TFK is ready for this moment

HM’s Chad Sides Talks with TFK’s Trevor McNevan on the heels of the band’s latest release, ‘Oxygen:Inhale.’ From the sound of things, the band is just hitting their stride.

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Photo by Brooke Long

 “It’s cool to stand up for what you believe in and truly be who you are. You’re the best version of you. I think if your friends or the people around you can’t love you for you, then you need a new set of friends.” — Trevor McNevan  

I have been a Thousand Foot Krutch listener since back in the early days, when HM was putting out sampler CDs and your songs were on those.
(Laughs) Yeah! We grew up checking out HM and 7 Ball, both those magazines with the CDs and everything, and it’s been awesome what you guys have done over the years, man. We’re still blessed to be a part of it.

I was jamming out to Oxygen at my office, and I felt like everyone was starting to look at me, wondering, “Why is he over there dancing?” Thinking back to those early songs I first remember, I’m hearing such a musical and spiritual maturity in this new stuff. I was wondering what that journey has been like for you.
Man, that’s a great question, by the way. It’s honestly been exactly that; it’s been a journey, man. It’s been an adventure, and it’s been amazing and crazy all at the same time. Through the years, as a band, as an individual and as families, you’re always learning so much. God has been so faithful, and He is always teaching us new levels of patience and new levels of sensitivity. We’ve been around, like, 18 years as a band so we feel very blessed to still be able to breathe life into what we love and are still be able to make music for a living after all this time.

We’ve seen a lot of friends come and go in that time, so we feel very fortunate. And in a lot of (other) ways, I feel like we’re just getting started. I definitely give God all the glory and honor and praise in leading us in this journey, going before us and opening up those doors. We work hard and we love what we do. We’ve always been a very hands-on band and we’ll always work hard because we love it, and we’re passionate about the goal of faith-based art being of the best quality.

Going independent about four years ago was a big faith step, as well. We really felt like it’s what we were supposed to do, and at the time it really went against a lot of odds, you know. A lot of people thought we were crazy. It was a huge leap of faith as a band, which, for example, a song like “Untraveled Road” is inspired by those sorts of situations in our lives.

“Untraveled Road” is a song off the new record, and I think it’s about those moments where you can’t see the ground before you step. You’re at this crossroads where you’re like, “Man, I know I’m supposed to do this, but there’s a road over here and I’m staring at a field; there isn’t even a road over here! What are we talking about?” But you know you’re supposed to go, so it’s about being able to let God lead and trust Him. Use our faith, man. That’s kind of the whole heart behind it, to be honest.

It’s awesome to hear you talk about giving God the glory for what you’re doing. I sense a humility there that I feel like you don’t get everywhere when people get to a level that you guys have gotten to, and it’s very inspiring to hear you still putting God first in these things. I feel like it shows up in your music, too.
We appreciate that. There’s no other way to put it. We’re very thankful and feel like we’re just getting started. We’re excited.

What kind of spiritual preparation do you put into penning a song or recording it? Do you pray about each song specifically? The project as a whole? What’s that like for you?
For me, I’ve always started with prayer. For TFK, it’s always been, “God, what do You want to say and how do You want to say it?” I think that’s what it needs to be. As a songwriter, you’re inspired by the things you go through in life, and the situations and people you meet, and the things you learn along the way: the hard times, the great times. But outside of that, it’s always meant so much more to me that our music would mean more than me writing about a circumstance that I’ve been through because it might be relatable.

Our faith is our lifestyle; it’s who we are. We’ve never even really thought of it as our genre of music. That’s just who we are and what we believe, so it’s going to be a big part of anything we do.

You mentioned “Untraveled Road” a minute ago, and that’s one of my favorites on the album; it really touched me. Another one I really liked was “Born This Way.” It sounds like you’re telling a story in the stanzas there, and I was wondering if that was taken from real events. What’s behind that story?
I think it is. This song, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. The Bible says God created each of us, that we’re each uniquely and wonderfully and beautifully made. I think we’re all wired differently for a reason, so this song’s kind of an anthem for the people who are tired of trying to be someone else. I think there’s a strength and confidence in just being comfortable in your skin, like, “Man, this is who God made me to be.”

