Exclusive Interview with Mars Hill rock band - Citizens
Our team member, Mathew Reames, recently had the opportunity to interview Zach Bolen, leader of Citizens - a high energy indie rock band from Mars Hill U-District. (Mars Hill Church is led by Pastor Mark Driscoll.)
Mathew: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. I have heard your album and really enjoy it. I love that it is different and has a sound that is uniquely your own. How did you find this sound and decide it was how you wanted to define your band?
Zach: It kind of just happened. Everyone in the band came in with a ton of different influences and thankfully they knew what sounded good. So really the challenge was saying no to a lot of the guys’ ideas. From the beginning I wanted to write and arrange songs that were like war anthems. As soon as the band had that vision it was pretty easy for them to help craft a sound that supported that idea.
Mathew: Since you lead worship actively in your church, how does that affect your songwriting process?
Zach: Tremendously. I constantly have the congregation in mind when writing for two reasons. The first, I want to write songs that are true to what the word declares. Music is one of the most common things that people would say they use to connect with God. That’s not to say that’s it’s the only way, but music is so accessible and when you combine that with great theology it becomes a really solid way to instill gospel truths into the hearts of your congregation.
The second one is the melody. A lot of times I’m thinking, ‘Would men be able to sing this?’ Not, would they be willing, but able. A lot of men in the church don’t sing, and this is a huge issue of leadership. The Word is clear in its command (Psalm 47) for ALL people to shout loud songs of joy. When I write I want the song to involve the whole body, not just people who “love” to sing.
Mathew: One of the songs that I really liked off of the new album was “Hail the King.” It really has a great anthem-like feel to the chorus. What is the story behind the song?
Zach: “Hail the King” went through the ringer before we got to where it is. From the beginning I knew I wanted it to be based out of Romans 5, but I really struggled with what direction musically to take it in. You see in Romans 5 everything from justification, to suffering and how that produces hope and just flat out rejoicing over the glory of God.
As much as I could, I really wanted this song to tie as closely to the passage as possible. As soon as we landed on the hook, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God,” (Romans 5:2) it became super easy to know which direction to take the song. From there we chose to really focus on justification and being made right with God and how, through the work of Jesus, we receive a hope that is everlasting...one that we can find great joy in; even sing about.
Mathew: I know you lead worship at Mars Hill’s U-District Campus. However, several of the songs on the album are not what would traditionally be considered congregational. As a team that regularly leads worship, how did you balance the desire to write worship that engages the community, and worship that engages individually?
Zach: You know, when the entire record was finished I viewed the album in a very similar way. But as we started leading the congregation with the songs I was blown away by how much they connected with them immediately. Each song on the album certainly wouldn’t fit every context but depending on where you are located, it wouldn’t be out of the question for a worship leader to find a purpose for any one of the songs. This album was written to serve the local church, not just a subculture that likes a particular style of music.
Before we started working on the record we prayed that the Holy Spirit would do things in us that we had never done before. So what I boast in is not our work, but what God has done. “Oh God” would be an example of a song that I never really intended to be congregational, but some people heard it and really connected with it, and so we started using the song in our rotation and God really used that to minister to people. Even the songs that seem very focused on the individual can have a place in the congregational setting I suppose.
Mathew: Mars Hill is a large church with many campuses and different staff involved at each campus. As leaders at the U-District campus, are you actively connected and involved with other campuses, or is your worship ministry specifically targeted only on U-District?
Zach: Most of our churches have a variety bands, who specifically focus on the local church where God has called them to be on mission. With that being said, there is a great community amongst all the churches. It is not uncommon for bands to swap churches for a weekend and lead a different congregation.
Because each church is uniquely located in its own region, everyone’s context varies. So that’s why you hear a lot of different styles of music coming from Mars Hill, that’s not because we all want to be different, but because we are all on mission in different parts of the city or West Coast, and each context may call for something a little different, or a variety of different styles for that matter. All that being said, what we know is that the only way we can successfully lead our churches, is if we are committed to the local mission.
Mathew: With so many campuses, worship teams, and creative people, how has the collective community of Mars Hill helped to shape your music, ministry, and more importantly, your walk with Christ.
Zach: Daily I am blown away by the talent that God has brought to Mars Hill. In comparison to a lot of the other worship leaders at Mars Hill, I’m really one of the new guys. So I’m constantly learning from the guys who have been around a lot longer on how to best lead the congregation. All of the guys I serve with love Jesus, and are committed to making the worship of Jesus the main thing, not creativity. I think because that is the focus, it’s the reason so many great originals and arrangements have come out of the other worship leaders at Mars Hill.
When we put our ego to the side and realize that we can’t make Gospel Truth better than it already is, we have a better understanding of our place as heralds of the Gospel. This has been a huge area of growth for me over the past few years. I’m really thankful for the community of leaders that we have that are willing to ask hard questions because they want the same done for them. This allows us to sharpen one another and continually grow not only in our walk with Jesus but our faithfulness as leaders in the church.
Mathew: One final question, many of our readers are worship leaders and songwriters themselves. Do you have any specific things you would like to share with them?
Zach: I’ll leave you with something I tell our worship leaders at the U-District all the time and it’s something I would challenge you to share with even the musicians on your worship teams.
It’s this: We are in a war, with an advantage that no one in battle has ever had. We know the outcome, and it’s total victory. Imagine if you were a soldier in a war that had been lasting for years. Many times you thought it would never end and even began to lose hope. Until one day the General comes up to you and says, “You see that city over there? I want you to go tell all of them that the WAR IS OVER! We’ve WON and I, (the General) have just defeated the enemy!”
Your next move would certainly not be to casually walk through streets and tell people, “No!” You would be running up to everyone you could find, banging on doors, and telling people the war is over and we have victory, all the while, calling people to join you in the celebration!
Every Sunday is a rallying of the troops (Psalm 47). Your job as a worship leader is to remind people of the incredible hope that we have in Christ Jesus and it’s a hope that we can cling to for our entire lives. That’s the gospel, and the gospel is the only thing that can truly motivate anyone for good, and it’s something we as God’s people need to be reminded of constantly.
Every gathering should be a celebration of Jesus, no matter the pain, suffering, loss or devastation, our call to declare the riches of the grace of God does not change. In fact, it increases.
Mathew: Once again thanks so much for joining us. It is an honor to get this chance to hear your heart and your vision.Comment on Facebook Comment on Twitter
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