You get very few bands that communicate a message of hope and love through Jesus as strongly as post-hardcore upstarts Wolves at the Gate. Emerging triumphantly from the release of their second album VxV , their clean vocalist Steve Cobucci sat down to answer a few questions from MEB Staff member Craig Roxburgh.
The sound of VxV seems to be a lot heavier in comparison to previous albums. What influenced this heavier approach to your music?
We didn’t anticipate people perceiving the new songs as heavier as it was not something we had set out to accomplish with the new record. This may sound like we are talking about the same thing, but we did indeed set out to write powerful music. It is something that we have always chased after as a band. Some of our most powerful songs don’t have any element of what would be considered “heavy” seeing as it is quite an objective term these days. We just want people to feel the emotion of the content of the songs by writing music that will match its intensity and vice versa. Also, the more you tour and play live shows, the more you realize what it is that you really enjoy playing the most. So these songs were birthed from a cognition of the live atmosphere as well.
An interesting feature within the new album is the use of what sounds like extracts from a sermon. Where do these sermon extracts come from and what inspired you to use them?
The sound bites you will hear on the record come from three different sermons that are explicitly congruent with themes about the incredible love that God has for sinners. When I was writing the songs, I heard and saw these places in the songs where it fit perfectly to have sound bites come in to help communicate these deep truths regarding God’s incredible character and nature. There also are parts on the record that we had some spoken word that was read by myself and very close friends of mine, including my future wife Giovanna. All of these things, we hoped, would serve the purpose of causing people to really think about the content of the songs and to not just write them off as just lyrics. The thought that you have to have lyrics on a song because it’s a necessary evil. Or that we have Christian lyrics to impress God, to look good for our parents, to please our pastors or anything ridiculous like that. The Gospel, the content of our record and lyrics, is the most real thought that we have to share with people. It is not a burden to us that we feel like we have to write about it so we look Christian but because it is so very real in our lives. That the God of all things set His passionate and unstoppable love upon sinners like us. It is unbelievable!
Wolves at the Gate are, for the lack of a better word, champions in the Christian metal scene. Since the break-up of Underoath and Emery, Christian metal went underground with a lot of the old heavyweights, like As I Lay Dying, August Burns Red, and Killswitch Engage, moving away from Christian lyricism. Why do you think that Christian metal went underground?
I can’t really speak to any of these specific examples because I don’t know these guys you mentioned very well at all. So this is purely an outsider’s opinion and an opinion at that. There was a time when it was very normal to see a band stand and say that they play music because they love Jesus. There are a couple ways you can respond to this period of time in the music scene. It is very clear that this was indeed a fad that passed through the music scene and became unpopular after a while because a new thing showed up. Right now the really popular fad is the exact opposite. All of a sudden all of these upside down cross and 666 t-shirts showed up on everyone’s merch table because it sells. For the most part, nobody really believes in that stuff. Many popular bands speak out against “religion”, but it is aimed almost explicitly at Christians. I think that things died because so many bands, young or old, saw that it wasn’t being accepted as readily by the masses and sought to prolong their careers by delivering a more palpable message. Very rarely do you see bands in the scene grow in popularity while they grow in loving boldness to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Once again, I am not speaking in reference to a specific band, just a general perception of what is going on.
With regards to the previous question, Christian metal is now on a rise again with the previous heavyweights returning to a Christian lyricism and then bands like yourselves being deeply rooted in your faith and imbuing that faith into your music. What inspired you guys to come together and start writing songs that speak a message of hope into the world?
There are so many ways I feel that I could answer that question, but the one that impresses upon my heart the greatest is the fact that I received a grace from God that was unparalleled to anything else in my life. I was shown mercy by the God of all things despite the fact that I am so very deserving of a most certain hell. Everything stems from the fact that we have been forgiven and loved in an immeasurable way that we long for others to receive. I didn’t do anything to earn this infinite love from God and, therefore we want to proclaim that this same love is available for sinners just like us.
One of my personal favourites off of VxV is “The Father’s Bargain”. What is the story and inspiration behind this song?
I wrote this song as an exposition of a short story by an old Puritan writer from the 1600’s named John Flavel. The short story is a work called “The Father’s Bargain”, which was written in a way to give people an insight as to what we could suppose would be the conversation between God, the Father and God, the Son about the plan of redemption for us sinners long before even the foundation of the world. This short story written by Flavel is barely a page long, and when I first read it I wept. The more and more that I continue to gaze upon the redemptive work of God in saving sinners, the more beautiful it becomes. Flavel captured the vast nature and attributes of God in merely a page. I can’t count how many times I’ve read this particular work from Flavel, but the more that I read it, the more I desired to encapsulate this picture in a song. I will save the real heart and soul of this song, the lyrical content, for last and talk about the musical process. I love telling stories through songs both lyrically and musically. The two coupled can prove to be something that is very powerful. As I would write sections of this song lyrically, I would then pick up the guitar and work to figure out a way to communicate the weight and feel of what the story was saying. All of this was done on the acoustic as I sincerely wanted to truly “hear” how this song would sound. The heart of the song, simple chords and a melody. This method tends to always be a way that I assess whether or not a song is good enough to make it on our records. I wanted to write this song in a way that would make it feel like a journey through the mountains so that the listener would experience what a traveler throughout the mountains would feel. To experience the journey of trekking through the arduous task of climbing a mountain, to see the incredible heights of its peaks, and the unfathomable depths of its valleys. In the same way, I wanted the music to follow the weight of the plight of our innumerable sins against a perfect and righteous God. As well, that the music would follow the sweet relief that God offers us through the sacrifice of His Son. Did I do any of these things perfectly? In no way, but that was my goal. All of this song was written primarily on the road. I had so many different chunks of this song written, and as I would complete another part of the song, I would share it with the guys to see if it fit and if it was helping the song flow properly. Yet long before I ever wrote a note, I started writing the lyrics to this song while on the road. My goal was to write these lyrics in a way that the listener would feel as if they are watching a live dialogue between God, the Father and God, the Son and then at the end of the conversation, they both turn to the listener and say, “This glorious plan, this plan of redemption, is for sinners like you. There is nothing you can do to earn this. It is a gift. I bore all manners of hell for you sinner because you cannot save yourself. But I can and I am willing. Believe that my work of redemption is sufficient for your salvation”.
Do you think it was a rather bold move to construct a narrative within “The Father’s Bargain” that reflects a conversation between God and Jesus about saving humanity? Most bands tend to try to stay away from such narratives, especially a narrative in which God and Jesus seem to be arguing about whether humanity needs to be saved, and instead write from a human perspective. What is also great is how that human perspective of questioning why the Lord would send his son to save us is also put into the narrative.
My first thought to your question would be just to clarify the fact that this is not an argument between the Father and the Son, for they are in a perfect union with each other functioning in perfect harmony. What is essentially being described is the incredible tension that exists in the fact that we all alike, as sinners, are justly deserving of infinite punishment, but God offers and provides infinite forgiveness and love for those very same sinners. I understand why it could appear to be a bold move, but everything that is communicated about a supposed conversation is in line with the character and nature of God in His just punishment of sinners and His immeasurably loving and kind nature. That tension is found at the cross of Christ where sin is indeed paid for by Christ for sinners, and through that act of love, forgiveness has now made available for sinners. And you said it right, for what reason would a God who is all powerful and needs nothing would save people like us? We tried to answer that question in the beginning of the song with the line that says, “No one can contain the power and depths of My abundant love!”
All of you are obviously rooted quite deeply in your faith. Do you ever have moments on tour when your faith is perhaps challenged by the things that surround you on tour and also the bands you sometimes tour with?
There have been bands before that have tried to make things more difficult for us, but there has never been an occasion where it felt like it was hard to trust the Lord. This is not because we’re these super strong and faithful Christians, but because the Lord continues to show us how strong He is and how faithful He is to us. When God saves people, He gives them a new heart, mind, and will that enables us to actually trust Him. There are certainly challenges that always arise but my walk with Christ is not dependent solely on my ability to follow after Him but upon His strength and ability to carry me.
All Christian ideals aside, what message would you like non-Christian, and Christian, fans to take from this album?
There is an absolute truth. People may be wishy-washy, but the truth isn’t. To think for themselves. We preach a very clear message, but I would be deeply grieved if someone believed what we said because they like our band. We want God to do a work in people’s lives and not us try to make a bunch of false converts so can we point to all of our “good works” and be praised for that.
This may be a touchy subject but what is your personal take on bands, like Bring Me the Horizon, with large followings creating songs that quite literally say “fuck your faith”. In an era where religion is a touchy subject, do you think this helps contribute to a mindset of religious intolerance?
Most of the time when I hear about things that bands like that say I often wonder if they really believe it. It’s ironic to hear some of the things that these bands say on stage or in their lyrics because on the one hand some bands will say things like, “Faith/religion is a lie,” and then in the next sentence say, “Don’t listen to anybody that tells you what you should do,” which essentially just nullifies the fact that they will also tell kids that religion is a lie. They themselves are also trying to indoctrinate their listeners. The mentality of “don’t listen to anyone and do whatever you want” also promotes a slew of heinous things that go on in the minds of many kids who are disturbed these days. Are we encouraging the angry kid to take his own revenge. Are we promoting violence against women? With that mentality of “don’t listen to anyone and do whatever you want” it could be empowering some pretty awful things. It is sad how confused all of it is and hope that by the grace of God people would be saved out of such a damaging environment. I remember hearing a lyric from a BMTH song that says, “I’ll bow to my knees when you show yourself” talking to God which is actually a Biblical truth that is said in numerous places in the Bible. Philippians 2:10 says, “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. While I know he is being sarcastic, he is actually quoting Scripture at the same time. Another lyric that is in accordance to Biblical truths is the line, “I can’t drown my demons because they know how to swim” which recognizes the fact that we can’t save ourselves from our own vices of sin and need something outside of ourselves to save us from it. While I know this is not the writer’s intention for the lyrics, there is some truth in it that he may not even realize. People’s tolerance only goes as far as something that offends them and the Gospel is offensive to man’s heart. While bands like that indeed are contributing to the mindset of religious intolerance, they are just being honest about what goes on in many people’s hearts already giving people an outlet to truly express what is going on in their hearts.
Growing up, did you guys ever listen to a lot of bands like Emery, Underoath and Thrice?
We definitely listened to Thrice, Underoath, Emery, As Cities Burn, Thursday, etc. That was the era we grew up in so it naturally has effected how we write songs.
Finally, is there going to be a world tour to accompany the release of VxV. If so would you ever consider visiting places in the Southern Hemisphere, like South Africa?
(Laughs) A world tour would be awesome, but no plans yet of a world tour. If so, we would definitely consider Africa, South America, and basically any other continent that would be willing to book us.