Chris Quilala

Chris Quilala // Photo: Blue Amber Photography
We love Jesus Culture – it’s out there, we said it, and we mean it! We love that they started as a youth worship team, we loved Kim Walker-Smith the first moment we heard her, and we feel just the same about Chris Quilala. There is an honesty and sincerity about their worship that changes atmospheres and hearts that is undeniable.

In case you didn’t know, Chris started off behind the drum kit before migrating to the front of the platform, which is part of why his musical instincts feel so, well, musical. Truth be told, we’ve worshipped and cried to songs he’s led like “Your Love Never Fails” (17,000,000+ YouTube plays) and were thrilled to catch up with him before the last leg of the Outcry Tour.

[WM] Love Has A Name was released on August 11th, in both 12 and 16-song editions. Why did you guys decide to release two versions at the launch?

[Chris Quilala] When we sat down as writers, the Torwalts, Kim, and I, we actually had more songs than we could fit on a CD.  I say “CD”, but no one uses those anymore, do they (laughs)! So, we had to make a deluxe album, which worked out great because we have a new artist on there, Ruthie Ridley. She is an amazing worship leader who goes to our church and has just been serving faithfully. She’s been friends with my wife for years. She did a song, and thankfully the deluxe edition made room for a few of these songs that didn’t quite fit on the main album. It’s fun, there’s a lot of content on there.

[WM] Do you have any favorites on the…CD?

[Chris] Oh man! I hate that question! (laughs)!  I don’t really. I love a lot of the songs! Katie Torwalt has a song on the album that’s called “Flood the Earth”, which may be my favorite song she’s ever done. It’s just a really, really powerful declaration.

I have one called “Make Us One”. I was sitting down with my friends and we were talking about the body of Christ and unity, and what it means to be the body of Christ. Obviously, it’s all over scripture about how we’re meant to be one, and to love one another. In the world there is so much division – you see it everywhere in the news and on social media. You find divisiveness in the political and the racial realms, just to name a few. And yet, the church doesn’t seem to be fully taking its place. Jesus’ prayer before He was arrested and crucified was that we would be made one through Him and with each other. As my friends and I started talking about these scriptures and about everything that’s going on in the world, we asked, “What if we wrote a song that literally declared, ‘Make us one!’?” What would that look like? What I think it looks like, is setting aside our fences and repenting for our pride. In the bridge of that song it actually goes there: “I repent for my pride, our fences, we lay those things down.” So, it just feels like a song that I pray that the church would hear and would bring some healing.

Thankfully, where we’re at in Sacramento, talking about the churches here, there’s been a lot of unity. When we came in, Banning, our pastor, reached out to a bunch of pastors and a bunch of pastors reached out to him. We’ve seen incredible unity in this city, where even worship teams offer us musicians and gear. We’re just a brand new church, so it’s been really cool to see. They’ll come to our church on Sunday nights, and we’ll do joint services together. And it’s just the beginning! Ultimately, I think that unity affects the city and should be a model to the world of what it looks like to walk in love. I know I’m rambling, but I feel very passionate about it! My prayer with that song is that people would hear it and that they would find some healing and that it would lead them to greater unity in their families, churches, and cities.

[WM] What are the key messages behind this new album you wouldn’t want people to miss, both inside the church and beyond?

We try to find comfort in different things, when really Jesus is the answer to every question, every situation, and every circumstance.

[Chris] The title track, “Love Has a Name”, is very powerful because people have so many questions, and as believers we have a lot of questions too! Often times we run to other things when we feel those questions don’t get answered, or things don’t always go the way that we planned. We try to find comfort in different things, when really Jesus is the answer to every question, every situation, and every circumstance. Jesus has the answer for it. We may not understand why things happen a certain way, but Jesus is the answer. I remember when Kim actually led that song for the first time. It was when we were recording it, and it was so powerful! Even the verses say that He is the answer to every question mark. As believers, we come together and declare that the name of Jesus is in everything we do, and every question that we have can be answered in that one name. Chains can be broken by just speaking the name of Jesus. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget the power that is in the name of Jesus.

Overall, the album has intertwining messages, like Katie’s song, “Flood the Earth” – that phrase comes up in several songs. But for an overall theme, when we were talking about a title, we talked about finding something that the album and our ministry can put a message around. And it was the fact that “Love Has a Name”. For believers, as well as those who haven’t met Christ yet, it’s just the prayer that Jesus would be the one name in their life.

[WM] What makes this album different from the previous ones?

[Chris] This is our tenth live Jesus Culture album. We have some solo albums, but we all feel that hitting our tenth album is pretty significant. I feel like it is a testament to the goodness of God, that He would entrust us with what we’ve been given, and with the influence and the favor that’s been poured out on Jesus Culture. As we were wrapping up the album, we were feeling very grateful and thankful for the privilege that we have to carry the message to our generation.

All of the songs on this album feel like they are songs for different seasons of life. When we get together to write, we ask ourselves about the seasons that we are in, both as a church and as individuals. We try to be intentional about areas that we want to see God move in for our lives, so sometimes the songs will take form around those areas that we’re going after. For us, as a church, the songs feel very strategic. As writers, we don’t want to write songs that keep us where we’re at. We want to write songs that pull us into our inheritance as a church. We try to picture where we want to see the church going in 10 or 15 years and to visualize the call of the church, and then we try to sing about that now. Many of the songs on this album really do that effectively.

[WM] Which artists, albums, or songs have influenced you the most, both musically and as a worship leader?

[Chris] Wow! There are so many amazing worship leaders and artists. Growing up it was Delirious? and Martin Smith. I’ve had the privilege of actually leading with Martin. We did an album together and toured together, and we’re getting ready to tour together again. We were just talking about honesty in songwriting, and he has always been someone whose lyrics felt so real.

Matt Redman is a legend and I’ve had the privilege of getting to know him too. He’s become a really good friend and has encouraged me in some of the hardest seasons of my life. For me, he’s been someone who has modeled what it means to not just be a worship leader, but to be a messenger for our generation. The church and the world has been impacted by his songs and his ministry.

The list could go on and on, but I have to mention Brian and Jenn Johnson. I grew up with them and I lived with them – they pushed me to become who I am today. They always saw more in me than I saw in myself. Of course, they are amazing worship leaders and songwriters, but I’ve had the opportunity to be poured into by them and they have really shaped my life. I am forever grateful to them.

L-R: Derek Johnson, Bryan Torwalt, Katie Torwalt, Kim Walker-Smith, Chris Quilala, Chris McClarney

[WM] Being able to share that kind of testimony with our readers is key to why these interviews are so important, thanks again for taking the time to talk with us!

So like Hillsong United, Jesus Culture started out as a youth worship team. Can you point to some of the specific things that your leaders did that impacted you the most?

[Chris] Our current lead pastor was our youth pastor, back in the day. Pastor Banning Liebscher has always modeled what it looks like to live a life set apart for God. There was always that sense that nothing else mattered and that pursuing God was everything. When I was a teenager, it helped keep me from a lot of situations or things that some of my other friends may have struggled with. I’m really thankful for him and the role that he’s played as a man in my life. That has also translated into the ministry of Jesus Culture. The vision that he always cast was that there is nothing else besides pursuing God. I got saved when I was little, but there was a point during worship at a youth camp when I was fourteen where I encountered the Lord in a way that was life changing. Pastor Banning talks about a point of no return, where you take that step and say, “God, I’m all in!” For Jesus Culture, that has been our heart and a core value for us. We don’t want to just be a music label, or live one way on stage but not let our private lives reflect that message too. We’re all in. The cause of Christ is why we’re alive, and that needs to translate into our music, our families, and our relationships and love for each other.

The cause of Christ is why we’re alive, and that needs to translate into our music, our families, and our relationships and love for each other.

[WM] You started off on the drum kit and played on several Bethel albums, as well as solo records for Brian and Jenn Johnson. What things did you learn behind the drum kit that you use now?

[Chris] (laughs) I wanted to hide behind the drum kit forever! And I would have too, if Pastor Banning hadn’t kicked me out from behind it. Something I’ve learned though, has been to follow and to be sensitive to where the Holy Spirit is going. At Bethel with Brian and Jenn, they just left so much space, and I love that about them! We would have a set list, but really, every time we got up there and the worship started, anything could happen! As a drummer, that could be nerve racking, but it was also the most exhilarating place to be in, because not only did I want to nail the rehearsed arrangement and stay with the click track, but I also wanted to learn to be sensitive to where the Holy Spirit was going and to where Brian and Jenn were going. I had to learn to follow really well and to support what was happening in the room, and that translates and really helps as a worship leader.

Being a drummer has also really helped me to communicate with drummers. It’s always funny to see a worship leader try to tell a drummer what to play, especially if they don’t know anything about drums! So, that has given me an added skill set when communicating with the drummers that I’ve played with.

[WM] What is the most catastrophic thing that has happened during worship, and what did you do to recover?

[Chris] Oh man! This was early on and I was playing drums. I was young, so I wasn’t super confident, and one of our worship leaders threw me under the bus! We were at a conference, and it was full. In the morning, we did a worship song by Matt Redman called “Let Everything”. It’s an up-tempo song, and the drums start it out. Then, in the night service, we were about three songs in and had reached a quiet moment, and the worship leader turned around and said, “Let Everything”. We hadn’t rehearsed it during sound check, and everyone was kind of looking around, so I thought to myself, “I guess I’ll count it off.” So, I did and nobody came in with me! It was just the drums in the midst of the really quiet, awkward moment. And the worship leader said, “Stop, stop, stop! Well, there went the Holy Spirit!” And I was so embarrassed! What had happened was that he was talking about a different “Let Everything” that was a quieter song, and definitely not one that the drums started. It was just a train wreck. I remember hiding back stage. I may have cried, and I definitely didn’t want to show my face for the rest of the night!

[WM] I think we’ve all started the wrong song at some point – nice to know we’re in such good company! So…Kim has such an amazing voice. When she really starts belting it out, how do you manage to keep going and not just stop in awe to witness what is happening?

[Chris] It’s definitely hard! I’ve learned so much from Kim. She has an incredible ability to soar, and to break through in a moment that needs it. Her voice has so much authority on it. I sometimes just look at her with wide eyes in the middle of worship and just wonder what is happening, it is so wonderful! It happened on this last tour we were just on, on “Fresh Outpouring”, where I thought, “This is it! We’re going to heaven right now!” Of course, no one knows the time or the day, but it sure felt like it right then!

[WM] That’s awesome! Thanks again for your time and insights!

[Chris] Thank you so much, really appreciate it!

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