Kings Kaleidoscope's Chad Gardner on faith, music and how he's still figuring it all out
A cancelled flight. Restringing a guitar in a taxi. Two hours of sleep for the lead singer. That was the beginning of Kings Kaleidoscope's 'Zeal' tour in London on the 24 January.
For just one tour date in the UK, there really was no turning back and fans were not left disappointed - the atmosphere was incredible. With an engaging set of songs from their latest and previous albums, interspersed with powerful moments of honesty from frontman Chad Gardner, Kings Kaleidoscope and the enthusiasm of the crowd made it an unforgettable night.
Now they've just released a documentary 'The Adventures of Zeal' offering fans a behind the scenes peak at the journey behind their album 'Zeal'.
Chad caught up with freelance writer and blogger Ruth Clemence after their London gig to find out more about the tour, music and where his faith fits into it all.
Ruth: How did you find tonight's show?
Chad: This show was a whirlwind is how I would describe it. We flew in, landed this morning, changed my guitar strings in the taxi on the way to the hotel, lay down for two hours, came here. I think I had one meal today. I felt almost vulnerable but in a good way with the crowd. I felt like I could really connect with them tonight in a powerful way.
Ruth: You had so much energy considering you had two hours of sleep!
Chad: Yeah, I definitely had more of a wild energy tonight!
Ruth: How has the tour been up to now?
Chad: Amazing. We toured the whole US. We toured Australia. We've come here and we're hoping to go to Brazil this year.
Ruth: Are there plans to come back to the UK/Europe?
Chad: We're going to try and come back once a year. We don't have a record label, we don't have an agent over here or anything like that. We find a venue, we rent it, we book our own flights and we just bet that people will come. We post stuff on Instagram and Twitter and people come and we kind of can't believe it. There's almost 800 people here tonight.
Ruth: Kings Kaleidoscope started with ten of you or so?
Chad: It's always been different. We've done that for videos a lot or when I was a worship director at a church and Kings Kaleidoscope was pseudo-forming, we'd have between five and twelve people. It's always been random. Kings Kaleidoscope has always been 'Chad and friends' and I've got a group of 12 to 15 musicians that come in and out of the band, depending on the tour and where we are. It changes all the time.
Ruth: Where did the name Kings Kaleidoscope come from?
Chad: A friend gave it to us completely randomly. All of our other band names were too silly to really be real band names so we kept it.
Ruth: Zeal is your latest album. What inspired you to write that and how long did that process take?
Chad: We wrote and released the album in about nine months last year. It was influenced by the idea of losing a sense of childlike faith and a lot of regret that comes from that, and the journey to fight for it and return to it. I spent the whole summer after that US tour and releasing that album doing nothing because I was so tired. Now I'm getting back in the swing and I'm back to making some new music and it feels good.
Ruth: Do you still make music from your basement?
Chad: I just moved and I have a new studio space now that has windows and I can see trees. It's so beautiful.
Ruth: What have you most enjoyed about bringing the album together?
Chad: I have really enjoyed the clarity of the theme and how that has brought a lot of people together. Even people who don't have a lot of faith. It's been easier to relate to people talking about faith as something I'm yearning for and a more enchanted wonder.
I think when faith is debated with theology, ideas and philosophy, it can be really helpful, but it can also get really 'head-y'. So with 'Zeal', I'm trying to create a world and a pursuit in myself that is back to the very basics.
I'm horrible at reading scripture, praying or any of that stuff regularly and I'm really trying to start doing that, even after the tour. During the tour I was so busy and distracted, I wasn't even practising well then. For me, the simplest form of all of that has been really powerful. I think inviting people into that is a lot easier than something that is like a Twitter debate.
Ruth: You write about your faith and the lyrics are filled with truth from Scripture. Describe what that songwriting process is like for you.
Chad: I've never used music or writing as a way to really express myself in any other forms of my life. It's never been about writing songs for my highschool girlfriend or any of that. In a sense I wish I would use music to write about being happy one day or my kids or that stuff. I'm hoping to get good at that.
But what music has always been is the place where I work out my emotion and my faith and wrestle with God since I was young. That is its use for me so I continue to use it that way just because I need it. That's how I wrestle with God, and how I experience God is in music.
Ruth: What Kings Kaleidoscope song and album do you think has had the most impact to date and why do you think that is?
Chad: Nothing is entirely unique, but the thing that is more unique about Kings Kaleidoscope than a lot of other bands is I make music in a collage style by gathering a ton of different types of people and pulling different pieces of emotion in music out of them, and then creating something that's very different. The product is really varied.
There are people who like Kings Kaleidoscope because they just like the hymns I did when I was at church a long time ago. There are other people who like Kings Kaleidoscope because they like the hip-hop songs and I grew up as a hip-hop DJ. There are other people who like Kings Kaleidoscope because of the lyrics. That's what it's like for my mom and her friends that love Kings Kaleidoscope because of the lyrics, but [they say] 'the music's crazy!'
I think it's because Kings Kaleidoscope as a process and a community is so diverse and what affects people isn't the same way. There are a lot of pockets of people who love different things about Kings Kaleidoscope. I think people can find a lot of different things to connect with.
Ruth: If you have to describe your music to someone who has never heard of you, what do you say?
Chad: It's alternative rock with gospel, hip-hop, it's eclectic. Just listen to the songs. That is what has kept Kings Kaleidoscope's fan base and community so healthy. There is no way to easily explain it or market it. You have to say to your friend 'Oh my gosh, get in my car, you've got to listen to this song'. You say 'Here's this band with this guy who has all these wild musicians with him. He writes all these really emotional lyrics about the gospel. I've never heard anything like it. What do you think? Listen to this song.'
It just takes longer to explain. We call it a bottleneck. It's harder to get past that gate, then once you understand it you go 'I kind of like this. This is kind of cool.' It creates a fan base that is smaller and deeper, not wider and shallower which is why we can come to London with no label and no market. Most bands have an agency and a whole production with it. We just do it. It's me, my manager and my wife.
Ruth: You're based in Seattle and have a wife, Alex, and two children who are one and four years old. I'm guessing they've missed having you around!
Chad: Yeah they do. My wife runs all the business side of it. We're basically like a small business and she makes sure all those guys get paid. Between her and my manager, they make sure the flights are there. They make space for me to be able to create.
Ruth: How did you become a Christian?
Chad: I grew up in a legacy of faith. My grandpa helped build a church and he and my grandma were super devoted to this community their whole lives. My mom is one of five. All their spouses believe in Jesus. I was born into this church. My parents were married in this church that my grandparents helped start. I've come from this line of faithfulness. I didn't ever really think about that or give it much thought until this year.
Since realizing that and my grandpa passed [away], I've been thinking about it and I was really struck by how rare that is. A lot of my natural optimism for faith and unyielding simple belief is because I've just seen it work, where a lot of people haven't.
In a sense I feel part of my job is to be an example. This is a real thing. There is fruit from this. And Kings Kaleidoscope is a piece of that, and that I don't even feel responsible for.
Ruth: In London, you shared on stage about your cousin who committed suicide when he was 19 and you were 18. You were very close. You've been open with your own struggle with anxiety. How has it affected you and what has your relationship been like with Jesus during these darker times?
Chad: Anxiety had affected my whole life in tons of ways. With regards to faith, it has been almost an invitation to trust God and get to know Him in my suffering, the same way that people who have some physical ailment that they deal with their whole life.
My therapist said it's an ally because it's always something that's there to invite you in to centre yourself and trust in Jesus. It's very hard but from the highest overview I'm actually grateful for it because I think without it, I would be just super arrogant and cocky. Anybody who has a talent, I think it's super dangerous as you can coast on your talent and never build character.
Ruth: Thinking back to your album Zeal, in your view, how can a believer who is perhaps comfortable or maybe jaded or apathetic in their faith have renewed zeal for Jesus?
Chad: Well I'm trying to figure that out myself. I have a Bible reading plan, I go to church with my family, one of my best buddies is my pastor, and I'm trying to meditate and pray everyday on just the simplest thing that I'm in Christ and that He's in me.
For me that's what I need. I need to not read Christian literature. I need to let the big ideas be what I'm just reading in the Bible and just talking with my friends about.
I think that a lot of people who have really deep issues with Christianity don't have someone they can literally look at scripture with and talk about it with. They just have a lot of other loud voices on the internet or in books. Those people are really smart, but it's really hard to only intake information from someone who [they] personally don't know. There's no nuance.
I always think about it like parenting. I'm a parent of two young kids and if I went to the internet to find out parenting advice, I would literally get infinity things that all contradict each other. So I've told myself I'm never going to parent with the internet. I'm only going to ask friends because if I ask friends, I know who they are, I know what their kids are like and I can actually understand the nuance of why something worked for them or why it didn't work for them. Personal relationships, scripture and honest, meditative prayer is what I'm trying to do.
Ruth: Kanye West has influenced you massively as an artist and he released an album last year called 'Jesus is King'. What was your reaction to his album and his faith?
Chad: I think it's incredible that he and so many mega music stars and celebrities have gotten the world through their success and it's not enough and they've turned to find Jesus. Kanye, Bieber, Selena Gomez, Jon Bellion - I know there's a lot more. They're like 'shoot, all of this stuff isn't actually enough'.
Kanye has had the world in his hands for a long time because he is so courageous, bold and creative. He is a genius. I think the album is cool and the world is really cool that he has created. It's not my favourite music he's made. But once again I think it's really good and really cool that he's created this live experience that he recorded. He's so inventive.
Ruth: What's next for Kings Kaleidoscope?
Chad: We have a documentary coming out about making Zeal. I'm back in the studio making new music. I've got a lot of songs that were started during the Zeal album that weren't right for the concept or didn't fit that need a new home. I don't know what project that will be.
We're booking our first creative week where we get the guys from the east coast to fly into Seattle and get some of the other guys around, and we're just going to smoke ribs, eat barbecue, hang out and make a bunch of music!
The Adventures of Zeal documentary is available on Kings Kaleidoscope's YouTube channel and social media sites. Find out more about the band at Kingskaleidoscope.com
Ruth Clemence is a freelance writer and Premier Digital award-winning blogger. She can be found writing at ruthclemence.com and tweeting at @ruth_the writer.