Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interview With The City Harmonic (6/4/11)

At Central New York’s 3rd annual Reign Fest, I had the privilege of seeing The City Harmonic and Everyday Sunday perform live. Before the concert, I had the privilege of stepping aboard The City Harmonic’s tour van to interview the new group about their Introducing The City Harmonic EP, the radio single “Manifesto,” where the band is headed, and more. Enjoy!

Me: For those who don’t know, can you tell us how the guys originally got together, and what the name behind “The City Harmonic” is?
Elias: Yeah! Well, Aaron and I have been playing together for almost three years doing like worship stuff together around where we live and just some stuff like that. And then Eric moved from Waco, Texas about eleven years ago?
Eric: Yeah.
Elias: Yeah, and he came to my high school! So we became friends in high school and we took bass together in music class. And then Eric and Josh are college roommates, so we’ve sort of had this big overlap for a long time, I guess. And yeah, so we made The City Harmonic like two years ago, having all played together in different fashions for a few years, and we didn’t name the band for a long time. We sort of decided that we were going to have music first and then sort of work backwards from what we thought it sounded like. We did that, and then we didn’t record, but we had a bunch of songs and we were still trying to figure it out. We kind of had the idea of how it’s symphonic or big in scale, I guess. And so we sort of started backwards from the word “Philharmonic.” And so that’s where “The City Harmonic” came from originally. But it has a few meanings that we really like. And one of them is the obvious  “Philharmonic” play-on-words. The other is that we’re from the city called Hamilton, Ontario, where a lot of the churches have started to work together in a really, really cool way. In really grassroots ways, they’re just working in really tangible ways to try to do good for the city. And they’ve sort of called themselves “True City.” And that’s the environment… we all go to different churches. We’re not like a church worship team. And so, that’s sort of been what we’ve come out of is this city church culture, where churches are really just working for the kingdom rather than their own little thing. And so, that’s been a big influence for us. And the last one is just sort of that we’re really obsessed with the idea about that like, sometimes in Christianity, we make Christianity about like me personally, going to heaven when I die, for example. And yet the Bible is so much more concerned with redeeming and renewing earth in the end. You know, you have this picture in Revelation of the New Jerusalem, the City of God, coming out of the sky and being sort of this, where God and creation are united and renewed and redeemed. And so that to us is really, that’s just like a hopeful thing that its become a really big deal for us, and so that’s part of just that harmonious city if you will.

Me: Can each of you give me a few of your musical inspirations? I know that The City Harmonic is really unique.
Elias: Cool! Yeah… Josh?
Josh: Yeah, I came out of the pop/punk turn of the 2000 era. And U2 was kinda big and Travis Barker, being a drummer, and just kind of watched him move and stuff. And from there just went a couple directions to a lot of the hardcore and that kind of scene for a bit. Yeah, and just played in a few bands, mostly pop/punk bands, and I and just went from there.
Eric: Yeah, I guess I kind of had the same experience. I grew up in a family… my dad was a big into the classics, classic rock, and I grew up listening to all kinds of different stuff, but never really like owned it – never really was a fan of music myself. And then like middle school and high school, I really started to discover bands on my own, and most of those where like, U2 New Found Glory, Home Grown, Drive Through Records – basically, all the Drive Through Records – Starting line, Midtown and all those bands I LOVE. And that was when I made music my own, and then I just sort of progressed from there. I’m into all kinds of different stuff. At this point, probably one of my biggest, sort of like “the top” genre that I have consistently loved for the longest time and still is probably my favorite is kind of like the full keys and stuff. So, yeah, like bands like The Snake That Crossed The Crown or Delta Spirit… a lot of Indian pop too, like Arcade Fire and Stars. There’s actually a great scene from where we’re from – a lot of good Indian pop that’s coming out, so yeah, folk is sort of my thing; harmonies and all that kind of stuff I’m big into. 
Aaron: I was always into punk rock as a teenager. I’m a couple years older than these guys, so… In the 90s, I was into the early Tooth and Nail bands, so MxPx was a huge influence of mine. All the bands on there, they don’t exist anymore, but I used to love ‘em, like Driver Eight; I think, Morella’s Forest. Plus, I love on Tooth and Nail. A band like, Value Pack – I can’t think of them all at the moment. But right now my favorite band is Jimmy Eat World. I can’t stop liking them. I really want to, because it’s a bit trendy, but I can’t. I love them.
Elias: I’m really eclectic, so I listen to all kinds of music. But I grew up on like classic rock, sort of like Eric did. My dad’s a HUGE music fan – classic rock and old 70s pop. And so my middle name is Elton, and as far as I know, I’m named after Elton Johns. It’s a weird fact. So it was just always in my house, I grew up listening to that and then really got into alternative rock and then went through kind of like a punk phase in high school and then… Right now I listen to all kinds of stuff. But I’m a big fan of bands like Arcade Fire, Coldplay… Man, I’m really fond of a guy called Aqualung who’s like a kind of like a British piano pop dude – he’s really good at it. So that’s that, I’m really… we’re all a little bit over the place trying to think of where we started, I think! *laughs*

