Fit for a King’s fourth studio album, Deathgrip, finds its home in the gap between life and death. After encountering the fresh sting of death playing a scheduled show in Paris only days after the attack on the Bataclan concert venue, the band was fueled with anger and sorrow. They played to a scarce crowd in a mourning city, and vocalist Ryan Kirby coped in a unique way. In response to the horror he had witnessed, he asked his fans to send him their stories and found within them a common theme: death. The result: Deathgrip.
Producer Nick Sampson was carefully chosen to paint this vivid picture of death, combining the signature components of the Fit we all know and love with a new sense of urgency. The raw content makes for an unmatched and brave new energy, standing out significantly from their previous records. While the band still holds true to their faith, this album provides a necessary shift of focus to grief. Kirby’s vocals are as honest and brutal as ever. Stories of death furnish the album from start to finish. Stories of a mother’s experience with abortion. The death of a daughter’s spirit after being abandoned by her father. The death of innocent people in acts of terrorism.
Throughout our conversation, Kirby verbalizes over and over that the atmosphere of the album is not “happy,” but it is real. The reality of pain is expressed with perfect clarity in the thick of the breakdowns and riffs — the story of the world told in music. The Texas-based band released the album’s single, “Pissed Off,” on August 17, 2016, written as a direct response to the violence and murder that has overcome the world in the last few years. Kirby talked with me about the validity of grief, the album’s unique inspiration, and the fans that drive it.
From one album to the next, Fit for a King has told the story of human reality, from internal struggle and to global struggle. Now, their fans are presented with Deathgrip, a compilation of their own stories with universally shared themes. In a unique way, these stories connect everyone in the world, whether they listen to heavy music or not. In a recent press release, Kirby says, “People can lose their minds over the depression of loss. It has such a grip over our lives; it truly affects how people go about living. Processing through our grief in this record was really therapeutic, and we hope it is for our fans, too.”
While the weight of the content will surely set the stage differently, the explosive energy that fuels it will undoubtedly do justice to the band’s voice that has been growing for nearly a decade. Deathgrip offers listeners a place to lament, a song to scream, and a sound for their pain. The album creates a safe space to respond to pain so that it doesn’t become the enemy that consumes us all. It creates a community of real people to provide the comfort of understanding. Through the music, we can find our way out.
Before we dive into the album, I saw that you’re doing a webinar series with Music Mentors. That’s awesome. Can you tell me more about that?
Yes, my partner, David, is the founder. He’s the drummer for For Today. We’ve toured a lot with For Today, so when he approached me with the idea of doing a webinar series, I thought it’d be a cool idea to not just give vocal advice, but advice for upcoming bands about finding members and getting started and also the business of touring. I just thought there could be some more interesting things than just vocal lessons.
Deathgrip. I know there’s quite an intense story behind your newest album. Where did the title of the album come from?
Whenever I made a post asking a bunch of fans to give me their stories — basically, sad stories — I noticed that almost all of them revolved around death, whether it was their friend dying or a family member dying. So I thought death kind of has a grip on everyone, whether you are dying yourself or death is affecting how you would live the rest of your life. So it’s kind of about the different effects death has on us.
Can you tell me about what happened in Paris?
We were in Hamburg, Germany when the attack on the Bataclan happened. We were scheduled to play Paris four days after that. We had so many discussions and so much time to think about everything — whether we wanted to play, whether we thought it was safe — and we ended up deciding to play even though not a single ticket was sold after the Bataclan attack. So we knew the show wasn’t going to be very big.
I had never been to Paris, so it was kind of weird to be my first time there. I went to the Eiffel Tower and there was, like, nobody there. Just military people everywhere. There was this looming feeling. You could tell that death had just happened there and everybody was on edge. But it made the show extremely unique because the people that came to the show were there to basically give a middle finger to ISIS saying, “You’re not going to scare us from living our life.” That was really inspirational.
Did you have a different album in mind before all that happened? I mean, were you planning on writing something different?
Not really. The way we do things is, we write instrumentals beforehand, and I write lyrics to them. And I had not started writing any concrete lyrics yet. After that event, I really started writing a lot. That sparked everything. I try my best to not force lyrics. But then when they hit me, I start doing it, and that’s when it really started hitting me, after that (experience).
So with the writing process, do you all write the instrumentals together or is there a primary writer for those?
Our guitarist, Bob (Lynge) will record and write everything instrumentally. Very basic. Then we’ll send it over to our drummer once we approve guitar parts, and he’ll change up the drums and jam it at his house. Then me and Tuck (O’Leary, bassist and vocalist) will put lyrics on top of it once we finalize the instruments.
You released “Pissed Off” a while ago. How do you think people responded to it?
I think people are more into it than I thought they would be, so I guess that’s a good thing. I try not to get carried away with expectations, but now I’m insanely excited to play it live. Between Spotify and YouTube, it’s got over 300,000 streams, and that’s way more than I thought it would have.
That’s great! I had a lot of friends that were really excited about it.
Yeah I’m excited to see how many people know the lyrics when we finally get to play it live.
What do you hope people get out of this album?
I’m hoping they get… not depressed, because it’s kind of depressing. But I want them to realize how terrible the world can be, and I want them to use that to appreciate what they have. I honestly think most people who are capable of listening to our record are in a better place than a lot of other people.
What do you mean?
We’ve written songs about the Rwanda genocide and children soldiers and stuff. I don’t think a child-soldier would have the capability to listen to a band if they wanted to. I want people to be aware that the world is a lot worse outside of what we have, and we should not take it for granted. But we should also not forget about the struggles others are going through.
How is this album different from the last, in your opinion?
