Hillsong Young & Free on New Live Album 'Youth Revival': 'The Focus Is on the Message'

Jordan McSwain
Hillsong Young and Free photographed in 2016.

Hillsong Young & Free -- the millennial-targeted spinoff of the popular Christian group Hillsong United -- just released Youth Revival, the group's second full album. Like the original Hillsong, Hillsong Y&F is based in Sydney, Australia, at Hillsong Church.

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Their first set, 2013's We Are Young & Free, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart and No. 22 on the multi-genre Billboard 200. The new project was recorded live in front of 4,000 fans at Hillsong Church on Nov. 15, 2015.

Youth Revival includes 12 tracks (plus a bonus song, the radio edit of lead single “Where You Are,” No. 23 on Hot Christian Songs, dated March 5). The sound ranges from dance, to straight-ahead pop, to worship ballads.

Leading up to the release, band members Laura Toggs and Aodhan King (pronounced Aiden) chatted with Billboard about their latest project:

A little backstory first: How and why did Hillsong Y&F form initially?

Laura Toggs: Hillsong United [launched in 1998], the original group, got underway when the members were all pretty young, because it was started as part of the youth ministry at Hillsong Church. As they evolved and started to mature, have families of their own and take on adulthood, many people at the church felt that there was a need for a new group that would aim its message at younger people with a stimulating new sound.

How long did it take to complete Youth Revival from start to finish?

Toggs: From the time we started writing the songs, then rehearsing the material and finally recording the tracks, about six months.

In all honesty, it's a pretty seamless body of work, in that it's cohesive, rather than just a collection of songs that you created to be singles. Was that the original intention?

Aodhan King: That would be a definite yes. We discussed this project a lot as a team, making sure our hearts were in the right place, our intentions were positive and we were on the same page, intending to produce an album of meaningful songs.

On the "sound" -- and I know artists aren't fond of categorizing -- but you're kind of tagged as an EDM band in a lot of the press materials that I see for the group, yet there's a lot more to it: mainstream pop, great harmonies, strong worship ballads. For someone not familiar with the group, maybe a casual listener, how would you describe the sound of the project?

Toggs: Well, we're a true collective -- a diverse group of talented people from various backgrounds. So there's a fusion of styles and sounds here and it's difficult to categorize, yet there's definitely a mission at work to make music that attracts a young audience.

Twelve songs here. I notice sonically, and maybe this is because you knew you'd be in a concert setting, but the first three tracks -- "Where You Are," "Real Love" and "Only Wanna Sing" -- are all upbeat, fun tracks with your EDM sound. Followed by five beautifully sung, powerful worship ballads -- “Face to Face,” “To My Knees,” “Trust,” “Never Alone” and “When the Fight Calls” -- then towards the end of the set, you arc up again. It's a full production, as well as an LP. Was that designed for a live concert?

King: Yes, we wanted to hit the stage hard, engage our audience. They love to dance while worshiping. A fun entrance sets the tone. Once they are locked in and having a great time, then we can connect with them on a deeper level.

About your live concerts, is there prayer and worship intertwined with the music and dancing?

Toggs: Yes, fundamentally that's why we're there: to get our meaning across and worship the Lord. That's the ultimate mission from when the songwriting process initiates to when we're on stage.

About the songwriting process, what's that like and does everyone participate?

Toggs: We all contribute, we all have ideas, and it's a very healthy process. Initially, say, if I walk in with an idea, we start bouncing things off one another, which is why you'll see so many names on the songwriting credits. Writing for the new project was really inspiring. It's a creative group of people, and I think the end results show that.

You must be very eager to hit the road and start playing this music for your fans around the world. Are touring plans finalized yet?

King: Right now we're doing media appearances to promote Youth Revival, but we are really excited to get out in front of people and get our message across. The plans are not finalized yet, but we will be touring in the United States, Australia and many places all over the world. We've worked on this project a long time, and we're ready to perform the songs for live audiences.

Speaking of your shows, what are the crowds like? Do you see both young and old fans?

Toggs: I've seen parents with their kids, even grandparents, and when I see the older people dancing and feeling the music, I just love that. It's exhilarating when the music and our ministry resonate with such a wide range of people.

Are the audiences predominately from the Christian community?

King: Well for the most part yes, but so many fans will bring friends who are not Christian listeners, and sincerely, what is most gratifying, is seeing people, even some that were lost, come to the Lord through our music. That makes it all worthwhile.

What makes a Hillsong Young & Free concert different from a non-Christian pop show?

Toggs: When a mainstream act is performing, it's great, so much good music, so many talented artists. The difference is that the attention is on the performer. At our shows the focus is on the message that we're sharing through our music. The focus is not for us to become stars, it's about worshiping God. It's also about zeroing in on a person that might be lost, that the songs may inspire them to find God and find their path.

As you get ready for Youth Revival to be released, your 2013 album, We Are Young and Free, opened at No. 1 on Top Christian Albums and No. 22 on the Billboard 200. Not to stress you out, but does that put pressure on you?

Toggs: Yes, it does! I must say, I'm a little nervous, but I feel that we've created something special with a very positive spirit that people ultimately will connect with. That's what matters.


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