A Great Big World

We’ve loved Ian Axel and Chad King – the Grammy-winning duo otherwise known as A Great Big World – ever since they wrote the heart-wrenching song, Say Something (on which they then collaborated with Christina Aguilera). Have they stopped? Not a chance. The duo are currently launching a new and incredibly inspiring single – Won’t Stop Running – written about Chad King’s experience battling Multiple Sclerosis.

Here at TNP, we like to explore wellness from the inside out when it comes to food, so the story behind this new single really resonated with us. Chad King was told he’d be paralyzed in seven years without painful injections, but instead looked into diet and holistic ways of treating the disease, finding a program that has rid him of MS symptoms. It’s now nine years later.

We chatted with these two about King’s program, Axel’s help along the way, and why food – in fact – can be life-changing…

From start to finish what would be your idea food day?

Chad King: Here are my ideal meals I’d have in a typical day. For breakfast, I make a pretty elaborate smoothie. Right now it includes pumpkin seed milk (homemade), blueberries, hemp hearts, maca powder, coconut oil, flax seed oil, turmeric, cinnamon, avocado, and vegan protein. This usually changes from day to day depending on what ingredients are available to me. For lunch I’d make a cauliflower paleo rice dish with a piece of wild-caught salmon, and for dinner I’d have an awesome kale salad from Hu Kitchen in NYC.

Ian Axel: I lean towards veganism. I don’t eat much meat, and I’m gluten and dairy-free. A lot of Chad’s diet has rubbed off on me because I’ve seen how it’s transformed his life. On a perfect day, I wake up and have a coffee and a quick snack, like a chia seed pudding, banana, or protein bar. Then I work out, and have a post-workout smoothie consisting of almond milk, a banana, frozen berries, a vegan protein powder, coconut oil, brewers yeast, and maybe a green powder or a superfood powder like maca or camu camu. For lunch, I’ll have a salad with tons of veggies, avocado, and hummus…maybe some quinoa, sweet potato, or tofu depending on how hungry I am. For dinner, I’ll have a bowl full of cooked veggies, rice or quinoa, and maybe some tempeh. For dessert I’ll have some pieces of raw chocolate. This is my ideal food day!

We’re big believers in “you are what you eat,” and food is a big part of our lives. Chad, how has food – in terms of your changed holistic diet and MS – changed your life for the better? Could you tell us a bit about the journey and where you are now?

CK: Sure. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007 with some pretty severe symptoms – buckling of my legs, vertigo, optic neuritis, tingling of my arms and legs. The treatment that my doctor offered did not (and still does not) get to the root of the disease, which I was not settling for. I found out about Dr. Terry Wahls who had MS, was paralyzed from it, changed her diet, and began walking again within months. The diet was a strict paleo diet and included several cups of leafy green veggies, sulfur-rich veggies, and grass-fed meats/wild-caught fish every day. I decided to give it a try, and within months my symptoms subsided. Since then this has been a journey for me discovering how the environment inside my body is just as important to take care of as the one outside of it.

Chad, “Won’t stop running” was your mantra song in terms of MS, What was it like being told you could be paralyzed in 7 years, and being where you are now 9 years later?

CK: To think that your body is attacking itself, that your brain and nervous system were slowly destroying its own circuitry, was incredibly difficult to grasp. My doctor said the disease would run its course and the only thing he could offer me was medication that might slow down the progression. I could not accept this. There had to be another way. There was an imbalance going on in my body and there had to be a way to get myself back in balance. So my response has been to find a way to get back to that balanced state. I am so proud of myself for tackling this thing head on and not accepting his prediction of paralysis as my fate. There’s so much to learn and understand about the human body and I’m not going to idly sit back and watch my body deteriorate on its own.

Ian, what was it like from your perspective? How did you help along the way?

IA: We were roommates when Chad got diagnosed. We worked and traveled together, so we were (and are) basically like brothers. So his diagnosis really affected me. I stood alongside him during his journey. Chad would be studying up on the disease and ways to treat it holistically, and I’d read books after he read them or watch YouTube videos after he’d watch them. He’d want to try new foods and recipes, and since we did pretty much everything together, I’d try them, too. He began meditating, and so did I. If he’d exercise, I’d want to exercise. In a lot of ways, it’s so much easier to make changes when you have a good friend to do it with. It became fun, especially when it began making him feel better. And soon I began feeling better than I ever had! And so it inspired me to begin and continue my own journey of transforming and healing my mind and and body.

Do you guys often have similar diets on the road? How are you alike and how are you different?

IA: Chad is definitely a bit more strict than I am on the road. I’ll cheat more. But I try to hold him accountable as much as possible (and vice versa). It’s so easy to slip when you’re schedule is intense and you are traveling – and it’s especially easy to slip when you’re feeling great and in Chad’s case, asymptomatic. So sometimes he’d order something, and I’d be like, “There’s a miso glaze on that, so it might have cane sugar!” Or, “Don’t forget to add avocado!” My body is less sensitive to diet then his. And so every once in awhile I’ll have a piece of sprouted toast, whereas Chad would avoid this at all costs because it could easily bring up an MS symptom. Everything in moderation though.

Chad, what was the hardest thing for you to give up food-wise? What’s become its substitute?

CK: I miss pizza all the time. But in place of that joy, I found a place in NYC called Hu Kitchen that sells mint chocolate bars that don’t have cane sugar and taste incredible. Those have become my pizza.

We’ve always been obsessed with the song “Say Something.” Were you surprised when Christina Aguilera came on board? What was that collaboration like?

IA: It was one of the biggest surprises ever. We were both just so shocked. We were virtually an unknown band, and that song had been around for years. It was the last song we would have thought would do what it did. Long story short, it got featured on So You Think You Can Dance and the very next day started getting some buzz. Our label was like, “We’re going to radio. Say Something is the new single!” And Chad and I were like, “Are you…sure?!” Two weeks later we get an email forwarded to us from Christina, asking if we’d be open to a collaboration. Days later we were in LA recording it with her. It happened so fast, and we didn’t know what to expect. We were nervous. To us, Christina is an icon – one of the greatest voices of our generation – and here she was singing with…me?! Working with us? She was just so sweet to us from the very beginning, treating us like peers, and always being so respectful of the song. We offered her a verse but she didn’t want to take it. She had this harmony idea, so she did like three takes of it and that was it. We didn’t know how it was going to work, but I remember the first time she started singing this harmony, and us both having this “aha!” moment. It was a new song, but it also felt so familiar, like the song was written with her voice and harmony in mind. Another memory from that day was being in the control room and having to press the talkback button to talk to her in the vocal booth. I just felt so shy – so I made Chad do all the talking!

You guys met at NYU, could you both please give us your absolute favorite New York restaurants and what you order at each?

CK: I can’t get enough of Hu Kitchen. I usually order their ¼ Rotisserie Chicken with a side of cauliflower mash and assorted market veggies.

IA: Blossom on the Upper West Side. I always order the vegan nachos and the autumn tower, which is basically a plate of magic. I don’t even know what it is. I just scarf it down. I also love to eat at Hangawi, which is a Korean restaurant in midtown. You take off your shoes and sit on the ground. There are no windows and the lights are dim. You forget you are in NYC. I always order the stone bowl bibimbap with avocado and spicy kimchi. The kale pancakes are incredible as well.

What’s the best advice you have ever received? The worst?

CK: The best advice that I am constantly living by is to run towards your fears. It’s very easy to not do something because you’re afraid you can’t or you won’t be good enough, but in your heart of hearts you know you want it. We are both big believers in being as honest with yourself as you can be and facing your fears head on as they arise.

The worst advice I ever received was from a family member who told me not to do music as a career choice. They said that I was a better business man than a singer and should focus on that. I’m glad I did not listen to them.

IA: The best advice I get is to just keep making the music that’s in my heart and believe in it. No one can create the music that you can create. And no one is going to believe if you don’t. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the “noise” of the music business. Everyone has opinions, but you can’t let them get to you. Perhaps this is hardest thing about finding success – tuning out the craziness and chaos around you and finding the calm inside of you. Listen to your heart. Worst advice I’ve ever received was to “get a real job.” And to stop making funny faces when I sing.

Could you both give us your idea of the perfect first date?

CK: This date is assuming we’ve never met in person before. Okay, I’d love to meet up around 3pm at a coffee shop like Ace Hotel in NYC for some Stumptown coffee or tea. If the conversation goes really well here, let’s go grab some dinner at an awesome farm-to-table spot like ABC Kitchen. Assuming we still like each other after this, let’s go take a walk in the park and maybe get some vegan ice cream. I hear Van Leeuwen is really good.

IA: I’ve experienced the perfect first date with my wife, Lina. We went out for margaritas. They were STRONG. We then meandered around NYC and found ourselves in Central Park at night. No one was around. Probably wasn’t the best idea, but in the moment it was. It felt like the park was ours. We kissed by the carousel. I was sold.

You never liked X till your tried it at Y…

CK: I never liked crab until I tried it at Fatty Crab in NYC

IA: I never liked gluten-free bread until I tried it at Amara Kitchen in LA

People say “holistic” all the time in talking about eating. Are there common misconceptions about it? What are they? What should we know about it?

IA: I think holistic is about the big picture, the “whole.” Not just eating for your body, but eating for the environment. Less meat. Organic. Supporting local farms. Recycle. Composting your food. Use less plastic. Wash your dishes and your clothes and your body with natural, eco-friendly ingredients. Use eco-friendly cleaning agents in your home. Walk more and drive less. Carpool. Turn off all the lights and the air conditioner when you don’t need to use it. Do what you can to decrease your carbon footprint. Work out your body by exercising. Work out your mind by meditating. Be the best version of yourself so you can be the best for others. Help your community by gardening or volunteering at a homeless shelter. Do the work that you love and share it with others. Find compassion and empathy for all walks of life. Because you are me, and I am you, and we’re all one vast neural network of sorts. I’m not saying we practice all of these things all the time. But living “holistically” is something Chad and I strive for and try to be better at every day.

In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what’s the new potato right now?

CK: I think using dates as sweetening agents is the new black.

IA: Pokemon Go is the new everything.

Have you read our interview with Nasri of Magic!? Also read about multi-platinum group Il Divo

*Chad King and Ian Axel, photographed in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann