“To me, this album as a whole is one of the more authentic albums that we've done,” says songwriter and worship leader Chris Brown of Elevation Worship’s crafted yet spontaneous renewal-themed live album Graves Into Gardens. “I just mean it is quite an amalgamation of styles, and obviously a lot of people and voices play a part in it, and varied voices. It’s a very, very true expression of what our church is and who our church is made up of.” The dozen tracks reflect the contributions of the musically inclined founding pastor of Elevation Church, Steven Furtick, as well as core group members and like-minded peers from the contemporary worship and gospel scenes locally, nationally, and internationally, including Tauren Wells, Bethel Music’s Brandon Lake, and Hillsong’s Brooke and Scott Ligertwood. Brown produced the album with Elevation Worship keyboardist Aaron Robertson, fleshing out arrangements with alt-rock muscle, pop-R&B buoyancy, anthemic lift, and confessional singer-songwriter-style intimacy alike. Most of the songs were recorded live in front of the church congregation in January, capturing a sense of improvisational openness and spiritual triumph. “We feel so much more permission to follow things once we get to the recording,” Brown says, “because preparation is so key to what we do, and we can just let go more.” Here is Brown's track-by-track guide to Graves Into Gardens.
RATTLE! “There's no other song like it on the project, musically speaking. It was written during quarantine, over voice memos that were shared back and forth, and Zoom calls, that are so difficult to actually write because of the delay. There just quickly got to be an energy around this song, like, this is supposed to make you feel something, feel alive, feel this sense of hope. From our standpoint, what our faith just grounds us in is if Jesus was in the grave for just a temporary moment and he got up out of that grave, then why are we staying locked inside this dark place? When the song came about, it felt like ‘Let's give people something—first of all, write it authentically to what we're experiencing personally, but then give our church something to shout about, like this isn't the end, I will get to go and see life again and experience life again, and let's believe it.’”
My Testimony “I think there's something so powerful about remembering what God has done for you. Like Moses, when he brought the Israelites out of Egypt, there's a scripture in Exodus 13 where he says, ‘Remember how you came up out of Egypt.’ He's telling them, ‘Don't forget what your testimony is. You were in bondage, now you're free.’ This song in particular was ‘Hey, let's have something that we can look back on what God has done for us, how he saved us, rescued us.’ Looking back gives us the faith to look ahead and know if he's done it before, he'll do it again. I think it's a fun song to sing in church. I think it's going to be a useful song for other churches to sing, and a great way to start a worship service.”
Graves Into Gardens “We wrote it with Brandon Lake, who is the vocalist on that. He's got this Southern grit to his vocals, and we came in with Springsteen on our minds that day, so that was the musical juice that we were tapping. I think Pastor Steven picked up the electric and kind of launched into that bridge, and when that riff started, it was like, ‘Okay, this is game on.’ It turned into a whole thing, because it gave us the vision for what the song was. We had been circling the chorus, which is a little bit more chill, but when that musical moment [of the bridge] was created, we put the ‘You turn mourning to dancing, you give beauty for ashes’ and then eventually ‘You turn graves into gardens.’ It's got this lyrical depth to it, but then this grit that's there musically.”
The Blessing “It's almost like I don't want to over-explain how it came about. Pastor Steven just started singing that benediction from Numbers chapter 6. There's this generational blessing that Moses is instructing, ‘Hey, for future generations, I want you to say this prayer.’ Pastor started just humming a melody, kind of singing around ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, make his face shine upon you.’ We did it for about 10 minutes, came around the idea. From that point on, the song really just kind of poured out rather quickly. We can have a tendency to really dissect lyrics and then go back and revise, and scrap this chorus and scrap that melody, and then rewrite and rewrite. We wrote ‘The Blessing’ with Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes on a Thursday with them here in Charlotte. We just rehearsed it as a band, kind of built around it on that Saturday and practiced at church, introduced it to church, and pressed record, and literally that version is what's on the album, was the first time we'd ever sung it, period.”
Available “We captured some really special moments in that song live from that night that feel extremely personal, that we didn't want to cut anything away. We wanted to write a song that carried this message of surrender. Tiffany Hammer was just the voice right away to carry it, because of who she is and how she carries herself. Hopefully it'll be one of those intimate tracks on the album that people can very much so connect with personally.”
Authority “Jonsal Barrientes sang that one. We had played this song in church for months a certain way, and it just hadn't quite unlocked. We weren't actually planning to put it on the album, but when we got in the studio to look at all the songs that we were considering and this one was on the table, Aaron, our producer, launched into the opening piano riff that starts the song, and it just set it in a completely new direction and gave it the spark that it had been missing.”
Never Lost “I think what's interesting is there's such a profound and powerful lyric, but it's sung in this poppy, lighthearted kind of R&B vibe. Tauren Wells has been such a good friend for so long. He's so life-giving in his personality and what he brings to a stage and to a song that it was like, ‘We've got to have Tauren sing this.’"
No One Beside “That song was written in a living room with a keyboard and an acoustic guitar, but there's something about the simplicity and tenderness of the music matched with this majestic, hymnlike, heavenly, grand lyric. You've got this very simple approach to the music—it's straightforward in a lot of ways, maybe the closest to a contemporary worship song, musically speaking—but what's being said is profound and it's kind of this grand look at who God is. I love that those two are juxtaposed against one another.”
Have My Heart “What's being sung there is actually part of another song that we had written and decided not to put on this album as a whole. Then the day before the recording in January, we just decided, ‘Let's try the chorus of that song and let it be spontaneous and just see what happens.’ It turned out to be really special.”
There Is a King “I do think that song might have the most potential to catch listeners by surprise. It starts with just the acoustic and a cornet being played through a vocal synthesizer. We had never tried playing a horn through a vocal synthesizer, but it was really cool. Then the guy who's playing the cornet, he doubles me on the melody on the verses to create that semblance of stereo voices. I played a keyboard and ran my vocal parts through a vocoder as well. So then you have eventually this swelling and this stack of harmonies that come around the vocal melody as well. It's honestly one of my favorites on the album, just from a production standpoint.”
What Would You Do “It's obviously a very simple lyric: ‘What would you do if you walked into the room?’ Then it cycles around that. It had a lot of freshness when we just let Isaiah Templeton carry it out of ‘There Is a King’ in January at the recording, and we just kind of let it go. The song wouldn't have been what it was if it had not been for Isaiah's voice and gift on it. I love when things like that happen, because on one hand, it's like, ‘Well, dang, no one else is ever going to be able to sing that,’ but on the real side, it's like, ‘Man, what a moment that's just so special and unique to him and to that night and the recording.’”
GOD SAID LIVE! “I guess it’s kind of a nod to the way albums used to be in the '90s. I wanted this almost hidden track thing, although we didn't want to create 15 minutes of space to have everybody wait around 'til it got there, like a way to wrap the album, start it with ‘RATTLE!’ and then bring it back. It was all initially attached to the same recording take of ‘RATTLE!,’ but we just cut it in two and wanted to end the album with the same messaging that we started with.”