The Evolution of Hillsong Y+F

For nearly a decade, Hillsong Church’s Young and Free have created engaging worship music for students around the world. The band brings in new voices from their youth group in Sydney, giving a microphone and platform for worship music’s next artists. 

Ahead of the release of their EP Out Here on a Friday Where It Began, we sat down and spoke with two core members of Young and Free, Aodhan King and Karina Savage. They spoke with us about the excitement and challenges of creating an EP in a pandemic, the new voices emerging from the youth group, and how the next generation will impact worship. 

How does everyone feel about Out Here On A Friday Where It Began coming out?

Aodhan: I think the reason we’re so excited is it really showcases new young people coming through in our youth ministry. I feel like every time it comes to any release for Young and Free, we always say, “Oh, we’re so excited, it’s so different,” and it seems like the cliché response when you put out a new thing. But this really does feel like a new thing because the majority of the songs are led by voices that no one’s heard before, and with that comes a new sound which is different and really exciting and in some ways scary. It feels like the best thing ever for us.

What made you want to include youth students on this EP? What’s the level of input students get to give in the music?

Karina: I think that’s actually been just a natural progression that has happened throughout the years. When I was a student, I got brought in on “Use Your Mind.” The nature of Young and Free is that it isn’t just a band. It’s the expression of our youth ministry, and with that comes new voices and new people being brought through. I think we’d all agree that we’ve been brought into youth ministry at different stages in our lives.

Aodhan: And each album is different every time. Like Karina was just saying, we got thrown in the deep end. We were all just unruly young people, we didn’t know what we were doing. There was no rule book, really. We all had our own way of expressing worship and praise to God, and I think one thing that was really cool about our leadership at church at Hillsong is that they always really encouraged us to just do what we felt was right. And that’s the same approach with these young guys. I think it would be very easy to just write everything, do everything for them, and then let them sing, but I think it’s much better when you take a risk and let them do what they think. And I think that’s what helps change the sound and brings a new voice.

The Bible talks about singing a new song, and if Karina and I just continue to write all the songs and we put new voices on it, we’re not really singing a new song. I think we need to open up the doors wider to let new people through and let them bring what is unique to them, and I think that’s how you get something really exciting and profound.

Is there a common theme that’s present throughout the EP?

Aodhan: A lot of it had to do with the coming back to what was so important to us, which is our youth programs. Like everyone else in the world, we haven’t been able to run our youth programs, which we run every Friday night in Sydney, in a year. I think when you take time away from something, you start to realize why it’s so significant and why it’s so important. This EP was totally and completely about that excitement of coming back together again. And we’re out here on a Friday night, which is, everyone who has attended Hillsong Youth would know exactly what Friday night means and what it represents. The theme was a lot to do with that. 

We were so lucky to be able to record it live. I know places around the world still aren’t able to do that, and we got in in just this perfect window. The world opened up in Australia, we were able to do live events, we did it. And then three or four weeks later, they locked down again. 

Karina: We really felt like God’s hand was over that period of time because so many songs started pouring out of us, especially the young people coming through. This fresh sound started developing, and it got to the point where we really felt like God had placed something in our hands. It just felt like the perfect timing to bring that all together and record it. That literally happened in the spectrum of a month! It just so quickly came together, just in a crazy way.

What was it like to finally be all back together again to record everything after months of not being able to have that experience?

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Aodhan: So much fun. It was really, really fun. It was weird, as you can imagine, but really amazing. I think it felt just like coming home. It was relaxing in a lot of ways. It was cool to see everyone’s faces. I think a lot of us had spent the year writing and sitting in studios, still working on music, but not really knowing how the songs were going to sound in a live setting. So doing that was incredible and it was fun. We’d done other things, masks on and no singing and things like that, but this was the first time where it just felt completely unfiltered. 

Karina: I was talking to someone after the night happened and he was saying that when we were recording ‘Phenomena’ the building was shaking — literally every single person in the theater was just jumping at the same time. I don’t think anyone in that room had experienced that in maybe a year. There was a real special feeling about that night. Everyone was just so leaned in.

You mentioned the song that you all wrote together felt like the youth group you grew up in. Do you feel like the music now, because you’re bringing in new younger voices, is that hard to change with them? Because I feel like students today, their music is just very different from what the music I listened to was when I was in youth. So how does that work, mixing your sound with the new sounds they bring?

Aodhan: I think it happens really organically, I feel like we have some songs where there’s rapping on it and stuff like that. It has a lot of influence in that world and it would be so insincere of me to try and do that because it’s just not who I am. It would come across so strange. I think the only way to really embrace it and to help it work is to include the new people; let them take the lead and let it be their thing because I think if we were to hold onto things so tightly to how we would do them, I think we’re missing out on what God wants to do with this next generation. I think someone let us do that when we started Young and Free. When we started doing EDM music back in the day, that was a controversy. But now, I think we need to allow room for those guys, and so, to answer your question, I think the blending of them both, I think, is really unique because it holds true to who we are. I talk about probably me, and Karina is much cooler and younger than me, but I think the blend is nice in a lot of ways too. I think it’s just balancing between the guys who have been around forever and then the new young guys.

Karina: I also feel like, in the writing process, fresh insight and ideas is usually a good thing so we don’t write the same album. It’s almost a new inspiration and ideas create new ideas in our minds as well. That’s always a really naturally confident thing to create new fresh ideas.

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