Interview: Intercessor

Intercessor (opens new window) is a four-piece technical metalcore band from the Twin Cities, Minnesota. They recently released their debut EP Sola, and I had the pleasure of chatting with the band about their history, the making of Sola, their faith, and what's to come.

Introduce yourself and tell us your role in the band?

Peter: I’m Peter, I do vocals and lyrics.

Chris: Hey, I’m Chris. I play guitar and work on the engineering/mixing

Jordan: I’m Jordan, I play drums and I also make a lot of the synth and fx sounds.

Ken: Well hi, I'm Ken and I play the sledge… I mean bass!

What is the history of the band? How did you guys get started?

Chris: The start (and formation) of our band is a bit of a windy road. Peter and I became friends and found out that we were both into metal when he wore a Born of Osiris shirt to our bible study. From there we started talking about all the bands we were into and wound up going to a Phinehas show together. I hadn’t ever seen them live, and their performance was absolutely sick. The whole place was going nuts. It inspired me to start writing music again. I had been mixing a bit and doing live sound gigs, but I hadn’t written music in a while, so the first songs/riffs that I came up with sounded pretty forgettable, haha. Around the same time this happened, it was the 500th year of the Reformation, and I told Peter that we should do an album that focused on each of the Solas. I started working on it right away, and we started forming the beginning of a few of the songs. We met pretty casually throughout the starting weeks to chat about parts and think of new ideas, and it remained very much just a casual project that we worked on for fun. Soon after, Peter introduced me to his buddy Ken, who was also into the same music as us and had a background in guitar and drums. We started doing weekly practice/writing sessions to keep working on the album, and eventually felt it would be fun to give ourselves a name. There really wasn’t a huge intention for trying to play shows or release music, we were just having a good time writing tunes on a regular basis. After about a year of this format, a buddy of mine from college, Jordan, who was also into metal, wound up moving to the Twin Cities for a job opportunity. Jordan played drums, and he and I had played some music together during college. I reached out to him to see if he was interested in joining us, while simultaneously convincing Peter and Ken he’d be a great fit for us. The addition worked out perfectly, as all of our vanilla drum parts were quickly transformed into great technical grooves and fills. From there, we decided it’d be fun to finish the Sola album as a starting point and see where things went from there. The album almost wasn’t even going to be completed at some points, as there were a number of hurdles for each of us, and even times where we all 4 lived in different states. Eventually, we persevered, though. It wasn’t really our intention to start out with a concept album, but it was a lot of fun to explore these tunes with a different theme helping to guide each of them while we found our sound.

What is your musical background?

Chris: I grew up learning piano from my Dad, and eventually picked up a guitar around middle school. I started by taking a few lessons, but I never really practiced or paid attention (which was truly unfortunate), and I found that just playing on my own was more fun. I started by just learning songs I was into, and kept practicing from there. I have an extremely limited understanding of music theory, which isn’t great for my musicianship, but we make it work somehow, haha. I would consider myself more of a “guitar player” compared to a true “musician”.

Jordan: My entire family played drums - my parents literally met in their high school drumline… it’s like a gross Disney movie story. My dad played in the Michigan State University drumline back in the day, so he’s pretty much a stud - and my brothers were always playing as I grew up. I don’t even know when I “started” playing, my whole family was just always playing. I did a lot of concert percussion and drumline for most of my life growing up, and then I really started playing a lot of drumset for church. Most of my drumset experience came from playing for worship at church - youth group, college, and main services, I played for basically all of them that I could. I always liked metal and with my background in drumline, a lot of the technical side and regular practice grind was like coming back to an old friend.

Ken: Growing up I listened to a lot of classic rock with my parents. I remember learning to count while riding in the truck with my dad. Eventually, I wanted to play guitar and learned the twelve-bar blues. Later on, I joined band in school as a percussionist, and eventually worked up to classic ensemble and drumline - which were super fun. Then around a decade ago, I decided to pick up a six-string and start learning guitar for real. I mainly like campfire acoustic style, but am so stoked I get to play heavy stuff with my friends now.

