Christian hard-rock veterans Disciple have a history of unabashedly Christian lyrics and heavy-hitting riffs. When I received the lyric document as part of the media package before I interviewing frontman Kevin Young, I was immediately impacted by what seemed to be another level of straightforward, unashamed lyrical content. I knew it was going to be great talking to him about what I was reading.
We talked two separate times, about everything from how he wasn’t the nice guy on Disciple, his thoughts on Christian bands whose lyrics aren’t as explicitly Christian and how scary it was to crowdfund their latest album, Attack. Attack came out in late September. Currently on tour with Project 86, there are “big things coming up in the Spring,” Young says. He’s looking forward to playing video games and watching the NFL with Andrew Schwab on the tour bus.
I’ve got a lot of questions about the new album. I was reading the lyrics and found them very intriguing. You guys have always had pretty straightforward Christian lyrics. It seems with Attack, though, you wrote them even more explicitly Christian.
Kevin Young, frontman and founder, Disciple: I’ll agree with that.
So I want to talk about that. Some of the lyrics reminded me of Petra, like some of those ‘80s Christian rock lyrics that were really explicitly Christian. Do you think the lyrics are bolder? If so, what inspired that?
Yeah, I think so. A lot of things inspired it. I really wanted to write a song (Editor’s Note: “Radical”) for a while that is about the atmosphere that this generation has, and there’s really not an anthem for them. I didn’t feel like they had this anthem for this generation to say, I’m a Christian and I don’t care what anybody thinks about it. It’s like if you want to make fun of me, make fun of me. This is how I’m going to believe, this is how I’m going to live, this is what I’m going to stand for, and just deal with it, basically.
Not only that, but a lot of Christians come across as very intolerant and very nonloving. I just wanted to write a song just to say the exact opposite. To say we’re the ones who are tolerant. We’re the ones who love no matter what and we’re not going to change. You can hate us and we’re going to love you back. I don’t want just my mouth be loud, I want my actions to be even louder.
Sure. Let’s talk about the song “Yesterday is Over.” Is that a personal song or is it more of a general message?
Yeah. That song basically comes from an idea where a lot of the kids that we meet struggle with a lot of different things. Some kids are struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, self-esteem issues and things like that. Whenever someone’s dealing with that, a lot of times obsessing about your past and your failures come into play.
I wanted to make this statement that yesterday is done. It’s gone. There’s nothing that you can do about it. But there’s something that God can do about it. We have this promise in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that anyone who is in Christ, everything has become new and all the old has passed away. Yesterday is over.
If you keep holding on to your past, you keep holding on to the old. That’s not what God asked of us, to keep holding on to the old. We have to let it go. Because if you’ve ever given or dealt with that personally, or if you ever met someone who’s dealt with that, one of the hardest things for them to do is to let go of that bad image of them self.
It’s almost this comfort, holding on to this pain and all these things, it’s almost a way they begin to identify themselves. I wanted to write a song to encourage people to let that go and let God hold their life instead.
That’s interesting because suicide has been getting a lot of attention lyrically in the rock and metal genre. Obviously, yours is coming from a Christian standpoint, but do you think the topic of suicide is missing in a lot of Christian music?
I can’t speak for other bands. For us, I know that a huge majority of our fans that we meet after the shows are dealing with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. It’s been so the past four or five years. Just the other night I got the awesome opportunity to pray with a girl after the show who was dealing with suicide and had made a few attempts. I just told her, “I’m not going leave here until you make me a promise to live. We’re going to talk until you make me a promise to live. I’m going to sit here and tell you the truth until you believe it, because you’re worth it. You’re not worth the lies that say God doesn’t love you, that nobody loves you and nobody cares about you. All these are lies.”
I was like, “I’m going to combat that with the fact that you are worth it, and God does love you. That he demonstrated his love by sending his son Jesus for you. That he has a plan for your life. I’m just going to stay here and tell you just keep telling you over and over and over until you believe it. Until you promise me that the day you die it’s because it was God’s time for you to come home instead of you ending it your way.”
It took a while, but she finally made that promise that she was going to live. After that, I shared that on Facebook that I had a very special person make me a promise to live. I went through those same lies. I then posted the same truth on a Facebook post and said, “If you’re struggling, I’d love for you to respond with a promise to live.”
You wouldn’t believe how many people responded. I don’t know why that is the issue of our time, of our generation. A lot of people are really struggling with that. I can’t really speak into that.
I know that it’s happening and I know that there’s hope and I know that God is hope. The lies are out there that talk about believing this distorted truth about yourself that they have to be combated head on.
I am also interested in discussing the song, “Scarlet.” The lyrics go through a lot of bad things the writer has done. Where does the inspiration for these lyrics come from? Are they personal, too?
Those lyrics are actually almost word for word from Isaiah 1: “Though my sins be as scarlet, you’ve made them white as snow.” I’m a huge fan of worship music. Most of the time my first instinct whenever I sit down to write a song usually turns up a worship song. But I know we are a rock band, so it kind just happens that way.
It not necessarily something I’m intentional about. I think it something that has always been in my heart. We’ve been studying the book of Isaiah, and that verse was a really big part of that study. You think about the greatness of God, the goodness of God and how amazing, you know how awesome and wonderful He is. You can’t help but see what He has done. Look outside see He is great, He is wonderful; look at His creation. Then you have to come back to this place where you also look what he has done for me on the cross, what was it about? It was about me personally.
Jesus took the separation between me and God. Sin was the cause of separation between me and God. He took it for me. It was something personal for you, for everybody else it a personal thing. When you think about that, what can you give in response to that? Can you pay Jesus back millions of dollars as a thank you? What is the appropriate response? It’s really nothing we can give — except just fall on our face and worship.
Are you the main writer? Or do you guys usually write as a team?
We do write a lot together, and I actually prefer to write as a band. A majority of the lyrics are mine, but I love getting into it, and I love when guys come with lyrics. … We really do look everything as a band.
Musically, for sure, it is definitely from a band’s perspective. A lot of team effort in that.
Yeah, sure thing. I want to talk about the music little bit too. A lot of the songs seem to have a classic Disciple feel, but some of them might definitely be a new territory which was pretty cool. Like “Radical.” I guess it would be the bridge of the song kind felt like it was a little glimpse of a worship song?
Absolutely, very intentional.
Let’s talk about that.
We have been on a record label for the past five albums. And the attitude you have when you are on record label, the song has to go through so many gatekeepers before it can actually get recorded. You have to get someone’s approval on this piece of music, this lyric or that thing.
I think not having to go through all those things is what I’m so excited about on this album. It just really created an atmosphere of freedom, one where we wanted to take risks. This felt like a risky thing, to like have this really anthemic rock song where you’re just excited about getting radical for Christ. Music is passion. Music creates emotion, and, for a Christian, if you are going to get radical it adds potential to create this emotion to get them fired up. But then to really bring that down to a worshipful place and say this prayer to God, not just my mouth, but let my hands meet the glory of God.
I think that’s the heart of how I write music, how I write songs — it comes from very worshipful place.
I’m glad we got to talk about that “worship bridge,” because I when I heard it I thought it was pretty cool and it’s been a while since I heard something like that.
Nothing against record labels because they want to try and get the best song out there. But I have been doing this for so long, it just felt so good just to say, you know, “I like this, this is what I want to do. This is something I want to try.”
I didn’t need anybody’s permission to do it and we did it. I have a feeling, in this case, a song like that wouldn’t have made the record.
Let’s talk about the independent aspect of this record. It was crowdfunded right?
Take me to the beginning. Why did you decide to crowdfund it?
I was really nervous to do it ,I will be honest with you. I didn’t want to. Being on a record label for so many years, whenever it’s time to record new album, you know the money is going to be there and they are going to fund it. You’re going to go ahead and record make an album. A lot of those anxieties and fears are taken away from you, because you know somebody is going to pay for it.
