Between the Liner Notes
Leeland: Home Is Where Their Hearts Are
By Heidi Krumenauer
CBNmusic Guest Writer
When a band begins a career by practicing in a funeral home, there is no location that seems stranger! In fact, when I chatted with Leeland and Jack Mooring between a stack of chairs and multi-colored feather boas in a tiny store room behind the main stage, I think I was the only one who found the location a bit odd.
They were perfectly content, enjoying their surroundings. And why not? This tiny inconvenient room was just off the main stage of Holland America’s M.S. Oosterdam cruise ship heading through Alaska’s Inner Passage.
From funeral home to cruise ship, progressive rock band Leeland spent a week enjoying the finer things of life as special musical guests of the Michael W. Smith and Friends Alaskan Cruise, and yet nothing clouded their purpose for traveling this route. For this young band of five – all in their late teens and early 20s – it would be easy to be taken in by a large fan base and the close proximity to Christian music artists like Smitty, but humbly they began and humble they remain.
They are quick to tell you – and it’s evident in their concerts – that there is nothing more important to Jack, Leeland and the rest of the band than keeping a constant relationship with God while on the road. Or on the seas.
“Satan throws a lot at you as new band, and we are so grateful that God’s given us a lot of favor,” says 19-year-old lead singer Leeland. “People ask us about how we’re able to stay humble and, honestly, that’s not a big problem because our parents taught us how to stay grounded. And it makes a difference being plugged into our home church as well.”
That church is where these brothers and their friends still practice when they’re in Baytown, Texas – a place that each of them calls home.
The group first came together playing in a youth band a few years ago. Jack, the church’s youth pastor, was 16. Leeland, only 13, was helping to lead worship. Add drums, bass and a guitar, and you have a Thursday night worship band. And while that’s the end of the story for most youth groups, it was just the beginning for this group, Leeland, obviously named after the lead singer.
They didn’t have much to do during the week, and they enjoyed hanging out, so they started playing together outside of the youth group. Strangely, one of the only available practice facilities was in the church where drummer Mike Smith's dad was the pastor – which happened to be meeting in a funeral home. Leeland jokes, “Yeah, we had real hard core roots, didn’t we?”
And then in his visible serious side, Jack jumps in to share the real story behind the band. “Our music was birthed out of the local church, and that’s where our heart is and has always been,” says Jack. “We want people to experience God instead of just hearing lyrics that sound great but where there is no depth or power. We’re continually asking God to bless our work. We ask Him to let His power be in our music and in our live shows. That’s what we think sets us apart from the rest.”
Leeland adds that their band’s hunger for God is another quality that sets them apart from others, but he’s quick to note that “God is really moving our industry… a lot of newer bands have that hunger too. It’s really awesome!”
Leeland shares that one of the main struggles of a being a Christian band is keeping a consistent relationship with God while touring. “It’s easy to become complacent when you’re on the road. That’s where you see a lot of bands fail, because they tend to move away from their home church and their relationship with God; they just become physically tired. They get tired of doing the same thing, and suddenly they’re just a road ministry without a relationship with God. That’s what we focus on and strive for every day… fighting for that time with God.”
Even though they miss the comforts of home when they’re on tour, Jack enjoys the comfort of friendship and worship time while he’s working. “When we’re doing concerts, we get to have our own personal worship service every night,” he says. “It’s really cool. It’s not like we’re getting up on stage, playing 12 songs, and that’s it. I get to have my own time with God and do my job at the same time. It’s an awesome dynamic that you can’t get anywhere except in this environment.”
And this environment has been extremely welcoming as they’ve had the endorsement of other popular artists like Michael W. Smith, Third Day, Jars of Clay and more. “These groups came around us and really started lifting us up… encouraging us… that was overwhelming. We grew up listening to them, so when we heard them say they believed in what we were doing, that really jump-started us,” says Jack. “We’re a new band… things have happened so fast, and we always have to remember to stay grateful.”
As this band has certainly captured the ears and attention of some of Christian music’s notables and as they are becoming a household name, they still appreciate the intimacy of small venues. “I enjoy that even more than playing in front of large groups, because it’s awesome getting that close to people and seeing God’s presence in them,” says Leeland.
And the local youth groups? Oh, Leeland has not become too big for them either. “We’ve heard a lot of kids in our youth group tell us that we’ve helped them to believe they can do something with their life,” says Jack. “They saw us practicing in a funeral home, and now they see us playing in front of crowds of 70,000 a year and half later. They’re our biggest supporters. We encourage these kids to stick to their roots and to be faithful to their hometown. You can’t really have true success as a band if you forget where you’ve come from… you can’t cast aside your roots.”
Sailing through one of Alaska’s Inner Passage, the band gathers at the railing of the ship as it passes through Hubbard Glacier. And even in their excitement to be part of this cruising event, and as much as they are enjoying the majestic scenery, Leeland, Jack and the rest of the band know that home is where their heart is – and where it will always remain.
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