Me: The song “Manifesto” has been doing really well on radio, especially Air1 and K-Love. What is the inspiration the song? What did it start from, and why is it significant to you as a band?
Elias: “Manifesto” started out just as a piano hook! I was just playing scales and liked it, brought it to the band and we slammed it out. We often start with the music first before we write too much lyrics. And the reason being that we just like the emotional space of the song to match up with the lyrics. And so we just worked backwards from that and sort of went, “Hey, I think the song sounds big and rocky and, you know, like an anthem kind of thing.” And so we decided that we were going to make it… we titled it “Manifesto” and then put it on the shelf. We went into the studio, and we brought with us into the studio the Lord’s Prayer, and the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed and we just said “Okay, what we’re going to do is boil this in into something unifying and that will bring people together. Because I think sometimes in the church it really becomes about what we’re not to our communities and to each other, and for us it was far more important to focus on what we are, what is positive, what we’re for, rather than what we’re against. ‘Cause I think it’s just not helpful to always rag, you know, always going on about what we’re against. So that’s just really what that song is about. That’s inspired partly by, like I said, True City and our city it seemed to practically work out.

Me: That’s cool. I read a press release that said the EP’s sales shot up 600%, and the single’s 6,000% since the beginning of the year.
Aaron: Give or take a couple hundred percent. *laughs*
Me: So what is that like? You just started back in November, and now you’re charting on the radio?
Elias: Yeah, I don’t know how to answer that, because it’s been so weird! We were in Canada, working on a record when all this was going on. I mean, we weren’t even touring to support it. Now we are, but when that was sort of first starting, it starting going crazy. All we knew, we were reading the same press releases you were! *laughs* Kind of like, “Oh wow! All right! Well, back to work.” *laughs*
Eric: “That’s my band!”
Elias: Yeah, “That’s my band! That’s weird!” I don’t how to answer it other than that! *laughs*
Eric: Yeah, it’s been crazy.
Elias: It’s been weird!
Eric: It’s just been so crazy, because we never expected anything to happen. It’s happening, and we don’t know exactly WHAT’S happening but something happening, ‘cause we’re in New York right now. That’s not where we live!
Aaron: That was so crazy  when our radio guy emailed us, and he says, “Hey you guys, this is fantastic! You guys are on Air1!” We’re like, “Okay.” *shrugs* “We don’t quite know what that is.”
Elias: Well, now we love it, but where we live, there is no K-love, there is no Air1. And there’s not even a Christian radio station in our neighborhood! So, we didn’t really understand even... to be honest, we didn’t even understand quite the scale of Christian radio. We’d heard comments like, “Oh, you got a song on the radio, it’s cool.” And we were like, “Oh… cool.”
Eric: Air1 and Klove have been great!
Aaron: Now we understand how fortunate we are.
Elias: Yeah! We’ve really been blessed that they’ve been so…
Eric: They took a chance on us. Like, they took a huge shot in the dark on us. It’s been great.

Me: So the other thing is your song “Manifesto” was chosen as the National Day of Prayer’s “Pray Nashville” theme song? So what's that like?
Elias: Well it’s certainly different! I mean, none of us live in Nashville so we heard that and saw a video, and it’s kind of cool; so beyond that, it’s just neat, I think partly because it’s a song that really just hopes to bring people together and people are excited about that. I think it’s about time the church just got excited about the church, rather than my church or your church... So it’s cool to see.

Me: Next... the music video! I loved the music video; it was actually in one of my top ten of the year on my site. And now it has over 600,000 views! So, can you tell us a little bit about that? You were  standing on the top of a building, running down the street... can you tell us a little bit about that?
Elias: Yeah, well really we just wanted to showcase our hometown a little bit, and try to reflect some of the ideas in the song in the video. And so that’s like why they are holding the cartoons. And the cartoons are kind of the idea that each of them are different but they hold the story of God together. We get asked a lot about what the paper means; which I was like, I didn’t know it was not obvious, so now I’m like, “Oh, shoot! We should have made it more obvious!” But at the end, when they throw the paper out… and if you look carefully when they’re running, the paper’s flying, you can see the animation is still going on the paper and stuff like that. So the idea is just that as you go out, too, they’ve come together and they have the story of God with them and as they go out again they leave that behind. You know, they change effectively where they are. It’s kind of like us as a church, you know, we effect, really, if we’re being the church, we effect our communities.

Me: Okay, so my personal favorite from the Introducing the City Harmonic EP was “Coming My Way.” Can you tell us a little about that song?
Elias: Yeah! Well, I think I kind of hinted to that a little bit; I think sometimes, we like to boil the gospel, like the story – the good news, down to a part of the good news, which is that I have a personal destiny and that is for me to be… and we have this idea of heaven, that is like, there’s a hint to that in Scripture, but not necessarily made like “Hey, my soul dies and goes of to…” It’s really in the form of, like, Greek philosophy than it is Biblical or Jewish philosophy. *laughs* And so for me, “Coming My Way” is our way of… like the first line, it’s: “I won’t wait, and I won’t wait for Heaven, because I believe Heaven is coming my way.” It’s talking about how our role as Christians is to be people who are bringing heaven to earth, rather than simply sitting on our hands and waiting to die; not that very many people do that but, it’s certainly the perception that the world has of the Church, is that we’re just waiting for Heaven. And it’s just… that’s not the Scripture I read! And so for me, it’s exciting just to be able to have a forum to say that.

Me: This is actually a question that was submitted by a friend of mine: since the time that God has called you to the ministry, have you had to deal with criticism? And if so, how do you do that?
Elias: Oh, as soon as your album goes out you deal with criticism. But most of it we probably agree with! Has anyone ever said anything that we haven’t agreed with yet? *laughs*
Eric: Not really. *laughs*
Elias: Yeah, we’re not really that precious. *laughs* I think that someone’s been critical and we’re like, “Yeah, that’s fair! Yeah, I think that’s right!”
Eric: I mean, criticism can be… IS, I should say, a positive thing, even though sometimes people are pretty mean and hateful, you can still find something in it. It’s just all a matter of perspective so yeah, we don’t really take ourselves overly seriously. I mean, we take the art of it seriously, we take worship seriously, but it’s not like our egos are on the line here really. Like, if people like it, they like it, and if they don’t… The reason we started doing this in the first place is because it was a venue for us to write songs that…
Elias: …we liked.
Eric: …that came out of our natural disposition towards worshiping God. Like, this is natural. This is the kind of music we like. This is the kind of music I listen to, so that’s what it was. So if people aren’t into it, that’s fine. We didn’t anticipate that people would in the first place. Do you know what I mean? Like, this is how it is…
Elias: Well, yeah, that’s why we made The City Harmonic, as opposed to the band we were in before; we felt like, “You know, maybe we need to just ignore what we are trying to do,” which is... in worship music, there’s, sometimes you feel… whether or not anyone’s saying this or not I don’t know, but it certainly feels like, in order to be a worship band, we have to write music like this, and fit inside of this box. And we just said, “You know what? We’re exhausted of it --” kind of. We just said, “We’re just going to write music we really like… collectively.” And that’s it! And that’s what The City Harmonic is. So, if we were to now take someone’s critical comment, and not take it on, that would be one thing. But it’s like, we could take that, take it with a grain of salt, use what we like, and still write music we like whether they like it or not. *laughs* You know? And I think that’s kind of what we’re going to do! *laughs*
Eric: So it is surprising though -- you would expect as soon as there’s some attention, you would expect criticism. And you would expect it to affect you in a certain way. I think all of us – I can speak for myself, I guess – I expected it to affect me in a negative way, like, “That sucks! I don’t want to hear that!” But really, like, it just hasn’t been… it’s been like a fine positive thing; it really doesn’t strangely… I think for all the reasons I keep saying. It just hasn’t really… it’s a good thing!
Elias: Some of it’s the funniest stuff, too.
Eric: Yeah, it makes us laugh!
Elias: What was one of them? Like, “Love the band, hate his hair”? It’s just stuff like that, and it’s like “Cool! Alright!” *laughs*
Aaron: He’s talking about you. *points to Elias* Not me!
Eric: ‘Cause I have good hair!
Elias: You know what? ‘Cause like the way I see it, it’s like, ah, if someone hates my hair, I’m just more rock n’ roll. If I’m not offending anybody, then…I’m not rock n’ roll enough.
Me: Plus, it’s not really about the hair either.
Elias: Exactly! That’s what I mean! It’s kind of like *shrugs* Really, who cares? *laughs*

