Zealand: Phil Joel revealing fresh creative edge since Newsboys

Friday 27th July 2018

Tony Cummings spoke to the one-time Newsboys stalwart about his new band, ZEALAND

Continued from page 1

Phil: I guess all ministries will struggle with different things. For us we struggled with not wanting to be put into one little box. The world is always changing and we have to stay true to what it is we feel the Lord calls us to do, and who we're called to be, and what we're called to create. That doesn't always fit inside the box. I don't think any of us fits just inside one particular box. We're fearfully and wonderfully made.

Tony: Tell me a bit about the recording of 'Liberated'.

Phil: To be honest with you, we actually made and recorded a number of songs that didn't make the record, that initially did. The record company really liked them, and I'm not going to throw the record company under the bus because their job is to meet markets and sell music. Some of the music that we created, my wife had to point out to myself and the band, guys, even though this stuff may be good and may reach the Church market and sell lots of records, it's not exactly who you are. It's not really representing your voice. It was a little more Church-oriented type stuff. It's hard to walk away from because quite honestly, these days, that's where the business is. We wanted to reach across some of these lines and we wanted it to be palatable and encouraging and maybe for non-believers pique their interest: what is going on here, what journey are these guys on, what are these songs about, there's something in this that resonates. Over here in the US we're having mainstream interest which is fascinating to me because I've really just been moving in the Christian world and the music business world. For it to make a crossover is something no one was planning but it just seems to be happening.

Tony: Tell me about the process within the band. Do you write all the melodies and all the lyrics?

Phil: At the moment I do. The title track, "Liberated", was written by the band in its entirety. It was kind of written on the spot. We were at a ministry type of event where there was a speaker and we were the worship band. It was a youth event. My wife was there too. We led worship, the speaker did his thing and then led the kids in a time of repentance, whatever you want to call it, and there was lots of teenage anguish and crying. It was beautiful; they were doing business with the Lord, trying to work things through. Heather had heard this idea that we'd been working on and said why don't you play that song. And I said it's not finished. She said do it or we'll be in an instant fight. It was pretty funny. So I said guys, just follow me, you know that idea we've got going, let's just go with it. So we started and the song kind of grew on the spot, it sort of happened. By the time we were done we were up-tempo and these kids were up on their feet jumping up and down and declaring their liberty, their freedom. It was awesome; it was an amazing moment. So we went back into the studio and tried to recreate that and I think we did it; we caught what that moment was about and it became the title track. It was the last song that we recorded. I want to do more of that. We're writing right now. We're out on the road on this Newsboys' tour and we had more time and we had a dressing room every day and we set up a little portable studio and we're trying to write and create while we're out there on the road. We're getting geared up for the next one; the songs are just coming. . .

Tony: What about other songs on the album which are connecting with the audience?

Phil: Well, "Spirit Sing" is the first song we play out here live and it's got a little bit more of a raucous worship declaration and that one connects well. It's being played on the radio over here quite a lot which is great. And then the last song on the record, "Garden's On Fire", is another song that gets a great response from people. I always like the first and the last songs on albums. Us musicians, we always seem to put our best foot forward with the first track and then we always seem to put a heartfelt tune at the end because we're never sure, we're always a little afraid if we put something too vulnerable near the front of the record people will think. . . I don't know what they'll think. "Garden's On Fire" is the last song and it's about addiction and about someone near and dear to me who has wrestled with addiction and is still wrestling with addiction. She's still trying to find her way through it and she's getting more healthy and she's growing and learning and uncovering on a daily basis more and more of who she is and who God is. When those two things start to become clear in her heart she's realising her worth and she's starting to learn to push aside these things and she's growing. For me, I want to jump in; I want to try and shake her by the shoulders. . . There's so much addiction these days. People need to know there is great hope and it comes as we begin to discover who our creator truly is. He's a good Dad; he has good things for his kids so there's something in that song. It was written about three years ago but the record company didn't like it. And then I fought for it and said guys, this is a real song. Let's push aside some of the other things and find a place for it and it landed on the record, and I'm glad it did.

Tony: What has the future got for you and Zealand?

Phil: There are just little inklings at the moment, some thoughts that may become a little clearer as we move forward. It's a daily thing. Every time I try and fit my mind into creating a five-year plan it never works. The Lord's ways are so much better than ours, so much more exciting and adventurous. And yeah, they're risky but at the end of the day I just have to follow him. He doesn't promise to lay out the whole plan for us, he promises for today and that's all we've got. I'm not trying to say I'm all-pious; it's just a daily thing. There are things I think I'd like to be involved with and I'd love to see. But at the moment I'm just working on what's in front of me today. There are things I'd like to write down. I get invited to speak quite often which when I can I love to be able to do. I don't necessarily consider myself a great speaker but I just share from what it is that I know, and what the Lord shows. So speaking and maybe writing in the future. We'll see. But at the moment the Lord keeps putting me back on the platform. It's like he keeps putting his boot in my back, get back up there. You're not done yet, keep singing, keep sharing about what I've done and what I want to do in people's hearts. When I say it's time to step down from that platform then you'll know about it. CR

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.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.

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