Provident Label Group pop/rock/CCM/worship artist I Am They released their debut self titled album on January 27th! Full of heartfelt, poignant, emotional and impacting worship anthems, as well as ballads, this album is one of the most musically and lyrically impressive albums of 2015! I had the privilege of interviewing lead singers Adam Palmer, Matthew Hein and Stephanie Kulla via email recently, about the new album. We discussed the album, which songs mean the most to them, what they hope listeners will experience when hearing the new songs, as well as the band’s goals and dreams for the year ahead. Check out the interview below.
- Your first label self-titled album on Provident Label Group releases on January 27th 2015; describe how the recording process with producers Jason Ingram and Jonathan Smith? What is the one thing that you hope listeners can gain when they hear it?
Adam: Well, once we landed on the final track listing with Jonathan, Jason, our managers, and Blaine Barcus (our A&R from the label), Matt, Steff, and myself (Adam) flew in to Nashville a week before the rest of the band flew in for a week of preproduction. That basically meant recording scratch guitars and vocals as “reference tracks” for the bass and drums to play along with to record to. We recorded most of the album (apart from vocals) at a studio in East Nashville called Yackland Studios. First the drums were captured to get some foundation in place, then bass.
Next, I think Bobby recorded trumpet for (I believe) ‘King of Love’ and maybe even ‘We Are Yours’. After that, we spent time working on keys, synths, Rhodes, and organs with Justin. Then, from there we went through and did the guitars, mandolins, banjos, dobros, and whatever else for the remainder of the week. When we were tracking the instruments at Yackland, Matt and I would just pick up random instruments we found laying around and end up tracking parts with them. That’s how the banjitar riffs on ‘From the Day’ and the mandolin and banjo parts on ‘We Are Yours’ came about. I also had a blast recording the guitar part for ‘Here’s my Heart’, because I was so stoked on the tones Stephen Leiweke, our recording engineer, was able to get with just the stereo mic setup. Fun fact: there are barely any electric guitars on the album. In fact, I think the only ones that exist are on ‘Over and Over Again’ (which was played by our studio engineer extraordinaire, Stephen Leiweke), King of Love (played by Stu G. of Delirious and One Sonic Society fame), and ‘Make a Way’ (played by Chris LaCorte, who used to play with Chris August and currently with Dustin Lynch).
We wanted the album to be as organic as possible, so the electrics were included just as a textural and supplemental elements to add to the overall production. Finally, we ended off at a different studio for myself, Matt, and Steff to track vocals for a solid week. Some songs moved along faster than others, but all were memorable. Some of my favorite memories were when we did group vocals for ‘We Are Yours’, ‘From the Day’, and ‘Awake My Love’. It was just so cool to have friends and family their to sing along and clap and provide warmth and energy to those tracks. All and all, it was super fun and memorable for us and Jonathan and Jason were amazing to work with.
- Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you all became Christians? How did the 6 of you form as a band? Can you tell us about how you came to sign with Provident Label Group?
Matt: Actually, the band I Am They wasn’t ever intended to be a ‘band’ – traveling, performing, writing and singing our own music. Our story began Oct 31, 2008 when me and Adam (who had started writing and playing guitars together since we were introduced by a mutual friend in August 2004) were asked to play a mini-concert at our church – playing originals we had written (mostly secular pop-jazz, acoustiky lovesong type stuff). Instead of playing our own songs, we decided to reach out to some of the local churches to pull together enough bandmates to host a night of worship for the community.
This first event – intended to be a one-time thing that Halloween night, was given the name “A Hallowed Eve.” The band consisted of 6 members from 5 different churches. It was so well received, that we asked those in attendance if they would want to do another …and so we did – and so began the ministry, which came to be known as “Solomon’s Porch.” These nights, consisting of two to three hours of our favorite worship songs (covers – no originals) continued and the draw extended over time. Churches from all around seemed responsive to uniting by song. A local promoter, Jon Velasquez, heard the buzz and asked if Solomon’s Porch band wanted to open for this cool guy by the name of Matthew West. We were shocked by the opportunity, and figured we better write some songs of our own! In January of 2011, ‘Solomon’s Porch Band’ played their first local gig, which was well supported by both the community as well as Matthew West.
Our group found favor with Jon (the promoter) and was given the opportunity to open for about every big-name CCM act that came through town – Chris August, Big Daddy Weave, Brandon Heath, Citizen Way, The Afters, Etc. It was about this time that the band collectively settled on a new/actual band name – “I Am They” (although the ministry of Solomon’s Porch remains to this day and holds the same name). In July of 2011, Sara (who had since become our drummer) signed us up for an opportunity to play at a large Christian music festival in Monterey, California known as “Spirit West Coast (SWC).” We entered into the SWC “Partner & Play” competition, where each band performs before a panel of judges, and sells as many tickets as they can to bring fans to the festival. Coming in at a distant second place in the ticket sales, the band thought their chance at winning was over. So, we played our set of 6 or so originals, packed up, and went back to our hotel.
Later in the evening, I got a call from my wife, who had stayed at the event with the family. She said it had just been announced from Main Stage that, out of over 80 bands, I Am They was awarded first place! Our prize was $500 cash, a spot playing Main Stage the following year, and tracking a single in Nashville)! Again, we were completely taken off guard and fumbled around as we tried to process the reality of what we had just heard. The next few months were spent preparing and raising the rest of the money we would need to fly the six of us out to Tennessee. After choosing and tracking the song (which was called “Satellite”), the producer we were working with asked if he could “send the song to some of his friends.” Well, his ‘friends’ ended up being the five major record labels in Nashville! That same week, we took invitations from each of those Labels, performing with wide eyes and shaky knees. We played a handful of songs at each meeting – meetings which lead to courtships with three of those major Labels (Centricity/EMI Music Group, Word/Warner Bros, Provident/Sony). We were offered record deals by both Word and Provident in December of 2012. During the following months and years, we made some remarkable and lasting friendships in each Label group, but ultimately signed with the group we felt had best supported the ministry heart of the band. We couldn’t feel more blessed to have signed with such a great team – they are and have been like an extension of our band family from the get-go.
- Which song on the new album means the most to you? What was your favourite song to record? Can you tell us how these 10 songs came to be?
Matt: There is a song on the album called “Make A Way,” that probably tugs on my heart more than any other. My wife and I were married on September 3, 2011, right around the time God had begun opening doors to the band. The following year, in September of 2012, our son Micaiah was born. They are my world and mean more to me than anything. It has been the biggest faith-challenge of my life to let go of all my securities (my State job, benefits, insurance, retirement, etc.) and trust my family completely into the hand of Jesus. On top of that, to surrender time spent with my wife and son for the ‘sake of the call’ has left me feeling at times like I just can’t do it.
However, God has showed up in those moments – right there at the end of myself, reminding me of His faithfulness, His nearness, His love. Singing through the prayer of “Make A Way” bolsters my faith forward – “Wherever You lead me, I know You won’t leave me …You brought me this far, You will make a way.” It’s looking back on the perfect faithfulness of God that we find confidence for the journey ahead. – Matt
My favorite song to record must have been Awake My Love. The way the song came together was unruly. We were clearance shopping at T.J. Maxx in Nashville, when the chorus melody popped into my head. It felt like something I had maybe heard in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or something, but I couldn’t get it out of my head! The whole song felt so unique and unexpected for us, but was pieced together in such a fun way. From the guitar parts we tracked, to the group vocals (which included the band wives, our producer Jonathan Smith, as well as the VP of A&R at our record label – Blaine Barcus). It was a super fun song to record, and I think that shines through on the record.
- The album contains some of my favourite songs from 2015 so far, including “From The Day”, “King Of Love”, “Amen” and “Here’s My Heart”; what did the songs overall mean to you as you were recording it?
Stephanie: All of the songs on the album hold a special place and meaning for each of is individually and also collectively as a band! “From The Day” is one of those songs that actually grew on all of us over time I think. We were actually surprised when the label picked it to be our first single, but the more that we played it, and the more we realized how much in impacted people and how it drew the “Theys” even closer together through stories and testimonies, we fell in love with the song. Recording this song was especially fun because we got to do some group vocals that included the band wives and our awesome producer and A&R rep from the label.
“King of Love” is I want to say one of the “oldest” songs on the album, meaning we wrote it forever ago and have been playing it live for quite some time. I actually think that we have been playing that song even before we got signed. The band has always loved that song, how unique it is, how it takes us back to our roots of worship and how it is based off of an old hymn. I think this was a fun song to record because we were all so familiar with it, and we got to do some really fun and creative things in the studio.
“Amen” is a song that came out of a personal devotion time that I had on a writing trip, and it speaks to me very personally. When I recorded vocals for this song, it was one of the more surreal moments for me thinking “wow, this song is going to be on our album and it came from my devotion time with the Lord, holy smokes this is crazy!” This song was also really fun to record because it is the most “gangster” song we have! “Here’s My Heart” was really great to record because it totally allowed us to show where we started, in worship. We got to arrange the song and record very simple things that put together made for a very powerful song.
- How would you describe you musical sound as well as your lyrics, for those of you who are not familiar with your music and singing style? Personally I think you sound similar to Casting Crowns and Rend Collective musically and vocally- it’s cool that there are multiple vocalists- how did that idea come about?
Adam: I Am They is very much just a mixture of influence and necessity. We started as a multi-church worship ministry gathering that we put together (called Solomon’s Porch) that was comprised of 24-28 worship cover songs in 3 hour worship sets that Matt and myself (Adam) would hand transcribe all the music for.
Our goal was to replicate the original recordings exactly, so when there a song in the set that had a prominent part played on an instrument that we didn’t own or know how to play, we would buy that instrument and learn how to play it for that song. Being that we had a diverse set list each time, we would have some female led songs and some male led songs and so we would distribute them based off of who’s voice was most appropriate for that song, and we would try to split the night up with each of us leading 8 or 9 songs a piece.
When one of us wasn’t singing, we would sing harmonies to back the song’s lead vocalist up. Sometimes the lead role would even change throughout the song, as what best served the song. So I guess all of the above just found it’s way into how the 3 of us singers (Matt, Adam, Steff) write our songs. We trade off lead on individual songs, as well as verses, choruses, bridges, and even songs. We have some more unique instruments popping up in the songs because we feel most comfortable as an acoustic band. Matt and I have played guitar together for years, and so we know how to I guess compliment each other without stepping on one another’s toes.
Some of our biggest influences are Nickel Creek, Jon Foreman, Brooke Fraser, John Mayer, Punch Brothers, Chris Tomlin, and Allison Krause. Lyrically, we try to be as theologically accurate as possible, and pull many of our songs from stories, verses, and lessons from scripture, as well as try to write from our personal experiences in a way that’s relatable while remaining artistic.
- How did the self-titled album title come about?
Matt: We wanted the name and message of the band (“I Am They”) to be wholly in focus right out of the gate. That message is also the heart and ministry of the band – to be the “they” Jesus spoke of in John 17. We want our words, our actions, and our character to stand out and magnify Jesus. Not just to look like a band, but to look like people in love with Jesus – like “they” – like disciples.
- Can you describe the themes and the main heart behind the album?
Adam: We planned the layout of the album much like we would plan a worship setlist, because that’s what we know and love. Thematically, I think the two big themes that run throughout the album are 1.) Victory in and belonging to Christ, (such as on ‘From the Day’, ‘We Are Yours’, ‘Even Me’, ‘Your Love is Mine’, and ‘King of Love’): and 2.) Overcoming our faith struggles and/or challenges as well as heartaches of our past (such as on ‘Awake My Love’, ‘Over and Over Again’, ‘Make A Way’, and ‘Amen’). Those can probably be lumped into subcategories from there, too. We also added the song ‘Here’s My Heart’ as more of a congregational worship moment on the album, because, first off, we wanted to include a song that was special to us that felt like where we began as a band: as worshippers gathered together before our Maker, and second, to remind us of where we are going and where we want to stay rooted: “Here’s my heart, Lord…. I am found… I am Yours”. Because in the end, we believe that there is no greater purpose or call for any ministry than to lay low before our Jesus and worship Him for who He is. Worship should always be the response to His perfect plan and will; and so in trusting that perfect will, we wanted to end the album with an ‘Amen’ – closing it off with “so be it, Lord”.
- Both musically and lyrically, how does the debut album capture the experiences of you throughout the last few years of your musical journey?
Stephanie: This album has messages of our journey all throughout. I would say that the most resounding message is that of the Lord’s faithfulness and provision. Something that, in these past few years we have most heavily relied on. I Am They as a band want people to know how real the love and affection of Christ really is, and the best way we think to do that is through people’s stories, testimonies and of course music. I think that the album has translated the theme of the Lord leading us through these last few years very well. And I hope that listeners will be encouraged and inspired by the message of the album as well.
- As you move into your next step in your Christian music career, is there anything you hold onto that God has spoken into your life?
Matt: If there has been one thing that God has branded onto the heart of the band, it is that our music would follow our ministry.
- Has there been a recent song that has been ministering to people on the road, and what are some of the encouraging stories you have heard from the impact of your songs on this upcoming album? Why do you think that song in particular is having such a great impact?
Adam: We have seen a lot of response to a few of the songs, but in particular ‘Over and Over Again’ seems to be connecting well at our live shows on a deeper level. It’s a song that was birthed from my testimony of meeting Jesus as my Lord after spending the first 16 years of my life as an atheist, going through a difficult battle with depression, and surviving a suicide attempt. I usually share a part of my testimony before that song and have been approached by people after nearly every show who share that they, too, are struggling or have struggled with depression or suicidal thoughts. It just opens up a whole different avenue of ministry to us as a band, and we are grateful for the trust doors it opens up for some people.
- If anyone reading this interview wants to move into the music industry, what would you say to them as advice- how would you succeed in the industry with your values intact?
Matt: Our experience didn’t begin with a desire to be in an industry. As fellow human beings and Christ-followers, I think success is measured by the genuine and consistent love we have for Jesus and each other and how we put that into action. Point your gaze at Jesus, remain humble and faithful to serve as He calls you to serve, and do that – no matter what or where that may be.
- Is there anything in your life that places things in perspective as you travel and create music?
Stephanie: I would say the more I travel, the more I appreciate, love, and miss our small home town of Carson City Nevada. You really take home for granted till you are away and begin to realize how much you need home. How much you need the people there, and how much you miss the landscape and the comfort. Also, traveling and creating music really makes me respect people who have been doing this for many many years. I am learning quickly how hard life of the road can be, and I have the upmost respect for people who have had long successful careers in this industry. I can only pray that the Lord will give us the strength, for no matter how long, to remain genuine, and humble and true to why we started on this path, to give Him all honor and glory with our lives and our music.
- Is there anything else that you would like to add that hasn’t been covered in this interview yet? Any parting words, and encouragements that will impact the readers of this interview, either from your own life or from others around you? How can fans stay connected with you via social media?
Keep pursuing Jesus; and if you haven’t yet met Him, turn to Him and out your faith in Him, and you will find hope and a new and everlasting life.
If anyone wants to connect with us, please go to iamtheyband.com, where you can email the band directly, find links to all our socials, and look at pictures of us doing goofy and/or dramatic things. We’d love to meet ya!
Be sure to check out I Am They’s new self titled album in stores now! Also, check out I Am They’s music video of the song ‘From The Day’ below as well, along with the acoustic video!