Citizens On Kurt Cobain, David Bowie and Jesus
Citizens might be the best Christian band you've never heard. Citizens are a high-energy indie rock band from Mars Hill U-District. Born in the heart of Seattle’s university district, Citizens has quickly built a reputation for their dynamic hymn arrangements and high-intensity anthems. Deacon Zach Bolen leads the band with a visible emotion and passion that stems from a desire to see everyone in the U-District worship Jesus as Lord.
I was blown away by the first single, "Made Alive," by Citizens. Check out that video here if you haven't heard the band.
I spoke with Zach Bolen, the lead singer for the band, recently about the band, their success and their purpose.
For those who don't know, could you briefly explain how you went from being a worship band at Mars Hill to being a signed band with songs on the radio?
Mars Hill has had a band structure for over ten years. As we started seeing the music those bands were writing and arranging was becoming a blessing to not only our local body, but also churches all over the world, we started looking for more ways to distribute our music. That's how Mars Hill Music came to fruition, with a desire to simply export to other churches what we were doing in the local church.
The focus has never been to be signed to a label or even get on the radio, but in the providence of God, He has provided opportunities that have far exceeded anything we could have ever imagined. As a church, being missional is a huge part of what we do. We want people all over the world to hear the Gospel, and so having an opportunity to proclaim that truth in a church, on a stage, or on the radio is never something we plan on turning down.
How do you stay grounded with the success you've already experienced with your new record?
Honestly, not much has changed for us beyond playing a couple of extra events here and there. Our focus has been and always will be to serve the local church. I'm not even sure that some of the guys in the band realize all that is happening through the album, HA! They are all a bunch of dudes in college and working jobs with a huge desire to love God and serve His people. We are always stoked to get to play outside of our usual context, but will never compromise our calling to our local body in the University District in Seattle. Having that mindset from the beginning has kept us grounded in the responsibility that Jesus has given us.
What message do you hope people take away after listening to your record?
That true life is found in Christ. It's not found in our moralism or our religion, but it's found when the Holy Spirit opens our hearts and minds to the reality that we are dead in our sin and need Jesus to save us. This album should be an encouragement to anyone, whether a believer in Christ or not. We hope that everything from people hearing the gospel for the first time and being saved, to those who are in Christ being moved to worship Jesus continually. The gospel is something we can never sing enough and will always be the greatest news.
I was blown away with the sound and style of "Made Alive." It sounded like a mix of all the indie bands I love with catchy melodies and blatantly Christian lyrics. Talk about the bands you love and what type of sound you were going for with "Made Alive."
I have always been pretty into bands who brought the electronic and live band sound together. Everything from the Cardigans "Gran Turismo' album, to Bloc Party, Passion Pit and M83. We definitely didn't want to rip off of any of them, but from the beginning the vision was to make it have a super-raw sound without trying to beef it up with a bunch of sounds that we wouldn't actually play live. A lot of those bands capture that really well. I would say especially on the drop-out chorus of the song, we unashamedly wanted to bring out some 80's David Bowie-vibes with a lot of the additional percussion stuff.
You're from Seattle. It's been a long time since the grunge days of the 90's, but I'm curious how that music affected you and if that led you to be in a Christian band? How did guys like Kurt Cobain affect what you are doing now?
I can't speak for the rest of the band, but I may be the one dude who never really got into Nirvana. That being said, music has definitely benefited from 90's grunge bands. I would absolutely say it's influenced me as a songwriter. I've never been super big on things being absolutely polished. When it comes to playing in a Christian band, none of us in the band really look at it like that I guess.
The gospel message is meant for all to hear and so the reason we write the music we do is because it's the music we love. Our mission is not to appease a particular group of people, but rather proclaim the truth with a sound that many people, Christian or not, could get into. Our hope is that people outside the church would even take notice of the fact that the church is full of artists who are tremendously talented and have the ability to affect culture, and even music genre's, just as much as Kurt Cobain did.
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