Tony Cummings looks at the success and growing spiritual maturity of LEELAND
From their earliest days Texas-based rock band Leeland have been destined for big things. Their piano-driven pop rock may not sound "progressive" to prog rock wrinklies, despite Nashville publicists often affixing the "p" word to Leeland's name, but no one can deny that frontman and chief composer Leeland Mooring is an exceptionally gifted songsmith while the band's three albums have all been beautifully crafted and inspiring works. Their Integrity-Provident-distributed set 'Love is On The Move' shows the band with a distinctly social gospel emphasis to add to their worshipful music not dissimilar to the 'CompassionArt' multi-artist project on which Leeland Mooring contributed "Friend Of The Poor", a moving duet with worship leader Andy Park.
Recently Leeland spoke to the JesusFreakHideout website about the recording of 'Love Is On The Move'. Said Mooring, "I told a friend earlier, 'Man, after the process of this record, I feel like I drew closer to God through the recording process.' Sometimes the recording process in the studio can be stressful or you're SO concerned about making it sound really awesome and cool and you're worried that people aren't going to like it and sometimes you can lose aspect of the whole reason why you're making it - in the busyness of making the record. Afterwards, you're like 'Ugh!! I'm glad that's over!' But then you listen to it and you're like, 'Oh, it's amazing!' But this recording process was NOTHING like that at all. It was really cool. We recorded the record with two different producers - Steve Wilson and Ed Cash. It was just amazing. There were times when we'd sit with the producer and we would just worship for like 30 and 45 minutes. We didn't even MEAN to! One thing we prayed for - we asked God, 'God, we just want this record to be just songs for you. We don't want to try to impress people. We're not making a record for a radio single or something.' I said, 'God, we just want to make a record for you, just love songs to you.' And literally every song was spawned out of some incredible moment with God and an experience with God. Most of them were all in the studio. We went into the studio and had all of these parts. Like, I write in parts a lot and I don't tend to finish songs that easy."
The title track of 'Love Is On The Move' is the favourite song of Leeland's brother and the band's pianist Jack Mooring. He recounted the song's origins. "We were having a writing session for the record and were driving to Nashville, and there's this homeless man on the side of the road, asking for money. We're at this red light and it's five o'clock and there's traffic everywhere and we're in this huge van and trailer. So we're two lanes away from him and Leeland was like, 'Hey Jack, give him some money.' And the second Leeland said that, the light went green. And all these cars started honking [at us], so we just kind of drive off. And I had that thought in my head, 'We could go back... eh, let's just go.' And it's that moment - we've all done it - it's too much of a hassle now. I would have handed him money if it was easy, but now it's hard! So I'm not going to go back and hand him the money. But Leeland was like, 'No, dude, just stop.' So we went to the gas station and he ATM'ed some money and ran down to the guy about half a block. And then handed him a little bit of money and said 'God bless you' and then Leeland ran back to the van. So we went into the studio and started writing. We were writing some random idea and all of a sudden, Leeland just starts playing this melody and starts singing 'Love is on the move', and it's like all of us just focused in and literally, we got that whole song in minutes! God just gave it to us and we started writing it. And the song is about a homeless man on the side of the road that needs God. There's a rich man in a high rise building that has everything - he needs God. And then there's Jesus who came down to change the world. And each chorus talks about 'Love is on the move'. God's doing something and we need to be a part of it."
Another song on 'Love Is On The Move' with a powerful impact is "Follow Him" on which CCM soloist Brandon Heath added his considerable vocal talents. Explained Leeland, "At first the song was just a chorus. It was written in Australia. We went to the Hillsong conference and in this really awesome worship moment, they played this video of Bono talking at the NAACP where he made this speech about how if you want to be with God, you need to be with the broken. He said, 'God is in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house.' And it kind of hit me - the idea of that: that God is with the broken. I've always heard that, but the reality of it kind of hit me. I walked out because I started getting a melody, a song idea, and I walked out and recorded it. We were in the studio and I brought that idea and we ended up finishing it. It became this awesome worship song talking about following God into the homes of the broken and into the world. We're going on tour with Brandon in the fall, and with Francesca [Battistelli], which is going to be really cool! We were already talking about that pretty heavily and we thought, 'What if we had Brandon come in and sing this?' He's doing some crazy awesome stuff in India. He's involved in some really cool non-profit stuff, like getting women out of the sex trade and supplying them with jobs so they can have honest livings and housing for their children, stuff like that. So he's - just like us - kind of new to all the problems of the world. So he came in, caught the vision of the song, and did an incredible job of singing."
The melodies come first and frequently for Leeland Mooring. He's constantly trying to capture them on his phone's recording device. Sometimes they come four or five times each day. He gets nervous on the days they don't come at all. "I am a melody writer first. Lyrics are a growing thing for me."
Leeland was born in a family of music ministers. He was raised in the church. His father quietly played instruments, while his mother took prominence on the stage. She was the outgoing one. And while Leeland's father taught him the instruments he now masters, it was his mother who encouraged him toward greatness. Remembered Leeland, "My mother told me I could do anything I set my heart to. She told me, 'One day you're going to play in stadiums to thousands' and 'One day, you're going to write with Michael W Smith.'" By the age of 16, Leeland was sitting down with Smith to co-write his 2007 album 'The Stand'.
Originating from Baytown, Texas, Leeland were formed with brothers Leeland and Jack Mooring (keyboards), cousin Jake Holtz (bass) and friends Jeremiah Wood (lead guitar) and Mike Smith (percussion). Band rehearsals originally took place at a local funeral home, which also doubled as a local church.
Signed to Reunion Records, the band's debut album 'Sound Of Melodies', co-produced by Marc Byrd, Matt Bronlewee and Steve Hindalong, was launched in August 2006 with maximum fanfare. "Leeland is the best thing I have heard in a long, long time," enthused Grammy Award-winning Michael W Smith.
'Sound Of Melodies' became a major US Christian radio hit and gained the group a Grammy nomination. But even more amazingly, the title track became a number six hit single in Japan. In March 2008 the band's second album 'Opposite Way' was released with Leeland Mooring declaring in the album's press release, "'Opposite Way' is a call to our generation to passionately walk the 'opposite way' of the world; that it's okay to live the Christian life and be on fire for God, even if it makes us look different. We want to encourage, inspire and raise up a new generation of worshippers."
The band launched TheOppositeWay.com website. Said the band's Mike Smith, "The return of TheOppositeWay.com, where kids go on and tell their stories about how they're living the opposite way, has been awesome, seeing their responses and seeing these kids get a chance to be a part of a community."
Jack Mooring spoke of one of the responses they've received: "There was a specific girl who talked about how she'd grown up in the church and so she didn't have this typical 'I did drugs my whole life...' or whatever. She grew up in church and she had just kinda got numb to God and she talked about how recently God had shaken her up out of her complacency. And she wanted to really just go the opposite way. She wanted to DO something and stop just kind of talking about it. So, a lot of examples about that. And even kids that struggle with a lot of serious stuff. So it's been cool to read those and hear our generation talk back."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.