By Brian Ives
A Great Big World have a great big anthem on their hands, but it took a music video to get the song—and their story—to the masses.
“Won’t Stop Running” is the third single from last year’s When the Morning Comes, and the video is striking in its simplicity. In it, singer Chad King looks straight into the camera, and sings as the lyrics appear on the screen.
The video is powerful without any context; you don’t need to know what the song is about for it to move you. And with lyrics like “I’ll take another sunrise/Another hand to hold tight,” listeners might think that this is another breakup ballad. In fact, the song is about King’s struggles with Multiple Sclerosis. And that’s a subject that’s more relevant than ever Wednesday, May 25, as it is World MS Day.
King discussed his struggles with the disease and told Radio.com his story: “I was diagnosed in 2007 with multiple sclerosis, and the doctor told me that if I didn’t take the medication that he was prescribing, that I would be paralyzed within seven years. I started on the medication, and the medication actually gave me symptoms that were worse than what I was feeling from the MS: I was getting seizure-like symptoms, and a bunch of other crazy things. I decided that I wanted to explore other avenues to treat this thing. And so, I found a lot of information on how to treat it through diet and nutrition.”
“Won’t Stop Running” was inspired by the aforementioned doctor. “We got to writing this last album, and the topic of my MS came up, I can’t remember why. I wanted this to be a response to that doctor that said I was going to be paralyzed. Because I feel better than ever. I have no symptoms right now. It’s amazing. I want people to know that there are other ways to go about treating this thing than medication. [But] I’m not saying not to take your medication!”
He’s very careful to note that different people react differently to prescribed medication. “It’s hard to even talk about this, because I’m not saying that I’m against western doctors, or the treatments that they offer, because a lot of times, the treatment does help certain patients. I just know that that was not working for me. And the diet and nutrition shift, did.”
He says that he has worked with a doctor to help him guide his diet and lifestyle: “Dr. Terry Wahls was paralyzed with MS and she had tried every medication that her doctors recommended and nothing was working for her. She did research on how the brain functions, and what you can feed your body to possibly regain function of certain parts of your brain that may be damaged. She changed her diet, and started walking within three months. Her story really inspired me, and I’ve been in touch with her.” King describes as his new diet similar to a paleo program with no gluten, dairy or processed sugars.
As a songwriter, King is proud that “Won’t Stop Running,” while personal, isn’t too heavy on details, and has resonated with people who may not even know his story.
“I didn’t want it to be MS specific, neither of us did. That’s so limiting to the experience and to who this message could reach.”
The other half of A Great Big World, Ian Axel, notes, “You don’t know by listening to the song that it’s about his journey with MS. We experimented on the album with writing with a lot of other people, but ‘Won’t Stop Running’ was the only song that we wrote with just the two of us. We were able to really dig deep and really face a lot of stuff.”
Axel also points out that the very emotional video brought the song to a new audience: “Honestly, we didn’t really see a big reaction [to the song], outside of our fans, until we put out this video. We weren’t expecting that, but it was really empowering to us. It just reinforces the idea that you (King) and I need to keep being honest with our songwriting and keep being vulnerable.”
For King, his MS symptoms coincided with another extremely honest moment in his life.
“About a week after I came out, I started experiencing MS symptoms,” King explains. “I correlate those two things. The stress that I was experiencing from holding in this secret for years sort of manifested itself into these MS symptoms.”
He goes on: “At this point, I feel like I’m so sensitive to what my body feels. Like if I’m holding in a secret, I feel it in my stomach. Like when something is so sad to you, there’s a physical pain to your sadness. I think your stress is directly related to your health.”
None of this seems to be slowing the band down, though: they’re going on to be on the road this summer and that isn’t all they have planned. Axel reports, “We’re working on a Broadway musical, we’ve been working on it for three and a half years already. But now we’re at the point where we’re about to get a director on board, and announce this thing, for real, publicly. We’ve been talking about it for so long. We debuted the music to a room of 150 people a few weeks ago, it was one of our favorite nights that we’ve ever had.”
King adds, “We felt like we were giving birth.”
Which is a sentence that would surely come as a surprise to the doctor who thought the singer would be paralyzed. On the contrary, he hasn’t stopped moving.