Also, for me, most of us were all very insecure. Whenever you ask your fan base to support you, there’s always that chance they might not. And that’s definitely going to hurt your feelings. I was very nervous and very unsure about whether we should crowdfund it or not. I had many long conversations with my manager.
There are a lot of bands that are doing this — Project 86, Oh, Sleeper, for example — that have done crowdfunded albums. What do you think this trend is all about? Do you think it’s because they get more artistic expression and freedom, or is it just that a new technology is available and it’s changing the system?
Man, you know, I’d say there’s a lot of factors but before I answer that question, let me say I can’t thank our fans enough for the support that they showed us on this album. I really was blown away.
Like I said, I was very nervous and scared to go through with it. And I think we met out goal in something like seven days or less.
And you guys exceeded your goal, right?
Yeah, we got more than double I think, a little bit more than double.
To your question, there’s not going to be this person that is taking the majority of the profits. For any band that’s out there that has worked as a Christian artist or been on a Christian label, you know it’s very hard. There is this joke: What does a large cheese pizza and a Christian musician have in common? Neither one of them can feed a family of four.
It’s true. If you want to be a Christian musician, you might as well get used to the fact being poor. That’s just how it is, unless you want to be in Christian contemporary.
But if you want to be like a Christian rock musician, it’s not lucrative. You know, most artists I know have never made money off their actual record sales. There are a couple that have, but most of us haven’t. We make our money off touring, that’s why you see all these bands out touring and working their butts off and trying to come up with the best live show they can, because that’s how we actually put food on the table and feed our family.
This crowdfunding thing has been a great way for us to go independent to actually be able to spend money to get a real good product out there, as opposed to recording it on your Apple laptop in a garage somewhere. Crowdfunding allows us to actually be able to have the finances to go to good producer, a good mix guy, do all the things a record label was going to do anyways but put out the exact same product.
It’s a big deal, it really creates a bigger connection between the fans and the band, whenever they crowdfund. Our gratitude to them for helping us, for sponsoring us, for providing for us, is, like, you’ve never seen such a passion in these guys like we’ve got now. Especially when it comes time to hang out with guys after the show. You’re not going to see a more grateful group of guys.
It builds deep connections with the fans as well.
Yeah and for us — again, I can’t speak for other bands — but for us, the freedom thing was definitely a big thing. We wanted to make those decisions, like, “These are the songs we want to go on our record.” Whether they succeed or fail, it’s going to land on us.
A lot of times, in the past, the songs that actually ended up making the record we’d be very unhappy about. Whether a song or an album was meant to be heavy or whether an album was way too light — which happened way more times than I ever liked — those were things I wasn’t comfortable with.
Hopefully, we succeeded and hopefully we picked the right songs and God will use them and it will be blessing to people.
One thing I definitely want to talk about is your lineup change. Let’s talk about how that was. Was it just a matter of creative differences or something else?
No, not at all. The new guys have turned themselves into like the third version of Disciple: Disciple 3.0. We’ve been a band for a long time. The first version of Disciple was together for 15 years and the second version of Disciple was together for five years. All those guys had different reasons. Micah Sannan wanted to be a producer, Andrew Welch was moving on with another band and Israel Beachy wanted to go home and spend time with his family. He had a girl and wanted to go home and be a dad. Trent Reiff wanted to be married and settle down and come off the road.
Like I said before, being a Christian rock musician is not something you can just say you want to do for the rest of your life. It’s definitely not for everybody, and even if it is for you, it may not be for you long-term. So I’m definitely one of those rare breeds of individuals. I definitely feel like God is calling me to do this and be there for the long term.
He has been so awesome and gracious to bring guys into this band that have been there for a season then moved on. I really feel like this version, I hope they’re around for a really long time because we’ve created something extremely special. I hope we have many more opportunities to do that.
That’s cool you guys found a new team that’s pretty strong.
