Aretha Franklin

Hillsong United's New Album Works 'Wonder's

Courtesy of Hillsong United
Hillsong United

Wonder, the sixth studio album from the worship music collective Hillsong United was released on June 9, topping Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart dated July 1, earning 20,000 equivalent albums (with 16,000 in traditional sales) for the week ending June 15, according to Nielsen Music.

For the Australian based band, it was their seventh No. 1 on Top Christian Albums, all of them arriving at the summit. United’s past No. 1s on Top Christian Albums include their most recent, Empires (June 13, 2015, with 47,000 copies sold). Its previous No. 1s: Zion (2013), Live in Miami (2012), Aftermath (2011),[a_CROSS//the_EARTH] : : Tear Down the Walls (2009) and All of the Above (2007).

Joel Houston, founding member of the group sat down with Billboard to chat a bit about the new album. But first: a crash course on Hillsong. Firstly, they are the musical representation of the mega Hillsong Church, with its home base in Sydney, Australia, founded in 1983. Additionally, there is significant representation all over the world, including outposts in New York City, Los Angeles, London and many other locations.

In addition to Hillsong United, there is also the more church-music-centered group, Hillsong Worship, and the younger brand, Hillsong Young & Free. While the personnel sometimes mingle amongst acts, they’re three separate brands.

“What a Beautiful Name,” the latest hit by Hillsong Worship, has ruled Billboard’s hybrid Hot Christian Songs chart -- which combines airplay, sales and streaming data -- for 17 weeks, reaching No. 1 for the first time on Feb. 25, and is currently No. 2 on the July 1 dated chart. On the Christian Airplay chart, “Name” ruled for nine frames, beginning with the chart dated April 8, 2017.

Hillsong United’s lone Hot Christian Songs leader, the mega-hit “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” dominated Hot Christian Songs for 61 weeks, crowning the survey initially on Dec. 7, 2013. Additionally, “Oceans” spent a remarkable 192 weeks on the chart. The launch single from Wonder, the title track is currently bulleted at its No. 11 peak on Hot Christian Songs and No. 21 on Christian Airplay, also its chart high (24-21, up 11 percent).

The Wonder album clearly has an optimistic, upbeat feel, both lyrically and sonically.

Congratulations on releasing your 6th studio album.  In a couple of sentences, how is this set different from others?

Joel Houston: There is always a process when making an album that is similar to what we have done previously.  Words we had conversations around when writing this album were "bright," "colorful," "nostalgic." Nostalgia is an interesting theme as you have to be old enough for something to be nostalgic -- we talked about albums, music, television shows, movies that we loved when we were kids. So we wanted to give reference to [these], and at the same time create something new. It was also definitely intentional to be more upbeat than our previous album Empires.

The single is “Wonder,” and it’s the title track. What should your fans take from this song? 

I was watching the news getting caught up in everything happening everywhere, the tragedy, the despair and sometimes we can get caught up in it all -- and there’s my son running around, just wanting to be Batman. I was challenged and inspired at the same time: When did we lose the "wonder?"

It also ties in to the above thoughts and themes. In our church environment we are challenged to have childlike faith -- and that comes back to the nostalgic moments; they feel good, they take us back when everything was ‘wonder.’ As for it being the title and first track, it felt right: We still love the idea of a full album, 12 tracks fitting together in harmony, telling a story. "Wonder,” the song, is Act One.

What is your overall hope for what fans both old and new will get out of this album?

Hope is an interesting word. We believe there is hope in the world, amidst all of the devastation. But as for our album -- we always just try and enjoy and trust the process, make music we like and hopefully other people do as well... It is the dream of any artist that their music reaches new listeners, that the story or message goes out and impacts more and more people. 

Why is "Wonder" the lead single from 12 very good tracks?

Ha -- thanks for saying they are all good! There are always differing opinions on which song should be a single -- we went with “Wonder,” as that sets up the theme of the album. It wasn't as intentional as it may seem, but more where it fit for us in the album. We feel that different songs will resonate with different people -- and that is fine.

Track Listing for Wonder:
1. Wonder
2. Shadow Step
3. Future Marches In
4. So Will I (100 Billion X)
5. Splinters and Stones
6. Glimmer in the Dust
7. Greatest of These
8. Shape of Your Heart
9. Not Today
10. Life
11. Rain / Reign
12. Water to Wine