Grammy winning artist Leeland Mooring (28) is still going up in God and in music.
The Critically Acclaimed Ones
When it comes to the theme of internationally known christian music from the last ten years, one can hardly discuss it without mentioning Leeland. After their strong debut album Sound of Melodies in 2005, many people considered them to be the natural heirs of the British band Delirious?. The aging British group who had pumped out quality pop/rock and roll type music for a decade were beginning to wrap things up when Leeland came onto the scene.
Since their first album, the band Leeland has since been awarded four Grammy Awards and eight Dove Awards after a total of five albums. The Dove Awards are a yearly ceremony held in Nashville which gives out awards solely to christian artists.
Leeland has been lauded by both critics and fellow artists alike. One of the fathers of christian pop music, Michael W. Smith, has said that Leeland is the best that he has heard “… in a really, really long time.”
“I am still going upward in God and music” says Leeland Mooring who acts as songwriter, composer, vocalist, and guitarist in the band.
Leeland grew up as a pastor kid where his family ran a church called Celebration of Life in the States. Both the church and his family life were deeply influenced by his parents main interest: music. In both the children’s church and youth group, which Leeland attended, music was a key element. “It wasn’t always good,” remember Leeland, “but it was always fun. We grew in our skills at an early age.”
Already at the age of 11 had Leeland written his first song called, “Shine”. After he preformed the song for a church in Illinois, word began to spread about the musical pastor family. The tour life in America had begun to take form. At 14 years old, Leeland took part in a large music competition and made it to the finale in Nashville. Even though he did not win, his talent had been spotted.
One year later he found himself signing a record deal with Essential Records which is a part of Sony. Together signing with him was his brother Jack Mooring and their cousin Jake Holtz as well as two friends from church: Jeremia Wood and Mike Smith.
I was curious about one thing though, so I asked Leeland Mooring how the others took it that his first name became the name of their new band. “Ha, yeah it was actually the whole band’s idea” he replied. “The thought it sounded cool.”
A Little Famous
Success came early for both the band and young Leeland. Despite all of the attention which he receives, Leeland is unsure about calling himself a celebrity.
“I have never really felt known” he says. “I’ve never had the experience of the paparazzi following after me, if you know what I mean.”
The American in front of me does admit that he does feel an enormous amount of responsibility. “I am an example to many. That is something which I am very aware of, although I think that we as christians should all act like role models.”
“Are we all role models?” I asked him. “Yes, absolutely” Leeland replied. “For out families, friends colleagues, and yeah, for pretty much for anyone we meet. People see our lives, both the hidden and the obvious.”
For the Young Leeland it was his family which helped him to keep his balance. “Its hard to be high on yourself when your father is your manager and your mother drives you around. The support from the church has been amazing the whole journey. It has been a huge part of giving my faith deep roots. It really helped when I became known as a teenager. We all know what can happen to teenagers who become famous too early.”
I asked him if he was hinting about things going badly for young stars. “Yeah, it goes bad” he finishes. The 28 year old then gives a mischievous smile. “Yes, so I got married early then.”
19 year old Leeland got married to his bride Amanda, who was 18.
“Marriage makes you grow up and mature. I moved straight from my parents place to living with my wife just like it is written in the Bible” says Leeland.
Travel And Marriage
Leeland and his wife got married quite young and I was curious what their secret was for staying together for almost ten years now.
“It has become more and more obvious to me that what I invest my time and energy in is what I will care about. Therefore it has become more and more important to me that my travels without Amanda are shorter than the ones with her.”
Last year alone Leeland held around a hundred concerts around the globe. Traveling takes a lot of time. It is easily done to give your all to ministry while time at home just gets the leftovers. “That is why I want her with me” says Leeland. “And I want to be home longer when we are home together.”
Leeland then proceeds to draw parallels from Jesus and His disciples. “He sent them two and two into ministry, but he also prioritized rest and fellowship. Seeing this challenged me to reprioritize and structure my life better. After this, I have been able to do just as much, but my times of travel and rest are now more effective.”
“Of course, it takes a long time for a musician to learn how to plan” says Leeland before he lets out a peal of laughter.
God, The Main Ingredient
Leeland then admits that he has left out the most important secret.
“We need to make sure that we use time with God and that God is at the center of our relationship. When we do this, everything is good. As long as the husband treats his wife that way Christ treated the church and the wife stands behind her husband, everything works. And I think that American christians need to stop dating for the sake of dating as a hobby. It is much more serious than a mere hobby.”
I was then curious to hear if he had any advice for young christians when it came to finding a life partner, as it is something which is not easy.
“No, it is not easy” admits Leeland. “But I think that we are destroying things more than we are aware of when we date just for the sake of having a boyfriend or girlfriend. Chose to stand on God’s promise that when we chose to seek him and his kingdom first that the desires of our heart will be granted. If you are seeking God’s kingdom, you are dating to get married. You need to ask yourself if you are ready for that kind of responsibility and if the answer is no, then wait with dating.”
I was curious when he knew at 19 years old that he was ready for marriage.
“We had been hanging out in the same group of friends for ten years. I therefore knew her character and personality pretty well.”
Dating Under Supervision
When Leeland turned 18 years old, he was allowed to ask Amanda to be his girlfriend. Leeland and Amanda normally saw each other during prayer meetings or other church activities. Very seldom did they go on a date. Even more rare for the couple was spending time alone.
“After a year together I knew that this was the woman I was going to marry” Leeland recalls. “I remember saying to her that I was ready and didn’t need to wait any longer. My mom and dad agreed, thankfully. All of this happened under mom and dad’s supervision, naturally. They followed us closely so that we would remain holy. Half a year later, we were married.”
A Strong Encounter With God
The band Leeland has been through a lot of upheaval since their debut in the christian music scene. All from marriage problems to church splits and many players leaving the band has taken place. Today, there are only two members of the band left. It is due to guest musicians that they are able to continue on today.
In the later years, the band has become closely knit to Bethel Church in Redding, California; a church well known here in Norway.
However, the first months of 2013 were so tough that Leeland considered giving up. “During a long flight, I found myself deeply discouraged. I was uncertain of where I was. I was exhausted. I felt completely dried up both spiritually and emotionally.”
It was then that Leeland experienced what has been one of his strongest and most important encounters with God. “God met me there. I was so moved. He answered me exactly how I needed to be answered.”
I was curious what God told Leeland. He said, “you are first and foremost not a singer, but a son.”
Leeland continues on to share how these words affected him. “I then understood that I would never need to sing a song again. God loved me no matter what. From then onwards I could have worked at Starbucks for the rest of my life and been completely at peace. I had just realized who I was in God. This gave me a peace that still remains with me to this day. I know God, my Father. That is enough.”
God in the Music
Many christian artists choose to make their way into the secular music market for various reasons. For Leeland, this has never been realistic.
“I think that it can work to sing about love, to sing love songs to God, for example. I have done this myself. I believe that one can sing songs about God’s good gifts without naming God himself and that the songs are pleasing to God. But I think that we should be careful about not writing songs which go against God’s character and word. The songs need to have a good message in them.”
The band Leeland has sought fellowship together in recent years with Bethel Church, in Redding California. They are close to Brian and Eric Johnson, sons of the well known pastor and founder, Bill Johnson.
“They have blessed me; they have blessed my church” says Leeland about Bethel. “It [our relationship] has produced amazing fruits. We believe in miracles. People have been saved. People have been healed. People have been restored. They have taught us how to dream; to dream the dreams of God. The have given us a faith that God wants to be real in our everyday lives. Its not just a far off idea, but something which we are expectant of.”
Norway is a country which the American musician is not close to being done with. “There is something genuine about Norwegians. In Europe there are not as many christians as there are in America maybe, but there are many over there who are passive christians. I have experienced christians here in a very different way.”
I was curious about what Leeland meant by us Norwegians being different. “Yes” he says, “It was strange for me in the beginning as I am a southerner and being around reserved Norwegians. But now I see the genuine spirit and special honesty that is present in Norwegians. I am learning so much.”
It is fair to say that it is not only Leeland who is the receiver when he is in Norway. He gives a lot back as well. Working together with Filadelfia church, Leeland has started a project where he travels to smaller churches and places in Norway to lead worship and inspire people. “I have come to help” he says. “Norway was the first country in Europe that I visited. Since then I have had a special relationship with this place. I believe that God is behind it.”
As I ask him how he sees God in his relationship with Norway, Leeland responds “No, its like I have begun to dream together with people here that I have begun to know really well. So now when I come, I just park my car and walk in the hallway.”
By Karl Andreas Jahr and Henrik Tellefsen Gimle.
Translated by Emily Huyck
Photo: Leeland Promo