Feature Interview: Leeland
|CD/Song Compilation – Sound of Melodies
By Aaron S. Harris
|Every once in awhile, a band comes along that not only has an unforgettable sound but, also has a solid message you just can’t help but want to listen to. One such band that is captivating attention and communicating to the hearts of listeners around the world is 2007 Grammy Nominee, Leeland. With the success of their debut album, Sound of Melodies, this five member band is using their talents to positively change lives around the world.|
|Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the group and sitting down with band members, Mike Smith (drummer) and Jake Holtz (bassist). I was impressed from the moment I was first introduced to these fellow band mates prior to their mid-February 2007 performance in Alpharetta, Georgia. Their candid responses paint the real picture of what life is like for these Christian artists. It was uplifting and refreshing to see that success has not steered this young group away from remaining humble, staying focused, giving thanks to God, and honoring Him through their music. And, it is evident that God has positioned them to do great things for His Kingdom through music.
Enjoy this excerpt from my interview with Leeland, our featured artist from Baytown, Texas.
Interview with Mike Smith (MS) and Jake Holtz (JH):
ASH: How did you get started as a band?
MS: We’ve been together since 2002 and we were signed as a band in 2005. The band takes its name from Leeland Mooring (lead vocalist) who got a publishing deal when he was like 14 with EMI. That’s kind of when it all got started and doors opened with label contacts. That’s when I met the guys. I had been playing in their youth group and I heard he had gotten some kind of deal. We had kind of been playing around as a band and I remember hearing that he had asked Jake and Jack to be in the band.
|JH: We all thought he knew he was in the band. One time we were practicing, he stopped and said, “Guys, am I in the band?” We laughed and said “Yeah, of course you’re in the band.” Then we went right back to practicing. It was a funny moment. Anyway, some of the label contacts came down to see us play and we were nervous but God had blessed it and it’s been a good experience ever since. Early on, we used to practice in a funeral home across town because they had space that was affordable. We used to always try out anything we’d write on our youth group. If they gave us a good response, we’d keep that one.
ASH: With the success of your debut album doing as well as it has so far, are things turning out the way you thought they would?
MS: We definitely haven’t expected things to turn out the way they have. I mean we expected the album to do well but God has really blessed it. We’re along for the ride just doing what God wants us to do. We’re definitely thankful and our families keep us humble. We try to keep our heads on straight and our feet on the ground. One thing that really helps us is that when we’re back in town we pretty much fall right back into place at our church on the music ministry team. Jack and Leeland are brothers, Jake is their cousin. Jack and Leeland’s parents are the pastors. Mike’s dad is a local pastor as well.
JH: It’s everything and more.
MS: It’s a lot less glamorous than people think. Like being married for 3 months has changed my perspective and I’m torn between wanting to be home and wanting to perform.
JH: It’s hard because you’re away from family all of the time. It’s especially hard for us because we’re so close to our families. Our church was our life so to be pulled away and not being able to be as involved as much stinks. You get tired because you’re doing this night after night. But, I think all of us would say this is where we want to be.
MS: I think that is one of our main prayers, to keep it fresh every night. I mean we are a worship band, we started that way and our songs are very heart-felt worship songs so I think it is easy to get into a routine especially playing night after night the same set with the exception of changing up a few songs here and there.
JH: You get dry of course and there are times in your walk where you want to be refreshed. Overall I think we all just want to keep doing the same thing and seeing people be touched. I think the day that people stop being moved, stop wanting more of a relationship with God and stop being more passionate about God; that will be the day we hang up our hats. Hearing people’s feedback about being changed by our music is worth the hard work. It’s totally worth it.
ASH: What is tour life really like?
JH: It’s cool but the hardest thing is you’re tired and you’re drained when you come home. But, when we get back to our churches, we jump back into things and it’s refreshing.
MS: We really don’t have a lot of time at home. This last time we were home for 20 hours before having to fly back out to the next show. We got home on a Tuesday around 11pm and turned around to leave again around 5pm. It’s usually pretty crazy when we’re at home because we try to see everybody. I have been married for about 3 months and it gets pretty crazy trying to spend time with my wife. We all have huge families. Falling back into church gives us some sense of normalcy.
JH: What’s really funny is when you’re home for a good amount of time like 3-4 days. By the third day, you’re looking around with no idea what to do.
|ASH: It sounds like you have supportive families, right?
MS: Yeah, they are our biggest fans. They are our best critics because they’ll tell us what we’re doing wrong and what we’re doing right. They really keep us in check. I think God had that in mind when he put us with the families we have. I think it really is easy to slip into this success we’ve had and sometimes we think this is all very cool but, we’re very appreciative of all that God has given us. And, I think that comes in part from our families keeping us grounded and our mindset right with why we started doing this in the first place.
ASH: There is a degree of celebrity status that comes with being a Grammy nominee, having a track on the WOW 2007 CD, and touring around the world. Have you had the experience yet where you arrived at a destination and there is a group of fans waiting to greet you?
MS: We haven’t really had a ton of fans waiting for us but some of the people working at the airport will recognize us sometimes.
JH: Dallas was the first place to play our single so I think we have a pretty good number of fans there. I remember one time at DFW where a couple was checking in next to us and said "Hey, you all are from Leeland." We were like oh cool, yeah we’re from Leeland. And then this guy that worked with TSA came up behind us with a deep voice saying, “Hey, you guys are from Leeland, right?” It’s normally pretty cool when people know who we are.
MS: But, there are also times when we think, “no one knows who we are.”
JH: It’s not like that in Japan though. The fans seem to be more intense like Beatles mania. They wait for you outside of your hotel. There was this one lady who came up to us and knew all of our names. She even had stuff out ready for us to sign.
MS: Yeah, she knew I had just gotten married and my wife’s name. It was cool but a little weird for people to know so much about us.
ASH: So, tell me how you got an opportunity to go to Japan?
MS: Sony BMG will let Provident release roughly three albums over there each year. So, the President of Provident threw our name out there. We’re supposed to release our album over in Japan this month. So, we went over there to do a little promotion, some interviews, and to get our name going over there. We’ll probably go back over later this year and do some more dates. It was our first International trip as a band. This whole month has been pretty crazy because we got back from Tokyo, stayed home for a day or two, and then went out to L.A. for the Grammy’s. We’re heading to Edmonton, Canada to play with Hillsong United this month as well.
JH: Yeah, it’s pretty cold up there in Canada this time of year so I’m a little nervous about that. My hands are going to get frostbite and fall off, I’m kind of scared. But seriously, we recently played with a band that just came back from playing in Canada. They said it was 40 below up there and you could dump out a bottle of water and it would freeze before it hit the ground. Now that’s cold!
MS: We’ve been to some pretty cold places so far. We have even seen kids playing outside in really cold weather. So, we had to laugh when we were back in Houston seeing people bundled all up when the temperature was 20-30 degrees. It’s funny to see different people’s reactions to weather.
ASH: When you’re touring do you fly everywhere? Or, do you have a tour bus?
MS: Right now, we’ve been flying quite a bit.
JH: We also do the van thing. Lately, many of our dates have been close together so we’ve had to fly. I remember the first couple of times we would fly we’d carry our passes and feel important because we were flying to a gig. Now, it’s gotten to a point where we kind of hate the airport.
MS: In the beginning, we flew with nothing and now we have all sorts of gear. When we get there, it’s like okay, what did I lose?
When we were in Japan, Jake didn’t get his bags until the last day we were there. So, it can be pretty hectic sometimes.
ASH: Do you get together and pray before you perform?
MS: We usually pray on the road together and that has really helped us stay friendly. We’ve been on the road for a year playing and doing this as our job. This year is going to be crazy for our schedules though.
JH: It’s hard for me to plan a vacation as far forward as May 2008 because we don’t know if it will work out.
MS: I had to block out time to get married. But, it’s cool because it’s our job and it pays the bills.
ASH: Correct me if I’m wrong but, I heard that Michael W. Smith is involved somehow?
MS: We did a showcase early last year when we were trying to sign with a booking agency and at the time our A&R guy's Father-in-law managed Michael W. Smith. And he invited his Father-in-law and Michael to come out as well.
JH: We started playing and we were half way through the second song. I don’t normally get star-struck or too nervous performing because I’ve been playing for awhile. That night I was a little nervous because of the booking agency people watching us perform. I’m playing and getting into my mindset. Then, as I’m looking out into the crowd, I see Michael W. Smith’s face and I immediately turned around. I was trying to tell Mike he was in the audience and Leeland could tell I was going a little bit weird.
MS: After the set, we went out and met Michael W. Smith. Then, Leeland and him hooked up and did some writing for his new album. I think they worked on seven of the songs together.
JH: Since then we’ve really gotten to know each other better. He’s been great and gives us pointers which helped us out a lot. It has been a relationship we have really enjoyed. He’s a genius and a really great musician, that’s for sure!
ASH: Have you had any strange or interesting surprises along the way?
JH: We did a string of Third Day dates and everyone was expecting David Crowder to open for them. It was funny because we got out there and you could tell the crowd knew we weren’t who they came to see. There have been people who have loved the CD and others who have not liked it so much. But, it’s cool because we listen to input and we’ll use it when we make our next album.
MS: I think one of the coolest things that was a surprise to me to date was when we were in Tokyo playing in front of 300 people in this small little club. We started playing Sound of Melodies and the crowd all started singing along.
JH: We weren’t expecting them to know any of the songs but when all of them were singing together, it was awesome!
MS: It was also cool that night because there were some Christian missionaries that showed up.
ASH: Have you come across any road blocks from being Christian Artists?
MS: I think the cool thing about it so far is that we haven’t really met a demographic that didn’t love our music. Older people and young people like our music because we don’t sound like your typical worship band. So, I think that has helped us.
JH: We didn’t want to be pegged as any particular type of sound. At heart, we’re a worship band whether or not we use the vehicle of rock.
ASH: What suggestions would you give to people interested in starting a band?
MS: I played with bands early on that didn’t work out. I prayed a lot for the right guys to play with. It’s important to find the right fit because these are the guys you’re going to be working and living with on the road.
JH: We didn’t see this as let’s use this to get out of Baytown. We saw it as playing music for the people in our church and the people in our town and let’s try to change their lives. We concentrate on changing people’s lives that are with us today instead of waiting until some point down the road when we have 40,000 people we’re performing in front of. Remember, your ministry is where you’re at right now. So, be yourself and live your ministry each day.
To learn more about Leeland, visit: http://www.leelandonline.com