Disciple is one of the most enduring forces in their genre, a powerhouse driven by the dual passions of rock and roll and the message of God’s restorative love. Some bands might not have much to say after over two decades and eleven albums. But if you’ve heard Disciple’s twelfth studio album Love Letter Kill Shot, you know that they still have plenty to talk about.
Specifically, on this album they delve into some of the darkest parts of human experience, sitting with listeners in their pain. It’s a bold direction, but one that has fit perfectly with their current unique workflow and newfound record deal with Tooth & Nail.
I had the chance to talk about all of these things with Kevin Young (vocals), Josiah Prince (guitar), and Joey West (drums).
I would love for you guys to start by giving the Love Letter Kill Shot origin story. How did you guys end up working with Tooth & Nail, and how did you choose to work with Travis again as your producer?
Josiah: We’ll start at the beginning. The first thing that happened was Tooth & Nail, I think.
Kevin: We did Long Live the Rebels independently, but Tooth & Nail distributed it for us. We just had a really great working relationship with them. We have personal relationships with the A&R department, and the president, and all the rest of the team.
We didn’t want to do a record deal, but we were kind of high on this worship project idea. And Tooth & Nail said, “we would love to put out your worship project– if you give us Disciple. We’ll do them both.”
We didn’t want to sign Disciple to a record label again; we felt like we were doing a good job without it. But at the same time, doing kickstarter and crowdfunding really wore us down, and we didn’t want to do it that way again, or at least wanted a break from it. So it really was a blessing in disguise that they wanted Disciple as well.
As far as Travis is concerned, we did our last album with Aaron Sprinkle. We’re always looking to change things up, always looking to try new things. Believe it or not, these guys that have been in the band have only done one other album with Travis. So we were going through some “what if” scenarios, replaying the Attack album and how it went in our minds. The Travis Wyrick option became very appealing. We had some conversations with him, and we wanted to try things really differently than we did on Attack. And that’s exactly what we did. Josiah was actually producing on the album and engineering, so it was way different.
Josiah: I think the biggest difference this time around, going back to Travis, is that when we went in to record Attack, that was me, Andrew, Joey, and Jason at the time, our first Disciple recording. So we were all very green, very nervous honestly, and didn’t really have an established identity as a lineup yet. So there were a lot of dynamics at play there.
This time around, it was so cohesive. We were all collaborating and bringing ideas to the table. So we felt that going back in that environment where Disciple had so much history and success would be a lot more enjoyable with us feeling like a cohesive unit and having confidence not only in our abilities, but in our place in Disciple’s legacy.
It really did turn out exactly that way. We went in and had a great team atmosphere, and everyone contributed, and it was a great time.
So thematically, I think a lot of people are instantly going to be struck by how dark this is for a Disciple record. That’s already happening with the singles. Did you start with those thematic ideas in mind?
Kevin: It started dark and it lightened up towards the end. There were about three songs that were cut from the record, one of them dark, two of them more positive, that will probably be released later.
I think we were just writing what we wanted to write. That’s the way we do every album: there are moments where we’re very intentional, but it’s rare. On Attack, I felt like there were a lot of things I wanted to do that were very vertical, really just being bold about the name of Jesus. And we did that in two songs, “Radical” and “The Name.” And that was intentional, but honestly, that kind of intentionality rarely happens on any Disciple song. It’s more about inspiration, and you just never know what you’ll be going through that day.
Joey was going through depression and anxiety, and we were hearing his story and being involved in that. When you’re writing a song, you’re kind of writing what you’re going through. I went through some really dark times in my personal life the past couple years, so I was writing about that. Or the guys write music, and however that music makes me feel.
And it just ended up being very dark, which I thought was a very Holy Spirit inspired thing, because it ended up being very fresh and different for Disciple. As people hear the record, as you already know, it’s talking about what everybody’s going through. I think it’s really going to minister to people in a new and fresh way that Disciple’s never really done before.
Josiah: There’s a lot of uncharted territory, which is exciting. But as far as the intention, we write a bunch of songs over the course of an album cycle. And kind of like when you go to a firing range and shoot a bunch of rounds at a target, you’re going to see a grouping. You’re going to see a pattern, clusters. That’s kind of how it went. We wrote a lot of songs, and it kind of appeared– like oh wow, a lot of these are leaning darker, leaning into topics and conversations that are new to Disciple land. And that’s a really exciting moment creatively, to realize “this is an album coming together” as opposed to just songs here and there.
I think we really tried to express the emotions of those songs through the recording, through the music, through the mix even. Every step of the way, I feel like it’s the album that really connects at every level to the song. More than the previous albums that we’ve done. From the writing to the recording to the arrangement to the mix, everything is representing exactly what we envisioned.
I’d love to talk about “Panic Room” specifically. It’s had this really strong response from people, and maybe even some questions, and it’s very imagery dense. What was your perspective in writing that?
Kevin: The idea and the theme of the song is really coming from a dark place that we all have. We’re really not honest with people about how evil our temptations and secret thoughts are. When you kind of let yourself get lost in that, it’s pretty scary how self-indulgent we can be. We’re kind of putting that down on paper in the pre-chorus: “sometimes I scare myself.”
It’s like, it’s terrifying that I just thought that. That no one made me think that– it was me. Also, it says “demons start digging up skeletons.” When the past is creeping up and is bringing guilt and shame with it, it feels like you’re just trapped and not going to be able to escape.
I think the key phrase of the song is “look at these walls of sand I’ve built, help me escape from this cycle of gloom and guilt.” I think that’s coming to a realization that you don’t want to be in this place.
Joey: For me, “Panic Room” kind of took on the story of my own personal life over the past few years. It was kind of insane, because even being in the band, I was in a very dark place of depression and anxiety. Most people don’t even know. During shows, I was having mental panic attacks during the middle of sets. I constantly thought I was dying, and the guys even saw it on the bus, this mental breakdown that I was having.
As this song came together, the lyrics very much defined my own story: “I want to unlearn what I’ve learned.” That spoke to the area of my life where I learned a lot of messed up principles in the church world growing up, and I’m trying to relearn who the person of Jesus is. “I want to scratch until it burns,” my depression and anxiety actually caused horrible skin issues for me to where I was literally scratching my skin constantly until I was bleeding.
I was falling apart, really. The song captured the chaotic, out of control feeling that I had. It was almost a sense of healing and peace, putting a bow on that dark part of my life and being at peace with it, being OK with the fact that sometimes, I do have dark thoughts. Sometimes, I do feel sad for reasons that I don’t know. And from being in this band, I meet tons of people throughout the year who are all experiencing the same thing, but no one’s talking about it. It’s kind of cool to have a song now that’s actually talking about something that it feels like so many people are afraid to talk about. It actually feels good to put this song out there and scare people.
Josiah: On the rest of the album, there are other songs like that as well. There’s a song called “Chemical Wisdom” where we took some inspiration from some direct things Joey had told us about his experience and worked them into the lyrics. It’s really cool, like he said.
Part of it too is that there are songs on this album that present a scenario but don’t necessarily offer a sunny solution that ends pleasantly. It’s more about showing hey, we all go through this. We all have those moments. Sometimes you are just stuck in it, and that’s all it is for that day. It’s not always just solved in a 4 minute song that turns around at the end because of something hopeful.
I’m proud of the way we have some songs that present it that way. Sometimes, always offering a solution can be alienating to people. They just feel the darkness. So to have that empathetic voice letting them know they’re not alone and that everyone at some point is going through those moments is a really important message.
You have songs like that on this record. But then you also have songs that kind of take that level of darkness and speak to it “there’s more, you don’t have to stay there.” And that’s a really hard balance to strike without making people uncomfortable. Because there are songs like “Misery,” but then also “Never Too Late.” I’d love to hear you guys talk about trying to walk that line, where you’re challenging people while recognizing the weight of what they’re going through.
Kevin: “Misery” was definitely probably the song he was referring to the most, where we really didn’t offer a solution. We’ve met a lot of people over the past few years– and when I say a lot, I mean really a lot– that are in this place where they are almost afraid to be well.
I was just thinking, that’s so sad. If you feel like no one is going to pay attention to you unless you’re messed up, you’re going to feed that, and continually crave being messed up. That’s why we wrote the song “Misery.” We didn’t really want to offer a solution, because we feel like on an empathetic level, that’s where someone’s coming from. Where they’re just like, “I don’t really want to get better, because this is the only way you’re going to pay attention to me.”
And to turn right around and write a song called “Never Too Late,” it’s really speaking to the same person. It’s saying if they feel like there’s nothing left for them, or they’ve sinned too much to be forgiven, or they feel like they’re just completely ignored and invisible: as long as they’re breathing, it’s never too late for them.
We definitely are evangelists by nature, and we want to point people to Jesus, and we want them to know that there’s hope. So our songs are always going to have that in it, and “Never Too Late” encapsulates that for sure.
When you’re writing a new record, how much do you feel like you have Disciple’s past records looking over your shoulder? There’s a lot of history here. How much are you trying to honor it, versus how much do you feel that because you’ve already done so much, you’re free to explore and do things differently?
Kevin: I honestly believe that we enjoy reaching backward as much as we enjoy reaching forward. We really enjoy when something sounds like old Disciple. It gets exciting. Whenever we have something that sounds new, or sounds fresh, that’s exciting too. We’re actually excited about both of it, we really don’t look at it in a negative way at all.
Josiah: I know for Joey, Andrew, and myself, as people who have been playing songs that we weren’t a part of now for many years, and just being a fan of those records, it’s extremely fun to chase something that feels like the Back Again album. Or to chase something that feels like Scars Remain. Because as people who weren’t involved in the creation of those albums but have now been playing those songs for so long, to take that and translate it through our own lens and see what comes out is a really fun process.
We love to honor the legacy that Kevin and former members created. It’s really fun to see reactions from people who have been following the band for a long time who approve of the new songs. It’s always really gratifying to get that kind of feedback.
Kevin: The thing I love about it is that I think both things, reaching backwards and reaching forward, both have energy when we do it. That’s the exciting thing. When something sounds like old Disciple, it just has this energy. But at the same time, these new things we’re doing, they also have this energy. So I think that’s what Disciple brings to the table. I wouldn’t say that we’re a boring musical band. We definitely are energetic when we play live, but just listening to the music is an energy drink for your soul.
There’s been a lot of questions floating around about Andrew’s role. Obviously, he helped write and he played on this record, but he’s not touring. So if you could explain to people the state of the union regarding guitar players, what does that look like?
Kevin: You know, I don’t think we’ve actually amended the constitution to know what exactly is going on! Andrew wanted to go home and put the touring life behind him. But he absolutely wants to stay involved, and I think as long as he wants to stay involved, we will leave that door open to him. But how much he will be involved? You just never know.
But he’s a great songwriter, he’s a great player, and he’s an even better friend. We love having him be a part of our projects. And there’s all kinds of people who help us out who aren’t in the band. So is he in the band, is he not in the band? I don’t know the answer to that question. But I know for Love Letter Kill Shot, he is definitely in the band. He is as much a part of that record as any of us. His picture is on the cover because he was in the studio every day we were.
Josiah: We’re always in day to day contact with him and his wife Natalie, who still does a lot of our tour advancing for our shows. The two of them are still very involved. Andrew runs our online store still. So as far as Disciple world goes, they’re still a huge part of it. And musically, moving forward, we’ll see what happens. I think the door is open both ways.
Kevin: I mean, if he comes to us and he has these killer songs written, let me just go ahead and tell you we’re going to be like “yes, absolutely. Come play them on the record for us please, and good luck to whoever we have to hire that has to learn them and play them live!”
Another new thing you’ve been doing this year is the Rebel Society, which is really refining so much of what you’ve already done in terms of personal contact with your fans. Do you guys want to share why you started that?
Josiah: It becomes more and more clear as time goes on that we really just enjoy connecting with people beyond playing the show on stage. We see so many great moments when we’re doing our bus VIP sessions, and when we’re doing our meet and greets, and when we’re interacting on social media. We just had some ideas about starting to make more content, just for the internet at large. Someone had mentioned Patreon to us as a platform that could facilitate that in a cool way.
The more we started talking about it, it just seemed like a no-brainer. It felt like the kind of thing that felt very true to us and how much we enjoy interacting and creating for the people that want it. So far, that’s been the experience. We’ve just had such a great time not only making the content each month, but being more connected to the people that care about our music and our ministry. We’re always so grateful when someone just comes to a show, that’s a very humbling thing in and of itself. That exponentially increases when you talk about people who are signing up and supporting the Rebel Society each month. It’s very gratifying to just be making stuff that people want to consume and enjoy.
