Tony Cummings reports on the 10 man/woman worship team from Seattle, KINGS KALEIDOSCOPE
The critical acclaim heaped on the 'Becoming Who We Are' album by Seattle's Kings Kaleidoscope has been unprecedented. A review in JesusFreakHideout is typical: "Occasionally there are bands that produce art that is beyond good - and on very rare instances there are bands that create something that demolishes what you thought was good. Kings Kaleidoscope's first full-length album, 'Becoming Who We Are', is here to redefine what music can be." The 10-man/woman group have been around for four and a half years. Their founder and lead singer Chad Gardner spoke about the group's formation to HM Magazine, "We started when I first started working for Mars Hill Church and we were planting a new Mars Hill Church on the campus of the University of Washington. It was a bunch of kind of college kids. At the beginning, the average age of the band was under 21. We were all so young. [Stylistically, our sound] was made up of stuff we liked, so at the time my biggest influences were Broken Social Scene, a band called Anathollo and Radiohead. Then, like, the Mars Volta and some various rock bands. I grew up as a hip-hop DJ, so that was always a big influence, and kind of why we have two drummers. We like to do a lot of stuff with drums, because I grew up making beats for rappers and stuff like that, so I just kind of have it in my blood, in my DNA, to really like drums."
The group consists of Chad Gardner (vocals, guitar, keys), Andrew Nyte (drums), John Platter (drums, percussion), Zack Walkingstick (bass), Nadia Ifland Essenpreis (keys, violin), Lindsay Gardner (cello, keys), Julianne Smith (violin, accordion), Zawadi Morrow (piano, flute, violin), Blake Strickland (trombone) and Jared Buck (guitar). During their period at Mars Hill the group recorded some EPs, a Good Friday live project, a hymns EP, a Christmas EP and 'Live In Color'. The controversial Mars Hill church finally signed a deal with Tooth & Nail/BEC Recordings to take their radical worship music further afield but then, seemingly at the 11th hour, Kings Kaleidoscope broke away from Mars Hill. On a visit to Sheffield earlier this year, Gardner told Nick Law about the breakaway. "After four years as a worship leader for Mars Hill, I recently transitioned off staff. I felt like God was calling me in a new direction as far as the church was concerned. Kings wasn't going to be on the church band roster any longer, but all of us in the band wanted to continue as a group. We have all experienced God work powerfully playing together and just believe it's something unique that we didn't build ourselves, but that God orchestrated. So naturally we all want to keep making music and worshipping together. The mission and vision has shifted though. We've always had a clear goal, to serve a particular church in a particular city every Sunday. The goal is different now, but no less meaningful.
"Everyone is still serving their local churches, however, this time we get to make art for a broader audience and have a different type of impact. We continue to write songs for churches to use on Sundays, but we also get to write songs that may not necessarily be fit for corporate singing, but that tell stories in ways that are really great for listening. What we got to do at Mars Hill was incredible and we're so thankful for it, we love the church! God has shifted our opportunities and neither is more meaningful or important than the other. We are now creating and cultivating for more than one specific audience, but still with a kingdom building mindset."
While in the middle of recording 'Becoming Who We Are' Chad spoke to Law about their changing attitude towards recording congregational worship songs. "We're taking more artistic licence now that we're not just writing songs for churches to cover on Sundays. Songs for corporate worship are needed, and there are a lot of guys that are killing it in that category, but inherently they have to be constrained creatively when writing for the purposes of multi-generational, multi-cultural congregations to sing along. And rightly so! Our congregations need music that they can sing along to and that allows a broad range of people to quickly participate.
"I think a pain point for recorded worship music though is that the Sunday morning guard rails get imposed on what is meant to be listened too during the week, and so you end up with a mediocre record to listen to, but something that works great for Sunday singing. Essentially, your Sunday morning band needs to play music that is accessible enough for folks to easily participate with, and so you arrange and write with that in mind. But your record needs to jump out of the stereo and grab people's attention, surprise them and sweep them away sonically. It should move and excite people who are participating by listening and really grab their attention! It serves a different purpose than singing along. That's what we want to create, something that really moves people to see the glory of Jesus and feel the deep emotions from hearing the Gospel."
On the release of 'Becoming Who We Are' critics were lining up to name their favourite tracks. Miles Nelson wrote, "[The song] 'Felix Culpa' [originally heard on the] 'Live In Color' EP, is one my favorites by far. The term 'felix culpa' is Latin for 'fortunate fall'. The song cries out that our sins are trophies of God's grace in our lives. It's a powerful and brutally honest track," while Scott Fryberger quoted many of the lyrics of "139". "My favorite song of them all is '139'. Based on the 139th Psalm, it's a song about the deepness and intricacy of God's love for us. With some perfectly-complementing guitar work, Gardner sings, 'You heard my first heartbeat before I could breathe/Before my first cry, you knew me/You knit me together when I was conceived/When I was designed, you knew me.' The chorus is a reminder that God would be with us no matter what, whether we climbed the highest hill or swam to the deepest ocean, and the bridge (picking up in pace a little), says 'You are the God who knows and loves me/The God of David, the Rock of Ages/You are the King who dwells above me/The King of Zion, the mighty lion." Listen to this song with headphones and no distractions, and just let God speak his love to you."
For his own part, Chad told JesusFreakHideout that "Dreams" was his favourite. "It's a song that is very abstract and it has a different feel than a lot of the songs on the record. But it's a song that I wrote kinda loosely based on an actual dream that I did have. It was one of the times in my life where I felt the presence of God extremely intensely. I was just dreaming and kinda seeing all this stuff, and in the dream I clearly felt God telling me that I may try and fail, but to him I'm never a failure, and he told me he loved me. I woke up bawling my eyes out and I wrote this whole thing down. And later on, about a year later or something, I had this beat and this idea for a song and it felt so trippy and out there, but there was like a warmth to it. I felt like it would just totally fit the idea of the beauty of nature, which is a lot of what this dream was about. The apex of the song for me is where I'm just talking about that 'In the moment, it's clear, and I know that I'm loved.' A theme for me this year is kinda pressing the reset button on a lot of how I interact and view God and seeing him as a Father and a Father that is crazy about me and adores me and loves me. I just think that in the current climate of the church world, there's so much 'Do it this way, be this way, this is how you date, this is how you get married, this is how you reverse engineer your life, how you have a happy family, how you have a healthy career.' A lot of that, to me, is actually kind of exhausting over time. Like, after checking off these boxes for a while, you're kinda like 'Alright, I'm tired of checking off boxes. I just kinda want to be loved by God.' And that's just refreshing, just being able to meditate on just that one fact."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.