I don’t normally tell people this stuff, but I’ll tell you this. Whenever you meet a band, there’s always this certain dynamic in a band that is very similar. There’s always a nice guy in the band. If you meet a band, you know there are the other players, too, which I’ll leave unmentioned.
But there’s always a nice guy in the band. In every band you meet. Dude, every single one of the guys now in Disciple was the nice guy in their respective bands. Jason (Wilkes), Joey (West), Josiah (Prince), Andrew (Stanton), they all are the nice guy.
There is like, never any drama about anything because they’re all just like so laid back, so low maintenance, and it’s legit, man. We’re all like best friends with each other. In that time frame we’ve become really close to each other and developed a really strong bond with each other. We’re excited.
Were you the nice guy in Disciple in previous versions?
No. No, not all the time. I’d say out of the original group, Tim was definitely the nice guy of our band. He was by far nicer than I was. I was definitely the outgoing one and extrovert, whatever. Something has happened in my old age, I’ve become a little introverted, where I don’t really jump into a crowd of people and start jabbering anymore. An exact opposite: I see a crowd of people and I run for the hills. I don’t know what I am anymore, but I definitely am learning to be the nice guy in the band, hanging out with a bunch of nice guys.
You’ve been in the Christian rock industry for a while now. Has there been any difference the way Christians received your message back in the ’90s as compared to now, being that rock wasn’t as accepted in many Christian circles back then?
We never really faced very much persecution by other Christians. I think our forefathers, bands who went before us in the ’80s, really paved all of that for us and blazed that trail. In the ’90s, it was definitely different than it is now, so there, yes, it’s been a definite change.
One of the things we’ve had now is, not protesters so much, but skeptics that came to our shows, looking for something from the concert they can be upset about, or proof that this is a sham and this is not of God.
I’ve been blessed to have conversations with so many people who came for that specific purpose and then came to me after the show and said “I had no idea you were going to present the Gospel, I had no idea so many people were going to receive Christ. I cannot stand your music and I’m still not sure what to think about that, but I’m really happy to see the results of what happened here.”
It’s not about the music. The music is there to entertain, and that’s a small part of what we do. The large part is to share our faith.
Any problems with your family?
My grandmother hated Christian rock music, but yet was so proud of me that we were doing something for God. She just didn’t understand the way we were doing it. Even my own mother was very skeptical.
I remembered when I wanted to get a subscription to Heaven’s Metal Magazine, if you can go back that far, literally she said, “I want you to pray about this for seven days.” This is a true story. And I did. Before I could get my subscription to Heaven’s Metal, I had to pray about it for seven days.
Coming from that place, I absolutely respect people who are skeptical, because that means they care about their kids. Coming from a place with parents that loved me and wanted to keep me away from things that could potentially be harmful to me on a spiritual level, I respect when people are skeptical and say, “I don’t know what to say about this, I don’t let my kids listen to Christian rock.”
I don’t judge those people at all. Actually I respect them for loving their kids enough to where if they’re not sure. Then they’ll take the next step and be loving parent.
You’re music has also been accepted in secular circles. For example, “Game On” has been featured in video games and many sports shows. Have you ever faced persecution in secular circles?
My exposure to the secular and mainstream world has been very small. We’ve had opportunities to play with the band Saliva and they were great to us and gracious and wonderful. I had a chance to hang about with Corey Taylor (lead singer of Slipknot) when they were on tour with Skillet. His wife was a tour manager on the road, and he came out to hang out a couple times. I had the chance to spend some time with him and he was super nice to me and super gracious and I enjoyed all the conversations we had.
From my limited exposure to the mainstream, secular world on a personal level has been nothing but just warm and accepting. I have no stories of people coming after me for being a Christian.
I think it helps when you come from a place of love and respect to a non-believer, whether they’re famous or not famous. Not really knowing where they are on a personal or spiritual level, to prejudge them in a conversation of judgement and hell, that is not the way I think Jesus would have done it. As a matter of fact, we read about in the Bible that sinners were just crazy about Jesus, loved him, climbed trees just to see him and busted through crowds just to touch him.
Anything you would do differently if you could start over again? Sinless. I would sin a lot less if I could go back and do it again.
What are some of your favorite musicians or bands that inspired you growing up?
I spent the majority of my life collecting and listening to Petra. As a teenager, I was introduced to Christian rock music in 1987 or 1988. It was Whitecross’s first tape. That was my first introduction to Christian rock which was really actually heavy metal, and it was amazing. My second introduction was Petra’s This Means War (1987). I just fell in love with these two bands and how bold they were for Christ.
I feel like it was deliberate for God to introduce me to these two bands, and that they would be the ones I was introduced to at first and would really fall in love with so much. I’ve watched Scott Wenzel from Whitecross give his testimony and open up the stage for people to come and pray and receive Christ. I had never seen anything like it at that time. I thought it was insane.
My pastor at that time was very skeptical of Christian rock music. There was a Petra concert once in Bristol, Tennessee, and I said, “Let’s just go and see it.” That night they gave an altar call and, like, 300 people came down and gave their lives to Christ. Even as a Christian rock supporter, I was still blown away.
That’s what evangelism is all about. It’s going out and winning the lost. In the modern church anyway, it’s not something you see very often. It’s difficult. And here you’re seeing rock bands go out and present a message and people are responding.
Those two bands and their messages really kept me out of trouble when I was a teenager. I was one of those kids that whatever I was listening to I was going to do. Those bands put the word of God literally to music. I really credit them as my biggest influence.
What are your thoughts on Christian bands who don’t write as explicitly Christian lyrics? Do you think there is a time and a place for that kind of music?
Not to judge other bands, but I feel like that’s missing from other Christian rock bands today. But that’s okay because that might make (Disciple) unique and special, when back in the ’80s everybody was like that. Some of my greatest friends are bands that aren’t as (explicitly Christian) and love Jesus as much if not more than I do. And I can definitely name those bands by name and not feel any weirdness about it.
Skillet is one of those bands. John Cooper, who is a friend of mine, is crazy in love with Jesus. He’ll definitely break out on stage and say some things every once and a while and do it in a place I would never be able to get to: in front of a mainstream crowd. And the reason he’s standing in front of that mainstream crowd is because he’s been able to craft and create lyrics that are creative and yet weren’t so blatantly Christian that mainstream radio stations wouldn’t support it and play it.
I think it all comes down to the heart. And there is really no way for a consumer to know somebody’s heart. When someone’s taming down their message for exposure or money, obviously God knows that. If someone is taming down their message to get more exposure for the Gospel, which I believe is the heart of Skillet, I definitely know John and (Skillet bandmate and wife) Korey Cooper aren’t doing what they’re doing just to be a rock band. They have a message. It’s not as bold as explicit as ours, but that’s also one of the reasons that their message is getting out to so many people. I have nothing but love and respect for bands that pull that off with a heart of reaching people. I think that actually takes a lot of guts and courage instead of being peer-pressured, if you will, for speaking and talking about something he doesn’t feel called to do.
I gotta be honest with you, I know all these guys. I’m friends with all these guys. And not one single one of us is perfect. So if you’re looking for dirt on us, you don’t have to look very far. But every single one of us is real. And all the guys I’ve met and toured with have real relationships with Jesus Christ.
I think a misconception is that just because someone stands up with a microphone, people put the pressure on them to be a preacher. I guess, to some extent, we are called to represent Christ and to go and make disciples of all nations. To some extent, we are called. But how we go about doing that is up to God. Some are going to do it through art, drama, being explicit through a microphone, by simpling playing a violin and no words are ever spoken. Some people through buying groceries for a family who couldn’t afford it. I think it’s not our job to decide how people answer the Great Commission.
I think there was a time and a place way back then when I was a little more ignorant and knew everything about everything and I might have taken a different position, but there is something about growing older that makes you see the flaws in that type of logic.
Disciple was posted on October 20, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by Jordan Gonzalez.