Chris Quilala has been a vital part of Jesus Culture, both as a worship pastor for the Sacramento-based church and since the formation of the Jesus Culture Music label. He's been involved in their 13 live worship projects - selling more than a million albums to date - and as a core worship leader introducing many well-known Jesus Culture songs including “Your Love Never Fails” and “Fierce,” which have gone on to impact lives around the world. Chris and his wife Alyssa have four children - Ella, Aria, Jethro (born December 3, 2014 and is living in heaven) and their newest addition, Liv. Chris made another milestone last November with the release of his debut solo project, Split the Sky. Set apart from anything Jesus Culture has recorded before, Split the Sky ventures into a new realm of worship music largely influenced by retro pop, futuristic soundscapes and driven by big synth melodies. Currently touring with the Jesus Culture team on the Outcry Spring 2017 Tour, Quilala recently talked with us about the direction of his solo release, his favorite part of the Outcry Tour and what to expect from Jesus Culture in the coming months.
Taking a look back at the last 12 months or so, it has been a very busy season for the Jesus Culture team with releases of the unplugged edition of Let It Echo, Bryan & Katie Torwalt’s new album, your debut solo record and most recently a new project from Kim Walker-Smith. With all of this new music to choose from, how do you go about designing a set list for a night like this?
Lots of conversation! We started talking about some of the solo albums, but it came down to us deciding to just do the songs from Jesus Culture albums. Beyond picking a set list, we’ve tried to be real intentional with what God is doing in each city. For example, what does God want to release in Pittsburgh? So for us, building a set list looks like us actually cutting songs out of the set, so we can have the freedom if the Holy Spirit is leading us during the set to throw in a tag or another song.
Going back to your debut solo release, Split The Sky, it had a very distinct and kind of new to worship music retro pop feel. Can you give us some insight into the intent of going in that direction for your first solo project?
A lot of the songs I wrote. I’ve written more songs in the last couple years than my entire life. Part of that is working with some amazing friends – a lot of cowrites. The other part of it is the journey I went through with the loss of my son and songs like “Miracles” came out of that. Some of the songs from that season ended up on my album. So that’s where the pool of songs came from, but then musical sound was me wanting to try something different than all the live albums I’ve done. The thing that has held me back from doing a solo album is I don’t know what genre or style I want to go with because I love ambient music, rock and folk rock. So when I was talking to the producer, I sent a list of bands that I love and music I enjoy. And when it came down to actually getting into the studio, I told the guys to just have fun and see where it lands. If it got too out there, we could pull it back in, but that was our mentality when we went into the studio. I’m happy with how it turned out – it’s different, but we’ve done a few live and they’ve done well. A bit different approaching a live set with electronic sounds, but it’s a lot of fun.
Were there any songs on that record that were particularly challenging to write, record or perform?
Not on a technical standpoint. There were songs that stood out for me, “Heaven Came For Me” was one of them. I wrote that one with friends, and there is a line that says ‘joy was found in the midst of pain’. For me, even when I was recording it, it was hard for me to get that lyric out because it was something I had really experienced. A lot of things happen and there’s not always an answer for them, but the truth is that God’s always with us. And if you can view situations through that perspective, then there is joy on the other side of pain and beauty for ashes.
What do you hope listeners take away from listening to Split The Sky?
I want people to encounter God’s presence. Something that Jesus Culture has always stood for is to provide a place for people to encounter God through our live events, albums, coming to our church, whatever it is. We want to provide an atmosphere where people can encounter God’s presence and then take that encounter home with them to their actual homes, their families, their schools, businesses and workplaces. There is a similar heart with my album; my prayer is people would encounter God’s presence and it would change their life and the atmosphere around them.
Turning next to Kim Walker-Smith’s new record On My Side, do you have a favorite track on that album?
I love “Throne Room!” It’s amazing – that chorus is just massive. And Kim has a way of just bringing a song like that, it feels like we are in His throne room right now. The lyric, the melody and the music behind it is just so massive.
Here we are in Pittsburgh, about half way through the spring Outcry tour. How have the first set of shows been?
They’ve been amazing – we’re sharing the night with Lauren Daigle and Elevation Worship. It’s been such an honor; their heart behind what they do is so genuine and authentic. There is this atmosphere, and I hope it translates to on stage, but behind the scenes we are all for each other. The goal is that God would be magnified and the churches and people who are coming would feel there are no walls. I think that atmosphere is definitely in the room. We are halfway through, but I feel like we’ve been ramping up. I don’t know if it’s us becoming more comfortable with each other, but there is this synergy building and we can’t wait to see what God brings through our unity.
Do you have a favorite moment of the night on this tour that is special for you?
Kim went into a spontaneous moment with “Fresh Outpouring”, which is on her new album and will be on Jesus Culture’s next live album. I jokingly said that it felt like God was going to show up in the room and take us all to heaven, or that she was going to have her baby on stage. It was so intense, so powerful. It was in Reading, PA and the room was so thick. And a funny moment is that I forgot the second verse of “Your Love Never Fails”, which I’ve probably sung over 1,000 times. I just had to laugh it off when people were asking me about it.
On tours like this, you get to interact on and off stage with fellow CCM artists and bands. From tour experiences over the last year or so, who are some artists you would like to collaborate with in the future if the opportunity were to arise?
I definitely have a lot of respect for the bands on this tour. I’ve connected a lot with Mack from Elevation Worship. I love his heart and we’ve talked about getting together, whether or not it happens on this tour. And, Lauren Daigle is just very genuine and authentic. So when you find people with similar hearts, amazing things seem to come out when you get together to write.
Are there any must have items that you really wanted to take on the road for this tour?
Bus life is a challenge. It’s really fun, but something I bought new for this tour is a sheet sleeping bag. It’s kind of weird, and I feel a little trapped in it, but you just never know what was in the bunk you were sleeping in. So it feels a little more sanitary, so that’s now a must-have for travel.
We started the interview by talking about how busy the last 12 months have been for Jesus Culture Music. What should we expect looking forward to later in 2017?
We just recorded an album at our church, which is the second album we’ve done at our church in Sacramento. So that’s coming out in late July/early August. I’m looking forward to that. We’re really excited about the songs! We recorded 19 or so, so now we are trimming the fat. Beyond that, we have another Outcry Tour in August with some amazing artists. And then family time, since summer is always fun with the kids.
With the new album, you mentioned Kim recorded a version of “Fresh Outpouring”. Is that album a mix of new and revamped material?
It will be all new songs, with the exception of “Fresh Outpouring”. It’s a different take on it though, so it will definitely be fresh.
Thinking conceptually about this upcoming record, was there a specific focus or message in mind when recording it?
All of the worship leaders in Jesus Culture don’t always get to write together. But it’s funny to see the themes that do come out. A couple lyrics for several songs – one of them being “Flood The Earth” that Katie Torwalt does, and that lyric ‘flood the earth’ was also in one of Kim’s songs and I said it on one of my songs in a spontaneous moment. So the fresh outpouring of the spirit of God’s presence flooding the earth is a common theme. There is a thread that definitely goes through the whole album. Also, I wrote a song with friends called “Make Us One” that is about the church coming together and setting aside our fences, which is a needed message at this point in time.