by Sam Robinson
As I phone Chad Gardner of Kings Kaleidoscope two days before the release of their third album, I find him in a busy but good place. He is researching the least heavy ink to print on to nylon kites, ensuring their merchandise will (literally) fly.
“For me personally, since [mixtape] The Beauty Between, a year and a half, I’ve been very comfortable. My family has been healthy overall, I’m doing what I love. The Chad from [2016 sophomore album] Beyond Control – weeping everyday and feeling so far from God has not been my reality.”
These circumstances have birthed (The Adventures of) ZEAL. It’s an album that again cannot be pigeonholed into a particular genre – with experimental blips and clicks, hip-hop beats, moments of grunge, and plenty of bite. There is a clear movement through the album – from a heavy beginning, diving into the epic nine-minute single The Rush, and wrapping with the playful pop paradise of Oxygen and A Little Bit of Faith. And even though Gardner is finding life to be good, it’s clear that he isn’t resting on his laurels.
“There is teeth on this album, and aggression. There is a sense of a prophet vibe on this album. I’m calling out myself and my friends. I want to see change in myself and others. Which made [ZEAL] a different album – rather than: here is my story and what I’ve been through.”
It’s hard not to be taken aback by some of the lyrics on ZEAL. Amongst the frenetic topsy turvy Hero Over My Head, Gardner exclaims ‘I’ve been lying double minded… Jesus! I don’t believe, I’m a villain in need.’ On Backwards: ‘I’m sick and tired of church and chess. I take the wine and leave the bread.’
“I have felt the big apathetic pull that this record touches on… [Because things are well, I ask] why do I need spiritual discipline right now? What value is this church community to me outside of just friendships? My comfort has led to apathy and that’s my piece of the pie of what this album is.”
“The other piece of the pie is that my friends… years after what happened with Mars Hill… are struggling with church as an organisation, and theology. Deconstructing massive things. I believe that some of it is rooted bitterness and jadedness. They don’t have joy, and it’s been hard for me to see this. None of them are feeling the rush of childlike faith or any joy whatsoever. Eventually you just get sick of it. To be zealous again for the kingdom of God to me, looks like dying to myself and taking care of people who are not in the position [of comfort] that I am in.”
Thus is the challenge of ZEAL – that those who hear it might find the joy of childlike faith again. To become zealous again – passionate for the God who has saved and redeemed us – and the freedom this brings.
“The whole point of this album was to find the most bitter friend who I have, that I love dearly, and ask how I can get them back to a place of childlike faith: to say, I believe that Jesus is God and that he loves me. Period. So the album pulls you through the mud and then at the end you hear – Yes! Jesus loves me!”
It’s true that the final run of songs are brimming with absolute beauty. Oxygen sees Chad claiming ‘I can feel the memories again… I’d lose it all to find you now,’ – a reclaimed joy. And then there’s a shift to a whistling solo and a very familiar tune from a special voice.
“I have a vinyl record of my Mom singing [the Sunday School hymn] Jesus Loves Me when she was seven years old with kids in her choir. They recorded it while she was singing and I made a song out of it. How perfect is that – this is where the album pulls people. The most simple thing. I whistle, she sings, and that’s it.”
Recruiting an orchestra from Budapest, and directing sessions via 4am Skype calls, Gardner has created what he describes a “massive fantasy Disney type of sound”. It takes Oxygen to a warm, comforting, nostalgic place – which moves so well into A Little Bit of Faith, complete with kid vocals from Zach Bolen’s kids Penelope and Posie.
“A Little Bit of Faith fell in my lap at the end of the whole thing. It dropped two weeks ago and I only wrote it a month ago. I was trying to work out how to turn the corner of the chorus of ‘You shine’ in Hero Over My Head. So I tried the piano riff in a major key – it was so cool that I wrote a whole other song to it on the spot. So we had a happy pop song which was the perfect bow at the end of the album – God really gifted it to me. ZEAL needed that to wrap it up.
It’s no secret that I’ve been a big fan of Kings Kaleidoscope since their early EP days, and like many others around the world, I’ve been so impressed to see Gardner (and songwriting partner Zach Bolen) make such incredible, God-honouring music. ZEAL is a truly wonderful, and important, album. Listen to it through a few times, and be shaken up by it.
“I want people to take the tiniest step of faith… None of us are going to figure out God. He’s never going to answer all of our questions. We’re never going to figure out church – it’s people – it will always disappoint us. That doesn’t negate anything about who Jesus and the gospel is. I want to see people move from the place of being stuck because their questions aren’t answered, to jump off the cliff – it’s a big jump – but it’s one foot.”
“Ask yourself, is this working for me? Is my problem with the church helping me to keep dissecting and deconstructing this? Or do I need to move back and pray for ten minutes? Read this chapter of Scripture out loud to myself? I’ll see what happens. We all need to ask ourselves what the little step of faith is that I need to take right now, instead of needing all our questions answered.”
ZEAL by Kings Kaleidoscope is out on all streaming platforms this Friday, 5th April. Physical copies and associated childlike merchandise can be ordered at kingskaleidoscope.com. Listen to the full interview below.