SAWM: So, tell us all about Kris Singh.
KRIS: Well, I grew up in The Salvation Army. I was born in Fiji and I came to New Zealand
when I was just a baby. I was part of the Army growing up. I was a Junior Soldier, I went
to Corps Cadets and did all of those things. My introduction to music was through the
band, as it normally is for Army kids. I took cornet lessons, and then moved on to horn
when I figured out I couldn’t play the cornet line, then I moved all over the band. I ended
up on euphonium where I found my niche.
The first part of my wider Army journey was with bands. I was in the National Youth Band,
moving around between euphonium and percussion. At one of our camps, I felt a real call
to lead worship. I had never done it before, and it was one of those moments that you
can’t really ignore. I just felt like this is really what I should be doing. So I just took that and
ran with it. I picked up a guitar. I had been learning drums in high school, but never had
picked up a guitar. I started there and learned a few chords, and it ended up that I was leading worship the next year at an Easter Camp. I was just thrown in, it’s kind of how we do it here, you get thrown in and you learn in a “trial by fire” kind of way. I am sure it was pretty average but I gave it my best shot and I have been refining that craft ever since. I lead at my own corps on a Sunday. I train worship leaders. I lead teams when I am given the opportunity. I am passionate about advocating, not just for worship leaders, but for the creative arts in general.
Well, actually, not creative arts but for creativity in general. I feel like it is a significant pillar to a lot of the things we do as a church. I feel like there is this myth that “I am not a creative person” and that is something I am passionate about dispelling because I believe that everyone has something in them that is creative. So, that is a bit of my passion and what drives me. I’m a bit of a self-learner so all of the skills I have picked up over time have been from self-pursued learning.
I have ended up here at the Creative Ministries Department which was a bit of a journey but I have been here for four years. My title is Creative Resource Developer which gives me a wide scope to pursue what I feel the territory, or the people connected to us, could use.
SAWM: Is Bearers part of your role?
KRIS: Yes. As part of that scope in my role, I felt a few years ago that what was missing from The Salvation Amy musically is that we were not writing our own songs anymore. We aren’t singing our own theology, we’re singing other church’s and we aren’t singing our own story. I just thought that we have so many stories to share and so many voices to hear. So, I am really passionate about developing song writers, new songs and new forms of creative expression.
I felt that call around 2016 and Bearers came out of that as a way of kick-starting that songwriting revolution.
SAWM: So what is Bearers? What is the mission for Bearers?
KRIS: I would call Bearers a worship expression. It initially was a way for our young people to express themselves creatively. It was a creative platform targeted at young people that came out of our creative arts camp called Amplify. We run a song writing minor at the camp and there had been some really cool stuff that came out of that in the past that had just disappeared. You know it happens at camp and then it goes away. And I felt it was a real shame that we didn’t get the chance to produce these or record them and then get them heard. So, the first EP that we recorded in 2016 featured a song from Amplify. It was also a way for me to highlight talent that I had seen, whether it be vocalists, instrumentalists or artists. This EP gave us a chance to say “this is who we are, and this is what is important to us.” It all started from Amplify camp.
SAWM: So it’s not a set band or line up, but more of a collective group effort?
KRIS: Yeah, I hesitate to call it a movement because that sounds really pretentious. I would say it is more of a platform and an idea. It’s even a brand almost, it could be anything really. I don’t see Bearers being just a musical thing so I haven’t gotten there yet. The musical expression is what we have been focusing on at the moment but I would love to see art, design, and drama that carries that Bearers iconography and ethos. But I am only one guy and my skill set is music so I have been focusing on that as we begin.
We are letting it be whatever it needs to be, which is part of Bearers’ ethos. It’s not just one thing, like a band, or fixed in time, that can only be one genre. I believe genre is fluid and what is popular changes. I don’t want to be doing electronic music in five years if no one is listening to it. Tastes are fickle in youth culture especially. Attention spans are shorter and shorter so it is really important that we keep it... I’m not going to use the word but it starts with the letter “r”. We need to keep things in the forefront of what is current. And not just because we want to be new and what is best, but for the reason of what is someone who doesn’t know Jesus in 2019 going to connect with?
SAWM: That is really great. So it is more about designing a way for people to create out of the overflow and passion of God in their lives rather than a static idea. You can chop and change the artists you involve. You mentioned that tastes are fickle. How does electronic music fit into a New Zealand cultural context for you and for worship?
KRIS: I don’t think the genre really matters actually. It is more about influence and who has influence currently, as well as putting out music that is influencing people. The king of Christian Pop at the moment is Hillsong Young and Free and they have held that mantle for a few years now. People gravitate towards stuff that’s popular so I want to inject Bearers in there. I want people to think “what is a really good opening song for our youth conference or a camp like Amplify?” I want people to think “well, the Army has got one that we could use” rather than singing someone else’s song again. People often forget that Young and Free is a really intimate, integrated part of Hillsong’s
youth ministry and they are singing their stories and their songs. I want us to sing our stories and our songs. So in terms of integrating that into worship here, if people use the songs, it’s all good, and if they don’t, then that’s all good too. But in terms of having the songs there in the first place as an option so we can say “you can sing our songs this way,” that is what is really important to me.
SAWM: So, if Classical and Baroque music made a huge comeback, is that what Bearers would be into?
