A worship band I am really loving at the moment is the ultra hipster Citizens – an indie rock worship band from the university district in Seattle. They come from Mars Hill Church U-district in Seattle (part of Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church) and make great deep worship songs that you need to check out if you haven’t heard of them already. They have just released their first full length album (Citizens) and lead singer Zach Bolen recently took the time to do an interview for All4God:
Who makes up Citizens?
The band is 5 guys. So that’s Nate on keys, Adam on Drums, Nathan on Bass, Tom McConnell on Electric and then Me (Zach) on Electric and leading the band.
When did you get together? Where did the name come from?
The band formed in the late fall of 2011. It started off with a couple of us rehearsing upstairs in our Kids Min space. At that point we were just a 3 piece. A few weeks later we added the rest of the guys and from there just started writing and arranging like crazy, all for the purpose of leading the church. The names comes from Ephesians 2:19. The reason we choose that is because the title of Citizens is something we receive when we have been reconciled to God. The name not only fit the band since we were a bunch of redeemed sinners saved by the grace of God, but so is the rest of the congregation. So you could say that anyone worshipping with us on a Sunday is a part of the band.
What can people expect sound-wise from the album?
Overall stylistically it’s kind of a little all over the place. Which is exactly what we wanted. What holds it all together is the fact that it’s the same instruments being used in each song, with very similar sounds. We wanted the album to be something that a variety of people could find accessible. So everything from super dancey tracks to some more gritty dark tracks to super raw and straight-forward rock.
A lot of your lyrics are clearly influenced heavily by Bible verses – how do you go about song-writing?
Every song is rooted in the word. It’s okay every now and then to get a little abstract but overall we want people to sing the word of God and the powerful truth that it possess. Writing songs that come from scripture is a no compromise for us. Our hope really is that as people listen they will hear very explicitly the word of God being proclaimed. Verses like Romans 5:2, Ephesians 2:4-5 and Philippians 2:9-11
Who is your music aimed at?
It’s for anyone who will listen really. We know the tremendous blessing that songs like these can be to the local church, but we also know the power of the Gospel and so we expect the Holy Spirit to be leading people to Jesus through some of these songs. The gospel is something we can never sing too much. Stylistically I think we gravitate a little more toward a more youthful sound just due to our context. Our church is located 3 blocks from the University of Washington and so we have a ton of college students. On the flip side, we have a ton of families too so I think depending on the song it could reach anyone in an age group.
You lead worship at Mars Hill Church – what is it like being a part of one of the USA’s largest growing churches?
It’s great! Getting to see people on a weekly basis come to know Jesus. Hearing the sound of 100’s of people shouting the praises of God, watching little kids enthusiastically run through the halls of the church, families being reconciled, people being baptized, it’s an amazing thing to witness. Mars Hill is one church with 14 locations that spread across the West Coast. We are incredibly blessed by all that God is doing. But in that we also celebrate all that Jesus is doing through Jesus all over the world. We may be large under the name of Mars Hill but ultimately we are all apart of the same church under the leadership of Jesus.
How does Mark Driscoll’s preaching influence your song writing?
It’s been incredibly influential. Pastor Mark is an amazingly gifted teacher and preacher. So much of our song writing is strongly influenced by his willingness to submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit and preach the word of God as it appears. It gives us a great confidence knowing that we get to write music that supports the same message that Pastor Mark is proclaiming every week, and that is the amazing transformational truth of God’s word.
One of the guys involved with Mars Hill Music, Tom McConnell, hails from Northern Ireland – how did he end up in a worship band in Seattle?
The first time I met Tom he showed up at the church wearing some ridiculously ugly/amazing sweater, just a few days off the plane from Ireland. He was wide eyed as he approached me after a worship service that King’s Kaleidescope had led. He couldn’t believe that music in the church could be so rich theologically while also being just really good musically. From there he and I began to develop a really close relationship where we would talk through theology and even do a lot of arranging and writing together. So much of our sound has been as a result of Tom’s ability. He is a riff king while also being able to write some of the most beautiful melodies. Our time with Tom unfortunately was only short lived as he was only here for a year to do an exchange program with the University of Washington. We are currently in the process of trying to figure out a way to get him back even if it means us having to go over to the UK and stealing him back.
As well as your own songs there are a couple of indie-rock takes on classic hymns – why did you feel it important to include those songs on the album?
Hymns are a huge inspiration to us. Everything from the meters they are written in to the incredibly dense theological truths that so many of them possess. Very few people write music like that for the church anymore. Our hope is to learn from so many of those early authors and write music that has the same ability to stand the test of time. In that same vein, we wanted to put songs on the album that are still serving the church in mighty ways all over the world, just by putting a fresh spin on them.
Now that the album is out what is the next step for Citizens? Will there be a tour? Will Tom get chance to bring the band to play a gig nearer his original home?
Our focus has always been and will always be the local church. All the guys in the bands are guys with jobs and families. Playing in the band is really just a way for them to serve the church, so anything in addition to Sunday comes secondary. We are so humbled by all the opportunities that have come about over the past few months and look forward to seeing what doors God will continue open. A trip to the UK would be amazing! We for sure need to make that happen.
Finally, what does living All4God mean for you as a band?
It means that you know you’re identity is found in Jesus and that your performance and works could never earn you salvation. It’s only by the grace of God that we are saved and so we live out of that undeserved standing with God. It’s that reality that should propel us into action for the sake of Christ and the building of His Kingdom.
Thanks to Zach for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find out more about Citizens at their website here, Follow them on Twitter @MHM_Citizens or like them on Facebook. You can get the album Citizens on iTunes or Bandcamp.
Check out the video to their song “I am living in a land of death”: