I sat down with the affable Shane Claiborne at MissionsFest 2012 to talk about social justice, life, and junk food, for Converge Magazine Online.
Having talked with Kye Kye in December 2010 while on their “Young Love” album release tour with Future of Forestry, we connected again to talk about their music, their faith, their future plans, and their really bizarre name…
A tailored version of this interview is published in the September 2011 issue of Vancouver-based Converge Magazine. Check it out!
CK: So, you’re Kye Kye now, but you haven’t always been! You used to be called “Paper Rings”, right, and you released an album under that name. Was that your first album as the group now known, mysteriously, as Kye Kye?
Olga: Yes, our former name was Paper Rings under which we released our first official record. we recorded it in our basement about 2 ½ years ago by ourselves and did it on a small budget. It was the first real thing that had come out of the band and surprisingly, most people around us locally still know us by that album!
What was the reason behind the band’s name change? Were there other changes that were happening at that time?
I think the name change was a culmination of the last 2 years. We all felt that since we had a new vision for our music and lives, a name change was appropriate. We had never really been sold on the Paper Rings name, and we eventually decided that if God put a new name on our hearts then we would go ahead and change it. The name Kye Kye came up during our time in the studio recording “Young Love”. It was really kind of unexpected, but once we heard the name we all just fell in love with it and knew that it was the banner we needed for our music.
Our thought process for the change was that it had to represent what was going on inside of us. It’s mostly strangers from around the world who get to peer into our lives, into who we are, what we think, and how we express that through the words that we write. We believe that Christ lives inside of us, so we want people to see and hear Christ through us; it is no longer we that live but Christ who lives in us (reference to Galatians 2).
With that in mind, “Kye” is our phonetic spelling of the word “Chi,” which is part of a Greek symbol the early church used that represented Christ. And we just say it twice for emphasis. Christ is who we want the world to see, whether we are on stage, on your radio, or in your iPod, or if we get to interact with you on a personal level.
My first encounter with you included that personal interaction – your music and your live shows carry real conviction. What is it that you want to convey to listeners?
More than anything, we want to convey the truth of who God is and who we are through Christ. We must shed light on wrong ideas that make it hard for us to love God. Sometimes the questions and answers are so messy that no one wants to talk about them or try to answer them, which isn’t a solution. We have to dig for the answers to questions like “if God is love, then why is there pain?”; “Does God allow this cancer?”; “Was this accident orchestrated by God to bring me closer to him ?”; or even, “What’s the difference between the old covenant and new?”.
These questions all touch on who God really is which is why its important that we find answers to them in the book that tells us all about him, not mans opinion about Him, not even a preacher’s opinion, but the Bible’s truth. If we don’t do this, they’ll end up being answered (poorly) by the world.
We believe all of this is extremely important because if our beliefs are incorrect it limits the intimacy that you could have with God, which is sad, considering the whole purpose of life is to know Him. This isn’t just relevant to people who call themselves Christians but I also think that there are many unbelievers who are kept in that state due to these same misrepresentations!
What ideas do you try to communicate in your music?
I think that one thing that we have realized in music and life for that matter is that you cannot give what you do not have. We are trying to communicate a real experience of God’s love that we have experienced, are experiencing, and will experience. Our music portrays God’s overwhelming love for us and how it has been affecting our lives. It has impacted us so much that we want to pass on this love to everyone who has ears to hear.
Our lyrics and words are tangible because they are something that we experience everyday and is more real to us than anything else on this earth. We want our musical sound to be something unique and refreshing to the music scene and something that takes our current musical culture and gives it something that listeners have been seeking out: music that melodic and listenable, yet contains depth and realness.
To be a little more specific, the main theme of the entire album “Young Love” is based on chapter 6 of Romans and Proverbs 23:7; the death of our old spirit, the birth our new spirit, and the renewal of our minds to who this new creation is.
Stylistically, Kye Kye plays a genre that’s definitely not a typical sound for the ‘Christian music industry’ Is it freeing to be out of the box?
