemic arrangements I think we’ve done. It rivals In Tenderness, I think. That song is still awesome, I just like How Great a little bit more because it’s such a beautiful song already. It’s pretty fun. And then it kinda goes down from there [laughs] but in a good way, I hope! Hopefully we’ve put the songs in a good enough order that it flows well and it feels right to them.
Why did you decide to pick apart the album and put these songs in, rather than add them as bonus tracks at the end?
When we recorded Join the Triumph originally… and I think I’ve shared this with you. We were in such a rush to get it done that once you emerge, a month later, you realise that there’s a bunch of other songs that could have been a part of it. So I think that these songs complete the theme that we were trying to communicate. Especially, there’s an aspect of the love of God that I think is present on the album, but I think it’s the thing we were missing. You Have Searched Me is a good example – it’s a song that tells a story that gets to your soul, and the depths of your heart, as you realise God’s kindness. He is kindly, patiently, waiting for me to see that his way is best. That’s what these other songs are. Digging deeper into truths that a lot of people are talking about, but let’s sing about them too. These aren’t necessarily songs that haven’t been written before, I’m sure there’s plenty of people that have written about these things, but we felt that for this album it wasn’t complete until it had these tracks in it.
Some people might disagree, or be bummed out that we added the tracks. But I don’t think they will be bummed out when they hear the songs. I think they’ll be pretty excited about them. When you think about triumph in terms of us as God’s people, the fundamental piece is seen in John 3:16. It’s easily the most iconic New Testament verse. And I realised that if you started with the second half – ‘…that he gave his only son that whoever should believe in him should not perish but have eternal life,’ it’s pretty universal. Take religion and Christianity out of it, that statement in itself would universally be accepted as an act of love. Someone is giving up their life for someone else, so that they can live. That’s an act of love. Countless movies have done that. Tears are rolling, because it’s amazing. And God knew that. Giving up a life, this valuable thing that cannot be replaced at all. So you don’t necessarily need to know ‘For God so loved the world…’ to read the second half as an act of love, but, that affirmation means a lot. I can spend lots of time with my kids and never tell them I love them, and they might think, ‘My Dad loves me,’ but when I actually say it to them, that’s affirmation. It’s affirming all those things they’ve seen their dad do, and they can know it’s because ‘he loves me’. That’s essentially what God has done. His word is affirmation. We’ve seen all that he has done, and we go to his word and it reminds us – God is a God of love, grace, mercy, a provider, a shelter, our safety, he gives us joy. That’s part of this triumph, knowing God has given us this word of affirmation – ‘I love you’ – and that’s the reason why we have salvation. On his throne in heaven, Jesus looked down on humanity with love. That’s why he left his throne. He knew he was the only one who could fix this problem but his motivation was love. That’s the one thing I felt was lacking on the album, God’s motivation for the cross, the grave. Songs like The Strife is Over, The Mighty Hand of God. What motivated God to create us? What motivated the hands of God to be nailed to the cross? What motivated Jesus to teach us how to pray? What motivated him is simple, but also the most profound thing that we’ll spend our entire lifetime trying to wrap our mind around – his love for us. That’s what the two original songs are about – they hit home on that, and I hope people see that theme show up, and from a journey standpoint that they will get that as they listen to the whole album and feel some completion.
When did you record these songs?
We recorded them about a month-and-a-half ago. After Join the Triumph was released. But I had been sitting with them for a long time.
With the purpose of squeezing them in the album?
That wasn’t the original purpose. I originally thought we’d just record another album. And we actually have a lot of songs even right now, we could put out another album in the next few months, but we’re going to wait a while. I just felt like we should put a couple of other songs on this one rather than putting out another album in a year. We’ll tour on it, we’ll travel with it, we’ll get as many miles out of the album as we can. Then in the next year or two we’ll release another album that’s going to sound completely different. But by that point it’ll hopefully be a welcomed reception for something new.
What direction could you possibly go next? Hip-hop? Rave?
Yeah, dude. It’s gonna be total reggae rave. Ever since we went to the Cayman Islands. We’ll hand out Cuban sandwiches at shows.
I haven’t heard of Cuban sandwiches.
Oh gosh. They’re some of the best sandwiches in the world. There are some with pork… not BBQ, it’s similar to that but not quite the same. If you ever come to Seattle I’ll take you a restaurant called Paseo. You’ll have the best sandwich you’ll ever have in your entire life. It’s a Cuban sandwich.
But the sound of the next album will probably more guitar-driven, and possible less synth-based. It’ll all still be there. Sound-wise the instrumentation will be similar to the first album but stylistically it’ll be considerably different. I don’t know. It’s a long way off. Right now a lot of the songs that we have are more anthemic than some of the stuff we’ve done in the past. We’ve got lots of time, who knows – it could completely change.
Join the Triumph (Deluxe Edition) by Citizens & Saints will be released Tuesday, May 5th. You can pre-order it right now at iTunes.