Getting to Know: All Sons and Daughters

Posted by Greg on Mar 30, 2017 in Music |

One of our favorite records from 2016 here at Step Inside This House (SITH) was Poets and Saints from Nashville worship band All Sons and Daughters. Lead singer and co-songwriter Leslie Jordan recently took time out of a busy schedule to answer a few questions.

SITH: Poets and Saints was your first concept album, did you guys enjoy the process of making a concept album? Is it something you might consider doing again?

LESLIE: It was firstly a concept, yes. We had a blast making it. Our bumper for our music was always Journey Church. But with this, it gave us new things to aim for. The Poets and Saints idea came from reading the book Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle. In the book she quotes Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and the line that Emily says, “has anyone experienced life while they live it, every, every minute” and the stage manager replies, “No. Saints and poets maybe….they do some.”. And so she talks about how saints and poets live and the beauty of the present. So I thought what if we just studied a group of poets and saints, what made them who they were. What made their work and made them influential, what stretched their faith. That turned into a snowball, creative process. The folks at Journey Church and our pastor did a lot with it. We filmed a curriculum and a small group study, and our pastor wrote a book. The process was much bigger than we expected when we started. We just set out to study some hymns and start a hymns project. Instead it turned out to be much bigger. We followed the wind, wherever God lead us.

SITH: You mentioned the curriculum and the group study, are those available now?

LESLIE: Yes. We did the curriculum through our parent company, David C. Cook, they backed the whole thing. You can buy the DVD, the study guide and the book the pastor wrote.

SITH: I guess I know what I’m doing after this interview

LESLIE: Well, thanks. I appreciate that.

SITH: One of the strongest facets of Poets and Saints is the production. The album has a real polished and glossy approach. Was that intentional?

LESLIE: It was not intentional. However, in the process, that unintentionally changed things. We started to write ideas as they went. We sat behind the board and hit record as the songs were originating. We stepped into more of a producer role for the first time. We started the project with Paul Mabry, who has done our previous three albums. But as we got into it and realized the songs needed more, we realized he felt the same way. So we hired our friend Chad Copelin and he came in and we reimagined the songs together. As a result, it came out differently because the process was different. It was not because we anticipated or saw that as something that needed change. We wanted a good representation of what we had seen and explored, the visual elements had to be stunning. And that’s why the record is the way it is.

SITH: I’m a big fan of Chad as well. He’s done work with a band Bronze Radio Return that I’m really fond of. So I can definitely see why you guys are keen on him.

LESLIE: Chad is a magician, I have never seen a guy move around ProTools like he does. And he can seriously play anything you put in front of him. He is a wizard.

SITH: Aside from the dozen or so documented on your latest album, what poets and writers do you draw inspiration from?

LESLIE: I’m diving into another group of poets and saints right now for my own sake, really, for the sake of study. On a regular basis I turn to, Madeleine L’Engle, Richard Rohr. I finished a book by Rabbi Abraham Heschel on the Sabbath. My husband and I read it. It basically speaks to the Sabbath and why its still important, and why there’s a reason to still study that. Why there’s a reason to go back into that. I’m trying to draw inspiration from writers outside of my necessary and comfortable theological views. I’m in the space of wanting to broaden what I know and what I believe. I want to get down to the roots of our spiritual practices.

SITH: This is a bit of a weighty question but you both write from such an honest and candid perspective, do you ever feel pressure to write the next “Worship” hit? If so how do you navigate that and keep from becoming cynical?

LESLIE: We don’t feel pressure, honestly. For us, there is no formula. We know people who have written worship songs that connect with the church. Everyone will say they never set out to write the big worship song, thats the beauty of it being God’s miracle. As much as we want to create a formula or live up to an expectation, we have always been encouraged by the folks we work with, to just pursue what’s authentic and genuine to us. No one else will ever take that from us. We know why and how we write songs, that’s always been a point of conviction. So no, we don’t get lost in that competition to do something for the sake of a hit.

SITH: That sense of honesty and candor, is that something that you strive for intentionally, or do you think its just intrinsic in to who you are as songwriters and as people.

LESLIE: Man, that’s a great question. I guess it’s how we are wired as people. David and I are two different people with very different backgrounds, and God landed us together at the same place eight years ago. We both wanted to write for the people we knew. He was tired of appealing to the masses and I had never written worship songs, I always kept them to myself, I had always led worship but not explored it beyond that. It really was just two people figuring out who they were and being surrounded by a genuine, church family. Our music is the result of us working out that wrestle together. How do we show up as our true selves? Do the songs reflect that? Thankfully, they continue to do so. That was the fun part of the new album, we were both seeing how people so far removed from us chronologically actually struggled with the very same things we struggle with now.

SITH: Yeah, you sort of read the Psalms and go, “yes, that’s exactly what I’m going through right now.”

LESLIE: Exactly. That’s what was so powerful to us. The Psalms tapped into the spirit of God. God meets us in our vulnerability.

SITH: He absolutely does. Amen to that. Switching gears a bit, since you play and lead worship in many places throughout the country how would you describe the spiritual climate of the American Church? In that climate what role do you see the artist has?

LESLIE: I have to say, the last year I feel out of touch with that question. We had a pretty busy spring and then a fall tour with Poets and Saints songs. During that tour, we do Q and A, we have worship leader lunches. This year for margin’s sake, we knew where we were, and we knew that being on the road takes more than it gives. I feel like I can’t really speak to that question. I just personally, don’t want to say something that is not true. From what I have observed, I have seen willing people show up and a willingness to grow, to ask deep questions and ponder deep refections. Thats as much as I can say, honestly.

SITH: You just mentioned touring. Many have cited your live album as one of your strongest releases to date. Have you guys discussed recording another live album, or are you just going to focus on studio releases going forward?

LESLIE: We have discussed it, as recent as last night actually, but there is no momentum going towards ti. We have done a what if about releasing another live album. I think live music for us has influenced us, and obviously what we do on the road is different from what we put on the record. There is beauty in showing that and to create that example for worship leaders. Some songs sound daunting to a church audience, that was what the live record was. Paul Mabry pushed us to see how to lead those songs. In doing a live worship album, you get to be the example and you show how to set that example. You get to give people confidence in those songs. So yes, we have explored that idea, but we have no definite plans. I mean, the album just came out in September.

SITH: On that front, this is sort of a follow up question, you both have been pretty intentional about not waiting too long between releases, is that a conscious decision or just the way it happened?

LESLIE: Its intentional because for us at the beginning, the origin of the band was us writing songs for our church. We needed songs. We needed to provide our church with music. We have both never done a project that we weren’t 100 percent convinced about. We knew we would take time off the road this year, and we knew we would have a full year of rest, which is kind of unheard of in our industry. But we knew we needed space as a reset. We needed to look back, and see that all of these things were good, and worth celebrating. We needed to realign and see what was next for us. As for what’s ahead, if that’s a studio project or another concept album or an EP for the church, we don’t know that yet. We are being really grateful to ask those questions, and the space of this year is giving us the freedom to do that without pressure. I think its a little like asking the parents of a newborn, when are you expecting another baby. For right now, we are trying to live in the moment of this record. We need people to hear it and experience it. When new vision and new ideas come, we are faithful to serve this as well. We are waiting on God, and that’s a pretty sweet place to be.

SITH: It mostly definitely is. So I have to ask another weighty question. Given the political climate and the divisiveness that seems to be flooding our every day, do you both feel extra pressure to connect people to the gospel and look at life through the prism of faith or do you just want to continue to walk the walk and do as you do?

LESLIE: We will just keep walking the walk and being intentional with our community. That’s it.

SITH: You guys are proud Tennesseeans. More often than not, artists will praise Nashville as being such a hotbed for creative inspiration. How about the contrary to that? What are the downfalls of Nashville as a music scene and/or how does it negatively affect the creative process?

LESLIE: We are lucky because we don’t live in Nashville. I’m in Franklin and David lives in Spring Hill. We have friends who are in Nashville doing music and honestly its hard to say what the downside is, other than just a lot of traffic and people moving here. Inside the church community and with friends who write outside the church community, there is such a spirit of unity here. We are all for one another. I really feel like that does not happen anywhere else in the country. Its just a community of people encouraging each others passions and artistic expressions. Honestly, it’s hard to say that there is anything damaging to the creative spirit about Nashville, unless there is within us a spirit of competition, but that’s not because of Nashville. If we come to Nashville with our insecurities, I think we can miss out on what this town has to offer and that’s a place to belong and work out your own artist expressions freely. Its a unique community.

SITH: To dovetail that question, you can’t talk to a band from Tennessee without referencing country music. Are you guys fans? Do you have any artists, past or present, that you are big fans of?

LESLIE: I grew up in East Tennessee and I had never heard of country until third grade. A friend took me camping, we listened to Alan Jackson and that opened up my eyes. I love the storytelling of country music and I still do. It has influenced a lot of my writing style early on. Country music is always about a s story to tell and there are some greats. Whether that’s Patsy Cline, Reba McEntire or even the Dixie Chicks, which I listened to in middle school. There are just so many layers, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and even some folks today that are great storytellers and musicians. With country music, you see people rising up from all aspects of life. They cling to that genre. It is a place to tell your stories and thats what I love about it. I wouldn’t say I am a fan per se, but I am influenced by it to this day.

SITH: Let’s stay on that train for a moment. For the most part, you guys have booked CCM-focused tours. If given the opportunity to participate in a secular stadium tour. What three bands currently making music would you like to share the bill with? Why those three bands?

LESLIE: I think we have to play a different imaginary game to answer that question. We have to pretend that we are not a band who writes songs for the church, because what we do does not make sense outside of that context. If we were a different band and Chris Martin called and asked me to tour with Coldplay,, I would do it. At least for the spectacle and thrill of it, to have that experience. I mean, I think of people who I admire from an artistic perspective, Patty Griffin comes to mind. I love her songwriting. Thats a really fun question, but it would be pulling at a game of imaginary scenarios.

SITH: To bring it back to where we were. Most CCM artists align themselves with a nonprofit or a cause that’s close to their hearts, do you guys have one?

LESLIE: Yes, actually, we do. Mark Stuart, who was in Audio Adrenaline has started a nonprofit called The Hands and Feet Project. It provides care for Haiti’s orphans. We were really fortunate to go down there. I think what’s fascinating is that so many see Haiti as this dark and dreary place, and it is, but it’s also beautiful. It just has so much natural beauty. So thats a cause that we are really fond of. You can go to HandsAndFeetProject.org for more.

SITH: I definitely will have to check that out. So I’ve got a couple more. Ya’all seem to be avid readers. List three books that have impacted you most in 2016 and why?

LESLIE: I read a book by Barbara Brown Taylor, called Learning to Walk in the Dark. I had never read her stuff before. She was an Episcopal priest and a professor at Piedmont College in Georgia. She has written these beautiful stories of how we align our every day life with our faith. Her book was a way of looking at the stigma that believers put on darkness. We presume that its a scary place to be. But the truth is God can show up more in those moments. His light and the illumination of his light shows up in those dark places. We spend our whole lives running from dark that we miss out on the wholeness of God’s light. Some other books, hmm.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown, anything written by her, is fantastic, for how we deal with our struggles, our wrestles, our mistakes and how we bounce back from that. And then there’s a book I read called How the Light Gets In by Pat Schneider,. That’s probably been the most influential book I’ve read in the last year. In it he’s talking about writing as a spiritual practice. He writes in a way that gives merit to our writing process, whether that’s journaling, blogging, songwriting, poetry or long form. The focus of the book is how that writing has a way and means of healing us and telling our stories. If we are faithful to dive into those places, that speaks to what I said earlier, those are the places where God needs us. It’s about our willingness to be vulnerable, and to write down the things that scare us, inspire us and give us hope and freedom. Pat’s life and work have led me down a new path that I’m co-writing. I hope I get to se that help other people.

SITH: So for my final question, just something fun. When not in the studio, on tour or leading worship at church, what do each of you two like to do for fun? Do you have any hobbies?

LESLIE: My husband and I are die hard Boston Celtics fans. Right now, we are in the height of basketball season. We are all about going out to watch games. We always take a Boston trip once a year. My dad grew up in Massachusetts so I grew up a Celtics fan. Other than that, I really like to ride horses. That’s a big part of my world outside the band. I also love to play golf with my husband. We both like to ride motorcycles. We just really like to be outside. We have two dogs. We love to explore the woods and rivers. Anything that has to do with being outside and getting out in nature.

SITH: I hear you loud and clear on that. I took an environmental writing class in college and it really shifted my whole world view. It forced me to get out into nature and see God’s creation in a way I never had before. It’s pretty spectacular.

LESLIE: It really is.

SITH: Well I know we ran over time, do you have anything else you want to say before going?

LESLIE: No, this was great. Those were great questions, I had a blast. Thanks so much for taking the time and for doing this. We really appreciate it.

SITH: It was my pleasure. Continued success out there. Look forward to seeing you out on the road one day.

LESLIE: Definitely, thanks again.

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