On top of all that, the private Facebook group has taken off into kind of its own thing that we didn’t even really foresee. We set it up as a place for us to ask questions and make announcements and leak stuff early. But it’s really become its own self-propelling community. It’s really cool to hop on there every day and see people interacting, friendships being made, really cool moments of ministry happening that have nothing to do with us.
Kevin: Wasn’t that your idea, Joey, to start the Rebel Society?
Joey: Yeah, it was kind of me and Josiah. We talked about it, threw it around for a while before we launched it. On top of what Josiah said, it’s given people a chance to help us survive in a volatile music industry where it’s getting harder and harder to make a living and keep doing this. So if fans believe in what we’re doing or they want to financially support us and help us keep going, this was a great way for them to do that. But instead of just giving us money and never seeing it again, we have stuff that you get in return. It’s kind of like a return on your investment.
It helps us out a lot, and it also gives us the satisfaction of giving our fans what they want, letting them in on behind the scenes stuff. One of the things we do is story behind the songs. It’s a lot of fun to tell stories from the recording studio, from when a particular song was being tracked, or something that happened that inspired this one song, or if there was a mistake in the studio that made it onto the album that no one would ever know about unless we told them. It’s a lot of fun to do to that.
(You can join the Rebel Society at patreon.com/disciplerocks)
That adapting to survive thing, I feel like that’s something Disciple has done incredibly well. I think part of the reason you’re able to do that is because you’re so driven by a sense of mission. I’d love for each of you to sum up, right now, in this era, what does Disciple’s mission look like to each of you personally? What drives you to keep doing this when it’s so difficult?
Josiah: We talk about it a lot, especially me and Joey, how amazed we are that we get to be a part of something that’s been going for so long. We are so lucky and blessed to be a part of it, to be able to make music, perform music, and have people who actually care and listen– and beyond that, are affected by it and having real spiritual discoveries because of it.
So for me, I’m just always extremely grateful. But on the active side, I’m trying to always consider how we can do the best for those people. Make the best music, put on the best show, make the best connection with them personally. Even down to the level of making the best merchandise for them. Because of that gratefulness, I always have a strong urge to figure out how we can make someone’s experience with Disciple and with us personally as awesome and complete as it can be.
Joey: For me, I think it’s become pretty simple. When I first got into music, I had the wrong mindset. This was pre-Disciple. I just wanted to be a rockstar and make a lot of money. And I’m not doing either one of those things still!
My vision has changed over the years. I feel like it changes every year. But one thing that’s become clear to me is, what drives me to do this? I just honestly want to make people feel less alone in this world. I meet a lot of broken and hurting people, and it becomes more clear to me every year how many people are going through broken situations and are deeply hurting. So that’s the one thing that keeps me getting out of bed, keeps me making new music. I just want people to know that they’re not alone in their situation, no matter what it is. I love playing drums, but ultimately I hope that it can make someone feel less alone.
Kevin: The mission is definitely something that keeps us going. When I hear someone say “that’s my song,” that always blows my mind. That’s why we write every single record. I’ve said that we want to be the soundtrack for someone’s life. Whether they are not a Christian, or thinking about becoming a Christian, or a new Christian, or somewhere in the middle, or at the end of their life, that we would have songs for them wherever they are in their journey. I’m excited about this new record because it feels like that’s something that God has really done in our lives. I’m excited to see what songs people are going to come up and say “that’s my song. That song speaks to me.”
That’s the mission. We’re not writing songs for any other reason. We’re not writing songs to try and be big on the radio. We’re not writing songs to just make ourselves feel good. We’re trying to write songs that someone will latch onto, and it will become theirs– that they will own it, that we will be their band.
I think maybe that’s why a lot of fans connect with us so much, because we’re theirs. We belong to them. We’re their band. Our songs are their songs. They’re not just ours. We wrote them, then we share them, and somehow God has allowed us to have this ability to have this emotional connection between us and the fans. And it’s a really beautiful thing, and I think that’s what I was born to do. And I’m going to do it until God tells me to stop.
Love Letter Kill Shot is available on September 13, 2019. You can find all purchasing options at disciple.ffm.to/llks.