A Small Army

King's Kaleidoscope isn't just a band; they're a small army. The former worship band has taken their show on the road

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I went in to this interview knowing very little about Chad Gardner and his band of merry minstrels. I found it very interesting that he brought his love of “wordly” music to the table when writing songs while he was a college campus worship leader with Mars Hill. Now, four years later, I had the chance to talk to Chad about their move to Bad Christian and what the future holds for the band.

HM: Tell us your name and your weapon of choice.
Chad Gardner: My name is Chad Gardner, and I like to sing and play guitar.

Wonderful. Who do you sing and play guitar for?
King’s Kaleidoscope from Seattle, Washington.

You, guys, are one of a handful of bands that have launched out of Mars Hill Church with their Mars Hill music label.
Yes, I worked there for a little over four years up until recently. I was working there as a worship director, and King’s Kaleidoscope was the band that I led there.

You guys put out quite, a handful of EPs, a Christmas cover record and, I believe, another cover record earlier, a couple years ago.
Yeah, we’ve done a total of four now. We did a Good Friday live, a short hymns EP and then a Christmas EP last year.

How long have you been doing King’s Kaleidoscope?
Just about four years, actually. Yeah, a little over four years now. We started when I first started working for Mars Hill Church and we were planting a new Mars Hill Church on the campus of the University of Washington. It was a bunch of kind of college kids.

At the beginning, the average age of the band was under 21. We were all so young. Yeah, so that was four years ago now.

When you guys started that band, what was the sound that you were going for on a worship and for a college church campus?
It was made up of stuff we liked, so at the time, my biggest influences were Broken Social Scene, a band called Anathollo and Radiohead. Then, like, the Mars Volta and some various rock bands. I grew up as a hip-hop DJ, so that was always a big influence, and kind of why we have two drummers. We like to do a lot of stuff with drums, because I grew up making beats for rappers and stuff like that, so I just kind of have it in my blood, in my DNA, to really like drums.

You, guys, just put out a new record called “Live in Color.”
Yes.

You recorded it at a middle school.
We did.

Completely live. I honestly watched the 30 minute little documentary and the whole thing is you’re set up in a circle in the cafeteria.
Yeah.

How was that recording compared to the other recordings you guys had done previous?
It was super spur of the moment and just really fun. We were going to be making videos and live performance videos, but it turned out so cool that we decided to actually release it as a live EP featuring a bunch of songs that will be on our forthcoming debut full-length record.
We got to the middle school in the afternoon and played every song a few times. Then just, you know, played basketball in the gym to take a break, and it was just fun. We took over this middle school for the night and left about midnight.

Yeah, it looks like a lot of fun. In the four years you’ve been together, why haven’t you put out a full-length?
We just haven’t had the opportunity yet. We’ve been itching to and we definitely have plenty of material. I mean, we’ve put out four EPs, obviously there’s a lot there. Now that we’re independent, we’re kind of able to just go for it, and we hope to be putting out a record a year. That’s our dream. We have so many influences and inspirations to draw from. We’re looking forward to be able to put out LPs from now on basically.

How did becoming independent come about?
I transitioned from working at Mars Hill Church. I moved away from working there and so, inevitably, the band stopped being a band that was part of Mars Hill Church’s label. But when I stopped working there, everybody was still around and still wanting to play music.

It just made a lot of sense to keep the band going. That’s kind of how we ended up just doing this record, this next one, just for fun as a one off thing. But it turned out great and we’re working on our next record right now.

You guys are doing a little campaign with Bad Christian, which is Matt and Toby from Emery’s new label and ministry that they have going. Why did you guys choose to go with them to distribute this new little EP and the new record?
I knew Matt from Mars Hill. He was kind of one of the bands I helped, I don’t know, coach or work with when I was working there. When I was going around telling all my band leaders, “Hey, guys, I’m going to be leaving” — he was real funny in his thick Southern accent — the first thing he said was, “That means I’ve just got to sign you to Bad Christian records.”

I had to think about it, but it’s the perfect model for us right now. Because we’re not, you know, we’re not trying to make any big plans yet. We just wanted to release this live EP and do a crowdfund to pay for our full-length record. All the guys, Matt and Toby and Bad Christian, their ministry is awesome.

They’re all just killer dudes and they’re super helpful. They’ve been around the music industry for a lot longer than me, and they just have a lot of wisdom. It just made a lot of sense to be able to partner with them. They’ve just been super helpful.

I got to hang out with them for two weeks, I totally understand how anybody could just hop on board with what they are doing.

As I was working myself into this EP you (all) definitely have a different sound approach to a worship band. There are still elements to some of the Southern worship acts here, like Israel and New Breed. How do you approach it? Does all this come naturally? You have Dustin Kensrue and what he’s doing in Israel; it sounds like Mars Hill, like suburban church worship songs. But (King’s Kaleidoscope), you are — I don’t want to say hipster-ish, but there’s definitely an element of that culture that you guys bring into what you do.
Yeah. I think it’s all really natural and organic. We don’t think about really what we want to do outside of, ‘If it feels good, and we like it.’ Everybody comes from different musical backgrounds and there are 10 of us, so that naturally makes the genre matchup happen, I guess.

To tell you the truth, I haven’t listened to a worship record, I don’t even think in my life. I’ve listened to songs of worship records before just to try to figure out what’s going on more recently. But I’ve never listened to a Hillsong record or a Chris Tomlin record. I don’t even know who New Breed is. We’re a bunch of Christians that love Jesus and love music, but all of our musical education and what we’ve listened to has been nearly exclusively, or at least the vast majority, secular music or whatever is going on. All of us like all kinds of music.

I think that’s just normal for our generation, the information generation. We have everything available to us. Also, in the Pacific Northwest, growing up I never faced the dilemma of having to burn my secular CDs. I never got in trouble for listening to secular music. I think that’s just most people in our band. We (grew up) like normal kids listening to everything. But we’re Christians, so when we make music, it doesn’t sound like it’s from the Christian world of worship music.

That’s hard for a lot of Christian market worship artists, to branch out of that, because they don’t really know that world. All they know is their world.

How are you guys approaching this next record? Live in Color has six songs and then all you really need is about four more songs and then you have a full album.
(Laughs) I’m shooting for 14 more songs to tell you the truth. We have so much material. I love producing. I produced this record, and really, my role is to gather all the ideas of the 10 people in the band. Because there are 10 people and so many ideas, like I said, we’re never at a shortage for them.

I don’t know if we’ll really hit 20 songs, but our next record is going to be really big, especially just because the only thing we’ve ever released is EPs. Giving people a lot of songs will feel really refreshing.

The only thing differently, I think, on the lyrical front is that, for the first time, I’m writing more lyrics or partnering with other songwriters to write original tunes. We’ve mostly done covers in the past. Live in Color already has that on it. But these have more of a personal feel to some of the songs, and I’m getting to share a little bit more from personal experiences. That feels really good as well.

In this record and I guess on the next record, how did you guys record at the gym?
We’re actually writing a blog on that right now. But we recorded with Pro Tools. It’s a lot to record this band. We brought in a full rig and had a friend. He emptied out his home studio, and we brought it all with us, and tracked it all. He did a great job on mixing it, too, for it being live.

Especially at a school cafeteria, I was like, “How do they get it to sound that good with those high ceilings?”
Just close mic everything, dude. You don’t need any reverb because it’s just extra in the mics (laughs).

On this next record, do you have any special plans? I know there’s a lot of people these days that are going to reel-to-reel in a studio and trying to get that really raw sound.
I would love to; it just depends on if we can afford it or not. We’re not really a big band. We’re independent. We’re going to crowdsource it. We’ll see what the crowdfunding brings in. If it brings in enough, I’m all over it. Especially, being able to go from tape to vinyl would be really cool. It would be a lot more legit.

I would love to, but right now the default plan is what’s available to us. I’ll be recording a lot of it myself. Then again, you can always dump that to tape, and get at the sound that way. We’ll see.

I was trying to ask earlier, what are your thoughts on worship music today? What do you think is hindering it, and how do you think it can do better than what it is doing now?
That’s a really big question. There are lots of different angles on it. I actually think there’s a lot of good worship music out there for churches to use. The issue isn’t so much that there’s not a lot of stuff available. We have hundreds of years of songs that have been written about the Gospel available to us. Also, there’s a little bit of educating worship pastors and church musicians.

The more that the trend goes to really simple music in churches, over time, the less people are going to be able to handle. Inevitably, people are going to get worse at singing together, they’re going to know less about music and it’s going to be harder to get congregations to sing together. Nobody sings harmonies anymore in church together, because everything’s dumbed down to three chords. That’s one angle on it.

It depends on what churches are looking for. Once again, there’s a lot of good resources out there. Churches, and specifically worship pastors, probably need to look more into what is available and not just follow.

This is an industry. Worship music is just an industry that makes a lot of money. It knows how to market itself to churches. Unfortunately, churches take the bait versus step back and look at it for our people, pastor our people and lead our people with the sounds we’re singing versus just getting on a blog and saying, “This is the new song. We should do it.” I think that happens too often.

Even with King’s Kaleidoscope, my job was to lead corporate singing, congregational, 1,000 people at once. That’s the goal. How can we get them to sing together? Even now, we’re branching away from that. Not that that’s bad. I think that’s incredible and it’s needed. But now we can do whatever.

Our new album will have some songs on it like that, but it will also have a lot of sings that aren’t congregational friendly. You can even tell from the Live in Color album that there’s plenty of songs. I don’t even know that there’s any song that’s been in church. Maybe “Fix My Eyes.” We’ve put “Higher Throne” before and “Defender,” and I guess “Be Thou My Vision.” There’s a handful of them.

That’s where we’re going. That’s where I see the worship music scene, although, like I said earlier, I’m not that familiar with all the records that are out there right now.

Neither am I. I haven’t kept up with it. I get a couple here and there for reviewing, so I know the big names, but I don’t listen to it. I’d rather listen to Bob Mark or Fir Dunder.
I got to see Dunder the other week. He was legit. That’s how in my own bubble I’ve been. I have never even listened to one of his records (and) I’ve been working at a church as a worship director for the past seven years. That was my world in Seattle. Then I met him and heard him. I was like, “Holy smokes! This guy’s awesome!” I definitely need to do better at listening to the other Christians out there that are making music.

King’s Kaleidoscope was posted on April 4, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .