A Life of Hope

Last Year, The Color Morale almost gave up. It was right before ‘Know Hope’s release, and vocalist Garret Rapp was wrought with overwhelming depression and thinking about dying. He recounts the band’s journey, from those rough unforgiving times to playing Warped Tour’s main stage this summer and openly fighting off his demons. It’s also how the band found hope, And they want to share it with you.

By
Photo by Brooke Long

‘Hope’ is a funny noun. It’s not a place you can go. You can’t ‘be’ at ‘hope.’ It’s not a destination. You don’t arrive at hope. You always choose it. It’s something you can have but never physically hold. ‘Hope’ is also more commonly associated with naiveté than intelligence. Hope is rarely the selected option or priority method. It’s elusive that way. Everyone’s always looking for it. Sometimes they’re looking for Drastic Help, like begging-for-a-miracle help. But more often than not, people just want some reason to keep pushing on. The Color Morale wants to be your reason. They want to listen to you, and, when they’re not around, let their songs be lighthouses in dark nights on stormy seas.

The band still has a firm belief in hope as a lifestyle, and they’ve built their (rapidly growing) fanbase around this mission, which doubles as the band name. Used in the context of the band, ‘color’ is a verb, as in, ‘to color in’ the feelings of the everyday mood. Their band name is like Dorothy stepping into the world of Oz, but for your soul.

It’s not an intrusive mission in so much as if you don’t like their message, you don’t have to buy their music. If they’re coming off the stage, it’s more likely they want to hug you than hurt you. When their set ends, the band spends the rest of the night talking to everyone in line at their merch table. Sometimes, they hang so late they get kicked out of the venues. Even then, Rapp takes to the parking lot with any fans who have stuck around, pulls out an acoustic guitar and plays from his heart for fans who need it.

For awhile there, Rapp has having a bad go at it. He secretly wasn’t giving his best to the band; he found he was spending most of his time finding ways to keep his mind occupied so his depression didn’t overcome him. It got so bad he would remove himself from life for times on end. He had to find the strength to get out. Like coming out of quicksand, he was holding on to that one, final rope: hope.

The band’s 2013 release, Know Hope — a 12-song act of self-medication — was the result of Rapp’s concerted plan of action, rooted in hope, built to attack his depression. If it weren’t for hope, the band would have given up years ago. “I wanted to quit the band,” he says to me. “I got really overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure where I was going in life. … You’re questioning where you are. Then, one day, a couple of close friends came to me and said, essentially, ‘Why don’t you just talk about it?’” So he did. After hashing it out in his head, he brought a solution to his band mates.

“If I’m going to do this record, I want to do it exactly how I want to do it,” Rapp recounts. It sounds egomaniacal, but it’s really more just about his need for structure and routine, something anyone with anxiety craves. But it would also allow him to connect on a new level, thus giving him purpose. “I want to do it extremely raw and organic. I don’t want any auto-tuned vocals. I want it really raw. I want the lyrics to be extremely to the point. I want to tour on the record. Any time you put out a new record or an album, you should tour full-time for its record cycle. And — ” …and there was that one more thing, probably the most exhaustive requirement of all… “ — I want to run merch for the entire tour.” It would be an incredible time commitment.

“Turns out the venues were, like, 1,500-max capacity rooms,” he says, detailing his experiences with fans as he sold them shirts and talked with them for hours each night. “Singing every single night and then standing and having a line form at your merch table after your set, going back to your merch table, hanging out, yelling over bands playing. Then, literally as soon as the show ends, I would go play a music set out in the parking lot… I was like, ‘Man, I’m not going to give myself time this entire year to self-sabotage. I’m literally just going to work my ass off so I don’t have a chance to self-sabotage.’ I was keeping myself busy all the time. I was keeping my mind proactive to not letting it wander. That essentially led to me getting some help, getting on medication, getting therapy, and really facing my problems head on.”

The more I thought about hope — which, knowing you’ll be talking to a hope evangelist like Rapp, was all the time for a bit there — I reduced it to two specific things I wanted to talk about:

  1. The raw power of hope (e.g. how hope can sustain and endure the worst of humanity, like torture);
  2. The Bible verse (1 Cor. 13:13) where it says three tenants remain — faith, hope and love — and the best one is love. It follows naturally, then, that if the greatest is love, hope has to take a back seat.

This is why ‘hope’ is actually a serendipitous and gracious noun: The number one place you need hope is also the number one place where it has the most power to affect you. Call it what you want, but at your lowest point, hope has the greatest power. It can feel irrational, but then again, isn’t that part of what makes hope, hope?

Hope is the anchor for willpower. Hope is not a tactile noun; you can’t cut ‘hope’ out of your body. I’m not sure any human or scientist has a grip on the science of hope, but it provides one of the most important and very powerful reasons for living: purpose.

Hope is the backbone of love; to have hope is to know purpose.

Some days, it all breaks apart. Your mantra isn’t resonating. You can’t get your breathing under control. An overwhelming cloud of worthlessness moves in. Words like “enough” and “kill” and “pain” enter your thought patterns. Negative self-talk exacerbates the problem; the phrases are now “only solution,” “better this way” and “nothing more.”

Rapp is no stranger to those words. In his head, he’s fought that battle more times than he would even want to estimate for it might not be enough. But Rapp is also a smart man, and he knows there is always hope. When your desperation requires a hope so bold it needs to defeat your demons to stay alive, sometimes hope is all you have left. It’s your backbone when you can’t love anymore. Then, when you make it through alive, you look back and thank God for the stronger person you are. By comparison, now, the rest of the world seems a little bit easier. Desperation was daily suffocation, a waterboard of thought everywhere you went.

Rapp knows that brand of desperation, which is also to say Rapp knows a lot about hope, too. For him to even be alive is a testament to hope’s resilience. “I came up with a phrasing of something personal that I needed to live by every morning,” he says to me on the phone. He has taken a break from signing some 1,000 copies of the band’s fourth full-length, and his wrist needs a break. “‘Know hope.’ I was sitting in bed; I was hopeless. I was saying the phrase ‘know hope’ in my head, all day, while I was doing nothing. At one point I was in my room for, like, a week straight. I didn’t come out for anything. I wasn’t eating. I was really in a bad one.”

It’s here, where hope is most fertile, where he made the decision to fight back. Instead of take it on the chin, he was going to start his journey back to normalcy, left foot in front of his right, one day at a time. Here, he made his decision: “I titled that record Know Hope as marching orders for the lifestyle change that I needed to do.” That decision? If he was going to do the record, he had to be allowed to do both vocal and merch duty. As he said earlier, it gave him purpose and kept his mind busy to make sure he never lets negative self-talk consume his thoughts.

Rapp began to see it as his responsibility, his way of giving back to the fans for coming to support his more-than-honest lyrics in Know Hope. Currently, Rapp is debating on whether or not to go to his high school class reunion tonight. “I skipped mine,” I tell him. “It’s hard to be honest at those things. ‘Hi, I’m Garret and I spent summer playing on Warped Tour.’”

“I live such a unique and weird lifestyle,” Rapp says. “Honestly, I don’t even really have a home right now,” he says to me, very directly, like it’s been bothering him lately, like it’s been on his mind. “I don’t live anywhere. I don’t have a house. I don’t have kids. I’m not married. I have this unique opportunity and platform through the band. This is what I get to do with myself. Every day. But sometimes it’s a struggle, not having the things that a typical American my age has.”

Physically, he’s right. Touring is a grind. Lack of showers. Laundry, Locker room scents. Late nights. Unhealthy eating. It takes its toll on the toughest of souls. But Rapp’s down for the fight because as much as he puts into the Good Fight, the more of an outpouring they see. Plus, it continues to yield perspective. “I look at all the things I’ve been through. You name it. I feel like I’ve been through so many damaging things as a kid. I’ve had problems with addiction. I’ve had problems with depression. I’ve dealt with them my whole life. That’s kind of been a hereditary transfer for me. I was sexually abused my whole childhood. I never had a father, so I’ve grown up with abandonment issues. I’ve grown up with a lot of insecurities about myself. I’ve had eating disorders. The list goes on and on.”

You’re supposed to be dead, man. What are you doing?

“With as much as I’ve tried to bottle a lot of that up my whole life, I’ve learned in doing this band that if I just open up about these things, if I’m vocal about them and I put them in the songs, I give myself this unspoken purpose I feel every day.”


 

When you started, did you always intend to be a positive band? Or was it something that formed as you played more shows and went out across the nation?
Yes. It correlates with the mission statement of what “The Color Morale” band name means. Steve and I were in a band together with some other guys. We wanted to start over, but start with a new preface as to what we wanted to write about, what we wanted to be in a band about. I came up with the name “The Color Morale” as a mission statement for the band.

The band was founded in the beginning under a, well, at the time it was a Christian belief system. Ultimately, I think it’s just turned into a positive and encouraging belief system.

I’ve always written very personal lyrics. They have had reason behind them since day one. It started as a belief system, something that I subscribe to every day.

Looking back, how have you seen yourself change when you found a “reason to go to work to every day”?
You know, it’s been a lot of up and downhill battle. It’s weird, being out on the road, getting out of our comfortable box. It was crazy seeing what happens in Christian hardcore behind closed doors. I guess that’s Christianity, in general. Organized religion in general. For me, I’d grown up in this comfortable box of Christianity.

Once I got outside that box and started traveling the country, traveling the world, I started meeting all different shapes and sizes of people and get to know their religions. It made me question a lot.

It’s crazy to look back and see how marketed Christian hardcore was at the time, how many festivals there were and how many bands there were. Looking back now, it was the hot thing to do, the thing that sold. At that point, Christian hardcore music was a product. When a product sells well, tons of other kids make the same product and before you know it, you got a million bands running around saying they’re Christian hardcore bands. You look back now and you see half of these festivals don’t even exist anymore. Half the bands — most of the bands — don’t even exist anymore. It’s just wild to see that become the marketing ploy, the gimmick.

How did that effect you and your band?
For me personally, God was something I found at a preadolescent stage in my life where I needed some validity. I needed answers. Something that explained life to me and its purpose and its meaning. I just naturally gravitated toward that, being in a Christian Hardcore band. I wrote very honest lyrics that were true to my heart at the time. I don’t regret writing any of those lyrics. There’s a lot of Biblical reference in the lyrical content of early The Color Morale days. That was where I was at in that point in my life.

As time goes on, people change. I think that’s great, and that it’s natural. I never understood that I was part of that gimmick train. I definitely didn’t mean to be. It wasn’t intentional. It was like, “Out of nowhere there’s a million Christian hardcore bands and I guess I’m one of them.”

Did you just have a switch flip one day or something?
Yeah. Being on the road, I started questioning myself. I started questioning the integrity of what the band did behind closed doors. I’m riding with a group of guys that are all just pretty damn good guys. None of us are doing wrong or hurting anybody. We’re making mistakes, like any other human being, but what we’re doing with our time and with our energy is generally pretty positive.

There are things no one will ever see, the things behind closed doors, the things you don’t need to sell to anyone. You just do them because they’re what you do.

I started seeing so many bands that were like, “Man, you have all these opportunities and a platform to do something incredible with what you believe in and what you’re singing about, with your heart.” I’m not talking about free time or closed doors. I’m like, “What is it about you, saying you’re a Christian hardcore band? What is that? There’s nothing that resonates in that phrasing for your band.” It’s like, “Why am I in a Christian hardcore band?” I didn’t even know anymore. At that point, I didn’t want to be titled. I didn’t want to be labeled anything. I just wanted to be dudes playing tunes.

I’ve seen you live a number of times and you’re very close with your fans.
For me, I feel like some addictions in life — and I’ve struggled with addictions in my life — I feel like some of them you will never overcome.
In searching for a reason or validity to that statement, the only answer I’ve ever found is that if you can’t overcome an addiction, you need to replace it with another one. At that point in my life, I think that was the birthing process of The Color Morale and why I needed to be in this band.

I never had dreams of being a singer or a rock star. I generally hate being in cars for that long. I can’t stand not showering all day. This was not my dream, per se. I used to write when I was a kid as a coping mechanism. Somewhere along the way, I accidentally found a way to put that into an art form and create songs with it and give them out and watch someone benefit from them. That’s given me an entirely new sense of purpose in my life.

It’s like playing shows. That’s great, and playing music is great. But it’s what I get to do post- and pre-show in my every day, the connection I get to make with youth. I get a lot of that, from growing up not really having anyone directing me. I have a passion to be there for kids who have nothing. Or for those who have an insurmountable turbulence in their life and they don’t know how to get through it.

I never had anybody explaining things to me. I never really had parents growing up. It gives me a passionate drive to be there for kids, even if it’s just half the time, me being accessible, being out at the merch table for kids to come and vent to, I’m ready to be that someone to listen.

It’s very mature for your age to be so reflective about yourself. It seems like, to me, you’ve said to yourself, “It’s not about me anymore. It’s about my legacy and the people who come to see me.” It’s a selflessness you don’t often see from people in your industry, more specifically, in hardcore and metalcore.
Yeah. I don’t know, man. It’s the solution I’ve needed my whole life. I get to have a reason to be where I am every day. It’s so cool receiving all the things I get. Like, all the letters. I got so many letters this summer. Hundreds of letters. I can read all of those. It’s like taking a shower. Life gives you all this dirt all the time. Our surroundings are so negative and so ignorant. There’s such an increase in teen ignorance nowadays because social media has made it so easy to just hide. You have an opportunity, reading one of those letters, to just shower off the ignorance every day.

I think that’s the weird thing, though. A lot of people in your position, they wonder why life is so screwed up. But you’re up there pouring your heart out and exhausting your emotions, but you feel fulfilled.
It’s almost like a blessing in disguise. You’ve needed this answer as to why I am here. I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted something. I’ve always wanted an explanation as to why I need to keep going and why I’m here.

I now get to find that daily. You can’t put a price tag on that. You can’t ever make that about you. At that point, your life is not about what you want anymore; it’s about what you need. If I didn’t have that reason, if I didn’t have music, I don’t know if I’d be here to even talk about this right now.

The Color Morale was posted on September 13, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .