Building Resilience Through Turmoil: A Conversation With Ryan Kirby of Fit For A King

The band's frontman details the emotional tapestry that is their new album's visual identity.

Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):


On October 28th, Texas' own Fit For A King gave way to their most grandiose chapter yet, The Hell We Create, via Solid State Records. Symbolically depicted by longtime partner and friend Corinne Alexandra, The Hell We Create stands tall as a comprehensive experience of soaring yet crushing instrumentation that reflects the grit of Ryan Kirby's narrative. The trauma and pain that informed its creation is counteracted by the resolve that fuels the triumphant record, all of which is felt throughout the album's balance of blood-curling aggression and vulnerability.


We welcome Ryan Kirby to a conversation on the latest Corinne Alexandra work that represents The Hell We Create, musical intention, and more:

 

Ryan, we'll start with what people see first: the album cover. For 'The Hell We Create', you worked with Corinne Alexandra again and offered such an emotive and symbolic entry point for the record. What did you envision upon approaching her for the project this time around?


Ryan: As you know, we've worked with her a lot over the past. I think it's been seven years now! She started doing art for us on our 2016 album 'Deathgrip' and then every album afterwards. We've just loved all the art she's done. For this record, the first drafts revolved around us trying to go back to that 'Dark Skies' (2018), 'Deathgrip' style, which fit a tattoo aesthetic. So many fans have stuff tattooed on them from 'Dark Skies' and we figured it would be really cool to do that again.

Cover Artwork by Corinne Alexandra

Originally, the album was going to be called 'What You Left Behind', which is the name of the final track. We went back and forth with her and were really messing with the idea of a burning house. So much of the album deals with my adopted children's story and journey from losing their biological parents, losing custody, and the trauma associated with all of that. That's why I wanted to do a house on fire, but with a unique take on it. It's definitely been done before and we just weren't getting what we wanted out of it from the first drafts. I took a step back and drew inspiration from 'The Path' (2020), which portrays a goddess of victory. I figured, "What if we did the goddess of misery?"

Cover Artwork by Corinne Alexandra

I then sent a bunch of stuff around on the internet over to Corinne and expressed great interest in this goddess of misery concept. What she sent back was what her art is now and we were just blown away and in love with it. We didn't want it to just capture misery. We wanted it to be a combination of someone who is mourning and sad, but feels like they're ready to fight.


You certainly achieved that, and it's not so direct or literal. Fans picked up on the symbolism upon its reveal too, which is always neat. As we note, this isn't the first time you guys worked together and it seems to get better every time. What can you comment about the collaborative process that you've been able to develop with her over the years? I'm sure there's a strong mutual understanding at this point.


Ryan: There's something to be said about working with artists multiple times because they kind of grow with your band. They're not only talented, but they start to understand the band's processes, understand the meanings behind the band and our different personalities, which all leads to the creation of the great artwork. It's the same with finding a producer you like. I'm a big fan of going back and working with them because I think the more artists get to know each other, the more you understand the motivations and the meanings behind it all, which helps bring that to life a lot better.



Agreed. Camaraderie plays a big role in that in creative development. When presenting the concept to Corinne, she mentions you nearly cried given the emotional value it holds for you, which was brought to life by the symbolism, the facial expressions, and the creative direction for the cover photograph. It all becomes seamlessly integrated to create a moving experience. How important do you feel that visual identity is to Fit For A King as it pertains to the band's discography?


Ryan: I think it's gigantic. Personally, there's a lot of times I'll listen to an album and stare at the artwork as the songs are flying. The artwork sets the tone and prepares me for how I should receive the music I'm about to listen to. Artwork is a peek into how the band use the music to convey a message. When you see our new artwork, you can tell there's a very serious, invigorating yet sad tone throughout the album. You listen to the music through the scope of Corinne's talent.


It captures a moment in time, too. You as people and as musicians have evolved tenfold over the years and 'The Hell We Create' captures Fit For A King at their strongest yet. In what mindset did this album cycle find you in as you were developing the material and seeing it play out in real time?


Ryan: I was very being very reflexive because I think an important part of when we did this record is that we all wrote this record. The pandemic was over, but we were back to touring, even if there were restrictions and vaccine requirements at that time. It really allowed us to reflect on what had happened over the last two years, a period I think a lot of artists were writing about as they were going through it.

Cover Artwork by Corinne Alexandra

Looking at things from the outside really allowed me and the band to digest what had happened, reflect on it, and then write about the experiences. Looking back, I think the artwork portrays what my mood was throughout the pandemic and writing through this perspective was enjoyable in some ways because it's an accurate representation of where I was at the time. Sometimes when you're going through things, you don't realize

it at the moment. It hits you until after you've had time to step away from the situation.


You can say that writing and composing acted as a healing tool.


Ryan: Exactly, and the album is big to me since I've been able to open up a lot more than I ever have on any past record. This is something I've struggled with for a while and there are doubts with not knowing how much people care about hearing it. My heart was spilled everywhere on this release and the band really encouraged me to let it all out there, so I went for it. Our fans will care; they'll appreciate it and want it.


Seeing the response so far is evident that they most definitely do, which is a perfect segue into my following point about your personal investment in the record. Is it cathartic at all to see it be processed by people across the world in ways that you perhaps didn't intend? People relate to music and art in their own unique ways.


Ryan: Absolutely! Seeing that the songs are being understood by others and relate to them in ways that can help them has been great, especially as they digest all the issues they've been through in the past and currently go through. It's therapeutic for me because it shows that I'm not alone, and it's also therapeutic because it says they truly do care and relate to the music on a deeper level than just appreciating a cool breakdown. They genuinely care about the meaning behind our music.

Photograph by Dana Willax

Continuing on that point, would you say that you're covert as songwriters? Or is there a direct intention behind your lyricism where you want people to grasp on to certain ideas, concepts, or lessons?


Ryan: There's definitely a balance. This record intentionally worded things to not be ultra direct, but still accessible and easy understand. There are some songs though where I definitely am trying to get out a message. 'The Hell We Create' is more of a personal reflection from these past two to three years.



The emotional element changes as you take the record on the road to the live setting I'm sure. You go from developing it in isolation and with the band to playing through it on stages across the world, improvising and seeing audience reactions that reflect the heart that went into it.


Ryan: It gives me such a great feeling. It's one thing to listen to music on Apple Music or Spotify or whatever service you pay for where you're checking songs out for a few minutes of your day while on your commute or participating in any other activity. It's another thing to be at the show with us. You spent your hard earned money, you drove out there to a venue and struggled to find parking. We value all of that. It means the world to us to have people take the time and money to come see us and sing with us for that night. These acts are just so symbolic of what the songs mean to our fans and to us as a band.


The support continues to grow alongside the band. Do you ever look back at how far you've come as you prepare to carry out another album cycle? The creative development processes change, as do you as musicians.


Ryan: Certainly, especially when it comes to the lyric writing and the music. Even today, I was listening to our older records, like 'Deathgrip' and 'The Path'. I've watched reaction videos on it, not just to seek confirmation on the instrumentation but to learn what parts were making people feel some sort of emotion. I wanted to know how we could recapture that on a new record, so you can say that I'm constantly seeing what parts make people feel something. It makes me so excited to write a new record because we get to put together what we feel will have the most impact on people. We want something that our fans want to hear while also trying to do what we want to do, creatively speaking.

 

The Hell We Create is available now via Solid State Records (Stream/Order).

Cover Artwork by Corinne Alexandra