Peter: I grew up playing piano, sax, and guitar. My Dad and brother always had some kind of classic rock playing. Once I got into high school I discovered metal. At the time All That Remains and Lamb of God were at their best. These bands were like nothing I’d ever heard. My brother and my parents never really understood it but they were supportive enough. All these bands I was discovering blew my mind and I was hooked. It wasn’t until this whole project started that I thought about writing lyrics. It’s an incredibly therapeutic process. Sola was such a concept that it didn’t allow for personalized content to come through as much. We’ll be remedying that on the next album. There is a lot of content I’m looking forward to sharing.

Why did you pick the name “Intercessor”?

Our working name for the first few years was Cycles of Exile. There is a pretty amazing website by the same name you should check out which “inspired” us to think about changing our name. We wanted to find a name that was simple, unique, and meaningful. One day Ken suggested Intercessor, and it just felt right.

Who are some of your biggest influences musically and lyrically?

Ken: Musically I'd say my biggest influences come from bands like Born of Osiris, After the Burial, Phineas, Erra... I love groovy riffs. Lyrically my favorite writer is Daniel Tompkins from Tesseract - he’s a master at vibing between personal and metaphoric writing.

Jordan: Musically, some of my biggest influences come from bands I’ve listened to forever like As I Lay Dying, August Burns Red, Underoath, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, Haste the Day, MyChildren MyBride, and A Plea for Purging. Then some newer influences include bands like After The Burial, Auras, Silent Planet, Phinehas. If I want to get really technical I look to Chris Turner, if I want to get really creative I look to Larnell Lewis, and if I want to be inspired musically in general by something non-metal I’ll turn to John Mark McMillan.

Peter: We all love bands like Phinehas, Erra, Silent Planet, and Veil of Maya among many other technical metalcore bands. Each of us probably brings other influences in. I really like deathcore and a lot of the riffing and singing styles that come with that. I think some of that comes through in our songs. My biggest influence was the early 2000s wave of New American Metal. LoG, Chimaira, All that Remains, Shadows Fall, etc. This is what set me down the path for a lot of my taste. Now I mostly listen to metalcore but I don’t really hold to a specific genre(they’re a joke in metal anyway, haha). I don’t have too many influences for lyrics. I find in listening I appreciate style and patterning. I figure if I’m writing the lyrics they’re going to be an artistic expression that flows from me and my experience. Style-wise all the bands I’ve listed and a few good deathcore bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, Brand of Sacrifice, and Circle of Contempt are really fun and interesting. In my mind, nobody is lyrically better than Garrett Russell(Silent Planet). That guy is just unbelievable. Very cerebral and poetic with maximum impact. I’ll also say, lyrically I really respect how Courtney LaPlante(Spiritbox) crafts and tells stories. Riding the line between ambiguity and experience really well while leveraging impactful imagery.

Chris: My background is heavily steeped in metalcore / melodic metalcore from my high school days. As I Lay Dying was the first band that got me into metal, and from there I fell in love with bands like August Burns Red and Texas In July. When I played guitar in high school (in my old band), I’d default to writing pretty standard metalcore parts, without a whole lot of flair. After college, I kind of took a break from metal for a bit, as I moved to a new area and didn’t have friends that were into it. Once I met Peter and we realized we were into similar music, the spark was ignited. He passed along a ton of new progressive metal that I hadn’t heard before. I started writing music again, feeling so inspired from all the new shows and tunes I was hearing. In the beginning, my default was classic metalcore sounding riffs, but I started really paying attention to bands with lots of technicality (Veil of Maya, Currents, Erra, Phinehas, Periphery), and wanted to push myself with my own writing. So I guess I have a variety of things influencing the parts I think and write, but I’m starting to land on a new “default”, which is much more technical and groovy, and that’s a lot of fun.

How was the writing & recording process for “Sola”?

Peter: Everyone contributed to every aspect of the album from lyrics to the drums. I wrote 90% of the lyrics and placement. Chris and Ken both contributed some amazing stuff for lyrics and patterns, they definitely helped me get unstuck on multiple occasions.

Chris: Starting out, Fide and Scriptura were formed from a few riffs that I was messing around with. In the beginning, I would write something, and shoot it over to Peter for us to chat about how it fit within the song structure, continuing to rearrange the song from there. When Ken joined, we started having regular band practice/writing sessions and would work on parts as a trio. We often started with the overall vibe and arc of the song, usually tying in ideas/Scripture to help us lay out what the feel and journey of the song would be. Parts would usually form from a riff idea, and we’d throw some basic drum parts underneath it, filling out the skeleton of the song. When Jordan joined, we had about 60% of the whole record written, and Jordan got to work crafting his drum parts around what we had written. This often led to us revisiting older parts to improve them even more, as he’d have sick ideas for how to adjust things. We started to hit our stride altogether near the end of the record, where we had a blend of all of us contributing to parts, and ideas were forming from everyone. The recording process was both a lot of fun and really challenging. Tracking and mixing everything ourselves was really rewarding, as we were able to shape and control the whole sound from start to finish, but also took a lot of time to learn and do well. Overall we’re really stoked on the final product, knowing it’ll only continue to improve in the future.

Ken: We all pretty much form and write together. All parts considered, it's a really fun and creative process. I got pretty involved with Peter in a few songs lyrically too which was super fulfilling.

Musically, the album is quite technical, which song was the hardest to write and record?

Chris: The hardest song to write was Gloria, as we hit a writing block by that point. We had written everything else, which took a good chunk of time and felt a bit spent. It almost became an instrumental outro of some kind, but one night, we decided to just play around with organ tones as a nod to the concept of the album, and it started shaking out in a really fun way. Christus was definitely the most challenging to track on guitars (though Gloria was surprisingly a close second with all the right-hand work). It took hours of me sitting and tracking to get the perfect take that I could use for things like the riff verse and solo.

Ken: Gloria for sure - it has some of the craziest riff runs for bass, hahaha. Also like Chris mentioned we were busting past writer's block. But a funny part, in general, was writing parts for each song I couldn't even play at full speed. Then over the years, I got better and better and now it's easier to shred.

The epic choral ending of Soli Deo Gloria was quite unexpected. How did that come to be?

Ken: While researching what to feel out for the song I kept coming across hymns and choirs that felt real classical. I wanted to try to marry that into a song so I kept convincing the boys that we needed this epic ending. I was listening to a lot of epic metal like Shokran - And Heavens Began to Fall and it sounded so good. At first, I wrote this long piano part but then caught a melody for what a choir could sing. Eventually, we scrapped the piano bit and kept the chords, and we wrote most of the song before the choir was reconsidered - but then we figured the epic ending on guitars and it worked so well with my Solo Deo Gloria choir chant! Super happy about it!

Peter: Ken definitely had the initial vision for the choir. We tried pretty early on in the writing process and it was definitely not the sound we were going for. Once the vocal and mixing skill increased we revisited the part. Tracking it was really fun. Each of the guys got a few takes in there so we all had our fingerprint on it. On the last day, I tracked an extra 10-12 parts for the Choir with Chris. Getting that down and hearing it come to life in a way that did our vision for it some justice was a really memorable and rewarding part of the album.

What was the inspiration behind the cover art?

Peter: There are multiple meanings for the album art. On one hand, it’s God’s creation and his most tactile presence in our lives. The scene itself felt like a fitting visualization for the concepts the album was conveying. The mist above the trees feels like this heavy presence weighing itself down on natural creation. It felt like the sort of oppression that the Solas were actually trying to come against (we actually had some lyrics for a while where the mist was this metaphor for the long-standing religious institution that was choking out the true church). The added “stutter” effects to the trees tie into the reflection of the trees in the water, where there is this fractured version of how things should be, tainted by sin. On a personal note, this picture carries a lot of meaning for me. I’m a photographer. My wife and I were traveling home from California and were going through a particularly difficult period in life and in our marriage. This picture was taken in Northern California. The photo and the memories from that trip represent renewal in Christ and a commitment to fighting for our marriage.

On Sola, Austin Swayne of Prevailing Providence tracked vocals instead of your vocalist, Peter Anderson. Could you share the back story behind that?

Peter: Yeah. So as we were writing all of the music, I wrote and did most of the placements for the songs. I was also working on unclean vocals for some time. I got to the point where things just weren’t clicking for me. I knew I wasn’t going to be where I wanted by the time we started tracking. We all decided it would make the most sense to find a session vocalist while I continued to develop. I was having a hard time finding a coach. Most options were expensive or just weren’t a learning style fit. I’m a pretty conceptual person and was committed to finding someone locally for help. Chris, our guitarist, had some interactions with Austin and found out he does session work and lessons. Austin was amazing to work with. He’s a great guy all around. He was very intentional about honoring my style and vision for the songs. So we worked together throughout the tracking process to dial in the vocals for the record. He put a ton of work in and absolutely crushed it, and we’re so stoked on the final product.

When you start the creative process of creating and writing songs, how intentional are you in your theological thought process?

This whole thing started with the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and the Solas being the concept for the album. With that kind of subject matter, it was always going to be important to us to maintain an acceptable balance of biblical accuracy and artistry. Everyone in the band worked hard to write notes and jot down specific Scripture for each song. From there it was a process of finding a vision for the narrative and the point of view for each song. There was more of a focus on each song individually but like the Solas, there ended up being this natural overarching connection for all of these songs. With all aspects of the writing, we all helped keep each other in line with our vision theologically, lyrically, and musically.

There are a ton of thought-provoking lyrics on the EP. Some that particularly stood out to me was on the song, Gloria, "Archetypal creation, intemporal majesty / / Infinite potential helpless to loving gravity // Justified before God, by grace by blood by faith". Could you expound these lines?

Peter: Gloria is all about God’s glory and majesty. He exists and is capable on a scale we can barely fathom. Often in Sola, the narrative is a bit interwoven. There is our point of view and God’s. In this section that switch happens halfway through the second line. God is infinite and we are powerless to his love. God’s sovereignty and our participation are constantly held in tension; we have a choice, but God’s pursuit of you will break your sinful will over time. The last section is Him opening the door for us, defeating death, and paving the way for the possibility of a relationship with the Triune God through Jesus.

How did you come to saving faith in Christ?

Chris: I grew up in a Christian environment, but it really wasn’t until college that I started connecting more with God through studying theology and apologetics. I’d say my walk has been more like a dimmer switch continuing to be raised rather than a light switch being flipped on in a single moment. In grad school, I was able to connect with Anselm House, which was a group through the University of Minnesota. My time there was monumental in helping me connect my faith with all of my life, and helped me explore my desire for knowledge, logic, and reasoning in the context of deep theological thought.

Jordan: I grew up in a Christian household. I love my parents, and I owe a lot to them for raising me and my brothers right - while also giving us a lot of space to figure things out for ourselves. My faith continued to grow through high school from my youth pastor (who is still a very close friend/mentor/pastor to me). I went off to college and then grad school to get degrees in engineering, and it was really a natural progression for me to dive deep into theology and apologetics through that time. Because of the way I’m wired, I can’t stop thinking. I love constantly wrestling with the practical ramifications of my faith, and how to make sense of the world around me through the lens of a biblical worldview.

Ken: I was born into a Christian family and was born again around the age of 12. Nowadays, I don't really hang around establishments a ton but I take belief very seriously.

Peter: I grew up in a Christian household as well. My parents were amazing. They always pushed me to God and my relationship with Christ. That being said my faith wasn’t and isn’t always smooth sailing. Things really clicked for me in my early 20s. Going from knowing about Jesus to experiencing a relationship with Him. Even so, it’s a constant effort to abide in Him and trust His ways over my own.

Do you have an affinity towards a certain branch of the Christian faith?

Chris: I definitely land more in the Reformed camp of theological thought. Denomination-wise, I’d probably say somewhere in the Baptist realm.

Jordan: If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say I lean most towards Baptist. While I’m certainly happy to discuss and maybe even fight for many nuances of my faith, I would only die for what C.S. Lewis refers to as “mere Christianity.”

Ken: I've never really long-term subscribed to any denomination - but Lutheran and Baptist were close to me for a long time!

Peter: I grew up in a Non-denominational Church. Since then, when I find a Church I seem to align with theologically I usually find out it has some association with the baptist church on a broad level. I’m not very big on the idea of picking a denomination. God’s Word is our authority and we all need to question established denominations to pursue the Truth. Human instituted establishments have a tendency to warp the purity of God’s message with contrived “extras”.

What is your favorite book of the Bible and why?

Jordan: Hebrews. I recently did a speed read of the entire Bible front to back (along with Chris). Reading that fast and getting a feel for the major patterns from OT and NT, the rhythm and contrast of everything front to back solidified for me what I had felt before - Hebrews is like someone climbed up really high and took a polaroid of the entire bible. It clarifies OT themes within the lens of Jesus. It clearly places Jesus at the center of this historical spiderweb. It’s academic and it’s artistic.

Ken: Ecclesiastes - I'm hugely into philosophy and used to dig into apologetics massively within the last decade. I just like how it reflects a journey many people can go on while sifting through earthly knowledge. It also feels like it could stand alone as a philosophy/theology book.

Chris: Ephesians. It’s hard for me to narrow it down to just one, but I think I just love the thoughts and richness that the whole book carries. Paul interweaves deep theological thought and Christology into epistemology and application. There’s always something new that I connect with each time I read it.

Peter: My answer for this will change all of the time. I’ll go with Ecclesiastes since it’s been on my mind. The theme that things are pointless. The world falls short, our desires and ambitions fall short, and that all the philosophies and viewpoints that the world has to offer fall short. It’s all vanity. There isn’t too much of a conclusion specifically within Ecclesiastes but combined with the message of Jesus in all of Scripture. Our hope is in Him. In a world gone mad, Jesus offers truth and a path out and away from the madness.

What are some of your favorite recent releases in the Christian metal/hardcore scene and are there any releases you guys are looking forward to?

It’s been a lot of fun to dive into some new bands that we’ve found since being more active on social media. Been jamming tunes from Collapse//Revive (opens new window), Context (opens new window), and As Lions and Lambs (opens new window) lately, for example. Also can’t wait for some new releases from Phinehas and Silent Planet!

Now that the EP is available. What is next for Intercessor?

Oh, we got more tunes coming. We’re just getting started.

We’re also actively booking some local shows in the Twin Cities area! If you’re around, we hope to see you there!

Thank you for taking the time to do this. Any last words you would like to share?

It’s been an absolute blast working on this album, and it feels extremely humbling to see that listeners are into it. We definitely did not expect the amount of attention it would get, and feel so honored that people would engage with something that we created.

On a separate note regarding the vision for our band, we didn’t necessarily form this band with a vision of being a “Christian” band per se. Our approach is a bit more holistic to what the band means for us. We are Christians, in all areas of our lives, so naturally our worldview comes through in the music we write and create. But first and foremost, this band has been the space for us to create music that we’re passionate about, and engage with different topics that we’re wrestling through. It’s also where we hope that sharing it with others also helps them connect with these ideas. Sola was more of a concept album, so the theme for each song was already shaped by its individual topic. As we continue to write music, you’ll see us engage with experiences and struggles in our own lives, while still connecting with our deep theological convictions.

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Read our review of Sola here.