(Photo courtesy of Universal Music Group)
Q&A: Hillsong Young & Free
Interview courtesy of Rogers & Cowan PMK
“All of My Best Friends” is the new album title. Tell us about the meaning behind it.
Melodie Wagner: “All of My Best Friends” is a project born out of collaboration, unity and seeking to express the raw, bright-eyed passion of our youth group. Capturing the uninhibited feeling of discovering the love of Jesus. The album is a reminder that we are all connected to each other, and when we approach our faith knowing this, we are better models of Jesus.
Tell us about the album’s focus track single, “Best Friends.” Where did the idea or concept of the song come from, and what is the key take-away message for listeners?
Karina Savage: When we wrote “Best Friends,” we already had over 50 demos that the team had written collectively. We were looking for something outside the box. We started playing some chords and decided to write a brutish punk rock song, cause why not? We didn’t think it would ever be used on the album. Josh Grimmet had the original idea around “Best Friends” and it just grew from there. There’s so much young people deal with when it comes to social media and we know that they are done with the superficial hunger for truth. That’s definitely the biggest takeaway, that society can often try to push things on us as young people, but the real truth comes from God.
What was the significance to you to be able to capture live recordings on the album during Summer Camp in Sydney Australia? What was that experience like?
Alex Epa Iosefa: Summer camps have been monumental since I was 12 years old coming into our church. The time where I experienced God in a radical way, put time aside to focus on my relationship with the Lord, felt called for the first time, and created long lasting memories. So for me, letting the world in on experiencing our youth ministry go after God in its most raw elements, felt like a no brainer. And, it didn’t disappoint! It felt raw, authentic, fresh – a real stake in the ground for our youth ministry and songs that we needed for a time like this.
What are some of your favorite songs on the compilation? Why?
Jack McGrath: This is a super tough question to answer. I would have to say, “World Outside Your Window,” “Uncomplicated” and “Glimpse.” It’s still so crazy to me how these songs were recorded back in January, yet, the message behind them is so needed for what the world is going through right now. “Uncomplicated” takes you right back to the essence of the Gospel, and what was captured on the night we recorded it was so special. “Glimpse” is just a really fun song…easy to listen to, and the lyrics are so powerful.
Hillsong’s music has influenced millions of people around the globe. What type of weight does this responsibility bear on Y&F and how has it influenced what you do?
Melodie Wagner: Wow! SO much…Ha-ha. It’s a whole lot of responsibility and we pray that we never take it for granted. To think that our church has been reaching people with timeless songs of worship since before some of us could talk is seriously mind blowing. We have this old saying, “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” It may sound cliché but it’s true. We have incredible spiritual giants that have gone before us and we feel so grateful that we get to be beneficiaries of what was pioneered all those years ago. So, with that epic legacy comes a certain weight of responsibility on us. Before we started writing for this album, I think we felt it the most. We had questions like…‘what if the songs don’t come?’ and ‘what if we think they’re awesome but they fall flat when we introduce them at youth?’ There were a lot of what ifs. And, because we’re human and we’re creatives, the process of diving into the deep end of a new project was daunting. But, we knew we ultimately had to surrender that humanity and creativity in trust to God, believing that He would take our worship and breathe on it anew.
How do you hope your music impacts this generation as young artists creating for young people?
Melodie Wagner: I think our greatest hope for our music is that young people, whatever their background, circumstance or belief, would know that there is a purpose for their life. That there is more to life than what we see and that they’re not alone and never have been. Being a young person in the 21st century isn’t easy and it’s becoming increasingly more complicated to navigate the world around us. We pray that the music we make and the example of our lives would encourage and uplift young people everywhere.
Musically, how does “All of My Best Friends” differ from prior Y&F releases?
Melodie Wagner: In making this album, we wanted to be intentional with bringing something new that was still ‘us.’ We decided to move away from the heavy electronic influences that we’re known for, but still include the best parts of all the sonic genres – new and old that we love as a band. On this record, you’ll hear more hero-ing of instruments, in particular electric guitar doing the heavy lifting on songs like “Best Friends,” “Never Have I Ever” and “Indescribable”. Also, we have voices on songs that haven’t been heard on previous releases. You’ll hear Josh Grimmett from Hillsong London who brought a real freshness to the collaboration space and sings the lead on “World Outside Your Window,” a driving anthem with UK pop influences. We find with more writers in the writing process, the more varied genres we’re inspired from. On “All of My Best Friends,” you’ll hear inspiration from punk rock, 2000’s dance, Caribbean beats, country, gospel and R’n’B. We’re really proud to present our interpretation of what pop in 2020 sounds like.
Community and connection look a bit different in our world right now in light of the recent pandemic. What are some ways that you hope Y&F’s music can bring people together, particularly the youth?
Melodie Wagner: It’s incredible how music can bring people together. We experienced that in a really special way on the night of the recording. And as much as we miss being together in a room singing all at once and with no real way of replicating that digitally, I think we’ve needed to remind ourselves that the power of the music isn’t in the gathering or even in the singing but it’s in people being unified, with one heart, one mind, one focus – Jesus. It’s when we’re all moving toward the one who created us, and in that pursuit, where whatever we’re facing comes into perspective. We hope with the purest intentions that our music can be a vehicle to align us again, with what really matters in this season.
What are some unique and creative ways Y&F is staying engaged with teens/young adults during these times?
Melodie Wagner: It’s been a process of innovating and thinking outside the box for sure. We’ve pioneered an online youth program that streams live on air every Friday night from Sydney, Australia. We stream praise and worship, have fun segments, special guests, and share around the Bible all while interacting with a live chat audience. Each week, we have people joining in from all around the world and have even been able to equip other youth ministries with a program to tune into with their young people. It was overwhelming at first to think how we would pull it off but there’s a dedicated team behind the scenes making it come to life and we are seeing the fruit of it in young people finding real community.
Talk about how important it is to cultivate a space, especially with youth/young adults, where everyone belongs.
Melodie Wagner: Yes, such a great question. It’s sounds so simple and obvious, but no one wants to be in an environment where they aren’t welcome and no one can fulfil their full potential if they aren’t loved, included and inspired. For all of us in Y&F, we’re doing what we do today because we found family in a youth ministry that loved and championed us – uniquely. The fact that we come from all different backgrounds and have different gifts, personalities and ways of looking at the world, is testament to the type of space that was created for us to thrive and find belonging. There’s sometimes a danger in wanting to reach as many people as possible and wanting to be as inclusive as possible in that we can try the one-size fits all approach to ministering. But I think valuing every person for who they are and calling out the potential that lies within them will never lead us astray.
Why do you believe worship has become one of the most popular types of music (in and outside of the church today), and how is Y&F reinventing the genre?
Melodie Wagner: As young people part of a youth ministry, one thing we’ve noticed is that more and more people are open and curious about spirituality. By looking at what Kanye West has created with Sunday Service and other celebrities like Justin Bieber expressing his faith publicly by getting baptised and sharing it with his following, there’s seems to be a kind of shift happening in our culture where all kinds of people are seeking out what it means to be a part of something bigger than themselves. We can’t speak for worship music as a whole, but for us, we think people are gravitating towards the message of Jesus either consciously or unconsciously because there’s really no substitute for the presence of God and at the very least, it makes them feel good. Young & Free has always been about reaching young people with music that we’d be proud to put on in the car and show our friends, so there’s a responsibility we feel to bring a new expression to what traditional worship music sounds like. And so that looks like taking risks and trying things no one else has attempted. The lyrics of “Best Friends” are a great example of us exploring to the very ends of what worship music sounds like, and that’s a really exciting place to find ourselves in.
What’s your vision for “All of My Best Friends” and what do you hope it brings to those who hear it?
Melodie Wagner: Our hope and prayer for this album is that even though we are going through such an unprecedented time that these songs would give young people words and prayers when they may not know exactly what to say. We pray that these songs would be an encouragement through hard times. These songs were written far before the crazy times that we’re going through right now, but we truly believe that these lyrics were directed by God.
Is there anything else you want listeners to know about the upcoming album and other plans on the horizon for Y&F?
Laura Toggs: We never could have imagined the turn of events that would follow the recording of this album and yet it is full of relevant songs that bring joy and perspective in the midst of uncertain times. I am so proud of that. Y&F will continue to inspire people towards hope in Jesus and create anthems that young people everywhere can run with. Hopefully we will be able to tour soon but we’ll just take it as it comes.
Find out more about Hillsong Young & Free by visiting hillsong.com/youngandfree