Leeland: Following Love
- Lindsay Williams CCMmagazine.com
- 2009 1 Oct
"Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"
— Matthew 25:37-40
Africa. Australia. Japan. Cambodia. Bangladesh … Baytown, Texas.
Whether across the globe or in its hometown of Baytown, Leeland is taking dirty hands and a passionate message to the world: Faith without works is dead.
It's a timeless mantra—tried and true. But for Leeland Mooring (lead vocals/guitars), his brother Jack (vocals/keys), cousin Jake Holtz (bass) and longtime friend Mike Smith (drums), nothing rings truer for these four 20-somethings in this season of life. A glance at the band's schedule over the past few years reveals not only several notable tours (including a massive arena tour with Casting Crowns) but also tireless hours of charitable work both domestically and abroad.
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This comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the band's previous work. Themes of social awareness permeated 2006's Sound of Melodies and 2008's Opposite Way (Essential). The two albums garnered the band numerous Dove Award nominations and two GRAMMY nods, broadening its platform and thrusting the songwriting prowess of Leeland (who incidentally wrote his first song at age 11) into the spotlight. However, the release of the band's third record, Love Is on the Move, ups the ante both musically and philosophically. Produced by Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, David Crowder Band) and Steve Wilson (Fish, Hawk Nelson), the album is a direct result of a shift in perspective for the band.
Leeland explains, "For a while, we were just this band from Baytown, Texas, and all we saw was our little church where God has been doing awesome and incredible things. But he's really been opening our vision to all the hurting people—especially the poor—around the world and making it clear we should help by being a part of spreading his kingdom."
This expanding worldview helped fuel the direction for the new record, and Love Is on the Move soon morphed into an opus of passionate cries in pursuit of justice. "Worship, justice and action are not separate; they are united," Leeland says. "For every worship song we sing, we should match that with an act of justice and an act of love."
The band stakes the album's theme on the ultimate sacrifice. "Love isn't really love unless it's backed by action. Jesus showed us this at the cross," Jack attests. Essentially, Christ was "love on the move" personified. "Jesus was the first to be ‘love on the move' when he went to the cross. But when he did that, he transferred that love to us so we become his ‘love on the move,'" Leeland adds.
While prior outings certainly hinted at these assumptions, the new record, with its Coldplay-esque melodies and depth of lyricism, takes the correlation to a new level. "The whole idea of love and action is woven through the fabric of these songs," Jack explains. "You'll see a real intimacy in the lyrics of this record. Our heart as a band is to have that pure worship experience with God, and I think these songs communicate that longing."
Worship in its purest sense has very little to do with the worshipper and more to do with the One being worshipped. When it comes to the band's résumé of crafting artistic "worship" music, Leeland gets it right. "We're at a place where all we want is to please God. You can't measure success as a band in how many records you've sold or what your ticket sales are," says Jack. "I think the question we're always asking ourselves as a band is, ‘Where is our heart for God? Have we kept our hearts right even in the midst of success?' We're learning to keep that as our focus.
"We try not to care about fame, money or record sales," he continues. "We just want God's spirit to lead everything we do. In the end, that's all that will matter."
The new songs make it obvious that Leeland's focus and mission has never been clearer. "We're so excited about this new record because we believe this music is really married to the mission of taking care of the poor," Jack says. "I hope the songs on this record will open up doors for more work to be done all over the world."
Mooring & Co. are intent on aligning themselves with endeavors of significance around the globe, evidenced by their ongoing relationship with Food for the Hungry (FH). "Food for the Hungry is doing such amazing work all over the world," says Jack. "It's way more than food; it's transforming communities with the life of Jesus." The band recently returned from a trip overseas with the organization visiting Japan, Cambodia and Bangladesh, seeing this transformation in progress first-hand. Leeland will be partnering with the non-profit this fall on a co-headlining tour with Brandon Heath (and special guest Francesca Battistelli) titled the "Follow You Tour," inspired by the album's first single on which Heath duets.
Leeland actually wrote the song while attending a Hillsong United conference in Australia after being inspired by a video clip of Bono accepting his award for his work in Africa. "The song ‘Follow You' talks about going where God goes," Jack says. "Wherever you find the broken and needy, you'll find God standing beside them. We just want to be where he is."
The tour outing will find Leeland sharing experiences from its most recent trip abroad and putting legs to what the members speak and sing about, encouraging concert attendees to sponsor children through FH. "The tour is going to be amazing, and we want every night to be a move of God. By the end of this thing we want the world to be changed … literally. We're hoping thousands of children will be sponsored," Jack says. "By the end of the tour, we hope that the message of love supported by action will be written on the hearts of everyone as we worship God together."
No matter what they do, Leeland makes it clear that love and action are inextricably linked. And they are more passionate than ever before about taking this message to the world—both in word and deed. "[We're] a part of this huge story. God wants an intimate relationship with [us] that goes way past a church service and a quiet time," says Jack.
Don't be fooled into thinking the Texas-based quintet rarely practices what they preach. When they're not on tour, the band members continue to lead worship at the church where the Moorings' father pastors. In addition, the band consistently serves in its local community working in Baytown's Gulf Coast emergency preparedness programs and at a local food pantry truly living out the album's premise. The Mooring brothers are also using their platform to make inroads into government-sanctioned advocacy. In fact, earlier this year, Leeland and Jack were the only artists invited to the White House for its "Compassion in Action Roundtable," which targeted promising young leaders in developing the next generation of America's social philanthropists.
"There's a big world out there with big problems, and the life and love of God inside of us is the answer," Jack says. "We hope that people would be drenched in the love of God as they hear these songs. And the natural response is to get up and move so we can show the world what it really means to follow Jesus."
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© 2009 CCMmagazine.com. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
**This interview first published on October 1, 2009