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Kings Kaleidoscope

On the heels of their highly-anticipated full-length, major label debut Becoming Who We Are, Kings Kaleidoscope frontman Chad Gardner took some time out of his afternoon to talk to Jesusfreakhideout's Scott Fryberger about the album and the inspirations that led up to where they are now...
This interview took place on: 10/19/14.

  • JFH (Scott Fryberger): So, I'm sure you've explained this plenty of times before, but can you go over the story behind the name "Kings Kaleidoscope"?

    Chad Gardner: *laughs* Oh yeah, the story of the name is not that exciting, actually. We just had a friend that kinda popped it off the top of his head one evening while we were hanging out trying to think of band names. And it made it onto a list of probably, I don't know, twenty to thirty band names and sat there for a little while. And when we finally had to pull the trigger and actually name ourselves, it was the best one by far. The other band names were all just kinda like jokes, and every time we tried to come up with a band name, they were all just funny. And so at least somebody had something that sounded like a somewhat creative kinda feel to it. We just like the way it sounded and kinda stuck with it. But it doesn't really have any kind of deeper meaning or any story other than that.

  • JFH (Scott): Fair enough. I've seen it typecast a couple different ways. Is there an apostrophe in "Kings" or not?

    Chad: *laughs* That's also funny because, you know, people have been trying to figure out "What does it mean!?" and stuff like that. So they'll talk about the apostrophe, like "Oh, there's an apostrophe, so it means they're like God's kaleidoscope." And it's just different things like that where we're just like "Uh, we just like the way it sounded, you know?" So, I prefer to spell it with no apostrophe, almost just to kinda make sure that nobody tries to attribute too much meaning to it. We just wanna keep it simple. But yeah, people ask all the time "What does it mean?" and I think the most entertaining part about it for me is watching people try to figure out a deep meaning for it when it doesn't have one. *laughs*

  • JFH (Scott): I'm certainly guilty of that!

    Chad: Yeah totally man! I mean, who wouldn't? I would! I'm always trying to figure out different band names.

  • JFH (Scott): Well that makes me feel a little bit better.

    Chad: *laughs*

  • JFH (Scott): You guys are a rather large band: ten full-time members. How did you all come together to form just one collective unit?

    Chad: Yeah, we came together as part of a church plant. So I was working at a church plant on the University of Washington campus, and as part of that I was playing music every Sunday for a couple years, and just kinda ended up piecing together this band. And we played every Sunday night for about two years, nearly straight, like not missing a weekend. And that's kinda how we got tight. And there have been different people that have come and gone from the band, but the line-up we have right now has been the most consistent one and has been around for the longest. I just kinda hand-picked the best musicians I knew that were around, and I wanted to - you know, at the time, having a big band was different. Now, there are lots of big bands. But, just from the influences I had, growing up DJ'ing, I was used to writing songs with lots of different types of instruments because I sampled stuff all the time. And I just had lots of friends who played lots of instruments, and I thought it would be fun to kinda put them all together. And I always liked the orchestral ensemble kinda things, and I used to do different scores and stuff - not in any pro capacity, but I liked writing out stuff with horns and strings a lot. So that's kinda how we came together.

  • JFH (Scott): So the current line-up that you have has been around for a few years now, or is that fairly new?

    Chad: It's been pretty consistent. I'd say it's been our line-up for a few years now, and most people can play those gigs, but there are so many that a few people will come and go, but for the most part, especially for the writing and who recorded on the new record, it's been the same ten people.

  • JFH (Scott): Some of the artists are multi-instrumentalists from what I've seen. Does every member get input into how a song sounds overall?

    Chad: The way I approach it is that I have tried to gather people that I really trust that I think have really good taste, that I think are really creative, that have tons of good ideas. And I'm constantly trying to get the best out of everybody. I'm just trying to enable everybody to have a creative outlet that they can really thrive in, and then I see my role as kind of taking all the ideas and working them all together into songs, and putting lyrics and melodies to them. So we do a lot of jamming to just come up with ideas, and the band also helps edit ideas I have going on (or add to them). But yeah, because there's a lot of us, we do generate tons of ideas, which is exciting for me, because my favorite thing is producing and trying to fit them all together.

  • JFH (Scott): I can also imagine that, with there being so many people in the band, you probably have a lot of different favorite bands and inspirations. Who are some of the bands that inspire you the most to write your music?

    Chad: There is a ton of different inspirations, because some of the people come from classical or jazz backgrounds. There are a few music educators in the band; one of them is a music professor, the other one teaches math and music. But I would say that, when we started the band, a band that a lot of us really liked was a band called Broken Social Scene, from Toronto. Growing up, we were really into them. I grew up listening to lots of Radiohead, and they were a big influence on the band. But the two drummers [in Kings Kaleidscope], they listen to lots of stuff, but they actually grew up playing heavier music, and our main drummer played a lot of metal. I don't know if you've ever heard the band Meshuggah, but they're like hardcore math metal. He would memorize how to play their albums. He's like a machine. I mean, that's really intense for any drummer, and he's just probably one of the best musicians I've ever met. And then probably the biggest musical influence for me over the past couple of years is Kanye West. I think he's crazy and over the top, but he's a creative genius. And so I've started following his same sort of creative output.

  • JFH (Scott): You know, mentioning the fact that your drummer used to be in a metal band - after you said that, I thought about your song "Seek Your Kingdom," and how there's like this section in the middle of the song where he just goes crazy on the drums, and so that's not surprising to hear that.

    Chad: Yeah! And the second drummer - we actually all went to high school together. And they have been playing music together since they were like 13 or 14. And that's why they're so good at playing drums together, because they used to be in all the same bands. My high school band would play concerts with their high school band, and they're kinda connected on a brain level that's pretty wild because they've been playing music together for so long and sharing all the same influences, learning how music works and the theory of it and just growing up together.

  • JFH (Scott): Earlier this year, you guys teamed up with the Emery guys and BadChristian. What led up to joining up with them?

    Album Cover

    Chad: I was working at Mars Hill Church for a long time, and when I was working at one of the churches there, one of my jobs was that I was over all the worship stuff. So I helped train band leaders and build up different bands to lead. And one of the guys that I was helping to get going was Matt Carter, who plays guitar for Emery and runs BadChristian, more or less, with the other guys. And so, when I told him I had resigned from Mars Hill, he was kinda like "Well, there's only one thing we can do now. BadChristian's gotta help you guys do all your music stuff." And I thought, "Well, okay." But yeah, he was already a friend, and we worked together at church, and he's just incredibly helpful and such an awesome resource in just helping me figure out what I was going to do with Kings. So then we recorded the Live In Color EP, which was a live six-song EP we did in the spring, and I decided to put it out with Matt Carter through BadChristian. They were super helpful. And then for [Becoming Who We Are], they're helping us still with all our vinyl and merch and things like that. And then I've also kinda partnered with Tooth & Nail on the CD manufacturing, distribution, and digital side. So basically, I'm trying to put our music out into a few different markets, and just kinda get it to as many people as possible. I know it's not really for everybody, but I want as many people as possible to at least give it a shot, and if they connect with it, that's great.

  • JFH (Scott): So are you officially signed with Tooth & Nail, or are they just helping with distribution at this point?

    Chad: Yeah, we're signed with Tooth & Nail, and I mean, technically we're signed with BadChristian as well. I've been able to work up deals where we own the masters--we paid for the record ourselves out of gig money and pre-orders, and I produced it myself. And I'm trying to be really smart in the new record industry. The whole thing is weird now, but just about trying to market this one, and we hope people who would really enjoy it would get a chance to experience it. You know, I'm just chilling in Seattle writing a record, just what I want to do, and if God uses it for more than that, that's really cool to me.

  • JFH (Scott): Yeah that'd be awesome. Are you going to be a touring band at all?

    Chad: That's a great question. We will do tours, but not in the traditional sense of being out on the road all the time. We really won't be, because everyone in the band, except for me, has full-time jobs, a lot of people are married, and so for us - the way I see our band is that we're a bunch of people that really value making music together as friends and being creative, and I want to have an environment where we're sustainable for the long term, and make it possible for people to come together and have a really creative outlet as Christians together. I grew up with all of the best art being -- like, none of it was in the church. And I really want to be able to have... I think, as a kid, the music that was going on at Mars Hill Church was really inspiring to me. It was the first time I saw artists just really doing their best at something that was for the church. And that was a huge inspiration for me growing up. But yeah, as far as a touring band, I really want to play in front of as many people as possible, but because of where everybody is in the band, it looks more like we'd do fly-outs, or we'll try to do festivals this summer. We are doing a few short-run tours, and we've got a cool thing coming up this spring, too, but it'll never be the sort of things where we're out for like six months or something like that. That's a long answer...

  • JFH (Scott): That makes sense. It's kinda hard when you have that many people.

    Chad: Yeah, but the thing about the internet is that it's still so easy to get your music to people. Even though playing live is so awesome, I love it, making live videos or just being able to interact with people in a different way - that still excites me.

  • JFH (Scott): And you guys have a CD release show coming up with Citizens & Saints right?

    Chad: Yeah we do, next Monday night when our record releases, October 27.

  • JFH (Scott): Where's that going to be?

    Chad: It's at The Crocodile, downtown.

  • JFH (Scott): Who else is playing that show?

    Chad: It's just us. I mean, it's a Monday night, so I didn't want to stack up the line-up, you know? And, you know, Citizens is kinda in the same boat; we both stopped working for Mars Hill. And they're playing a lot, actually. But yeah, both our bands are friends and their record's coming out soon, and it's awesome as well. So we're excited to be playing with them.

  • JFH (Scott): Did you guys start working on Becoming Who We Are after you put out the Live In Color EP?

    Album Cover

    Chad: Well, we had started what would become Becoming Who We Are. Almost a year ago when I resigned from Mars Hill, we were about 60-70% done recording our first full-length record. It was a different record than Becoming Who We Are, but it had a good amount of the same songs on it. It wasn't as long, and there wasn't as many new ones on it. But when I resigned, I worked hard to be able to kinda buy it back from the church, so that I could finish it and put it out, and it just never happened. So, for one reason or another, they just wouldn't sell it to me. It was kinda frustrating, because it's just sitting on the fence right now. *laughs* But that just kinda fueled us to - you know, we were just so frustrated with it that, by the time March came around, we decided to just do some more songs. That's one reason we did Live In Color, because we were like "Ah, it's so frustrating, let's just go record them live." Originally, we were just going to put them up as YouTube videos, like "Hey, check out these new live songs," and they'd be on the record later that I was going to have to absolutely redo - which I did have to end up completely redoing. But then, they kinda turned out so sweet, that we thought "Well, let's release them as an EP." And I'm glad we did; it was a really great experience. And through doing Live In Color, and through doing Becoming Who We Are, I've basically had to cut my teeth as I went on recording. I recorded most of it; I had way better people than me mix it (professionals), but I did a lot of the production work and a lot of the tracking and stuff. And that was the redemption of the frustration of having to start over our record again. I ended up writing a bunch of new songs, and I learned an incredible amount, and it just has this feel of - not like DIY, but - you know, we're just working really hard and we don't have a million-dollar studio. We recorded the drums in a studio in Seattle, but then we recorded all the strings and the horns at different sanctuaries that we got permission to go into, and I recorded the vocals and guitars and bass out on - my parents have this ranch situation where we built a little booth. And it was just like the wild, wild west. We're just kinda doing whatever we want to do, and after it's over, and even in the middle of it, we have record labels that are interested in it, and we're just kinda like "This is insane!" Because we're learning how to do this as we go.

  • JFH (Scott): There are four songs on Live In Color that are also on Becoming Who We Are, and only one of them really had a drastic change in sound, and it's "Fix My Eyes." How did it morph from the piano and strings to a new-wave-turns-ska song?

    Chad: Actually, it's funny, because that was the original way that we wrote it. And we played it as the big, full band version. And the Live In Color version was - we had finished taping all of Live In Color, and I was like "Guys, let's just run into the gym and record this acoustic. Let's just figure it out." So I just kinda figured out a spot, and I actually like that acoustic version better, but the full band version deserves to be heard, too. And that's why we still included it, and it's still really cool. But I love performing that song quiet with just piano and strings or just a guitar and strings.

  • JFH (Scott): Yeah, I think it sounds great both ways. Now, if I recall correctly, when I first saw the tracklist for Becoming Who We Are, I thought I saw "Higher Throne" on the tracklist as well, and then later removed. Is that right?

    Chad:, that's a huge bummer. Basically, we were never able to get permission from the Gettys who wrote the lyrics to that song. (Scott: Oh no!) I know, it sucks, because I really like our version of that song, and the studio recording is really great. So, we even have to pull it from Live In Color. Live In Color is going to stop having that song on it. We just haven't heard back, and we're still hoping to get permission to use it again in the future or something. But the thing is, it's already kind of out there, you know? People have already uploaded it on YouTube or done guitar tutorials and stuff like that. So in one sense, we've just been like "Come on, it's already out there. Just let us do it." But we just couldn't risk throwing it on there and having to take it off later. But that was a bummer, because it was a pretty important song for us on the record, and we're all kinda sad about it.

  • JFH (Scott): Man, that's too bad. Now, if you had to pick a favorite song from the new record, which I know is hard for some people to do, but if you had to pick, which one would it be?

    Chad: Oh man, um....let's see. Currently, I really like the song "Dreams." 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, and 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, and 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. And kinda 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. So yeah, I like that song a lot.

  • JFH (Scott): That changes the way I see that song. Next time I listen, I'm going to keep that in mind.

    Chad: Yeah, totally! *laughs*

  • JFH (Scott): So lately, I've been going through the Book of Isaiah. Has there been any particular portion of Scripture that's been on your mind a lot lately?

    Chad: Isaiah 43 is my favorite passage in the whole Bible, so that's cool that you're going through that Book. I've been reading that a lot actually. And I've also been studying the Book of Exodus, and all the plagues are happening right now. *laughs* And I think this year has been like a year of immense suffering for my wife and I and a lot of the people even within our band, so reading Exodus is pretty enlightening how pursuing and stable and hopeful God is in worse circumstances. So I think God's been teaching me a lot about hoping, and a lot about trusting Him and trusting His goodness, and seeing His love for me, and hard stuff.

  • JFH (Scott): That's really encouraging! Well, I think that about brings us to the end of the questions I have. But will Becoming Who We Are be available in stores, like Best Buy or WalMart, or is it just going to be online at this point?

    Chad: Yeah, it'll be in Christian bookstores and hopefully Best Buy and stuff like that. And then all the online outlets, iTunes, Amazon, all that stuff. And then you can order CDs online, and we're selling vinyl through our website. So pretty much everywhere I guess.

  • JFH (Scott): Awesome! Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Chad: No, I think those questions were great! I mean, the place I'm at right now, is that the band just wants to inspire people to be themselves, because God loves us as we are. I think that's kind of the truth that we've been thriving on and is reflected in the album title. Culture is too fast-paced and life is too short to exert all of our energy trying to be better Christians and perfect people all the time. And I think considering the fact that we're loved is like this huge revelation for a lot of us. And that's kinda what we've been about while we were making the record.

    Kings Kaleidoscope's latest album, Becoming Who We Are is available now wherever music is sold!

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