Hillsong Young & Free is an amazing youth band that came out of the megachurch Hillsong. Their music is fresh and new; It's different from the typical worship music we hear on Sunday morning. The youth band became extremely popular with hit songs, such as "This Is Living" (featuring hip-hop artist Lecrae), "Real Love," and "Let Go."
Recently, Hillsong Young & Free released All Of My Best Friends, their fourth album that features 20 tracks. I caught up with Hillsong Young & Free vocalist Melodie Wagner about the new album, as well as the story behind their song "Best Friends."
How did Hillsong Young & Free get started as a band?
In 2012, our youth pastors Peter and Laura Toggs saw that there was a bit of a gap when it came to the youth expression of worship in our church. So, they put out the call and the challenge to worship leaders and musicians to start writing songs that we felt were going to connect with young people. Music that could bring them a fresh sense of identity. That's how we started.
Young & Free wasn't meant to be a big, global influencing band with albums and tours. It was just meant to be a way of writing worship music that would connect our young people and youth ministry to God.
You recently released a new album, All Of My Best Friends. What was the inspiration behind that project?
The inspiration behind this project was to return to that wellness and boldness of why we started Young & Free in the first place. We wanted to write songs that were bold, fun, and uplifting. All of My Best Friends has become an album that illustrates the importance of unity and togetherness.
Matthew 18:20 says, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them." I think that part about being gathered in Jesus' name, that's where the blessing lies. Especially in the days we're living in right now, the meaning of this album and the title of this project is more relevant than ever.
Earlier this year, Young & Free released a new single called "Best Friends." It quickly became a massive hit. Tell us the story behind that song.
This song lived on the shelf for a little while. The songwriters were a bit unsure about the piece. It's different from anything that we've ever released—lyrically and sonically. We definitely took a chance with the song.
I remember the first time we played "Best Friends" at a youth gathering. We were nervous about how it was going to be received. When we play songs for youth, it can either live or die on the spot, based on how they respond. But, when they first heard it, they were singing it loudly—over and over again. Once the song ended, we knew that there was something special about it and what it represents. "Best Friends" truly sparks a sense of camaraderie, togetherness, and unity.
You sing lead on the song "Indescribable" from the new album. What does that song mean to you personally?
"Indescribable" is a real fun song. Every time I think about it, I smile. It's fun to be able to lead and sing. "Indescribable" is a praise song that we didn't want to overthink and overcomplicate.
It says in the chorus, "You're indescribable in every way." There aren't enough words to describe how incredible our God is. There's this beautiful point in our worship and in our walk with God where we're not too concerned about the words and sounding elegant or sophisticated. It's this point where you intimately work with God when it's not about what you say, but it's about the heart. Clearly, 1 Samuel 16:7 says that God doesn't look at the outward appearance, He looks at the heart.
Most songs on the new album were recorded live in Australia. What was it like recording those?
A lot of feelings were going on during that live recording night. The album was recorded at our annual summer camp, an event that packs a few thousand kids in an outside tent. The difference about this year was that we were having raging bushfires in Australia. For about three months, it was really difficult to be outside because the air was so thick with smoke. It was a really weird summer, and it was really scary for a lot of people.
When we go away to summer camp, we're usually in the bush. We feared that for the first time in 30 years that wasn't going to be possible because of all the dangers. So, we had to relocate a few thousand kids from all over the state. We decided to record the album at our other campus. While it was different and unfamiliar, we had a job to do, and that was to lead young people into the presence of God—even during the uncertainty and the changes.
At the time, we didn't even know what we would be heading into this year with the pandemic. I think back on that night, I think about all of us together in one room, singing these songs, and singing the name of Jesus. There was a real, tangible sense of his presence.
As we're more isolated than ever, we need to remember that it's not about gathering and singing together in one place at one time, it's about being aligned with God. That can happen wherever we are. It's encouraging that this album is being released at a time like this. It's a reminder that while we might be separate, our voices still have the power to unite us. Our faith can unite us even in a time like this.
The night of the recording was crazy, but it was amazing. I feel like when you listen to the album, you can feel what the room was like that night.
How have you seen Hillsong Young & Free's music impact today's generation?
I think our music has impacted this generation because we're passionate about seeing young people connect with God in a real and authentic way. There's also an element where it's not just us writing songs for other people, but these are songs that we also connect with.
We're writing songs that we want to sing both on a Friday night and Sunday morning at church. We're writing songs that connect us to Jesus, something that deepens our faith. You can only reach people if it's real and authentic to you. Young & Free has a mandate: we have a calling to push the envelope, so to speak. Push boundaries of what modern worship sounds like.
As much as it's an anointing and a calling, it's very much a responsibility to think outside of the box. To create music that young people would be proud to play in the car, while they're driving with their non-Christian friends. Songs that youth would be proud to show their friends on their phones or hear on the radio. It's a calling and it's also a challenge. It means that we need to remain fresh. Stay ahead of the curve and release good quality music.
What's next for Hillsong Young & Free? Will there be any more new music before the end of 2020?
Everything right now is completely focused on this new album. Because of everything that's been happening, we had to push the album's release date a little bit longer than we had first planned on. We also a few more singles than we initially planned.
Just a note, we love to make alternate or acoustic versions of our songs that can equip people to bring them into local churches. So, keep an ear out for more music.
Finally, how can we be praying for the band?
Pray for more unity. In our current climate, unity is what's going to be the deciding factor of how we come out of this pandemic. Hopefully, by us remaining connected, we'll be able to lead these new songs well, and lead young people well.
Grace Chaves is a fan of all things Christian music, and is one of NRT's youngest writers. She's homeschooled, and loves concerts, Jesus, and songwriting.
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