Yes! We definitely want our music to apply to all people. While our words and lyrics are about God and our relationship with him, this does not limit who can listen or appreciate our music. We play to both the secular, mainstream crowd and secular venues and that is what we want. We are not about singling out certain groups of people, because that is not what our mission is. Our mission is give everyone what has been freely given to us from our Father. We have seen great reactions throughout the Christian industry as well as in the secular crowds and we love that all people find value and enjoyment in our music.
What kinds of venues do you find you have your best shows/memorable moments?
All kinds of venues that we go to are memorable. We really see the most memorable shows being with the people that we can really be down to earth with. We want our shows to be a personal experience, and when we can really connect with the crowds, talk to people individually, pray with people, and just be intimate; we find these shows affect the fans the most, and we ourselves take the most away from these types of shows. We really aspire to have personable and touching shows no matter the venue size.
What is your genre?
We definitely have that electronic feel to our music. It is apparent hearing all the synths, electronic drums mixed with real drums, spacey guitar, and soft melodic vocals that many people place us into electro category. We are not category-specific in that we do not want to limit where we place ourselves, but really want a listener to put us into his or her own category. We have really found that nearly all listeners can appreciate our music, from the hipsters down the street, to the grandparents at church. We love our sound and our feel to our music and really appreciate all the genres that we have been placed in by listeners.
Do you expect to continue experimenting with genres? What about instrumentation?
Our sound will always be growing. We love the sound that we have grasped with Young Love, however, we are already working with new sounds that we really want to explore on our next record.
You’re all family here, in one way or another! Let’s talk a bit about that.
Tim is the old goose (laughs), Alex is youngest and I’m (Olga) third to last. Alex and I were closest in age so I have most of my childhood memories with him. Tim and I got a lot closer a little later in my late teen years.
I think our whole family is a bit musically/artistically inclined. our grandpa wrote poetry, my parents wrote songs for church and actually tracked a record in there native language. Tim played the violin since an early age but when he started writing music it was really intriguing to me . . . I was like, “Wow, my brother is cool!” (laughs) So I think a lot of the motivation behind my music writing was Tim and wanting to impress him! I basically started picking up the guitar without really telling him for a while. Then one day I built up the courage to show him a song I had written and he was quite impressed!
What brought you to perform together, and then how did you go about inviting others into the process?
What are some of the biggest life lessons and faith lessons you have learned? How have these impacted your songwriting and musicianship?
One of the biggest faith lessons that we have learned is who God has truly made us to be. By spending time with God through Jesus and getting to know him by finding who he is and what he’s done, he has truly revealed who we are in the Spirit and what our actual purpose here on earth is.
I think that we have a tendency to think our calling is our purpose. A person ca get the idea that their whole life’s purpose is to save people through preaching the gospel, but one of the greatest truths that God has revealed to us is that this is not our purpose. Jesus reconciled us to God so that it could be like it was in the beginning. When Adam and Eve were created their purpose their original purpose was to relate to God, to talk to him, to know him – to live with him. I believe that this is also our purpose today. The reason I exist is to know God through Jesus, and I think that when you realize this and walk in this truth then spreading the gospel becomes a natural overflow of everything you do, whether music, business, or otherwise. I think this is why the early church spread like wildfire. It’s not about finding meaning and purpose to life in our activities (even if the activity is to save people) It is really about finding meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in knowing God.
This truth has changed our lives, and, as a result, changed how we write. With “Young Love”, our approach to writing has really been more about listening, getting to know who God is and expressing what we personally experience along the way. We try to convey something that is real to us, something that is tangible. This impact has allowed us to have firm belief in what we write and sing about.
What does the term ‘worship’ mean to you, and how would you define it?
We believe it’s all about how you relate to God. Jesus said that true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth. It is about approaching Him in the Spirit, which is where our new identity in Christ is. We seek to sing and write about our new spirit-man and who we are right now. When we open our mouth and sing these words we are approaching God with the truth about who we are and who he has made us. Worship is something that is not confined to a building, church, or cultural background; it is purely based on God’s spirit. And once we realize who our spirit is, we can then approach God and worship him in Spirit and in truth.
Let’s look ahead. What are the future aspirations for Kye Kye?
Our focus right now is on our live show, and how to best impact those who come, whether that be through the sound, lights, words, instruments, atmosphere, or whatever else. We want people to leave with a better understanding of who God is and why we all need him.
We are writing at every chance we get and we plan to release a few song remixes from “Young Love” at the beginning of next year. Our project in the works is a 6-song EP entitled “Body” which is going to be part of a 3-EP series in which the other two will be titled “Soul” and “Spirit” respectively.
Make sure you catch Kye Kye on tour if they’re anywhere near you.
Still I Rise [MorningStar Music]
Amber’s debut album, Still I Rise, is passionate, beautiful, and a cry of the heart for one and for many. One will find a love story in the lyrics; a love story about the pursuit of God, knowing not only that He will not disappoint, but that he has already been pursuing us.
The album’s sound is intense and beautiful. The lyrics communicate an experience with God’s overpowering love. The music boasts a rich diversity of sounds and styles. Piano, guitar and percussion are the staples of this album but Amber’s soaring voice is paired with much creatively textured instrumentation. Listeners of John Mark McMillan, Mute Math, and Misty Edwards may enjoy some of the musical similarities.
Loud driving moments feature the wailing guitars and crashing cymbals that accompany the chorus of “Like You Promised”, the growing wall of sound that comes in like a tidal wave in “Branded”, and anthemic album closer “Heavenly Places”. Tight discordant harmonies segue into richer resolved ones as they accompany a farewell to unfulfilment in “To Whom It May Concern”. Intricate rhythm patterns fill “Hallelujah, Still I Rise” and “Vagabonds”.
Out of Amber’s aim to put words to the experience of God’s consuming love come lines like, “I don’t have all the right words to say / to provoke you to want me / any more than you already do” (“Like You Promised”) and “why are you begging him for mercy / when you could be rejoicing? / The love of a Father has brought you home” (Why Are You Weeping”). God is near, she reminds us, and his heart towards us does not grow cold because what we do or do not do. His heart is always set towards relationship and reunion.
I had the very special opportunity of interviewing Amber about this unique and powerful album:
Craig Ketchum: As I listen to the album, I’m hearing echoes of many different artists and styles. Tell me about some of the influences you have had in songwriting.
Amber Brooks: I grew up on a lot of different genres of music, from rock, to rap, to gospel, to classical. The list goes on. I love style and diversity. Anything from Radiohead to Ella Fitzgerald, you can hear glimpses of them and everything between somewhere on the album as far as sound is concerned. Lyrically, I’m wanting to learn how to say things the way they’ve never been said…but still make sense. I’m trying to learn to communicate things that make people think. Sometimes, we sing and say groups of words that roll off our tongues very quickly because we’re used to saying certain things a certain way. I want words to get their meat back. That’s a learning process for me, I’m getting there slowly. Philosophically and thematically, I was expressing my heart towards God and understanding His heart towards His kids. I might not always get it right, but like I said, I’m learning.
I hear the incorporation of different genres too. There’s some really gritty southern rock flowing through the album, but it’s interpolated with contemplative piano, folksy and country vibes, and such.
I went into making the album knowing that I wanted a lot of diversity, and I knew I would get it with who all played on the album. I always like to hear what people bring to the table based out of their own creative ability.
Did you open up your compositions to their creative play?
The producer, Elijah Mosely, and I just wanted to let the creative musician be themselves and interpret the sound the way they felt it. 9 times out of 10 it was absolutely incredible and added more personality to the song. It was honest and raw, which is the way music is supposed to sound.
Describe the preparation, rehearsal and recording process behind this, your debut album.
It all started with me sitting down with Elijah for a few days just hashing out my influences and getting acoustic cuts of each song. We basically treated it like a science project from there. Throwing away some sections of songs and moving things around; writing lines that make you think and so forth. The songs were already breathing but a lot of the album arrangements were built organically. The recording process was meticulous, which I appreciate in the long run. We would literally spend hours on sections of a song that ended up lasting 30 seconds or less. I had been in a studio before doing backing vocals for other artists, but I never realized how complex making a studio album could be.
What instruments do you play and what do you like about each? What do you compose on?
I play piano and acoustic guitar. I pretend to know how to play other things but those are my main instruments. I mainly compose on guitar, I’ve been playing guitar for about 6 years and I’ve never had lessons. I just play out what I hear in my head. I enjoy playing piano much more. It’s my “happy place”. I could get lost sitting at a piano for hours just making up little things and learning classical songs by ear. I remember being 2 years old and beating on a piano and screaming at the top of my little lungs having the time of my life. Nothing has changed really.
The album is a really interesting collection, renditions of hymns, parables…could you speak to its themes and content?
Essentially, the album is a compound of 2 years of my life. 2 years of living is a lot of experiences that can seem to last a while. Out of those experiences came a song. The songs weren’t meant to be thematic in nature, it’s just where I was in my walk with the Lord at the time.
What have been some of the most significant teachings or revelations that have shaped you as a worship leader (and thus shaped this album)?
Amber: I think the most amazing thing that was taught to me as an artist was “write like yourself, sound like yourself, create like yourself and don’t be afraid to be honest about it” When we start to walk in the slightest glimpse of who God created us to be, that in itself is worship. It’s not just the 3 or 4 songs we might sing on Sunday morning before the offering is taken up. What I do when I lead worship (as it is with every worshipper) is a direct result of my relationship with the Lord. It’s honest, it’s raw, it’s vulnerable, it’s beautifully terrifying, it can be wild; but that’s what Love does to people. We are individuals for a purpose. We all interpret things differently, and that’s okay. God loves diversity; if He didn’t, we’d all be robots.
What do you hope this album brings to its listeners?
The title itself hopefully encapsulated the mood of the album. It’s about the overcomer. Overcoming fear, heartache, disappointment, false responsibilities, loss, fear of failure, thru knowing God’s heart for His children, not only as a whole but individually. The attitude of “circumstances won’t shut my voice down from loving the Lord”. My hope for the album the whole time was and is intended to bring hope itself. Encouraging people that life is going to be life and sometimes it’s not fair and sometimes we won’t understand everything; but God’s love is bigger than our understanding. His love is bigger than any circumstances and the whole time we are walking out our relationship with the Lord and learning how to love more, He is cheering us on the whole way, even when we mess up…no…especially when we mess up.
What do the words “worship” and “worship arts” mean to you?
Worship is a loaded word in my opinion. It’s complete adoration to something that you put your faith, hope and trust in. It’s not just an outward expression; it’s a posture of your heart, mind and emotions towards a God that we don’t always understand. Worship is loving and trusting God when it’s hard to. Worship is believing and honoring God when it feels hard. Worship is adoration. Like I said before, it’s not always music and it’s not an experience in a moment. It all boils down to recklessly messy love for God in who He is. Worship Arts is individual expressions of that.
You are a graduate of MorningStar University. What has it opened you up to?
MorningStar was literally life changing. It taught me how to search the deep things of God out for myself in a safe place and encourage me to step out into giftings and experiences that I never thought I would have. Worship leading is a prime example of that. Since I was 13 years old, I was always a back up singer. When I came to MorningStar, I decided I’d audition for back up singing, since that was what I always did; and Leonard Jones (the worship leader) saw potential in me, and encouraged me to dive a little deeper in writing and music. And I’ve continued to grow ever since. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me, an album being one of them as well as ministry trips and being on GodTV. I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to share my heart towards God with the masses. It’s very humbling.