by Sam Robinson
Two years after the release of their debut album Becoming Who We Are, Seattle Kings Kaleidoscope have returned with Beyond Control, a turbulent and very personal album for lead singer and ringleader Chad Gardner. We recently spoke with Chad, who talked the album through track-by-track, and discussed the use of explicit language, and his love for Chance the Rapper. (Scroll down to hear audio of the interview)
SAM: What’s it like dropping your second album on the world?
CHAD: Oh man… The word exciting gets overused all the time but it’s genuinely so. Since updating our website as it released, it was so exciting. Really encouraging to make a record that feels really personal to me and immediately have so many people resonate with it. It’s been really encouraging. I’ve felt overjoyed over the past few days.
SAM: If people are listening and have never heard of Kings Kaleidoscope before, very briefly – who are you?
CHAD: We are a band from Seattle, Washington. We make gospel music and our style is all over the place because we’ve got up to ten people coming in and out of the band. I don’t know what you’d call us…
SAM: A hybrid?
CHAD: We’re a hybrid! That’s a really good word. An alternative rock hybrid band.
SAM: First of all, let’s talk about the concept of this record. What is Beyond Control?
CHAD: I think it’s the idea that I was thinking a whole lot about this year as I just really felt the pressure and intensity of living in a fast-paced, modern, information-saturated global world. Being on the Internet all the time was overwhelming to me and really made me start to think about how so much of my world is spent trying to control everything – my future, my success… even eternity. I was inspired through a sermon but then I kept spinning my wheels on it. That whole world has left me feeling lonely and isolated and cold. The flipside of that is that this record goes between the two worlds – beyond control and enchantment. Being able to see that the world is wild and scary and it is harsh but it is also full of beauty and adventure with God at the helm. He is with us through it. It plays back and forth between beyond control – being in enchantment with God and his kingdom.
Chad then took me track by track through Beyond Control:
- A RESTING PLACE (INTRO) / 2. ENCHANTED
- MOST OF IT
Most Of It started with a strong musical idea that I had. At the end of the day, I knew this needed to be a light-hearted pop song… My family has come from a theology-heavy church background, and one thing that’s been really helpful for us is to think of things more simply, especially now that we have an almost-one-year-old little boy named Ziggy. The reality is that because we are God’s kids, things are OK for us at the end of the day. After life is over, it’s going to be alright. We can just make the most of things this side of heaven when they do get hard, trusting God with the outcome. It’s a song where I thought a lot about my boy Ziggy as I wrote it – what’s the simplest possible way to explain God’s sovereignty to a one-year-old? That everything’s OK, you’ll be alright, make the most of it. For him, if he bonks his head, it’s gonna be OK. You say that a million times to a baby – and it’s true for us! We’re just God’s kids. That’s probably the most simple concept of a song on the record.
- DUST / 5. RIDE ON REPRISE
I had a DJ Chad demo of the chorus vibe of that song, with that choir, for a while now. And I really wanted to make a song, and it felt dusty. It’s got a lot of cool, vinyl samples in it. I actually titled it Dust before it had any lyrics. And I knew it had to be joyful, really fitting into the whole record, that we can let go of trying to maximise everything on our lives because it all just vanishes – and that’s actually the most freeing thing in the world. All we have is God, and he is all that matters. The whole word “dust” fits perfectly into that concept. Then as I came up with more and more ideas, I really like how in older hip-hop where they let the beat ride out. So, we kinda did that and Zach the bass player threw down really cool bass on that part. We thought it would be a bit long for one track so I cut it into two and decided to keep that whole Ride On Reprise on there.
- IN THIS OCEAN PT. I / 7. IN THIS OCEAN PT. II
[I suggested that this track sounds a little Justin Timberlake] …Justin Timberlake?! I never thought of that. We call it our Saturday Night Live song. It sounds like the house band for Jimmy Fallon at the beginning. That song is thematically similar to Most Of It, but obviously there’s more imagery of setting out to sea, and being really afraid to set out on that adventure, and realising that it’s OK because you have community around you, and friends around you and ultimately you’re not alone – you have God with you. You have to die to yourself and your fear.
There’s that line: ‘To be whole beyond control is to die’. That’s hard to do. I realise this – I began to write that song when I was on a plane. And I really hate flying – I’ve had panic attacks my whole life and I really struggle about being stuck on a plane. It has nothing to do with crashing but I hate it… I feel like I can’t escape. So every time Kings travels, the whole band have to support their terrified lead singer! They’re always supportive. I know I’m talking about going out to sea, but it’s actually about flying… [I then mentioned that there’s a lot of ocean imagery on the album] …Yeah there is. I just think because oceans to me describe journey and isolation. Having to deal with yourself and your thoughts and what’s in your own mind.
- FRIENDSHIP (INTERLUDE)
Blake is the trombonist, and him and I are good buddies. He’s the longest standing member of the band. One night we were in my basement studio trying to write solo ideas for the end of In This Ocean and we were coming up with melodies. I loved his riff on melodies. I can’t solo on instruments but I can do it with my voice… I just started on a beat and said I’d sing out melodies and he can sing them back to me and we can see what comes out good. We did it for ten minutes and it was funny and we were laughing. There was so much cool stuff that we thought we’d trim it down and have it be an interlude. It was hard to get it that short, there was lots of funny stuff that got cut out! I think it was important to be a palette cleanser on the record, but also just to show that I try not to take myself too seriously. We’re kinda just goofballs trying to be ourselves. I think that song is vulnerable in that way. It helps the overall aesthetic of the record. Share who we are. [I ask whether the “watch me, watch me” is an allusion to Silento’s Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae)] …Yes, it is. I think Blake started it, if I’m not mistaken. I’m not responsible for that.
That’s another one where I had a musical idea… playing with that melody for a long time. If I remember correctly it was the last song to get written lyrically on the record. We had three different string sections, and I still had no lyrics. It was me singing random syllables and we were arranging everything to it! Zach Bolen hopped on insta-message and I told him the song needed to be about being lost. I love the idea of being lost, but it being a good thing. The whole idea of this record is that you’re in this enchanted world with God where you don’t know what’s next, it’s mysterious and magical, but it’s also beautiful and you’re not worried about it because you’ve let go of control. So I said, what about being lost in grace? In a way, you can’t even find your way out if you wanted to! If grace was a maze, and you were lost in it, how amazing would that be? That was the theme and we worked it out. It was the last song I recorded.
- SABOTAGE / HOME
That was one of the first songs that we started to work out. It felt powerful and energetic, and had this bridge that felt like it needed to be humbling. I had the feeling that the song should have some swag and bragadocious, but not be a good thing. You can hear that I’m unsatisfying with everything in my life, that it’s all self-serving me and I’m sabotaging myself. Then there’s a turning point in the bridge where I start to use Egypt and Exodus imagery where God is delivering me from serving myself and I’m crossing through the waters. He’s sabotaging the sea in place of me sabotaging myself. Even though I’m heading into the unknown, and into the wilderness where I won’t have control, and I’m leaving my home, I realise that I’m home wherever I am because God is with me. The home I thought I have is really slavery. That is a big epic grand-scale storyline.
That’s the first song I had the lyrics for. It’s basically for my family and my wife – I wrote that feeling so disconnected from them because of so much anxiety and stress that I was going through at one point last year. It really is talking about – “I’m not what I seem, only in this moment, I’m holding on.” You know what it’s like when you’re talking to somebody, but your mind is far away? It’s me saying I’m sorry, I’m basically not going to be able to focus on you for this long because my mind is taking me to all these places, because I’m losing it. It really grapples with the fear of that and the reality of that. The beautiful thing about that song is that at the end I say, “Pray I break this madness. Pray I slay this dragon. And find the shore.” And then after that, it’s my wife who comes in and reads that psalm to me. Which is something she would actually do. That song is amazing because David writes, ‘Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices. My flesh also dwells secure, for you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” And that kills me everytime I read that, because that’s what I fear. I’ll lose it. That my family can’t count on me. And then, that’s my wife Alex reading that to me to reaffirm that God won’t abandon me… We added that at the last minute and it took it over the edge for me. It’s a super-emotional moment for me on the record. That gets into the last three tracks, where there’s a contrast to the opening songs – ‘We can do it!’. But what are we stepping out from? What has been the pain and reality. The last three tracks get into it more.
- A PRAYER
It barely feels like I wrote that song. Both those verses came just off the top of my head almost immediately from various prayers that I’ve prayed and things that I’ve written in my journal over the years. I was sitting at my piano and it just came out one night during the making of this record. I recorded that night and I had to shelve it because it was so heavy. I really couldn’t touch the chorus because I had no idea how I was going to counter-balance the verses that had spilled out. Those verses really are things that I have been terrified of before in my life. The fear that God will abandon me and that I will be in hell. Or the fear that I will run so far from God that I will escape his grace. I don’t think either of these things are true, but they are real things I think and the voice of fear… It’s not like I had to write those lyrics, that’s what it feels like. What comes out on the page is the voice of death and sin and fear. I really prayed a lot and waited for the second part of that song to come through where God answers me. One afternoon I was listening to the first part of that song and all the lyrics just appeared in this app I use on my phone to write lyrics. I balled my eyes out, just feeling the Holy Spirit’s presence, just writing them down. Just thinking them. Once again, I even had to wait longer to record it, it was so heavy on me. The next day I was able to sing it through, twice. And I lost it both times singing it. I ended up giving it to my buddy who was mixing and I said, ‘Here, I can’t even hang out in the studio today, you gotta mix it, I can’t do it without losing it.’ It is the deepest fear of my soul and the deepest truth of my soul. That’s how it got written.
- TRACKLESS SEA
A friend of mine came up with that idea when I was eighteen – that piano riff and that melody. It’s a very chopped-up hymn. I think I even played if for church. That song feels to me that you go through this record, this cycle of emotions where you feel gung-ho about stepping out into faith. Beyond control, I’m going to live my life, I’m not going to let my soul be a buffered soul apart from God. Even in the scary places he might bring me. Then you end up in a scary place… then Trackless Sea comes after A Prayer when God responds to us. It’s the moment where the dust has settled, but emotionally there’s still a little bit of lingering doubt. That’s accomplished as I sing these peaceful lyrics but musically I’m back and forth between emotionally believing what I’m singing, and not. The first chord is really major and then the second is diminished and I’m singing, ‘This peace unstirred, this joy of rest’, but musically it’s very dissonant. I think that’s because a lot of times we have to preach to ourselves and we might not feel the immediate peace that truth brings but we continue to do it anyway. That’s what that song does until the bridge. I say ‘I’m holding on to feelings in between, the faith I want is bound in apathy. I’m tired of doubt, and feeling in-between. Still, this hope I hold is my reality.’ And I just repeat ‘reality’. It’s my favourite song on the album because, I’m such an emotional person. Emotions are the language of the heart. But I often times give them too much weight in what my true reality is. The whole idea that the hope we have in God – that is our greatest reality – it’s just mind-blowing. The record ends with that statement. And then there’s a sneaky false end, where it returns with a banging beat and flute stuff. [I suggest it’s almost dubstep] Dubstep?! I played drums on that. I programmed a lot of the beats, but I played those drum solos. I felt so bad… It needed those dirty, sloppy, distorted drum fills, and Andrew my drummer was at work and I had to do it fast. I called him, and I was like, ‘Hey man, I’m sorry, but I did a whole bunch of drum fills, and people are going to think that they’re yours, and they’re not that incredible. And yours are always incredible.’
SAM: Out of the deep fear of A Prayer, comes something that surprised many – you use some explicit language. You also made a clean version. That language is very honest and vulnerable from you, as you mentioned before, it came from your journal. Do you feel like that the two versions and differing reactions have been a distraction to the album? What’s the response been?
CHAD: Honestly, the response has been overwhelmingly, ‘Thank you for telling your story, Chad’. There’s definitely a minority that is vocal, theologically on a different page, and doesn’t necessarily want to understand where I’m coming from. That’s discouraging to me because obviously I respect them, and that’s why I put two versions out. I have a kid – he’s not going to hear that version until he can understand the different uses for language for things like that. I don’t have any hard feelings or disrespect towards anybody. I guess, the simple way that it seems to me is, if any of us had a family member come to them and say, ‘I am so f-ing scared, I’m terrified out of my mind, that God is going to abandon me,’ would you sit there as they’re sitting on your couch balling and say, ‘You know what, I don’t think you should have said that word right now.’ No! You would tell them to truth of the gospel! That’s what God tells me when I pour my heart out to him. I think that’s important for all of us to realise. We’re all on the same team. We’re all part of God’s family. We’re all brothers and sisters. I felt like it was important at the end of the day to share a very personal prayer, as well as an edited version so that people would understand that they’re not alone. Especially for people who have been there, who have felt those things as I feel. It’s way more important for me to be vulnerable and be myself, just connect the dots for people: God hears you, he feels what you feel, and he loves you. You’re in him! You have not escaped his love for you. Even though you might feel it. There’s a bunch of things that went into that, and prayer, and thought, and conversation. I sought a ton of counsel from my pastor and friends who are in ministry, and I think at the end of the day I stand by it. I think that being true and vulnerable is helpful. I did consider everybody and I think it’s really beneficial for the church.
SAM: Your first album was recorded all over Seattle, and since then you’ve made a basement studio, where this was recorded. Does that mean we’re going to see more Kings projects, or producing music? What’s the goal?
CHAD: I don’t know, man. The goal is to keep creating. Right now I’m thinking about video content and touring this Fall. All the other ways are intriguing to me. Musically, I don’t know what it is – but usually this happens. I put out this record a day ago, and this week I’ve had maybe four new ideas for songs that I’m really stoked on. It’s like my system is in the groove of writing and creating. It might be sooner or later.
SAM: You’re a big fan of Chance the Rapper, whose new mixtape Coloring Book has been critically acclaimed, and is full of gospel themes and sound…
CHAD: He’s amazing. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who isn’t a fan of Chance. He’s won everybody over. I saw him last year at the Family Matters tour in Seattle. I thought Acid Rap was a really good mixtape and I think his new project is really incredible as well.
SAM: Coloring Book is part of this new wave of gospel sound along with the new Kanye album, but Chance is also talking about his faith on the record. Some have questioned his faith because of the language and themes across it, yet he used How Great Is Our God in a capella for three minutes!
CHAD: It sounds like he grew up in the church, and that’s a huge part of his culture. It’s a huge part of African American art culture, period. So many singers grew up in the church. Even me, a white kid from Seattle grew up loving gospel music and loving Kirk Franklin because it’s a major force in art. It’s definitely a trend and I’m sure that on the pop records that release in the next year there’ll be a lot of gospel stuff. And you know, that will be following suit. But I think for a guy like Chance, it’s real. He grew up in it and he loves it. I think it’s a really cool musical direction shift for pop music. I look forward to seeing what artists do with it and what keeps happening.
Listen to the whole interview with Chad here: