Interview with Fit For A King vocalist Ryan Kirby | By Nicholas Senior
Two words that rarely appear in the same sentence: refreshing and metalcore. Hell, add in Christian, and you’ve got one unusual musical Mad Libs game.
On their third release, Houston’s Fit For A King bring one massive dose of refreshing honesty and heart to their brand of Christian metalcore—see, that wasn’t so bad. Deathgrip—released via Solid State Records last October—tackles some truly dark subjects: terrorist attacks, child soldiers and child slavery, genocide… It’s very unlikely to win Most Uplifting Album of the Year at the Dove Awards, but it sure makes for a compelling listen. It’s to the band’s credit that the music behind the lyrical darkness is the most fully realized version of Fit For A King’s sound to date: malicious, melodic, and mosh-y in equal doses. It’s filled to the brim with soaring hooks and heady beatdowns, but while the vessel is impressive, the band really care about their message of perspective and privilege.
Vocalist Ryan Kirby takes a moment to talk about the album’s exploration of humanity’s dark side, gaining perspective, and how “not being butthurt about things” resulted in the band’s best, most consistent album.
Deathgrip seems to relate to the grip that death has on us. You’ve mentioned that the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks were the catalyst for the lead single, “Pissed Off.” Can you expand on that?
We tend to write our music before our lyrics, and the Paris [attacks] started it. While I was in the studio finishing the lyrics, I asked the fans to reach out and share some of their life stories. An overwhelming number of them involved death in one way or another, and I thought, “Maybe the record should take its theme after this.” It’s an issue that affects a lot of people.
Too often Christian bands hold back from any negativity, and yet Deathgrip goes all in, which is quite refreshing. It isn’t filtered through “Jesus Loves Me” goggles.
That was a big goal. So many bands tiptoe around issues—especially Christians will not want to talk about how awful things are. Sometimes, it just doesn’t get better for people, so some of the songs don’t have happy endings. For example, “Stacking Bodies” is about the Rwandan genocide. That doesn’t have a happy ending. In no way is 500,000 people being killed just because a group of people didn’t like them—there’s no twist that would make it happy. The same with the tragedy in Paris or child soldiers; they aren’t going away, unfortunately.
I try to tell people we are a Christian band, but we’re not a worship band. That’s the thing that trips up people who complain about the darkness in our lyrics, but I think as a Christian band, we’re equally responsible to let people know how bad the world is, because we can make a change. The first thing we have to do is acknowledge that there is a problem in order to try to change it.
That is a problem: this unfounded blind optimism about the state of the world. No, the world is quite awful at times…
As I heard explained recently, just because you become a Christian doesn’t mean the world is all of a sudden a better place; it’s still just as awful. You still may suffer just as much. Being a Christian doesn’t change anything about the world, but it changes your perspective.
Exactly. Along those lines, did this record change your perspective?
The more I really dug into everything—reading quotes from former child soldiers—I just realized how awful everything is. Trying put myself in their shoes while writing, I just realized how awful this world has become—a place where a 12-year-old can talk about having to kill his family, because he was forced to as a way to desensitize him. It’s so hard for any of us to imagine it, so I wanted to show people how bad the world is. If anything, the takeaway should be that we should be very appreciative of everything we have. Even if we’re dirt poor, being dirt poor in America is a thousand times better than being a slave in Africa to an army.
What was your takeaway from Deathgrip, personally?
Doing this record has really made me a happier person, as weird as it sounds, because I truly appreciate everything. Even if I have a bad show or we have poor first-week sales numbers, at the end of the day, I’ll still say I have an extremely blessed life, and I’m fortunate to be in the position I’m in, having the chance to inform people about the struggles of others. Now when I complain about something little in my life, I laugh at how little it matters after writing this record.
This is your second album with the same lineup, and you can hear the comfort you now have with each other reflected on the record. Revisiting your old stuff, what are your thoughts on those earlier records?
[2014’s] Slave to Nothing was just kind of—for lack of a better word—a mess, because [Ryan] Tuck [O’Leary], our bassist, joined our band four days before the studio. We didn’t know him before that, outside of the tryout process, so we didn’t have a comfort level with him. When he’s singing, I feel like [that comfort is] really necessary when you’re critiquing things. None of us were comfortable enough to criticize him, and he wasn’t familiar enough with us to take the criticism. Plus, he’d never been in a touring band before. He was the leader in his previous bands, so it was weird for him to hear, “No, we don’t really like that.” [Laughs] It’s fine now, we’re all best friends, but it led to some parts we don’t really like on that record.
On Deathgrip, I wanted to start singing, which lessened [Tuck’s] role in the band, and he took it really well. We even do some back and forth, and we felt like it was best for the music. Before the record, we all got together and said, “All right, nobody get butthurt. We’re going to be completely honest about everything, and if there’s something that one person in the band doesn’t like, we’re scrapping it.” That was the mindset, because on Slave to Nothing, on almost every song, there’s one part someone in the band doesn’t like.
That resulted in the most consistent, assured album of your career. It sounds like you have carved out your sound a lot more this time around. There isn’t this rough demarcation between the heavier and more melodic sides of your style. Deathgrip feels more smoothed out, unified. Were you nervous about singing on the record?
At first. I’m honestly more nervous about singing live, because I don’t have much experience doing that. On the album, I started off nervous, but I got extremely comfortable, and I actually had more fun tracking singing than screaming, because I’ve done screaming my whole life. It was a new challenge.