First hitting the scene in 2019, We The Kingdom has quickly become one of the biggest Christian music acts on the planet.
Known for their quasi-country, quasi-Americana, quasi-alternative blues-rock sound, and their unafraid-to-talk-about-the-messy-stuff lyrics, they’ve become an instant-hit for Christian communities across the country, which led them to embark on a big tour at the onset of 2020… until the pandemic hit. Plans changed and the band—consisting of brothers Scott and Ed Cash, Ed’s kids Martin and Franni, and their friend Andrew Bergthold—went into quarantine mode.
During this time, they were able to grow significantly, both as artists and as humans, which led them to complete their debut album, Holy Water (out August 2020 via Capitol CMG and Sparrow).
After they got that out into the world, the band was itching to share the songs in a live setting. Having been born out of a Young Life camp and shaped through a series of uber-meaningful live performances, the band holds their connection with their audience as something sacred. So, in lieu of being able to actually perform these songs in-human with them, they opted to make a live-in-the-studio record. Titled Live At Ocean Way Nashville, the stirring 7-song offering dropped July 2.
Hopping on a call with American Songwriter last week, the band opened up about the past 18 months and the growth they’ve undergone throughout it. Digging into everything from their faith to the power of music to just how much it means to them that they’re able to share these experiences with each other, they offered a behind-the-curtain look at how they bring this cherished project to life. Read the conversation below:
American Songwriter: Y’all had an interesting 2020—a few months into the pandemic, y’all released your first full-length. What was that time like?
Martin Cash: I hate saying this because I know it was such a tragic time for a lot of people, but this past year ended up being a blessing for us, man. We were out on pretty much our first tour in the spring doing five nights a week when the whole operation got shut down and we got sent home. At the time, we had been trying to make this record out on the road, but it was just going to be very difficult for us to accomplish. We’re the kind of live band where while we’re out there, we give it our all… so it can be pretty taxing and takes a lot of effort from night to night.
So, when we got back, it honestly gave us a lot of time to make that record what we wanted it to be. WE got to fulfill the dream of, like, “Man, this is our first record—we put everything we have into it.” We were so happy with the way it turned out. Once we finished it, we wanted to go tour it, but the world still hadn’t opened up. That period of time was definitely hard for us because everything turned virtual and we were in front of a lot of cameras, but we weren’t getting to see faces or connect with people. That’s a lot of the reason why we’re doing this, just to connect. So, it’s been a crazy year, to say the least.
Scott Cash: I think that collectively, as a band, we had the opportunity to do a serious dive into our own hearts and learn more about who we are. Sometimes in the short term, that can feel really hard—it can feel like surgery. Personally, I did a lot of counseling over the past year, just unpacking my whole life, man. It was such a gift to learn more about who I am. I think, ultimately, all of us doing that individually and collectively as a band has better prepared us to go on tour in a healthy way. Whereas if we tried to do as much touring as we’re going to do now a year and a half ago, it could’ve been a pretty big train wreck.
AS: When did y’all first get the idea to do this live-in-studio album at Ocean Way? Do you feel like you were able to approach that with newfound confidence or energy?
Andrew Bergthold: It’s been really tough not being able to play live in front of any people this past year. So, this record was pseudo-live, since we obviously couldn’t be with a real audience. But it was still really fun. Ocean Way is just a beautiful studio and getting to be there with some of our friends we haven’t seen in a while, playing music together, felt really good. We actually even had Justin Bieber post about one of our songs called “Peace” during the process!
And when you’re doing a record live like that in a studio environment, it’s different than when you’re doing a live show in a venue where the emotion of the crowd fills the space. When you’re tracking in a studio, everything is so hi-fi and you have to lock in and play your instruments with precision. So, it was a trip to do that… and it was so cool too since that’s how records were made for decades. Now we have all these tools at our fingertips to fix those mistakes, but I think that sometimes, man, the beauty is in the mistakes.
AS: To that end, something that defines y’all’s songwriting is a devotion to keeping things raw, even if the expression gets a little messy. What can you tell us about the power of that grit in music, especially from a theological perspective?
AB: In art, I think it’s really important to be honest. There’s something about art that allows us to be more vulnerable than maybe we could be otherwise. I’ve found that for me, if I’m going through something hard and can’t find the words to really explain it or share it, art and music can put me in a different headspace, allowing my brain to process things. All of us have been through some pretty hard times that’s caused some serious trauma in our lives. So, getting to process all of that with each other through music and then go out and share that with people has been incredible. We’ve had people come up to us who have experienced trauma—even spiritual trauma—and they say, like, “Man, this song has really helped me connect with God in a different way.” So, that honesty is a huge, integral part of who we are. We want to be honest and vulnerable, with real songs.
AS: One of your highlight tunes is “Holy Water,” which is moving on this live record. What can you tell us about that song?
MC: We don’t have a whole lot of songs that were written quickly—we are spending many hours pouring blood, sweat, and tears over crafting these songs. But, interestingly enough, this song was one that I’m pretty sure we wrote and produced in three days, give or take. It was kinda just downloaded from heaven, it seems like. It’s this beautiful thing about the idea of forgiveness—whether that’s self-forgiveness or forgiving someone else. Usually, forgiveness is presented with this heaviness, almost like a solemn thing that can be really hard to talk about. But, in reality, forgiveness is such a celebratory thing, you know? To be forgiven is honestly one of the greatest feelings ever. So, I love the kind of raunchiness of this song. It’s got a bit of a gritty, Southern rock, maybe a little country, feel.
AS: Another standout track is “Don’t Tread On Me.” Obviously that phrase has a very strong political connotation in America, especially these days—yet, y’all have talked about how this song has a particularly resonant theological theme, especially in times of COVID. What’s the story behind this tune? What does it mean to y’all?
SC: We could talk about that topic alone for about an hour or two. There is absolutely no political reference for us with this song. I mean, if you look at that term, it was from the American Revolution, and… honestly, dude, when we wrote the song, we had heard it before, but we weren’t really familiar with any of the historical context. Sometimes, you hear something that might be a colloquialism or a cliche term or whatever, but you don’t even really know the origins of it.
But our song is really just a battle cry against fear. Fear manifests in so many different forms. I mean, I’m a grown man with kids and I struggle with insecurity every day. When I’m on stage playing and literally having a blast, I could also be wondering, like, “Does that person in the crowd think I look like an idiot?” or “Did I sing that note flat?” I struggle with fear like that—I struggle with it in relationships too. So, one of the greatest battles of humanity is fighting fear and fighting shame. We really wrote that song to be an anthem and a battle cry against that. It’s so vital that we uncover the areas of our hearts that are really scared because when we do that, it brings freedom and understanding.
AS: This live record is out and y’all have more fun stuff on the horizon—how do y’all feel? What’s the future look like?
AB: Man, we are so excited. We have a lot of really great stuff in the future—right now, we’re working on some Christmas music. We’ve got a few new songs and a couple of old classics. We’re also working on a new record, writing it, and beginning the production process. Then, this fall, we’re going on a 45-day tour, which will be the largest one we’ve done to date. So, the introvert in me is dreading it, but…
SC: But the rock star in you is ready to roll!
AB: That’s right! I’m very introverted and it takes a lot of energy for me to be on the road, but I love it too. I mean, we’re doing some more headlining stuff next year too where we get to design the whole experience. Ultimately, that’s the best feeling ever: to create an entire evening. So, we’re really excited for people to experience that with us. It’s going to be such a full time and we’re so excited for it all.
We The Kingdom’s Live At Ocean Way Nashville is out now—watch the video for “Peace” below: