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From practicing in a funeral home in the Houston suburb of Baytown, Texas, to sharing the stage with Michael W. Smith, alt/rock/worship band Leeland continues its unlikely rise to prominence.

Led by band namesake Leeland Mooring and his brother Jack, the band had no aspirations for a record deal or radio airplay when it first started writing music and playing around town. In fact, the band’s original purpose was to lead youth worship for Celebration of Life Church.

But when Leeland Mooring’s writing prowess garnered the attention of EMI Publishing in Nashville at the age of 15, he was able to parlay a solo gig into an opportunity for the band. Now with its fourth album The Great Awakening making waves across the nation, Leeland has been given a larger platform for accomplishing its original mission.

In this recent interview with the band, its four members talk about the new album, how evangelism pioneers fuel its fire, and the story behind why little sister Shelly Mooring was added to the lineup:

Chad Bonham: How much fun is it to have your sister Shelly in the band?

Leeland (L-R): Jack Mooring, Leeland Mooring, Shelly Mooring, Mike Smith

Leeland Mooring: Shelly was playing bass with us when we were traveling as a family. We traveled with the family for two years, so it just feels like we’ve been doing what we’ve been doing since we were little kids just on a bigger platform and with a little bit different look to it. Having our sister has been an awesome blessing. We’re getting to sing three-part harmony on the record and live, which is something that’s new to our band but we’ve doing that with our family for a long time. We’re glad to share that with our fans. And Mike, our drummer, he’s pretty much like a brother to us. We already felt like a family and having Shelly out with us kind of completes the whole thing.

Jake, our (former) bass player, is doing awesome. He’s in the Army right now. He’s done basic and airborne training. He’s doing really great. Being a bass player wasn’t his passion necessarily. He loves music and he loved the ministry even more. But it wasn’t necessarily his passion to be a bass player for the rest of his life. He was very passionate about the military. We’d walk in the room and he’d be watching the Military Channel. When most people would be watching football, he’d be watching the Military Channel. But we support him one hundred percent and he’s doing a great job.

Jack Mooring: It would be awesome, also, for people to pray for Jake. He’s doing great but gosh it’s a hard world for someone to stand for Jesus. So just pray for him. He’s being a light. It’s cool.

Bonham: Was it in the long-term plans for Shelly to join the band or was it just something that happened organically?

Leeland Mooring: I kind of always thought about it in the back of my head when we were having serious talks with Jake a couple of years ago. He was thinking about going into the military. He didn’t know when, but we had quite a few of those talks. We knew it was coming. I was just thinking in the back of my head, “Who would play bass for us?” I scrolled down that list in my head and began to seek God about it and immediately I began to get a real peace about asking Shelly.

Jack Mooring: Sting wasn’t available. (Laughter)

Leeland Mooring: We did approach Sting to play bass but it didn’t work out. But really, there are so many great bass players out there. We weren’t just looking for the best, but Shelly’s got more talent in her pinky than the rest of have in our whole bodies. She’s over here shaking her head. But more than that, we wanted to have family. We wanted to have somebody close that we know that we can hang with. You’re basically married to each other when you’re on the road. It’s like a second marriage being on the road with people because you’re with them constantly, day in and day out. It has to be a good person with good character.

Bonham: Shelly, how much fun are you having with the experience and are there any challenges that come from traveling with your big brothers?

Shelly Mooring: Me and Jack and Leeland have always had a pretty good relationship growing up. Me and Jack are always the ones that kind of butted heads when we were younger because we were so much alike.

Jack Mooring: I was the mean older brother.

Shelly Mooring: Yeah, we’re a lot alike and me and Leeland aren’t, but we’re really close. When we were younger, we fought a little bit, but now that we’re older, we have a really close relationship. The fighting thing doesn’t really happen on the road so much.

Jack Mooring: We fought a lot more when Jake was in the band and we were all tired. Our fighting was usually over where we were gonna’ eat lunch.

Shelly Mooring: But it’s been amazing. I’m having a great time. It’s awesome.

Bonham: One thing I’ve always appreciated about you guys is your throwback nature and how you wholly embrace sound biblical principles. How much did your spiritual influences—like your parents and some classic evangelists and revivalists you grew up hearing about—have an impact on this new album?

Leeland Mooring: Before we started working on the album, we’d done some research on followers of the faith and different people like Smith Wigglesworth, the traveling evangelist who didn’t get saved until he was 50. In 10 years he impacted the world for God and did amazing things like raise people from the dead, heal the sick, all these awesome things. George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards were the guys that spearheaded the Great Awakening of the late 1700s, which crossed all the colonies in America at the time. What stamped it wasn’t necessarily the supernatural, although that was very prevalent. What stamped the Great Awakening—and this is what I find so cool about it—was that people were transformed within a matter of days. Their character, their person was changed by Jesus Christ. They were set free from addictions, set free from bondage to alcohol or whatever. The old lifestyle was completely gone within a matter of days and they immediately began preaching their testimony about what Jesus did in their life. That’s what real fruit and a real testament of a revival is. Yeah, people are going to get healed. Supernatural things are happening. That’s always going to be a fruit of revival. But what really stamps a real revival and a real awakening is when people are changed and they immediately begin to share their testimony about what Jesus did in their life. It’s not just one person, but it’s masses of people at one time being changed. That’s what was happening in the Great Awakening. Whole towns were being revolutionized and turned upside downs within a matter of days. That’s what we want to see again. Somewhere along the way, we lost it. But that’s what we want to see; not only in the church but also in the world. I want to see that happen in my generation. I want to see the non-Christians come to God and I want to see the Christians restored to the joy of their salvation. A real fruit of being saved is that you have to tell people about it. I want to see that. That’s a real fruit of revival. You see people running around telling other people about how amazing this Jesus is and what He’s done to change your life.

The song “The Great Awakening” was inspired by a poem that was written by Lawrence Tribble in the late 1700s about the Great Awakening. The lyrics of the song are literally verbatim. I took it out of a book that Jack had at his house called The Patriot’s Handbook. It’s a historical book. That’s what inspired the song. That song was actually a last minute song on the record. We didn’t record that in the beginning. We had two spots on the record left and we were really trying to figure out what songs to record. I’d forgotten about the song and I went to computer and pulled it up and finished it. The song sort of became the glue that ended up holding the album together. It helped all the other songs make sense.

Bonham: Are you encouraged to be a part of a growing movement that includes others like Jesus Culture and Hillsong United that share the same desire for a change within the younger generations?

Jack Mooring: It’s humbling because we really do believe we’re in a unique time right now in history. It’s not a coincidence that all of these artists and worship leaders are saying a lot of the same things. There’s this theme of waking up from our sleep—especially in the West. We’re kind of just preaching to ourselves here. We’re about to go on a fall tour with Building 429 and Royal Tailor. We love those guys. We’re really excited about going on the road because during the days we’re going to have prayer meetings with people in the community and cry out to God. We’re excited about what the next few months hold as we walk this record out.

Bonham: What’s the story behind Royal Tailor and how you helped bring them to the attention of the music industry?

Leeland Mooring: My parents started a church about 10 years ago. It was probably about two or three years ago when we heard about their music. Shelly was really involved in the youth group at that time and she called me and said, “We have this band here called Royal Tailor. They’re awesome. They’re Pentecostal like we are and they’re really funny. They’re a great band. We’re gonna’ have ‘em again and you’ve got to come down.” They came and played again at our church and I came and watched them that time. It was just awesome. I fell in love with their music. They were awesome musicians. So they stayed over at our parents’ house that night and we hung out with them and shared story after story—funny church stories. Being Pentecostal, you’ve got great stories. We were laughing and having fun, and I just fell in love with their heart. They were genuine people. It’s hard to find genuine people these days. I think that’s what we connected with even more than the music. We’re excited to be on tour with them. It’s going to make some good memories.

Bonham: What needs to happen for a modern Great Awakening to take place in today’s culture?

Mike Smith: I just feel like, for our culture and our generation and just us as a nation, we’ve just got to get back to an attitude of prayer and a relationship with Christ—getting alone with God daily and communing with Him and getting back to intimacy with Him. If you get alone with God and you begin that relationship, you just fall back in love with God. Everything else will come into alignment. Your actions and your words and your demeanor will change. We just need to get back on our knees and give it back to God. We’ve tried to do things on our own and it’s just not working out that way. I really feel like prayer and intimacy and relationship with God behind closed doors will translate into our everyday lives.

Stay up on the latest from Leeland by visiting the band’s official website HERE.

You can also check out a video for the song “The Great Awakening” below:

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