By Amy Sondova w/ Melissa Brown A best-selling album, a GRAMMY nod and several Dove Award nominations, a new marriage, and the Feb. 26 release of sophomore album, Opposite Way—that’s a lifetime of accomplishments for 19 year-old Leeland Mooring, frontman of the band, Leeland. The band’s first album, Sound of Melodies, was heralded by audiences and commanded attention and respect from the pillars of the Christian music industry, including Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, Switchfoot, and Chris Tomlin.
In addition to the band’s namesake, the band is comprised of Leeland’s big brother, Jack Mooring (keys/vocals), the Mooring boys’ cousin Jake Holtz (bass), and friends Mike Smith (drums) and Mike Campbell (guitars). In hot demand, the band has been touring nearly non-stop for the past two years, which has given them a lot of time to craft an album that continues the excellence that excited audiences in Sound of Melodies.
Just as Opposite Way’s first cut was just being released to the media, Melissa Brown and I had a chance to sit down and chat with the members of Leeland, who despite being 19-24, were intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally mature. Perched on a seat neat to me was Leeland, who rolled up my business card and stuck it in his sock during the interview. Despite his apparent disdain for paper objects, he was surprisingly attentive and well-spoken as were the other band members. Next to Leeland sat Mike C., then Jake, followed by Mike S., Jack, and finally Mel.
Jack took special care to make sure that questions were answered accurately and appropriately and helped moderate discussion. Jake, one of the youngest members, was amazing and forthright, often making the everyone laugh (especially Leeland) while the duo of Mike’s were less talkative, yet insightful. Passionate about raising up a generation of worshippers, Leeland the band was eager to talk and even nicely shared the microphone.
Amy: I’ll start with Leeland. Everyone loves the fact that you’re 19. Youth workers love the fact that you’re young. What kind of response have you had from youth workers about ministering to teenagers?
Leeland: What’s really cool is when we get to minister at church. We sing for youth groups and the youth pastors are really encouraged. First of all, we see tons of kids that are my age, and I’ve had tons of kids come up to me and say, ‘How do I get that passion for God that you guys have? I look up to you guys and your walk with God.’ It’s humbling and encouraging at the same time for us.
As far as youth workers, we’ve got to really inspire youth workers to nurture the gifts in their own youth groups. We’re trying to encourage youth with their dreams. There might be a kid that loves to draw, loves art, writes poetry, love music, or loves speaking—we love to encourage that and see that develop.
Amy: When people think of “worship”, they think of music. Worship can encompass so much more. What are other ways you guys are encouraging worship in other ways, besides music, even though you are obviously involved within the music genre?
Jack: I think that goes back to our main topic of what we’re taking about, which is raising up a generation of worshipers. Does that mean raising up a generation of songwriters or singers? No. It means maybe quite the opposite. Raising up a generation of worshipers means going past songs and past music into living a lifestyle that glorifies God.
Yes, music is amazing and a great way to worship God, but there are so many other ways to worship Him aside from art. Our goal is to help people to find ways to dedicate their whole lives to God and worship in every aspect of their lives. I definitely think there are lots of ways we’ve missed as a Church to worship God.
Matt S.: For us, it’s more of a lifestyle. We try to be the same on the stage, on the bus, or wherever. Worship is definitely living a lifestyle of prayer and being in a relationship with God. I think if you really want to define worship it’s a lifestyle that is trying to be pleasing to God.
Leeland: Worship is anything that’s glorifying God whether that’s praying or hanging out or cleaning up the church after worship or cleaning the toilet—anything that’s glorifying God in your life or in a song is worship. It literally is your whole life devoted to God.
Amy: Leeland here is the youngest in the band and he’s kind of the “leader of the band”. How do you older guys deal with that?
Mike C: We have a good open line of communication and Leeland’s always been good about pushing everything back towards the band and towards us and making it a group thing. We were the ones that made him take the band name ‘Leeland’. He didn’t want it in the beginning, we were just in our youth group back home playing worship and then we started playing other places as ‘The Leeland Mooring Band’.
Amy: So you guys all went to youth group together?
Jake: Jack and Leeland’s parents started a church about five years ago and yeah, so we started in the church. We met Mike at IHOP and Matt went to a church across the street and Jack was the youth pastor. That’s how it started—in youth band.
Jack: Leeland I were brothers and our parents actually started the church, and maybe the people didn’t know that… (Everyone chuckles at him.)
Amy: You were brothers? What are you now?
Jack: Actually you know we did an official separation for purposes of the band. We didn’t want things to get personal, you know? So, yeah, I was actually youth pastor at the time and Leeland started writing all these songs—he was 12 years old! It was a really cool time in our lives because I would get up and preach and Jake would play bass and Leeland would get up and lead worship. It all came about because of our youth ministry. Without our youth ministry, we wouldn’t be here.
Amy: OK, let’s head back towards youth ministry. There are a lot of kids who are pretty talented and write songs. Obviously, Leeland over here is a musical genius, but how do you encourage kids in their craft without crushing their dreams?
Leeland: In the beginning, the songs may not be that great. But one of the biggest things I’ve noticed is that when someone is really, really close to the Lord and when they’re really been seeking God and have an innocent relationship with the Lord, they could be singing ‘Kumbaya’ and the presence of God will come. I’ve been around some places where the person’s voice wasn’t that amazing or they weren’t great with the instrument, but you could just tell that they were so close to the Lord and loved God so much that when they were playing I felt the Lord and felt him stronger than professional musicians.
Keep encouraging kids to write songs and keep writing and to seek after God as they’re writing. That’s the difference between a great song writer and a great worship leader. A great worship leader is so in tune with the Lord that they could be up there singing anything and the presence of God will come.
Amy: A lot of people look up to you guys as a band—both youth and youth workers because the music’s great and the lyrics are real. What do you think is a critical issue in youth workers? What do youth workers need to know?
Jack: I actually worked with youth before I was in the band. One thing I can say as a word of encouragement is to make time to spend with God and for your self. Youth workers are very selfless people, so they don’t have time for themselves.
Leeland: You are selfless and you give and give and give so much you come to the point where you’re tired. But if you devote yourself to the Lord, you are able to keep your dreams alive for your group and your city. A lot of youth workers start out with great dreams, but they lay down their dreams because they’re tired because they don’t seek the Lord and the presence of God.
Youth workers need to say, ‘God, let your presence fill out youth group.’ We can have Playstations and games all day long, and these worldly things don’t edify. They attract people, but they don’t edify. The presence of God is what our churches need to be asking for, that’s when people are changed.
Jack: Games and all those really cool fun lights attracts the kids, but once they’re there, what happens? Where’s the beef? Where’s the meat? Are they going to take something more home than meeting their friends and beating Guitar Hero? I think that’s where the youth workers need to get on their faces before God.
Amy: Youth workers can be guilty of neglecting their families because they think that ministry is the highest calling, but also family is ministry. How do you guys keep the romance alive with your wives?
Jack: Literally, your family is your ministry. It’s amazing that we’re going to minister to all these people, but 20 years from now if our kids aren’t serving God and our wives have been neglected, I don’t really see the point. When we stand before the Lord, he’s going to ask us how we treated our families, how you treat your children and your wife is going to affect many generations to come.
Amy: So, Jack, honestly, what’s it like being Michael W. Smith’s son-in-law?
Jack: They’re an amazing family. He has a reputation of integrity, and he’s put his family first. You can just tell when you spend time with them. He’s been nice to me and hasn’t given me a hard time.
Amy: We’ve been talking about the Michael W. Smith fan cruise. I was like, “It’s going to be 50 year-old ladies and Leeland”. So, really, what was it like?
Jake: It was like a worship conference to me. It was awesome. It wasn’t all 50 year-old peple. There were younger people there and some people brought their kids. We went to Alaska and spent 7-8 days there. It was free food the entire time. Ice cream in the middle of the night. Milk and cookies.
Jack: And we saw whales and that was amazing.
(Random incoherent mumblings from which I could glean, “We drove the ship into an iceberg.” Mel asks, “Did anyone abandon ship?” All of a sudden Leeland grabs the mic to make this announcement.)
Leeland: The blue whale is the biggest thing in the entire world. Its tongue weighs as much an elephant. It weighs 200 tons and its heart is as big as a car. Its tail is as wide as a small aircraft and you could swim in its largest blood vessel.
Amy: Ooo-kay. On that note, anything that you want to say in closing?
Leeland: Keep dreaming for your city and know that God is with you and be encouraged. God is doing something incredible in the hearts of youth today. Keep encouraging your kids to devote their lives to God.
For more information on Leeland and their current tour “The Altar and the Door” with Casting Crowns, visit the band’s website (LINK: http://www.leelandonline.com). Also remember to check out their latest album, Opposite Way, which released February 26.