Singled Out: Wolves at the Gate
'Slaves' was probably one of the songs that was the most fun to write as well as the most challenging. As a band we had never tackled anything like this song on many different angles. I originally wrote the song on the acoustic thinking that it would never become a song that Wolves would play. All I had written was the intro and the chorus that I recorded as a voice memo on my iPod. For about a week I would jam it on my acoustic, mulled it over, and thought about whether or not I would show this to the guys. I eventually worked up the courage and sent Jeremy the voice memo I had recorded and told him that I wanted to turn this into a Wolves song. At first listen he said that it was "very different" from anything that I had been sending out. But I got an excited text from him two or three days later encouraging me to pursue this song. With the song writing on this new record, I really wanted to push myself to expand the creativity of our music even further. I wanted to push the envelope of what is expected by our listeners and the expectations we have for ourselves.
Lyrically I had planned out the story line of the song long before I wrote the music and I literally woke up in the middle of the night and wrote the lyrics to the first half of the song. Up until this point I hadn't written a song for Wolves that followed a story line because all of our songs have been reflections on life experiences and things that the Lord has taught me/changed in my life. I wanted the song to paint a picture of the story with the hope that the listener could envision the story line as they listened. I truly believe that this song is something that applies to everyone and hopefully our listeners will take the time to dig into the lyrics of this song. Before the lyrics and music were completed I got together with the guys and explained the concept of the song. Right then and there we decided to story-board the idea. So our bassist, Ben Summers, pulled out a sheet of paper and we drew out the whole story line like you would for a book or novel and then discussed how the music should correlate with the actual story. One of the goals in writing the song was that I really wanted it to be a mirror image of itself structurally. We wanted the song to grow to a climax, just like you would in a novel, and then fade to a resolution in the story. As well as musically, the lyrics of the song mirror each other but with slight differences in the characters point of view.
The story behind 'Slaves' is something that is in essence a story about myself as well as, in all actuality, all of humanity. It encompasses the different places people's hearts tend to be at times. The story starts at dusk when this slave decides to escape and run from the master. He runs all through the night out of fear of getting caught and being punished by a master that he perceives to be tyrannical. He finally escapes to what he believes to be freedom and quickly realizes that this life of fulfilling his every desire and want is leaving him empty and broken. It climaxes to the middle of the song where the slave is screaming out in anger, frustration, and desperation. He now fears that this decision to run has brought him to his demise. The slave then comes to the realization of his mistake and all runs back to the master with more fervency then his initial flight from the master. All throughout the song he speaks of these chains that are wrapped around his body that he seeks to rid himself of. It isn't until the end of the song that it is revealed to him the reality of his bondage and the personality of the master. My goal was to mainly focus on the slave so that people could identify more with the character with the hopes that they would in turn see the goodness of what Christ has done for them by providing the freedom of salvation in Him alone.
The idea of being a slave, in any culture, denotes such a negative connotation. In America we think about the scars that this country has due to the awful treatment of slaves during the early years of America's inception. The general perception of slavery and being a slave is one with no endearment whatsoever. For a long time, I myself lived under the perception that being a slave to anything was undesirable. It hit me like a ton of bricks a while back when I was reading in Romans 6 about being a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. I had read that scripture before, I had heard it before, but God really opened up my eyes to it in a much more real way. It was verse 16 & 22 that really gripped my heart and shook me. v.16 "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" v.22 " But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." A couple days later I then was listening to a sermon by a man named John MacArthur about this very same passage and topic. I could really tell that the Lord was seeking to awaken my heart to this truth, thus it propelled me to want to write this song. The reason why so many times people hate the idea of slavery is due in part to a fear of a wicked master. A wicked master only has his own best interest in mind, is abusive, and seeks only to gain, steal, and exploit the slave. When we allow ourselves to be slavs to sin, we are allowing satan to take mastery over our lives and hearts whose goal is to kill, steal, and destroy. The realization I came to about this idea is this, I do not fear being a slave to Christ for I know that my master is good. He has always provided for my every physical need, has shown an abundance of grace in my life by forgiving me of my sins while I lived in defiance of Him, and persistently loving me despite how unfaithful I can be.
After we finished story-boarding the content of the song the next difficulty began in so far as writing the music. It was very exciting to get the outline of the story solidified but then the real challenge came with creating music that would sonically match the place the character was in as the story progressed. I battled with this song for about three weeks to a month trying to get it to the point where I felt every part of the story was communicated well with the music. If it weren't for the voice memo application on my iPod, I don't think this song would have ever come to fruition. Ask anyone in my band, but I am notorious for mumbling little ideas into my iPod so that I don't forget them. Sometimes they are melodies, sometimes drum ideas, guitar stuff, lyrics, anything that comes to mind. A lot of the time it comes to me while I am working. Ben Summers and I do construction when we're off the road and many times I find myself in the awkward situation where I get an idea and I run quick to get my iPod to capture it. Of course I never have an instrument so I literally just make the sounds with my mouth or playing the rhythm with my hands. It's a really technical and extremely professional way of writing music as I'm sure this is how Coldplay and U2 write their records as well. The main melody of the song, that is sung at the very beginning and also heard throughout the song, I heard in my head and recorded it immediately into my voice memo. I remember showing the melody to Ben Summers and he said it sounded like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which to me was completely a compliment, although I wasn't completely sure what he meant by that. It has a really interesting dark tinge to it while at the same time being quite melodic.
We were really excited for this song because it possesses the ability to be a showcase for everyone in the band to shine which was really cool to be able to do. It was a lot of fun recording this song as well because we were seeking to capture a much different feel in this song that in some of the others on the record. The intro of the song we tracked with one of the drum room mics just sitting in the tracking room. Our producer, Andreas Magnussen, just had me sit down and play it with my acoustic a couple times and tried to keep it really raw sounding. The acoustic guitar I used was really awesome because it was actually a gift from a fan of ours I have become friends with named Anthony Bauchner. We met him at a show in Chicago and he drove up to see us play in Dayton for a show and brought this really old Gibson acoustic guitar that was made sometime in the early 1950s. It's a beautiful guitar that has a lot of character in its sound and look. So it was really awesome to be able to use that guitar on the record. For those who have heard the song already, you will notice in the beginning that there is a guest vocalist who sings back and forth with me. We were fortunate enough to have Shane Blay (guitarist and singer for Oh Sleeper) come in and sing on that song for us. He did an excellent job on the song and were very grateful he was willing to do that for us. We've always been big fans of their music so naturally we were honored. At the midpoint of the song it reaches the climax of the story so musically we wanted there to be a real feel of tension. We knew we wanted it to sound chaotic, an organized chaos, that felt natural, raw, and live. So our producer told me to grab my guitar, head into the tracking room, crank up the amp, and go nuts. And that I did. It was probably one of the more fun experiences in the studio as we were trying to capture...noise.
When writing music, it at times can be really difficult to keep things simple while writing heavy music. Our goal with 'Slaves', more than with the other songs, was to maintain simplicity in the song writing while not compromising the integrity of writing a heavier song. When we used to write songs a while back, the mentality was always about how much we could cram into one song. But as we have progressed in our understanding of what makes a good song in it's entirety, we've realized that less is more. It's a common cliche that you hear all the time, but it really has made a difference in how we write songs. We also saw through touring that while it's one thing to record a song and capture a lot of cool elements, it needs to sound just as good if not better played live. All of these things factored into the writing of this song and we are really proud of the product that we walked out of the studio with. We're looking forward to seeing how our fans respond to this different look at a Wolves At The Gate song.
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself and learn more about the album right here!