One album into their recording career, We Are Messengers, a rhythm-powered Christian pop-rock band that formed in Ireland, wanted to rely less on its industry’s standard music-making practices. “This record, myself and my guitar player, Kyle Williams, we went to the label and said, ‘Listen, guys, we'd love to co-produce this ourselves,'” frontman Darren Mulligan tells Apple Music. “'No outside producers, no outside influences, because we believe we have something really special to say. And we believe that there's a sound forming that only me and Kyle can actually get out.' So we wrote this record in the bowels of arenas and coffee shops, in the back of our tour bus. We demoed vocals on kindergarten classroom chairs in the middle of nowhere. You could not have found a less glamorous way to write a record, or to record a record, but it was just so true, and it was so spontaneous. And every time we felt like a song was coming, we'd turn the mic on.” Out of that intimate creative exchange came Power, a set of songs that deliver dogged spiritual affirmation with the galvanizing propulsion and lift of electronic dance music. Here Mulligan discusses the making of each track.
Power “The power of God is a bombastic thing. It's a mighty thing. This is the king who throws the stars into space. We wanted to remind people that the same God that rose Jesus from the grave is alive in us. And our goal is to see the blind see, the lame walk, and the dead to rise. And we want to remind people that that's all available, that is the power of God at work in us.”
Love “The record was done. I was walking home to my hotel room one night from a restaurant, and it was one of those nights where I was feeling really sorry for myself. I was looking at my life and going, ‘What am I doing? I'm running round in circles chasing things and never find any satisfaction.’ I was just feeling really miserable. I got a text on my phone, and Kyle says, 'What do you think of these four chords?' And I'm like, 'Kyle, the record's done.' And I listened to them, and before I got to the hotel room, everything had spilled out again. And the next day we went to a show at a church somewhere, and that's where we sat in these little kindergarten chairs with pictures of Noah's ark all over the walls. Demoed the vocals, sent it to the label. The label fell in love with it. And that became our next single off the record.”
Never Change Your Mind “Going back to my influences, I listened to a lot of the Beastie Boys, or Beck. I listened to Ice-T. I listened to Snoop Dogg. And I love cadence and rhythm in vocals. So when we did that song, it just felt like a pop song. It felt like it deserved something other than a typical melody. The bridge of that song, when the choir comes in, I think musically that might be my favorite part of the whole record. The song just comes from this idea that God can't change his mind in me, because he's not like me. He's not tossed and turned by every wave of deception. When he says something, he means it. He's never going to change his mind. The things we're singing, it would be much easier to wrap all of these songs up in cheesy, simple four-chord melodies, you know? But these words deserve more than that. And that's why we spent so much of our time and our hearts on a song like that, because it's too important just to throw away in a sea of averageness.”
Maybe It’s OK “There was a time where I was struggling with mental health, and people around me having struggles with mental health issues, and I wanted to write a song that would take away the stigma around mental health for people, so they would be able to tell their stories, and say, ‘I'm not okay.' And then get the help that they need. It started out just on a piano. It was really subtle, four chords. But when we went to the studio to put the song together, a lot of those electronic pieces came into it. It just seemed to be growing and growing and growing, until we come out of that final chorus and there's a huge crescendo, and we have these gang vocals in the background. What people don't know is the very last line, where I sing, 'Now I'm alive, and you bursting at the seams/Now I'm alive and I see you in everything,' that wasn't written. I just felt so overcome in that sound booth, just with thankfulness and gratitude that someone like me, who was not okay, still had hope, still had thankfulness, still had a future. So those lines just came out spontaneous, one take."
Never Stop Singing “We don't write worship songs for the church typically. I think our calling is to write songs that describe humanity, describe our relationships with each other, and with our God, who chooses to beautifully interrupt all of that. In 'Never Stop Singing,' there's this line that talks about the holiness of God: I have this vision of the multitudes of the angels hanging around the throne of God, just singing, 'You're holy, holy, holy.' I got to thinking what that meant; what holy means is to be completely set apart, to be completely other. When you go to the cinema, the movies, and you watch a movie on your own, and you've no one to share that with, it's a less rich experience than if you share that with someone. And so when I sing worship songs to the Lord, I want to share that with people. So that's why that song and why 'Come See' are more congregational, are more 'us' as opposed to 'I,' because that's where the church comes together.”
Home “That song was a gift to me from Kyle and [co-writer Gabe Dixon]. They brought me the song, and it had melody on it, and had some lyrics. And I listened to it, and it felt so much like Ireland to me; there was a folkiness to it. I changed a lot of the lyrics, because this is what I was feeling. I’ve been living in America for five years. I'm not sure what home is anymore. Is it America? Is it Ireland? Is it somewhere else next? And I feel like a stranger a lot of the time. But I know this: that I'm a citizen of heaven first and foremost; that is my home.”
I Need to Feel It “Everything's from us experiencing the world around us, experiencing sounds and rhythms and grooves, and then bringing that back and going, 'Well, how do we make that a We Are Messengers song?' And so that rhythm at the top of that song, it sets the tone for the song. Something's going to happen. And when it gets to that chorus, and the beat drops, and it explodes, and we're singing, 'I need to feel it,' that's when we encounter God in that song. Most of our influences come from outside of Christian music, because that's what we grew up with, that's what we know. And I don't see any separation between people like me, who have had this radical encounter with God, who love Jesus, who create music, and those who don't. Because if music comes from God, then it is good all the way. We've always listened to hip-hop. Kanye West is a big influence on us. He has been for years. We wanted to bring some of that rhythm into the tracks that we're doing. When I was young, I had this stage where I fell in love with The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers, these incredibly rhythmic, anthemic dance tracks that brought thousands of people together in a strange kind of euphoria. I remember just how unifying that felt, but when you left the field, the unifying aspect of it fell away. I have this belief that God gives us access to things that create unity, but a unity that lasts, that we can change our communities.”
Knock Me Down “Another of my influences was Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. They do just incredible riff-based songs. And then in the last few years, we've fallen in love with bands like Imagine Dragons and Jack White, and they recapture some of that. I guess at the core, We Are Messengers is a rock band. If you go to our shows, they're riotous and raucous and messy and unpredictable, which is everything people think Christian music isn't. But that's exactly what we are—we're a mess. Our drummer Drew [Kerxton] brought us this riff for this song. We were like, 'Dude, this is dope.' And so the four of us in the band sat at the back of the bus one day, just going to a show, we pulled out that riff, wrote the whole thing. And the whole goal of that song was just to be mean. Just to tell every punk who ever thinks he's ever going to tell us who we are again, or put a name on us again that isn't true, that he's not getting away with that. There is nobody can take from us what we found in Jesus. We have strength. We have courage. We have power. We have humility and tenderness. And no one's opinion is going to change that.”
Always You “Kyle comes with four chords, and we sat in our dressing room in an arena. My heart's just overtaken with these chords. And all I could think about in that moment was this lyric that came to my head: 'Eyes to the ground. Why do you stick around? I thought you'd be gone.' My wife is my whole story. She saved my life so many times, and I cannot believe she chooses to stay with somebody like me. So this was the love song on the record. And because I'm Irish, I have this haunting melancholy in me. It just lives there. And so that melody, that's why it came out so haunting. And the tendency in modern music at times, and especially Christian music, is to make tracks busy and fill them with sounds and squash them. And our whole goal in this record was to open it up, to make it vulnerable. Whether it's a rock song or a love song or a worship song, we wanted the space so that people can hear the heart behind the words and they're going to be able to interject their own story into those songs.”
Come See (Glory Hallelujah) “The orchestral parts in the song, we wanted those to kind of look back at some of the stuff The Beatles put together, like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. We just wanted these dissonant kind of strings on it, just to put more emphasis on the lyrics, so that the listener would go, 'This is something that needs to be heard, and that needs to be listened to.' That song was written, really, by text, between me, Jonathan Smith, and Phil Wickham, over a period of about two weeks. That was the one song on the record that didn't come together in a matter of minutes, but it wasn't because the inspiration wasn't there. It was because we were all living in different parts of the country. The lyrics are there to invite listeners into this really strange, hard-to-believe story, about a God who would send his son. Worship songs don't come easy to me. They're not my natural lane. But when it came, I knew it had to be an 'us' song among 'I' songs.”