Lyrically, the albums are pretty opposite. Slave to Nothing was basically about breaking out of addiction. It was a very empowering record of overcoming negativity. Whereas in this record, there’s a couple songs that have happy endings, but none of them really end that happily because things haven’t resolved, the things I’m writing about. There’s still genocide happening. There are still children soldiers. There are still people struggling with their family member dying. I think as long as mankind exists, there will be those things. The last record was about breaking out of our personal addictions. I would say the last record was a lot more about personal struggles than about worldly struggles.
So, this is a weird question, but do you think there’s any kind of risk with releasing such a bold album that is not necessarily happy?
I think there’s a little because I’ve seen fans say, “Oh, I like you because you have a hopeful message.” And I mean, that message is still there. Some of the songs on the record are hopeful. But I think it wouldn’t be right in our position to not talk about and make people aware, like, these bad things are going on, so either be aware and choose to ignore it, or maybe you could choose to donate somewhere or make a difference.
I feel like acknowledging reality is important if you are going to say why you have hope.
Yeah. I guess a negative record could burst some people’s bubble. Some people don’t want to know hat’s happening around the world. And I get that, it can be really depressing.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
I would have to say my favorite song is… I really like “Deathgrip” a lot. I also like “Dead Memory.” I think those are my two favorites. I wrote “Dead Memory” about my wife’s childhood, about her life struggling with her absent father. About him trying to come back into her life multiple times just to walk out, hurting her over and over again. So that song’s about her.
“Deathgrip” is a cool song because I wrote that song about the end of the world. It’s not even about anything. It’s probably the most fictitious song I’ve ever written. We wanted it to sound like the apocalypse, basically. It’s a good ending song. I thought it’d be fun to write about. Most of the things I write about are from personal experiences or experiences others have told me about. So to write a song that’s creating a story was cool.
With it being so personal, did you have a hard time finding the right producer to handle that with care?
We struggled finding producers for a little bit. We had three or four in mind and went through a lot of their stuff. But we settled on Nick (Sampson) because we felt like he really got what we were trying to do. He’s never really had his own album. He always worked with Joey Sturgess on albums with bands like Asking Alexandria and We Came as Romans. He’d always help with vocal production. But this was one of his first front-to-back projects. And he’s our age, where the other albums were always done by people older than us. We felt like he got it more. He was excited to work on it, where some of the older producers are like, “Oh, more breakdowns.”
I know Bobby does some producing. He’s produced for my friends in What We Do In Secret.
Awesome. Those are cool guys!
And what about your live show? You played at the Abbey in Memphis; it turned into quite a worshipful experience. How has your live show evolved over the years?
I’d say the band is heavier now and more focused on energy. We want to trick people into liking us — and then they read our lyrics and they’re like, “Oh wait, this is Christian?” We’ve seen some people who are complete atheists who listened to us for eight months, and then they read the lyrics and were like, “I’ve been listening and singing along to this?” But then they would ask more questions about it.
I thought maybe God put us in a position to reach people that would never be listening to a band who comes off as too “Christian.” With bands like For Today, it’s unfortunate because they’re such a good band. But there are people who don’t believe in God who will refuse to listen to For Today just because they feel like they’re listening to a sermon. And they’re missing out on a great band with great messages.
What role do your fans play in the writing process?
With this record, they played a pretty big role because I asked them to send me the stories. It’s a lot more than past records. Usually I’ll just write about what’s making me mad or making me happy and stuff that’s been on my heart. This album was a bigger process.
And we do read the comments. Like when people say they miss breakdowns like the older record, we put breakdowns in like the older records in the album. We wanted to take into account what people missed when they heard Slave to Nothing.
Do they play into your live show?
They definitely can give us way more energy. Obviously it’s our job to give the initial energy, but if the crowd is going it just makes it that much easier for us.
You’re about to head out for a tour promoting Deathgrip. What are you looking forward to with this run?
I think I’m looking forward to how many people know the new words and scream them with us. We’ve been playing the same songs for the last two years, so it’ll be really cool to have something different to play on stage. These are some of our favorite songs we’ve ever written, so I’m looking forward to just playing them.
Are the lyrics available to people?
Just the lyric videos that are up. I think they’re putting up lyrics videos to every song on the album. (Editor’s Note: They are. You can watch them all below.)
Where do you see FFAK going from here? What’s the trajectory? Is this album a game changer?
I guess a lot of it comes down to the fans and how they receive it. I think the album will do significantly better than our past records. I think Fit for a King is going to keep touring and possibly do our first proper headliner. Then, if it goes well, we can pretty much go as long as we want. Until I’m bald.
If you could say one thing to the world with your music, what would it be?
I would say, “Get ready to jump,” because that’s what we like to do live. I would also say you can listen to a Christian band — even if you’re not Christian — and have a good time. And to Christian bands, I would say you don’t have to be cheesy to be a Christian band. We try our best not to be cheesy with it. I feel like a lot of people feel this way. They listen to some worship music and they think it’s cheesy. But nowhere in the Bible does it say, “You must write ‘Hallelujah’ 50 times in a song.”
Yeah. I always thought it was interesting that Christian music was the only genre that is classified by lyrical content. Every other genre is classified musically.
I never thought of it that way. That is weird, that we can be a Christian metal band and sound the same as any other metal band with different lyrics.
Right! Why can’t you just be a good metal band that happens to be made up of Christians?
Yeah, if I write a song like “Pissed Off” that doesn’t really have anything to do with Christianity, it’s still a Christian band’s song. I can listen to a Whitechapel song and not be offended that it’s very far from Christian.
Exactly. Well, is there anything else you think people need to know about the album or your tour or the band that we haven’t talked about?
Just, hopefully I’ll see them on the tour screaming along. Every night we’ll be doing a free meet and greet at our table after the show. Come say hi.
Fit for a King was posted on October 9, 2016 for HM Magazine and authored by Nao Lewandowski.