Me: Can you tell us about a favorite “odd moment” since you guys have been on tour for a while now?
Elias: *laughs* Which one’s the best one?
Me: You guys probably have a lot of them.
Eric: When we were pulling into here we got stuck in the mud! That sucked.
Elias: Was that odd?
Josh: Well, an odd moment happened during that time that we got stuck.
Eric: Oh… did it?
Josh: Aaron, would you like to… uh…
Aaron: No! Just don’t drink any bottles that look like they have apple juice in them. That’s all.
Elias: Last night, we got up on stage in Baltimore (Baltimore/Columbia, Maryland)… got up on stage and for whatever reason, a few of our instruments weren’t working properly? And so we had to totally change our set on the fly, and pick up the acoustic guitar and do like a sing-song at the beginning. So it’s a little odd that way. But it was fun. That turned out good. What’s the most odd that we’ve had?
Aaron: My favorite thing would be some of the people you meet. I’m not going to say they’re odd but, I just, I enjoy the mixture of people you meet all the time. Like people that come and sometimes some promoters will have like a VIP ticket? And they’ll come early to sort of meet and greet the band and stuff. That’s one of my favorite things about being on the road – is meeting all the different people.
Elias: We met this one tattoo artist in Texas that we all know by name and love.
Eric: That guy was AWESOME.
Elias: He is an awesome dude. I won’t say his name, because he’d probably be embarrassed, but he’s an awesome, awesome dude. And it’s just stuff like that where you are like… like, a character who you just love to be around. That’s the church, man, it’s great!

Me: Since you guys are a worship band, can you define the term “worship”?
Elias: Very broadly. I think that’s the easiest way to answer the question. I think it’s important to note that worship in my mindset is a holistic thing. It’s something that I am doing, or I am not doing. It’s not like going to church and singing; those are all part of it, but that’s by no means the sum. Like corporate worship: we come together – we do something together. It’s practical to sing, or it’s practical to chant, or it’s practical to pray together. But, those are practical things. How else do you all come and do something together, right? Those are a very small list of things and experiences that people can share corporately. It sort of makes sense. But worship as an idea, I don’t think, has anything specifically to do with music so much as it is our posture in life. So, there’s this phrase that I really like, which is actually an old Celtic proverb that says: “Milking the cow is holy.” And it’s sort of this idea that whatever labor I do, whatever I put myself to, how I approach that is worship – to give it to God, or to not give it to God. That’s why musically, we’re not concerned about fitting a certain mold, ‘cause it’s like… this is music. And for us, it’s worshipful just to do our best. You know? I hope that makes sense.

Me: It does. So, what do you hope fans will get out of your music when they listen?
Aaron: I think THAT… worship.
Elias: Yeah.
Aaron: I love that question when people ask that… “How do you define worship?” I think it’s almost the same question Jesus was asked – “What’s the most important commandment?” He said, “Easy! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second, like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” And I think that’s what it is.
Elias: And there’s a real cool… you said it right there too. There’s a cool phrase in there that Jesus uses, which is “And the second is like it.” He says “Love the Lord your God, and the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” So we can’t… we can’t boil it down. And what sometimes happens in the church is we deal with worship as like “Oh, I’m worshiping Jesus. But how I treat my neighbor isn’t relevant to how I worship. And yet, "the second is like it" totally spins it on its head. It says, I can’t separate my capacity for loving God, from my ability to love my neighbor. And, if you take Jesus seriously, also my ability to love my enemy. And, you know, “Who is my neighbor?” Well, it’s such a broad definition, and so, that to me is worship. And so, it’s like, for even in  how we approach the stage and how we lead worship, that affects us in a lot of ways, in that we’re quite comfortable opening our eyes and clapping with people, hanging out with people, talking. And from the stage, like performing in a sense, because it’s like, yeah, we’re there to serve the people and that, in loving our neighbor, you know, is worship!  We don’t have to close our eyes and all be islands together. You know, we can come together and be a body together, and worship God together, rather than like “I’m worshiping Jesus,” and “You’re worshiping Jesus” and “She’s worshiping Jesus…” So, I sometimes wonder if we bring our own personal thing to a group thing instead.

Me: That’s the rest of the questions. Any closing thoughts?
Elias: Thanks for taking the time to hang out with us!
Aaron: Yeah, man! It was nice to finally get to meet you!
Me: You too! Thanks for your time!

For more on The City Harmonic, please check out!

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