A consistent force on Christian rock radio, Dove Award-winning Seventh Day Slumber has sold a combined total of nearly 500,000 units to date, landing two Billboard #1 albums, five #1 singles and 14 Top 10 hits in a career spanning more than 20 years. Closer To Chaos, the much anticipated new studio recording from the seminal Christian rockers, is set to bow May 31st. Debuting on RockFest Records—the groundbreaking label founded by Seventh Day Slumber frontman Joseph Rojas last year—Closer To Chaos finds the group returning to their melodic rock roots with a collection of 10 brand new songs Produced by Seventh Day Slumber’s Jeremy Holderfield, with three selections co-produced and co-written by Disciple’s Josiah Prince, Closer To Chaos tackles a range of issues, including emotional trauma, self-worth and sobriety, among other topics. Just hours before the album was released, we met with the band and really learned about the heart behind this new record. In a must-see interview, Joseph Rojas (lead vocals/guitar), Jeremy Holderfield (guitar), Blaise Rojas (drums) and Ken Reed (bass) open up about the personal challenges going on in their lives that impacted the album, their conscious shift to move to a familiar sound and their measure of success for this record.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Closer To Chaos! How does it feel for this week to be release week?
Joseph: It’s a long time coming, but I feel like we aren’t ready. [Laughs.] We still have people pre-ordering the album. It’s crazy how excited people are about this one! It feels good for people to be this excited about a Seventh Day Slumber album, but this seems different. There’s a lot more excitement and people are seeing that we are giving them a full rock record that they wanted. Two days out and it’s just crazy! We just moved up to #41 in the world on iTunes preorders; we’ve stayed in the top #50 across all genres of music, so that’s just pretty cool!
Can you give us an idea about how long this project has been in the making?
Joseph: We released a record two years ago called 'Found,' which was half worship and half rock. It still sold well, but not like our other records. We’ve released all worship and all rock records, and they’ve been received well. But with 'Found' we were trying to please everybody, and you can’t do it. People still loved it, but they were cherry-picking it. But we’ve wanted to release a record with no outside influences, and with this one we own the record label, so we did a record that we wanted to do. Not that we aren’t proud of our previous work, and no one made us do any of that before, so I don’t want us to sound like the labels made us do anything, but they did have certain boxes we needed to check for them. But this one, I would say, it’s been in the making since we’ve been on a label…so fourteen years in the making. But we didn’t start writing for the record until about a year ago.
How did you choose the title Closer To Chaos for this collection, and how does the album art tie into this message?
Joseph: We all talk about titles, but we aren’t all that good at coming up with names. The songs when we write them have weird names, like Jeremalicious - for band member Jeremy - but that obviously wasn’t going to make the record. So this record, though, I feel like a lot of us as Christian men and women, we are just getting closer and closer to the edge. And I feel like we are constantly pushing the envelope, and meanwhile, we are living in a world that has gone completely crazy and nuts. And I’m not even just talking about the political climate; I’m also talking about morality. Things that you would have never thought are on TV or said on the radio – and you would have blushed if it was several years ago. So here we are as a world going crazy and it’s just chaotic. But at the end of the day, we are going to feel that everything is crashing down on us. And on the album cover, there is this tree of life with everything burning down around it. But the truth is that even though everything is crashing down and burning around you – looking like chaos all around you – God is still God. He has not changed; He is not going anywhere. And He loves you, and he is stable in the middle of all of your crisis and chaos. So while we may be getting ‘Closer To Chaos’, God is everlasting, which is what the title is referring to.
This album seems very personal to the band, so we were wondering if you could share a personal story of something that went on in your own life that impacted the album?
Jeremy: I can talk about “Alive Again”. Everybody deals with stress and to me, that song was a lot about stress. I was working on the album, producing and recording it, and also at the same time I was booking a tour. And I have a brand new baby at home. So there was a lot of stuff going on, and me trying to balance everything felt like the visual of spinning plates on sticks, and I felt like the plates were falling off a lot. I had written the music, but I didn’t want to just throw anything out there for the lyrical content. So that came out naturally when I started talking about stress and when you can’t get anything right. We all feel those things, and it just came together. It’s a song that feels good when you’re listening to it, it’s fun to listen to, and also the lyrical content is real to everybody. Being in this industry, there is a lot of stress trying to mold ministry and music and business altogether at the same time and balance it all.
Joseph: There’s a song called “Your Eyes.” I’ve put on a bunch of weight over the past five years, and I was really embarrassed about it. I’m married to this beautiful, amazing woman who looks great and is active. And I was going through a depression because I was running to food as comfort, and I ended up putting on 130 pounds. But I started feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. My job is to go stand in front of people to do interviews like this and singing in front of crowds, and I just didn’t even want to get out of the bus. But I had to realize that God is using me to minister to hurting people, and I don’t have to stay in the rut that I’m in. But I’ll never get out of this until I see the way that God sees me. I would look in the mirror and say these horrible things about myself right before getting on stage, ‘I look so fat and ugly and stupid.’ And I’m saying these things about myself and telling people not to say these things about themselves. I’m not being a hypocrite, or maybe I am, but I’m not superhuman. I deal with the same things that everyone else does. I know I’m not supposed to say those things about myself, and yet in that moment, I’m not thinking that way. And so I wrote a personal song about it with some of the lyrics being, ‘I wish I could forget the way I looked back then / I can’t believe what I’ve become / And every picture speaks a thousand words / It’s the story that I’m not enough.’ So what that means is if you look back at old videos like “Surrender” or “Caroline” or “Wasted Life”, they all can’t be erased. And I love those songs, but I looked different than I do now. I was alive and in shape, and I wish I could forget them because what it tells me is that what I am now isn’t what I used to be. But at the end of the day, I don’t have to stay and neither do you. And I’m down over 60 pounds now, and I’m still big, but I’m not where I was. And I’m not where I want to be, but I’m also not where I was. And every day I’m getting closer.
Blaise: So I wrote the lyrics for “The Letter” a couple of years ago during Jeremy’s altar call during tour. And he had asked ‘how many of you had considered suicide’ or ‘how many of you wouldn’t be here in a week if you hadn’t come to this concert’? And a lot of hands were raised, and it was sad for me that so many people were hurting, but I was also happy because they got there in time and they survived. But then I got really sad again because then I was thinking about all of the people that we didn’t reach in time. And there are so many people in the world, and we can only be in one place at a time. So I had the lyrics for awhile, and when we were writing for this album, we had some really awesome music that needed lyrics and melody for it. So me and my dad [Joseph] were in the studio in our house, and I brought those lyrics back out and it ended up going well. The verses are about two different people who ended up taking their lives and their stories of hurting, and the chorus is the suicide letter. So that’s why it’s called “The Letter.” And the song is to help bring awareness and show that we as a band may not be able to reach everyone, but there are how many people in the world. You can be that person to be there for them. You can be the person that keeps them alive.
In addition to writing songs internally, you welcomed guest co-writers on this album. What was that experience like?
Joseph: Jeremy and I have written hundreds of songs together over the years, and we knew to keep it fresh and relevant and to push us as writers, we needed to go outside of just us. So we welcomed the inspiration. My son [Blaise] co-wrote three songs on the album, and also Josiah Prince from Disciple co-wrote three songs on the album as well. Marco Pera came in and wrote a few, and we had the Random Hero guys as well. Random Hero actually co-wrote one of the songs, and then wrote another of the songs by themselves with Josiah [Prince]. We loved “Drama” and put it on our record. We produced it, and Jeremy worked really hard on it.
Jeremy: Yeah, I feel like just working with all of these people that are so good at what they do, that is different than what we do, helps to bring out things in us. That’s the fun part of cowriting – thinking of a chord structure or a lyric – that we wouldn’t have come up with, but we now get to keep it and use it on our album.
We talked a bit about the writing, but I am curious which was the most difficult song to record?
Joseph: “Burning An Empire” was a Frankenstein. We could just not get the song to work no matter what we did. It had a really cool verse and the chorus was just ‘eh’. And then there was this other song that had a really awesome chorus but the verses were just not good. And we couldn’t finish the two songs, but we didn’t want to trash them, so we put the two together. So that was probably one of the harder songs to put together.
Ken: To play, personally it’s “The Letter”. I heard it and had to really break it down section by section what the guitars were doing. It’s just some really cool stuff.
Joseph: I would say a hard song to sing emotionally for me is “Sober”. I used to be a cocaine addict with no hope in my life before I knew Jesus. I mean I had a $400/day cocaine addiction and was in and out of jails and institutions. I didn’t even believe in God, or didn’t know if there was one I guess. My mom became a Christian when I was 18 and in jail, and my mom kept praying for me. I ended up becoming a Christian in the back of an ambulance after a suicide attempt. I was in the Intensive Care Unit and almost died, but God healed my broken heart. Years later, I have this beautiful, awesome wife and three awesome kids. I’m in a band that is touring all over the world and even have the things, like the Dove Award, and then after years of doing this, I began to feel empty. I started to feel depressed, and I didn’t know why. It was thoughts from my childhood that started popping up; I had a pretty rough childhood with no father in my life and my brother and I were abused by babysitters. And I was just really hurting, and I didn’t want to tell people. I ended up starting with a few drinks and before I knew it, I started running to alcohol just like I was telling you that I was running to food. And I ended up with a problem, and my kids, who had always seen their daddy as their hero and someone who could never fail, saw me struggling with something I couldn’t beat. And I couldn’t reach out because I am the lead singer of a Christian rock band; how do I tell someone that I’m dealing with this. How do I share this and not be talked about and kicked out of the genre I’m in? But I was hurting, and I wanted to reach out, but I didn’t – not to my pastors or anyone. But I would look at my kids, and I could tell they knew something wasn’t right. So I just cried out to Jesus and said ‘I need you first place in my life. I don’t know why you’re not now and I don’t know how that happened. I didn’t intentionally do that, but here’s where I’m at, God. You need to be first place, above and beyond even my wife and kids. Above and beyond anyone else, God. You. You alone are my source and my portion. I need You. Before I eat in the morning, You are my bread. I need You, God’. And when I did that he healed me. And I told my kids that their daddy is never going to touch that again. And there’s a part of that song where it says ‘I want to medicate, but I got to sit through the pain / To tell the truth I almost picked up the bottle again / But I made a promise to my kids / Daddy’s never going back, no matter how hard it gets’. So that’s a hard song to sing.
Thank you so much for opening up to us. Our last question can be a tricky one. In your own words, what is a measure of success for this album?
Jeremy: For me, with every album, does it connect with people and do they get it? If they just listen to a song and think it’s cool, but they don’t say how it affected them, then I just wrote a cool song. But I feel we connect with our fans because of us being real. We aren’t hiding anything. And Joseph was saying how he was scared about how people would react, and I get that because people can be super judgmental. But I will also say that our fanbase is made up of a lot of people that have struggled with all of those things. And they love us because we cared enough about them to talk to them on our Facebook page and at concerts. And when they share with us about what they're struggling with, and message us, they tell us things that I’m amazed they have the guts to say these things to people they may have never met in person. But they trust us because we aren’t going to judge them. We just want to love them through it. I feel like that’s the connection I want to make, and that’s the success part of it for me.
Ken: Joe always says that God is not surprised by any of your problems or situations that you may be in. And I just want people to see from this record that there is a resolution. God can get you out of that situation. We were there when Joe was struggling. We saw his pain, but we also saw God get him out of that pain. That’s what I hope people see from this record.
Blaise: You can sell a million albums, and not connect with anyone, and what’s that going to do? Put a bunch of money in your bank account? But the main thing is that we want to connect with people and show them that we struggle with the same stuff that they do. We aren’t super humans just because we play in a band that people know. We struggle with the same stuff and we are with you. We are here to talk with you. You are not alone, and you can talk to us. We love you.
Joseph: I feel like it’s already a success and it hasn’t even been released yet. Peoples' lives have already been touched by hearing some of the songs and even just hearing us talk about some of the songs. They’ve been touched, and it’s just crazy. I have three amazing sons; Blaise gets to be on camera, but they’re all amazing. And I look at them and even though they see me do a lot of cool things, they saw that moment of weakness. I hated that they saw it, but these kids are so grounded in Jesus. I’ve always said that it’s Him; your daddy may let you down, but it’s Him who will always be stable in your life no matter what. And to see those three amazing kids, and then to have Blaise play on the record, and not only just play on it, but he elevated our band. Trying to keep up with this kid is crazy. He took us to a new level as a band. My son did that. I’ve been in music since I was 12, and my son has taken my band of 20 years, who has technically been a successful band for at least 16 of 17 of those years, and he elevated it. It’s just a success already. But to add to that, it doesn’t hurt that we have more preorders and physical copies than we can keep up with. I would say it’s also going to do well, and it’s going to hit Billboard across all genres on the first week out.