KRIS: Absolutely. In 2016, I pulled up the ten most popular songs on CCLI and listened to all the artists that were doing electronic music and tried to chase that sound. I have been slowly trying to chase what is popular unashamedly. You’re right. If it was Classical and Baroque music tomorrow, we would have to go there.
SAWM: Electronic music is pretty different to most music you would hear in The Salvation Army. How did you get into it?
KRIS: I have always had in interest in production. I remember plugging my guitar into my computer and seeing what kind of sounds I could get. So, I have slowly just been gathering information about recording, mixing and producing. I have produced both albums we have done and it is a process of experimenting but you have to put in hard graft to get where you go. It was probably again in 2016 when I had the idea that I was going to have to learn how to do this EDM (Electronic Dance Music) genre. I cut my teeth on Metallica and was a bit of a metal head, so it was way out of my genre. When Young and Free got really popular, that is when people were starting to produce lots of resources for synthesizer and I got a copy of MainStage by Apple. Honestly, that opened up a world of sound
design. Those sorts of programs have made it really easy for people to jump into this type of sound production. Especially with the rise of Christian EDM and Christian Pop music, there are tons of resources out there now for people. You can download sounds and patches. It’s less about creating the tool now and more about learning how to use the tool. You can create a synth sound and just start layering things up and as you get deeper into how a synth or a DAW (digital audio workspace) work, you can then start opening up your creativity. As a starting point, EDM and electronic music are really accessible. That might change but that is how I jumped into this world. It would have been really difficult to just pick up a synth and start, but having the backing of where Christian music was going at the time made it a lot easier.
SAWM: And you said that it was culturally appropriate in youth culture in worship at that time.
KRIS: Yeah, and even in the top 40 hits, or just the type of sounds people are listening to. I’m a firm believer that you have got to learn the rules before you can break them. So, you have to be able to be good at a genre before you can be creative within it. If you pioneer without knowing what you are doing, you may well not be able to do it again. So, I’d listen to the top 40 and try and listen to what was popular across the territory, which is a little bit different from New Zealand to Fiji and Tonga or Samoa, and then go after that.
SAWM: You have said that you are unashamedly chasing a sound that is popular. Do you think that there is a point with Bearers that you would say, “this is the boundary we are going to push. This is where we are going to pioneer.”
KRIS: Yeah, that is an interesting question. I think that is a bit of where we are heading now. We have a single coming out and I think the sound of Bearers is starting to become more defined. I think the needle started to swing that way when we released our album (Home). That was a bit of a risk in that I designed it not so much to be something that you would play in a service but something you would listen to with your headphones in bed at night or in the car as you drive. It was designed to be more of a listening piece and the natural progression of that is that we can open up the musical ideas a bit more.
For example, we could open up the vocal line to be more than five steps of each other. We could kind of show off, not in a prideful way, but showcase our talent and musically open up our creativity. So, the needle started to swing that way in the album and now I feel like it is going further in the direction of figuring out what Bearers sounds like now. I feel like the heart of it is still the same in that we need to be working towards a sound that works for casual listeners, something that is accessible and easy. But the production of our music has swung more towards guitars, and the synths are just a layer. They were very prominent on the EP and the album. I have this picture in my head of kids trying to jam out to these songs and what they need in order to do that. Well, there is a drum part, a guitar part, a bass part and one keyboard part. So we have built this single around kids being able to jam out at our camp or in their garage. We are definitely looking at the balance between whether Bearers’ sound is more of an artistic impression rather than just a resource. Finding the balance between “does everyone need to be able to play this?” or “is this something they can listen to and just enjoy?” is what we are after.
SAWM: Well, worship experiences outside of corporate or church worship service times are important.
KRIS: Absolutely. I like to think of the great band pieces where the local corps band may not have had the chance to play something like The Kingdom Triumphant, for example. That is one of my favourite band pieces because it is so beautiful and poetic. Imagine if someone had told Eric Ball “well, actually this piece is too complex, can you make it more simple?”
The world would have missed out on this beautiful piece of music. So, I don’t think everything necessarily needs to be accessible to everyone all of the time. Sometimes art is mysterious and asks us to wrestle with it, and that has been influencing where Bearers has gone. Asking ourselves, can people just listen to this? Do they have to be able to play it? It’s okay to just enjoy something and worship that way. Some of the most intimate times of worship I have experienced have been while I was just wearing headphones and listening by myself rather than in a room with others, participating in corporate worship.
SAWM: It sounds like you have some great and exciting opportunities. You said you have a new single coming out. What’s the heart behind what you are doing there and going forward?
KRIS: I have just finished the last 1% of the mix and it should be done soon. It’s called Defined. I have been thinking about the album and an album format. We released nine songs on the album called Home, but the reality of how people consume music now is that they don’t listen to albums. So, we decided to pull back to just one song and make that really good. Combining the idea of being able to play it, adding the challenge of having parts that you wouldn’t just get from a chord chart that you would really have to dig into, and then making it something we can sing, were really important factors. I wanted it to be used at Amplify so that was important. It is just a fun song, no huge ethos behind it. We are just trying hard to strike the balance between corporate worship and listening worship.
SAWM: Is it hard to strike that balance?
KRIS: Yeah, I don’t think that every worship band will be able to play it. There is a bit of production value that will scare some people away, but we have recorded a full production version and an acoustic version. This way, people can see that it is still just a four chord song, like all of the other songs, and here is what it sounds like with two acoustic guitars.