Where the Past Collides with the Present

(Photo courtesy of Robby Klein)

Where the Past Collides with the Present
How Church History Impacted All Sons and Daughters’ David Leonard

By Sarah Komisky

What does your get-away time with God look like? Is it in the quiet comfort of your own room? Or the solitary confines of your car? Maybe it’s in the mountains, standing at the shoreline, sitting in a pew or on a comfy chair at Starbucks, wherever it is, you know it’s cultivating your intimacy with Christ.

For Leslie Jordan and David Leonard who make up the duo All Sons and Daughters, it was a trip to Europe. Without any agenda but to experience God in a new way, the indie folk band began a journey with their spouses, pastor, friends, and family that would lead them to possibilities they’ve never fathomed. The byproduct was a plethora of stories from poets and saints of old and a desire to speak their stories into existence. The result was their fourth album release. Marked Ministry was grateful to have the opportunity to come along and chat with David about his findings where the past collides with the present and we started right at the beginning.

Pinpointing collectively who they wanted to study, one being St. Francis, the band took a map and plotted their choices accordingly. Some of the other choices included: C.S. Lewis, John Newton, Saint Thérèse, William Cowper, Saint Augustine and George MacDonald. This sent them on an adventure with a desire to find undiscovered beauty to connect and find ties between individuals of the past to the present. The experience as Leonard put it was undeniably, “God ordained.”

“I think the thing that I walked away with most was just the beauty that they were real people and they had real struggles and real doubts,” shared Leonard. “And the very same things that I carry on a day-to-day basis, these people that we still look at their lives and we call them saints or we call them people that inspire us, carry the same struggles that I carry.”

Through the experience both Leslie and David wanted to help people continue to look back to see what caused the church to get to where they are today. Leonard believes this happens only when we are willing to learn and grow from both the good and the bad without always feeling like we have to recreate. Additionally, honoring and not taking their legacies lightly or for granted, is something that he also believes is essential to our maturity as people. He notes, “I think the big thing that I can push into that is just challenging people to continue to study and learn and grow from the ones that come before us and at the same time be true to your convictions as you’re walking forward. Know that God continues to direct us and continues to show us new things that He’s speaking, it’s being faithful and being willing to hear the voice that He’s speaking in and just continuing to carry on this love story that we have to share.”

When it comes to sharing this experience with a community of people, Leonard says that it wasn’t something new. “We always wanted it to be a family experience doing this. It was just a group of people who wanted to dig in. We’ll always remember, we’ll always talk about it; it was a really beautiful time.”

Coinciding with their travels, their album was birthed. Poets and Saints became a compilation of old hymns and journal entries refashioned and set to new music. The process surprisingly was really easy, as Leonard explained how it was one of the most freeing records they have done. This is due to the fact that they had already set guidelines.

“Each song was connected to a certain person’s life so we knew the things that we were going to pull from. And when you have fences around, it makes it a little easier to create because you know what colors you’re coloring with,” says Leonard. “But it still allowed us to try new things, take leaps we hadn’t taken but, we were doing it in a way that felt like it was being funneled down a certain path.”

The songs seemed to just come and when they started to work on the record, the process was the same. “When we wrote the songs, we would start tracking them right then. I tried to get really creative with the sounds, pulling sounds from the trip. We really wanted the work that we were saying to really match what we were creating musically and really taking people on a journey,” he explains.

Leonard used a OP-1 sampler on his trip, which collects sounds and turns them into an instrument. This helped him capture hints of the journey using ocean waves, chains, rocks, sirens, subways, trees, and anything that made a sound in his surroundings. As the songs would unfold, sounds were used very intentionally on the album. Capturing the wind to use as a “heartbeat” sound and ocean waves for the song “Heaven Meets Earth,” it portrays the earth being sung into existence, so the listener is welcomed into a very tangible reality of their findings. This also happened when the band took their songs on the road for the first time.

Deciding to playing the entire record live when it was newly released was a little terrifying as Leonard put it, but a sweet experience when acted in obedience. Leonard shares, “Once we started doing it, it felt like people entered into a different space and we can take the pressure of having to create these moments and allow these moments to just kind of happen and it was really cool to see the different things that would stick out on different nights.”

He expands, “When you start looking at stories and when you start telling these stories, it encourages them (the audience). It inspires them and allows people to dive deeper into their own stories. I feel like that is worship when you unlock that ability for people to ask questions and feel things. We feel like this one has really hit a different spot than what we’ve hit in the past.”

When asked about how important it is for them to remain true to their worship roots, Leonard confesses it is always at the center of what they do. He says, “If people aren’t allowed to connect with it or enter into that space, for us, it just hasn’t worked. Even with this record, it was a little bit different because, it felt like it wasn’t as congregational, which was kind of different for us to kind of enter into that space and saying, what if this record is for individuals? Or, what if it is for churches to sing? But we allowed ourselves to kind of ask questions and say, is it still true to the Word of God? Is this still true to the heartbeat of what God is still speaking and we felt like it was.”

Another facet of the journey that they could have never dreamed to become a reality was their recent Grammy nomination for their album. Asking about the experience, Leonard was at a loss for words humbly commenting, “you create a piece of art and you never think something like that could be real, to be recognized for a piece like that. I still can’t really describe the feeling for the acknowledgement.”

In closing, we ended on a key theme on the album, grace. Desiring to look for the good and purposed to discover new gems about the people they’ve studied, Leslie and David decided to include John Calvin (usually cause for debate) in their project. The song “Creation Sings” encapsulates the message to show grace and echoes the spirit of what the church should look like today.

“I think for us, it allows us to say, okay, there might be things that we’ve heard or we know, but, what’s deeper in there? We chose him [Calvin] and we looked at his life and actually realized that he was a big part of bringing the singing of the Psalms into the church and bringing excellence of music into the church. So, that was pretty awesome to see that, to hear that. I mean I think it just allowed us to say, let’s put aside the things that we know and let’s actually dive deeper into each one of these guys’ stories and the things that we continue to find, that we continue to be inspired by, are still there.”

He continues, “I think that challenged us even in our own lives that we need to dig into people even when we do have differences. Even when there are things that don’t align with where I am right now but I can still love you and want to dig in to what that is. I think we would all be in better spots if we continue to respect and to show honor to people.”

For more on All Sons & Daughters visit http://allsonsanddaughters.com/ where you can check out their music, message, and merchandise including a “Poets and Saints” companion book and curriculum on church history.