It’s cool to stand up for what you believe in and truly be who you are. You’re the best version of you. I think if your friends or the people around you can’t love you for you, then you need a new set of friends. You shouldn’t feel like you need to be someone else with any of your friends. “Born This Way” is very much about that. It’s about, “This is who I am, love it or hate it, and this is what I believe.”

So there is definitely some true back story to that as far as my personality and me as a person. There’s a line in that song that says, “I’d rather create than follow / Welcome to the knife.” The visual or symbolism of creating something, carving something out of nothing, God’s kind of blessed me with a passion for that and the inspiration to dig in and be more comfortable about creating something new. That’s a little part of my story and that’s what this song’s about.

As I was talking to some folks about preparing for the interview today, I had several of my friends start telling me about their experiences with having seen you live, and I got a little jealous. For those in the dark, what’s touring for Oxygen looking like?
Right now, we hope to have it figured out this week. We’re actually in the final stages of figuring out whether we’re going to do a headlining tour or whether we’re going to team up with someone, but we’ll definitely be doing a North American Fall tour and then we’re actually heading to Russia and the UK in November, getting out there internationally. It’s going to be good, brother!

Have you been on international tours before?
Yeah, we’ve actually done quite a bit of it over the years. We were just in Russia about three months ago, so we’re already going to head back. It’s a powerful experience to be in a place where English isn’t the first language at all, and yet they can sing along to every word. There’s such an energy to that. It’s humbling, man.

Do you have a favorite place to go when you’re on tour, like a safe place of “biggest fans in the world” kind of feeling?
We’re fortunate that way. We’re very blessed with the support that we have. I don’t know that, honestly, not one specific place that comes to mind that might be way better than another. You know, there’s definitely areas where we still need to grow and might not have as big of a fan base as in other areas.

As far as other favorites, one our favorite places to play as far as venues go was, for a lot of years, Creation West at the Gorge Amphitheater. You know, that kind of old, classic, awesome amphitheater that’s right on the side of this canyon overlooking the lake, and the sun would always set behind the stage. It was just gorgeous, man. Other than that I can’t even pick a favorite.

Speaking of favorites, is there a track on the new album that has an extra special significance to you? Would you hold one above the others, or are they all your babies?
(Laughs) I mean, yeah, so much goes into these records and these songs. They’re all very special to me. It’s always an exciting and inspired process. Sometimes exhausting. That’s each record, but this one, just the experience of it and the way everything came together was something special to begin with. We had recognized that, and we’re excited to see what God’s going to do here.

But as far as the songs go, yeah, there is a song called “In My Room” that is something more intimate and a little bit closer, in a special way, to my heart. They’re all close to my heart, but for this song, I had the visual of this young person sitting on their bed and having a candid, unrehearsed, has-never-even-prayed before conversation with God. “I’ve heard so much about You,” she’d pray, “and I think I believe in You. I think I believe You’re real, but You’re just such a big God. If all this stuff is true, you’re such a magnificent God, but this is where I feel safe. This is where I feel secure and where I feel like I can be myself. I’ve painted these walls with the things that make me feel comfortable. And, so, can you meet me in my room?”

It’s this heartfelt story, like we were flies on the wall, watching this conversation with God. I felt like it was something we could all relate to, just maybe in different ways, whether it was growing up in high school or in college or whether it was parents fighting, abuse or bullying. There was something that just felt really honest about trying to depict that, so I tried my best to get that picture out there.

I like that song. Actually, I like all the songs, but yeah, I like that one, too.
(Laughs) Thanks, man.

Now, this was crowdfunded, right?
Well, the album itself wasn’t. When we first went independent with The End Is Where We Begin, we did a Kickstarter. That was a crowdfunded album; they actually helped us fund the album. This time we went with Pledge Music, which is strictly music, but the same sort of idea, though.

We thought, “We’re going to make this record for you anyways, but we’d love to bring you in even closer and at least present the opportunity to support us and to support the campaign of the record.” So, you know, radio and vehicles like yours, like HM, so radio and PR and video, everything that takes the music from the studio and into the world. So we spent a lot of time creating some fun, exciting, exclusive packages, some of them really outside the box in ways that we never could have done before. So it’s been really cool; it’s been a really fun thing. Thank you big time to everyone who supported! We were again blown away by the response. It’s been amazing!

That’s good to hear. Do you think you will continue doing more of that kind of thing for future albums?
Yeah, I think so, man. You know, we learned something the first time with Kickstarter that we’d never thought of. It was new, not a lot of bands we knew had done it with Kickstarter or anything like it at the time; this was about four years ago. We were a little bit like, I don’t know, we didn’t want it to sound like we were asking for money. The whole heart of it was actually that we wanted to increase connectivity and do this thing together, to allow people in even closer. You know, we’re all on the same team and growing this together.

So that was the heart of it, but we were a little bit like, hopefully this comes out the right way. And then when I was doing Skype calls with people as part of the packages on the last record, I really realized a whole other side to it with people thanking us for the opportunity to help. That was so cool; it really touched our hearts to hear that. So I feel like that’s definitely a big part of growing this together, and we’d love to continue to do it and are so thankful for the support.

I love good cover art on a CD. I was looking at the cover of Oxygen, and there seemed to be a depth of meaning there that you don’t always get with cover art. People just say, “Hey, this looks cool, let’s put it out there,” but not necessarily a lot of meaning behind it. I didn’t feel that way about yours, and I was curious to hear what your impressions of your own album art are.
That’s cool, man. That’s really cool to hear because we are still very much a band who appreciates the album and the experience of an album. I know this generation is more into checking out particular songs. But we still feel that way, and it’s a full package; it’s a journey. I love that you care about the cover art because it’s something that’s always been important to us, too.

We actually, for the first time ever, tried some new blood in that area this time. We’ve always worked with my buddy Ryan Clark who sings for Demon Hunter. We always worked on the artwork with him, and he’s been awesome; he’s so talented at that.

For this record, though, we had a new thing going on and it felt — in a really good way — like a different record for us. Like it was a little bit of a step towards a new horizon, so to speak. We really wanted the artwork to depict that, and the minute you saw it, you hopefully get the feeling it’s a window into something different, some new kind of territory for us and the listener.

Most of all, this record reveals a little bit more of who we always have been, but haven’t had the chance to show as much. We’re excited about that. I think with Oxygen:Inhale, specifically this cover, that (inhaling) deep breath kind of thing. So Exhale may be a little different. We’ll see, brother!

I was just going to ask you if “Oxygen,” with the separation of “Inhale,” meant there was going to be an Oxygen:Exhale, and you answered my question before I even got it out.
I haven’t officially said that, but that’s the original vision, to have an Inhale and Exhale. Originally we were talking about, at the very start of this, the reason it took a little longer to get this record out. Originally we were talking about doing two new records and releasing them on the same day. At the end of the day, it just didn’t feel like the right thing to do, so we separated them. The goal is still to have an Exhale, and I’m really excited about it, but I can’t wait to share Inhale first.

How do you envision the two of them fitting together?
It’s a little hard to tell, to answer that with clarity because Exhale’s not even finished.

You know, I’ve worked on a bunch of stuff for it along the way, but I also feel like that could change. Between now and then, some new inspiration could come that’s just a little more right for that record.

It’s hard to say initially. In the very beginning stages — I’ll share this with you — when we were going to release them on the same day, one was going to be more aggressive, and the other one would be more of a softer release, a mellow sort of thing. But once we decided to separate them, we really wanted that to be two special records, like two complete albums as opposed to an A and a B. So we’ll see how that comes together, but we’re leaving Exhale open for interpretation for the moment.

Something you just said also describes Inhale quite well. You talked about it starting off aggressive and having that release follow, and I feel like that describes my impression of the album. You know, it starts off as aggressive, and then the last few songs are mellow, and you have that release. Is that specifically what you were going for with that?
You know, it’s funny when you really step back and look at it like that because, honestly, that’s just the way that it worked out. I had written about 70, 80 songs for this record and then sat down with the guys and we went through everything and just prayed and were trying to pick the best body of work that represented where we wanted this record to go. What was this record supposed to be? And these really just felt like the right songs.

When we did the track listing, at first we were like, “How is this going to flow?” It ended up working out. That was completely an organic process, and I think God’s leading for sure.

Thousand Foot Krutch was posted on September 13, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .