Kings Kaleidoscope presses even deeper into their signature blend of hymnody fused with hip hop, soul, and alternative rock on their latest record Zeal. A sonic explosion of chaotically ordered soundscapes, Zeal comes alive with splashes of color and joyous, childlike wonder. During a short break in their 25-city, nationwide tour across the United States, I caught up with lead singer Chad Gardner to talk about the band’s newest release.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
First of all, congrats on the new record. I’d love to hear the story of how Zeal came together. Can you talk to me about the writing and recording process?
We started compiling musical ideas a little less than a year ago. The theme started to solidify for me last summer. The environment I was in felt very disenchanted with faith and belief. But also disenchanted with being disenchanted. [Laughs]
I was tired of deconstructing everything and trying to conquer faith in God. And also really longing for just a simple, childlike faith again. And so as those ideas started forming, I started writing. I wrote most of the album throughout the winter and beginning of this year. I finished it probably a week before it came out.
Oh wow. Is that normal for you?
It is. [Laughs]
I have a lot of friends that I’m really close with who feel stuck with a lot of bitterness and jadedness. And then for myself, I just felt a little bit spiritually apathetic. So we wrote Zeal to move ourselves back to a place of childlike faith again.
Same thing with the tour we’ve been on. It’s been the same thrust and theme that we’re trying to sing the songs every night to get ourselves reoriented around something that we really desire deeply.
Is it working?
[Laughs] Yeah, it is. Our tour bus is just a hodgepodge from no type of faith, to “used to have faith,” to a lot of faith, and everywhere in between. I think it’s a really cool and beautiful model of a church right now. We’re all so respectful and loving to one another. It’s one of the most diverse environments I’ve ever been in, not only culturally, but on the map of discipleship. We’re really, really committed to caring for another. It’s cool to just see how God’s moving in everybody individually along the tour.
How’s it been getting these songs out in front of your fans?
Really incredible. Kings Kaleidoscope is such an eclectic band. And that’s given us a really eclectic fan base. And I really appreciate that about them. One thing I think our fans do really well is that they’re—I don’t know what the word is—I’d almost say they’re extremely loyal in a way. And very committed.
It’s like how hip hop and rap albums come out and the fans know all the words less than a month later. On this tour we’re playing nearly the entire new album. And it doesn’t feel like we’re playing new songs. It feel like everybody’s ready and waiting to sing them. It’s really incredible.
What was the easiest song to write?
“A Little Bit of Faith” by far. That was written the very last week of working on the album, and it came together so fast. That song was a spin-off of “Hero Over My Head.”
Yeah, I noticed that.
Yeah. I was working on an alternate bridge idea for “Hero Over My Head” and fired off “A Little Bit of Faith” in a day. In the canon of Kings Kaleidoscope, that song and “A Prayer” are the fastest I’ve ever written.
So did you record it quickly, too? Didn’t you release that song before the album?
Yeah, exactly. Last song to be written, and it was released before the album came out. [Laughs]
How about the hardest song to write?
Actually, I would have to say its brother song, “Hero Over My Head.” I started that instrumental a couple years ago while writing The Beauty Between. It was impossible to crack. Really complex musically. I was having a hard time knowing where it needed to go. But it came together once I understood the whole arc of the whole album.
We started thinking of Zeal as a character who was on this journey to rediscover his identity and his name and who he was. Once that came together then I knew towards the beginning of the album is where “Hero Over My Head” needed to be. Or at least where the instrumental needed to be. A canvas to paint this character desperately looking for a way out.
On Zeal I’ve picked up on a few spots where you wove hymns into the arrangement. The most obvious being “Jesus Loves Me” in the song “Oxygen.” And then the video for “The Rush” looks like it’s straight out of a Sunday school flannel board. So as I listen to the record, I can’t help but flashback to my childhood in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. To me it feels like you’re pulling a thread there.
I’m probably primarily driven creatively by aesthetic. Visual things. I think in imagery a lot. I think in color and pallet. I start thinking about artwork as soon as I start writing songs, honestly. There is this whole world that I wanted to create with Zeal.
Look, there’s a lot of people who have had some experience with church, even if it was so far from any type of faith. A lot of our extended fan base has had a genuine experience with faith, not just the one that they had growing up that didn’t mean anything. But then they don’t really know if the “faith” they had when they were younger was legit or not.
And so what I’m trying to do aesthetically with all the Sunday school stuff is trying to take things visually that you would write off as just nostalgia or cheesy and actually point back to them and go, there’s actually a little bit of truth in that. Your middle school, awkward youth group Bible study—where you had that funky Adventure Bible that your church gave your confirmation class—you remember it only with nostalgia? I actually believe that you had a genuine experience with the Holy Spirit in that.
You use the image of a “fortunate fall” in your song “The Coma” on this album. I remember that same lyric from the song “Felix Culpa” that you released a handful of years ago. Since you revisit it, I’m wondering what “fortunate fall” means to you and how that’s morphed over these years?
That’s interesting. Actually, it was unintentional. I didn’t think through that scope at all, honestly. Which is kind of wild.
Once again, it goes to the visual. On that song and a lot of others on this album, the visual is jumping off a cliff. Not knowing. Blind faith. It’s this imagery of, alright, I guess I’m stepping out on the water. I’ve been stuck. My back’s on the wall. But here I go. I gotta put some of my pride to death here. And it’s probably going to really hurt. But this is going to be the fortunate fall that’s gonna do me in for the better.
What’s next for you and the band coming up?
Just tour, man. The Zeal tour is our first full production scale, big bus national tour. Becoming Who We Are, our first album, came out four and a half years ago. It feels like it was a lot longer than that. But it hasn’t actually been that long.
We have never had any traditional key holders or anything open big doors for us. Our whole growth has just been word of mouth with grassroots people that have been deeply impacted by our music, getting us where we are. And so this does, in essence, feel like a celebration for us to be able to play the whole country
Kings Kaleidoscope is currently touring the United States with Wordsplayed, Citizens, and OLY. Their album Zeal is out now.