You may want to double-check the name on the cover as Elevation dives deep into new territory on their latest release Graves Into Gardens. We sat down with Chris Brown who is one of the main worship leaders for Elevation to talk about how the album reflects the growth of their church and why its eclectic nature represents their congregation better than ever before.
WLM: The album was pretty shocking in many ways. First off, I want to talk with you about the sound, because there is not a synthesizer in sight. What happened? It sounds so much more rootsy and stripped down.
Chris Brown: (Laughs) Well they’re in there. They’re buried, but you know they’re in there.
WLM: Seems you can’t make modern music without it
Chris Brown: That’s so funny. You know what I really love about this album is that it feels authentic to who we are as a church and that is kind of eclectic. It’s not always been that way. Through the years it’s grown wider and more diverse just culturally. Then, of course, you get a whole bunch of people who are just coming to know the Lord and a bunch of people who have grown up in such a diversity of church backgrounds. So I think some of it has to do with the eclectic passionate worshipers who latch on to a certain style and respond. Then we kind of lean into that, whether that be in how we are writing or in the shape of the production.
WLM: Since you guys are such an intentional group of people, is that a decision that is made by leadership to explore those different sounds or is it more organic than that?
Chris: I don’t know if it’s that calculated. I will say about a year ago is when we wrote Never Lost. When we wrote it, it felt like we uncorked something in terms of our approach in writing. Really what it was, without any planning we just got together on a day in June, which is unlike our typical flow. We just said, “Hey do you want to write,” whereas we typically flow into writing by prepping into a week of it. We just went into the studio that day and asked ourselves, “What do we actually want to write, If we were not writing for a box but just wanted to have fun.” We thought let’s just do that and the worst-case scenario is we just have a fun time today.
I think when Pastor Steven, who was there as a central part of writing our songs, threw out the minor 5 chord in the chorus, I will say that it would not have been a box we would have opened in previous years. For one, he would have been insecure to throw it out in the past because maybe it would have seemed that it’s just not us, whatever that is. But how we went into the day just allowed it to happen.
A couple months later we went in to write with Brandon Lake and wrote My Testimony and Graves the same day. I had been listening to a lot of Springsteen leading up to that. So we came into the day with that in our bloodstream.
WLM: I can totally hear that.
Chris: It’s been less calculated in terms of a methodology standpoint and way more about what we like writing. There’s A King the production on it you can probably hear Justin Vernon and Bon Iver stuff clearly through it. We had just gone to see him in October and I’m a big fan, so that was right when we were jumping into production in November. Rattle was similar, we are cooped up in quarantine and it feels like we are on a rollercoaster of emotions and that one just came out like we were 14 years old again in a garage with a trash drum set and singing through a microphone through a guitar amp because we didn’t have a good set up. It became whatever we are feeling, let’s just chase that and our church has responded and it has felt authentic.
WLM: Do you feel pressure to “be elevation” in any way to your church or the world?
Chris: I don’t feel pressure sonically or musically speaking. I feel so privileged and blessed to be here and our church is along for the ride for whatever man. They just like to worship. That sounds quite cliché but that’s really the truth. They will let you know if they are not feeling a certain song, but man if there is passion behind it, if there is authenticity in the way it was either written or in the way we lead it, they are all in.
Stylistically it’s way less of a thing for our church to try and fit in a lane, especially anymore as we’ve evolved as a ministry. You can go through the R&B pop thing of Never Lost to this Stone Temple Pilots thing in Rattle, rootsy for other ones and even straight-up gospel.
WLM: For people that are listening to this album what would your advice be to catch the heart of it in order to take to their local church?
Chris: The album as a whole, I would say, for starters is that I feel like God orchestrated this album to be released during this time, even by the title of the album Graves into Gardens
WLM: Which is pretty bold as people are pretty afraid of death and it’s right on the cover.
Chris: When we started work on it in November we knew it was going to be the title and actually we’ve never been in the position where we had the name and the artwork before we recorded. But we felt so strongly, not only about the title but the messaging of that particular song and theme. Yeah with the artwork, if anything I feel like the entire messaging of this album helps us see that there is a different lens for us to see things through. We have two different perspectives we can have. In this pandemic, we can maintain an earthly perspective of dry bones but the other way to view this time, even with all the real and awful things that can come along with, the kingdom perspective we don’t see an army of dry bones we see an army that is having breath put in them and flesh put on them. An army ready for marching orders. One perspective is to see no way through a sea that is in front of you and the kingdom perspective is to see the wide path to walk through.
Even before the COVID stuff we had already put our messaging around this album to be in the resurrection power of all our dreams are our hopes and all the promises that we have in God and to be reminded that whatever season we are in God is able to more than what we could ask or think in present situation and future. Our hope for the album before march ever rolled around we wanted this album to bring about a different lens and to believe again the dreams God has given them. It might look like death right now, your situation, and that’s the truth. A lot of people, not necessarily physically speaking, but most people are dealing with the death of expectations. They’re not getting to graduate from high school, not getting to going to prom, not getting the wedding they thought they’d have, there’s the death of so many things. My wife and I are celebrating 15 years of marriage and so we had dinner on the porch.
WLM: Talk to us about your single, Rattle. It seems like it was written for Easter.
Chris: Yes it was the last song written for the album. But I think it applies to this period of time as we are trying to figure out this in-between time of how life is not what it used to be but we don’t yet know what things are going to be like. But that is where faith is born of course. We’re not in Egypt anymore and we are not yet in Canaan. But I think this song is anchored in having to dig deep for our faith. What we can stand on is we’ve seen the resurrection from the other side. So we know how things are turning out. But yes sometimes things feel like they are buried like everything we’ve just mentioned, expectations and so on. But this is where we bring in faith into our worship. I hope this song is one that stirs an Ezekiel expectation in people. One of the greatest things we have as believers is our testimony, what God has done for us, and that gives us the faith to then prophecy in faith that I am going to see the light of day again. I am going to live again, these dreams will surface and live again. The resurrection isn’t just a one-time thing that happened 2000 years ago, Jesus is resurrection. Hopefully, this song stirs up this prophetic faith to begin to preach to yourself and to your spirit when you lack hope.
That chorus, in particular, I think it was just this idea of, man just ball up your fist and get so convinced and convicted about what you’re saying that I’m not going to stay stuck in this spiral of depression of watching the news, I’m not stay stuck in this dark place in my mind but come out of your mind and let your spirit take over and hear what God has already spoken over from a promise standpoint and let’s shout this together.
WLM: This is such a powerful song but I know someone is going to ask, “This the sound of dry bones rattling” that does that specifically mean cause it is kind of ‘artsy’.
Chris: Yep, for sure. It’s not the sound of the song but the sound of our faith. It’s the people of God not staying shut up in their praise and not staying quiet about their worship. Believing for more and just releasing a sound of faith of praise. That’s the sound, it is God’s people seeing the church live.
WLM: Last question is what is your favorite song or which one you would recommend to worship leaders?
Chris: I think My Testimony is going to be a helpful song for many churches. I think it can easily be done with just an acoustic or piano but the messaging is really simple and clear. I think The Blessing is one that is going to connect with a lot of people. Graves Into Gardens is my favorite on the album.