The sun had only been up a couple of hours here when I spoke with singer/songwriter Aodhan King of Hillsong Young & Free. His day was ending as mine was beginning, and I could tell he was growing tired. But, the lateness of his time zone on the opposite side of the world did little to squelch his enthusiasm for Hillsong Young & Free’s newest album All of My Best Friends.
The Grammy-nominated group’s fourth career album features a staggering 20 tracks and includes “Best Friends,” the highest audio debut of any Hillsong track. Hillsong Young & Free was born out of a movement in Hillsong Church in Sydney to minister to youth and young adults. I talked with Aodhan about the new album, and how the group has been faring during the pandemic.
How has the COVID-19 lockdown affected your group dynamics? Have you even been able to get together and celebrate the new album?
It’s really, really different obviously. I mean, this record was so purposed and so intentionally written and recorded live. So that was in January. We recorded with 4,000 young people packed into a room, so like there was no social distance. And so that was our experience of making this record. One lesson I think I’ve learnt, I guess I could take away from the quarantine is that it’s a reminder that we’re not in control and God’s in control. And I think what’s been funny about this time. You know, we can’t gather how we have before we can’t sing songs, how we believe we thought they were supposed to be sung.
It’s funny seeing that because a song like “World Outside Your Window,” we wrote that in November of last year. It’s evangelical, like exciting, upbeat song about going out into the world. It’s a song of salvation essentially, but now you’re looking at that title – I’m like, world outside your window – everyone’s stuck in their homes now! None of us could have predicted that we would be stuck inside. So to me that’s God using that time. It’s just amazing how it’s going to affect my writing. I think it’s almost given me this trust that I can sit down and write a song and I can maybe have a slight amount of control over how that song sounds – I’m inspired by God. But then once I release that song into the world, it’s up to God where that song’s going to go and how that song’s going to be heard. It’s actually quite an exciting thing.
You posted a video on Instagram of yourself singing “Uncomplicated” and “As I Am.” Someone commented on how peaceful it was, but Hillsong Young & Free is so high energy. How do you transition into peaceful moments when you’re singing live?
It’s a good question because it has been something that we’ve had to balance, because I think young and free is 100% called to be joy-bringers – to showcase the presence of God as a place to have fun and to be joyous. But at the same time, we don’t want to neglect the fact that there’s a reverence to worship, there’s a solace and a peace that comes when you’re in the presence of God. And so we just always, whenever we do nights of worship or a concert, um, we’re really purposefully about crafting the night to allow for both of those expressions of worship.
And so on a song like “Uncomplicated,” like you mentioned, I think that song kind of has been really special in this time because it just reminds us of that simplicity. The world’s going crazy, and there’s so much uncertainty and everything feels like we all jump through a million hoops just to get accepted by others or whatnot. The one thing that we can rely on is a simplicity of God’s love – talk about how beautiful and simple the presence of God is. It’s easy to be still when you know that truth. And so that’s kind of how we’ve always approached worship.
I imagine that within your group, there are diverse personalities (as there usually are within a group). How do you make the final decision for the album’s song list?
Like you said, there is a lot of diversity. There is like this mix of different genres and everybody has different tastes that we kind of decide the songs based on a few things. I mean, one of the main things is at our youth group gathering on Friday night, we’ll sing songs then and introduce them and then we get a gauge on what resonates and what doesn’t. If the youth, if the crowd responds well, then it’s usually a really good sign. And sometimes it just doesn’t work, then you go back to the drawing board. I think we also decide based on – I think we kind of have a gauge on what we feel is a good song. What works for us and feels honest to who we are.
There’s a video on social media of the night you all introduced the song “Best Friends” at youth group. They loved it!
Why that was wild is because we weren’t prepared to go ahead with it. It was kind of like this fun song, a really crazy song. It was very different for us actually. When we were writing the record we had a bunch of songs and “Best Friends” was in a folder called “out of the box,” which is where we would put any song that was really different or interesting, but not sure if we would use it. ‘Cause we were like, this is really fun, but lyrically, we don’t know if the vibe will work for our youth.
I just introduced it that Friday and it was straight away, all of the thousand kids were just chanting and singing the chorus over and over and over again. And then we finished the song and they kept singing the chorus for, I’m not even joking, no exaggeration, probably 15 minutes – I couldn’t stop them!
You had your hand in writing quite a few of the songs on All of My Best Friends, but which song would you say holds the greatest piece of your heart?
Oh man, it’s a tough, tough question. It honestly does change all the time. It really depends…at the moment I would say “Uncomplicated.” Definitely. It’s between “Uncomplicated” and “World Outside Your Window.” They’re both so poignant right now for the time that we’re in. “Uncomplicated” is and incredible reminder to me of keeping things simple, bringing them back to basic. And “World Outside Your Window” has been an encouragement that I’m not alone and we’re all in the same situation right now.
Thinking of the theme or message of the album, what do you want us to take away from it?
I guess the point that kind of sticks out to me on this record is the idea of togetherness and unity and a community celebration. This album is this vibrant melting pot of togetherness. That’s why we called the album “All of My Best Friends” because we wanted to, I think, you know, young people are dealing with lots of feeling alone, depression, anxiety, and then you’ve got the world telling you to be one way and do these things. There’s so many things that young people are dealing with. The message that we want to take away is ‘Hey, you don’t need to bend to the crowd. There’s actually an incredible community of people, all of your best friends. And worship can be a thing that you do in community. It’s not something to do on your own.
The release of All of My Best Friends was celebrated with a special live event. Check it out on HIllsong Young & Free’s Youtube channel here!