Hillsong United are one of the world’s most popular Christian bands.
Born out of Hillsong Church’s youth group in Sydney 14 years ago, the momentum behind the band has staggered many. Last year, the band decided to record their first live album outside of Australia.
Over 15,000 people gathered in Miami’s American Airlines Arena for a sold out night of worship. The result is a CD & DVD package titled Live in Miami.
We caught up with singer Jonathon Douglass (JD) to find out more about the band’s extraordinary career.
1. How did Hillsong United begin?
We never planned to get a band or a team together. The youth ministry of our church would meet together and we had incredible pastors who encouraged us to use whatever it is we were passionate about to glorify the name of Jesus and put him first. We never planned to make any albums or travel the world. It’s been incredible from being around in those early days and seeing the faithfulness of God and what he can do with a life totally submitted to him. It blows your mind.
2. Are you living the dream?
Yes and no. It’s never as glamorous as it looks, but at the same time there’s that element of pinching ourselves at the opportunities God has brought our way. We get to do some things we’ve never dreamed of but we’re not detached from reality and we have very normal lives as well.
3. Your last studio album, Aftermath, sounded quite different to your other recordings. It was really refreshing. Was that a deliberate change?
That’s the best thing to hear. When we approached recording Aftermath we were talking about how it’s our 10th album – which we couldn’t believe.
We on purpose sat down and talked about how we didn’t want to fall back on the formula and sound that for us, has really worked. It’s only a matter of time before you can lose your relevance by playing the game too safe. We said: ‘If this was the first album we ever made and we hadn’t done anything before, what would we do?’
4. Watching the DVD, you can see the size of the crowd in Miami was incredible. Over 15,000 people, and completely sold out. It must have felt amazing?
Whether you have a gathering of two or 2000 people, it’s all the same in God’s eyes. We’re never just about the crowds, but when you think about it, the bigger the crowd, the more individual lives are represented.
That aside, it was an incredible night. We played and recorded in American Airlines arena, which is where the NBA basketball team Miami Heat, who have the biggest basketball stars in the world, play. It was quite a significant venue and to fill that for the whole purpose of people encountering Jesus, was definitely a spin out.
5. What made this live album special for you?
It’s the first time we’ve ever recorded outside of Sydney. When we usually record live albums they're in our neighbourhood.
With every live album we’ve done there’s a lot of elements where you have to go into the studio, which is pretty obvious because you can hear a live album and say ‘they can’t sound this good live!’ But we didn’t overdub any vocals, whereas usually we’ll overdub every vocal.
6. What’s your favourite Hillsong United album?
That’s a tough question. Not only do we sing the songs a lot when we’re travelling we use them for church on a week to week basis. If I’m honest, I barely ever listen back to any of the albums because we sing them so often.
They are all great but I felt like we changed gear massively when we recorded United We Stand. That kind of time for us was when we realised the kind of potential for what we’re doing.
7. Hillsong Church is not without its critics. Some have accused the church of being too commercialised and money driven. How do you respond to that?
Our church, for as long as I can remember, has been accused of being about the money and being a CD factory. I remember being in high school, people would criticise my church and as a teenager it would cut me so much. I’ve been in the church my whole life and I know that’s not the case.
Most of the people who make accusations have never been to our church. If you come to our church for more than five minutes, you realise that our church is all about God and all about people.
Everything we do with the albums is to reach people. All of the revenue we make from albums goes into the social justice aspects of our church in helping people, feeding the poor. You have to learn early on that if you let that stuff get to you, it’s only going to make you angry and you can’t do anything about it anyway.
I also know the church is full of human sinners, so it’s definitely not going to be perfect. We do our best to make sure we don’t come across as commercialised but we want to reach as many people as possible.
8. What has God been teaching you recently?
We’re so focused on doing the best that we can for God, it can be so easy to forget why you’re trying so hard to be creative and fresh. What God is speaking to me about is, don’t let what I do for God distract me from drawing closer to God.
9. What’s the best Christian book you’ve read?
I would have to say John Maxwell’s book Developing The Leader Within You. It’s easy to get excited in the spiritual aspect of ‘we’ve got the message, let’s go!’ But it’s also good to have a structure to carry that out and not burn out. The book really helps build great structures. It’s more practical than spiritual but I like it.
10. What you doing in 2012?
For the best part of the last eight or so years, we’ve travelled. We’ve got this dynamic where we do albums and get to travel, but we’re also connected to the local church. To do both well is a lot to juggle. This year we’re doing a couple of little tour dates, but we’re spending most of the year at home writing the new record which will probably come out in 2013. We’re focusing on a year of putting into home and putting into church.
March 3rd, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes