Formed in 2012, Hillsong Young & Free is known for their contemporary electropop worship tunes that have been played in churches worldwide. Thir.st sat down with two of their members, Aodhán King, 26, and Renee Sieff, 25, while they were in town for the “UNITED X Young & Free” tour to chat about their upcoming album, III, and how they cope with the spotlight that comes with a global ministry.
Hey guys, welcome to Singapore. How’s the Asia tour going so far?
Aodhán: The whole tour has been amazing, every night it’s been incredible. But we did three nights in Manila in one of their biggest indoor stadiums which was like, over 30,000 people. It was pretty amazing, that was really special.
Also, because we get to do it with UNITED, and we’ve never done that before. I rolled my ankle one night and it’s still like super black and bruised underneath my shoe, but that was a great moment.
Renee: And in Manila as well, we got to do this thing with Compassion, where we go and we see kids who are being sponsored by other countries. We got to spend time and worshipped with them, they played music for us and we got to just hang out with them. That was a lot of fun as well.
Tell us more about your upcoming album, III.
Aodhán: You probably kind of know this, but it’s a studio record so that’s new for us, we’ve never done that. It’s got 17 songs so it’s more songs than we’ve released ever, so that’s really cool. And I think it’s the best stuff we’ve ever done.
Renee: It’s been a while, ’cause we haven’t released an album since 2016’s Youth Revival, that’s like two and a half years.
Aodhán: We’ve been working on it intensely for probably a year and a half to two years.
Here’s something many of us are wondering: How did you get involved in Y&F?
Renee: Well, the crazy thing is like, we were all just part of the youth ministry (at Hillsong). So we just attended week in week out, and we started singing at church, leading worship in our youth ministry.
But then our youth pastor put out the proposal to start writing songs for our generation, because our generation was kind of missing something a bit more – not depth – but actually, simplicity to worship God. We needed to be able to articulate worship in words and ways that we could understand as our generation.
So we started writing songs, and the best and most crazy part is that none of us auditioned to be in Young & Free. None of us were hand-picked, literally we were all there at the same time, at the right time, in God’s timing. Everything just came together and God blessed it. We’re still pinching ourselves because we get to do this.
Aodhán: And we get to be in Singapore.
Renee: Yes, we get to be in Singapore eating chilli crab. (Laughs)
So what’s it like being on such a huge ministry like Y&F?
Renee: It’s an amazing honour because like I guess if we were doing this for secular reasons, it would be a lot harder. But because we get to do this for God and tour for our ministry, it’s the biggest honour ever. It’s the dream. It’s the dream job. It’s the dream situation.
Aodhán: It’s amazing.
Renee: But at the same time, the reality is we are a part of a local church and we are constantly going to our church whenever we’re home. And we’re staying grounded and we’re not anyone special at home at all.
Aodhán: Yeah, not at all. We’re just people who want to build the Church and do what it takes to do so. So getting to do this, being a part of building the Church, it’s really special and I think doing this feels like you’re doing something that matters, and that matters to me.
How old were you guys when you first started doing this?
Renee: I was 17.
Aodhán: I was 20 turning 21. I turned 21 right after we released Alive.
Renee: Okay maybe I wasn’t 17 then, ’cause the math is off. (Laughs)
That’s really young. So how do you handle such a large spotlight that’s put in your lives?
Aodhán: I think going back to what Renee said, being part of a church community, being a part of people who are all doing the same thing that just looks different.
For example, to our ministry, “building the Church” looks like playing music and travelling the world. But it’s not any different than somebody at home who’s putting out seats in the church. That’s their ministry, that’s how they build the Church.
We’re part of something way bigger than ourselves and we’re just, in the same way that the body of Christ works – the hands and the feet. Everyone has different roles, and when we come together, we’re the best.
So as soon as anybody starts to get big-headed or starts getting cocky, I think you’re separating yourself from the main thing and that’s not how the body of Christ works. Unity is so important. In terms of dealing with the spotlight, I think we have amazing people around us to help us.
Do you remember the first time you noticed your influence growing, like gaining more Instagram followers and getting recognised by people? What did that feel like?
Aodhán: It’s cool that people want to connect with you. I think it gives you a platform to speak on things that matter and that’s really important and it makes our job easier – having a platform and having influence makes bringing the message of Jesus easier.
I think a lot of people can look at that (influence) negatively and be like “you’d wanna steer clear of that” but I think if you use your influence in a positive way, it’s actually amazing and I think God honours that.
We all go through seasons of highs and lows. What happens when life’s not that great at the moment but the spotlight’s still on you?
Renee: I think the best part is, when you read the Bible, you see people like Moses and David. You read about them and you realise that they actually didn’t have a great life. The spotlight was on them and they didn’t have a great life. But the thing that you do notice about them is that like, for David, there are the songs of lamentations and there are songs of praise.
He’s in the journey, he’s still committed to God, he’s still faithful. And I think that’s what’s important. It’s okay for people to see us broken and hurting and struggling, but the reality is we need to stay strong in our faith and know that through everything, through the trials, God is still in it. We just commit to him.
So I think when people put us on a pedestal of perfection, they’ve kinda got a jaded perspective of us because that’s not who we are. We’re actually just humans, just loving God and wanting to see people love Him as well.
Aodhán: There’s nothing special about us. You just have to stick it out. The best always comes after the hardest seasons, so when things are not working, if you’ve been struggling and hitting walls, just keep pushing through it or take a break. The breakthrough is always a second away.
But I think we can’t neglect hard work either. All the guys who make Young & Free what it is, these millions of people – okay not millions – but you know there’s a lot of us.
The videos, for example, the music video. The album, it’s not just a few of us involved, there’s so many people and creatives empowering others as well to get on board with the vision and not trying to wear it all yourself. I think that’s what we do well, that we include people. And I think that’s really important.
What’s it like writing music for our generation?
Aodhán: I think it’s a huge honour being able to write songs that for people – it becomes their worship. You’re giving people words, you’re giving people theology. It’s a huge responsibility.
Our influences are obviously the Bible, that’s super important. I think with this new record, III, the influences for this are – it sounds cliché – really just our life experiences.
Sometimes you can write worship songs and just be like, “Alright I’m just going to write about this because that’s what we need to write about”. But we’ve actually gone, “Let’s write things that are real to us, things that we’ve experienced”, ’cause that’s the most honest.
And so those things have really been the carriers for making this album what it is. And that’s why I think this album is our best stuff, because I feel like it’s us going, “This is what’s happening in the last couple of years, now this is how we responded and this is how God responded, so we’re going to write about it.”
Tell us more about your songwriting process. Is it always different?
Aodhán: I think it’s different every time. But it always starts pretty similarly, like you know, whether you’ve got a lyric or you’ve got a thought. Whether it be a Bible verse that you can’t shake off and you want to write about it, or “this happened and I want to write about it”, but for me I can only speak from my own personal experience.
I’ll just sit down at the piano and spend time with God and sing whatever comes to me naturally. I think it’s different for everybody, but you have to shake it up. You can’t try the same thing every time, there’s no formula.
Renee: One thing that we like to say to people is to try new things. Try sitting in your car, singing out prayers. Or like try playing something on the piano and then switching to the guitar and then see if the musical vibe will change. Just try new things.
We often write in groups of threes, or like he’ll (Aodhán) have an idea by himself and he’ll bring it a producer because he can have a different approach to it. Don’t think that you are restricted to doing everything on your own. Hear other’s people’s influence and be open.
Especially for us, because it’s worship music, we’re not trying to do it for ourselves. We’re open to hearing what other people have to say because we just want the best for the song and the best for the audience.
Aodhán: I think open hands in this is honestly the key to everything. Being creative and open-handed, and not being precious about your ideas, be it a song, a music video, a painting … I think being open to letting God do something with it, and also being open to other people coming around and being involved, that helps.
And you never remember the hard work. That’s the one thing. It’s hard to look back and be like, “I spent 57 million hours on that song”. I don’t think about that. I remember we spent weeks and weeks on this particular song and but I can’t remember how annoying that time was. All I can remember is we have a good song. So that’s really important.
Lastly, can you share with us one thing you have personally come to love about God through this journey?
Aodhán: Faithfulness. I think that’s one thing this album is about. It’s about the faithfulness of God through every season, through highs, through lows. I think God’s faithfulness and compassion towards us is what I’ve learnt the most about in this album. Especially when you grow.
I think from our first album, we had a very childlike perspective of God, which is a really amazing thing. But we hadn’t gone through anything. We were young. A lot of our songs, I think a lot of people have been like, “It’s very lovey dovey”. But to be honest, that was just true to us at that time. We hadn’t experienced things, life hadn’t hit us the way it might’ve hit other people.
I think since then till now, we’ve grown, we’ve gone through hard times, awesome times. The one thing that has remained the same is God’s faithfulness and God’s character that is just amazing.
Renee: There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “The same God that started a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6) and I love that about Him.
That means when He put that desire or that dream in your heart in the beginning, then even in the journey along the way, the highs, the lows, that God is going to bring it to completion, He’s going to be with you till the end.
So I love that. He’s always with us, there’s absolutely nothing that we can do that can separate us from the love of Jesus. And He’s really good.
Aodhán: He is really good.