Transplants to Redding California from High Pointe North Carolina, Paul and Hannah McClure, have been serving at Bethel Church for quite awhile. Once they were just attenders at the Bethel School of Ministry but now they are heavily involved in writing, leading worship, and Paul even manages the worship department. We caught up with them on the heels of their recent release of a surprising solo project that, at the encouragement of their leadership, pays homage to their southern roots but with the spirit and faith of their west coast church home.
WORSHIP LEADER (WL): Thanks for joining us today. We are excited to talk with you guys.
Paul: We are church kids at heart. Both of us are PK’s and really…worship leaders are my favorite genre of people to talk to, because they get the struggles and all the stuff.
WL: You guys are a big part of Bethel but it seems a lot of people are confused about what exactly Bethel is or understand the difference between the church and the record company:
Paul: Yeah it’s confusing. I work for Bethel church in a full time position. Bethel music is a separate thing but yet still the same thing. My office is at Bethel music but I don’t work for them. (laughs)
Bethel church is in Redding California, Bill Johnson is the pastor and his father was the pastor before him. Bill has been the pastor for 20+ years. Brian and Jen Johnson took over the worship department when they were newly married like 20 years ago and then in about 2010 Bethel Music kinda started.
I tell worship leaders a lot when they ask, “Hey, we want to start doing albums. How did you guys do that?” Brian started it because he had to. It wasn’t the cart before the horse. It wasn’t let’s start a label and then try to write songs. They were leading these songs that had life on them that were creating encounters. They were doing stuff and then they created the label out of necessity because they thought these songs were supposed to reach the world. I think that’s important. A lot of people just want to be awesome, but it’s like just be awesome because you’re already awesome.
So the mandate of the Bethel Music is to export what is happening at Bethel Church. Anyone who is on the label of Bethel Music, that lives in Redding, is required to be a part of the church. Everyone that is in the touring band, anyone who leads, they lead twice a month minimum. We are a part of the church and then we export that to the world. Everyone is rooted in the local church and what God is doing here. All of our songs are being led at church and coming out of those times.
So the people involved are obviously connected but Bethel is very much a music label because there are also people who are attached to the label who do not live in the Redding. Like the Helsers in North Carolina, Brandon Lake, and Cory Asbury for example.
Another thing that confuses people is when someone from Bethel Music puts out an album like ours, an artist album, that’s even more confusing.
Bethel Music’s main albums are the collective live albums. That’s the thing that’s our heart, writing songs for the church to sing. The beauty, and the thing Bethel also believes in, is that they also want to hear your own unique artist take on your music. So when we write for a collective album we are very much like, “Hey, here is our song and they produce it in a way that fits the collective sound.” But then to the indie artist they say, “Hey, be you and be free to be you,” which is beautiful honestly. I think when you attached the Bethel name to it, it confuses people because they are used to the live worship.
WL: Your album has a very North Carolina southern roots sound to it. How has northern California taken to your music?
Paul: I think people have been receptive to it because it just feels like us. Like fully. We’ve been on albums since 2015 with Bethel Music, but never got to be free to create ourselves. We are both stoked because we worked on this project for so long. To release it and be like, ‘Wow, this really feels like us,’ has been really exciting.
WL: Talk about that challenge when you work at a church, how you’re coming under their vision vs. your personal vision. You do songs like your church wants to vs. how you would do it differently.
Hannah: That was an interpreting process for us because we had been writing for this album since 2016. It was a really long process. We got feedback at one point (from leadership) saying that they couldn’t feel our story in it. We had been so used to writing for the corporate church and just thinking about corporate songs, which is hard and amazing, and they just wanted more of us. Just to feel that they could get to know us. Just more personal.
WL: Which is probably the exact opposite advice you’ve always heard.
Paul: Exactly. Make sure people can relate. Since we’ve moved here that’s how we’ve written, being relatable and being a bit more general.
Hannah: Actually it’s quite a vulnerable process. Getting that feedback and looking at ourselves and even questioning, “What do we have to say and what is our message?” It just challenged us and so we went back to the drawing board a couple of times just reworking things. We ended up writing Now I See which kind of launched the whole project. We wrote it and showed it to Brian and Joel and they were just like. “This sounds like you guys, this is it. This is what we’ve been looking for.” Just as far as the sound of going back to our North Carolina roots and just the language of it and how the lyrics are relatable but tell more of a story. That kind of launched us from there, “Ok, this is the direction we are writing and we can have it be relatable but still more personal and tell a part of our story.”
Paul: And even back to that I don’t think it’s ever been hard for us to come under Bethel Music vision and write toward it. It’s why we moved 3,000 miles to be a part of what they were doing. The biggest question I get from most worship leaders that come here for a worship school is, “Hey, I have this vision to do this or that and I really want to bring what Bethel does to my church.” I always ask. “Well, what does your pastor want?” and most of the time they say, “Oh I don’t know” or they say, “well he doesn’t want to do that.” I’m like, “Oh well good luck with that,” because honestly, if you’re a worship pastor your job is to serve the vision of the church you are serving. You obviously want to bring ‘you’ to the table because that’s why they want you there, but you are also serving a bigger vision than just what you want to do.
I think it’s so important that we are serving the vision of the church and not every church is supposed to look like Bethel Church. Everybody is supposed to be who they are supposed to be to the body. I think for us, just growing up in church, we are used to being team players and we love that.
Hannah: I mean this whole process of making this album and the years of writing have been under leadership. There were several times that we felt discouraged, “Well maybe this isn’t what we are supposed to be doing,” but we took the feedback even though it was hard to take. We took it and worked on what they told us to work on and we’re so thankful that we did that now. Looking back on the process it wasn’t fun, necessarily, but we grew so much. We are so happy with the way that it turned out and feel the Lord was in every detail and the timing of it. So we’re are really thankful we stayed under leadership through all of it.
Paul: It’s easy to preach to other people it’s hard when you have to go through it.
WL: How many of your songs do you do at Bethel? Are there any songs that have found their home there?
Paul: What’s funny is that the production. I was like, “Man I don’t know how many of these we are going to be able to lead.” Originally when we talked about doing this project we talked about doing a live recording. Joel Taylor said, “I really feel that we should go in the studio and be really creative and be you and not just do another live album. Because there are so many of those now.” Which at first we were bummed about but in hindsight we are so stoked of how it happened. But actually of the 10 songs we’ve led 7 of them. I think we have changed the production of some of them to make them work live. We sing Now I See pretty much every time we lead. That’s even fun because, how many upbeat songs to you ever get to lead?
WL: For a church that is listening to the album, talk about the production for a minute as a lot of churches are trying to mimic what you are doing. What kind of advice would you give to translate those things to a local church? Especially since their style might just not be what people are used to playing.
Paul: We went back and forth on a few different producers and we finally landed on David Leonard (formally of All Sons & Daughters) who is in Nashville. It was honestly such a beautiful process because we didn’t even meet David until March of 2019 and so we planned a trip to have him try out a demo and then do some writing together while we were there. We really just hit it off with him. We worked on Now I See but really just loved hanging out with him and he is such a good dude. So he did a demo that we loved and then we also wrote “Believe in You” in like an hour. It just happened and was so easy.
It kinda was how the whole project was with him. It was just easy and fun and we needed that because it has been such a long process and David made us feel so championed and believed in and really cared for. He’s such a pastoral dude and such a great guy. But as far as production goes, honestly, we used Casey Musgrave’s album as a reference. The production of it, how it’s so simple but yet we listen to it everyday because it’s so easy. We wanted our album to be light and fun, to have meaningful deep lyrics but be something you could listen to and feel a kind of lightness. Obviously Casey is not singing about Jesus but you can listen to it and it brings a lightness.
It was a pretty cool process. The pre-production was like a week long and David kept saying, “Space is the name of the game for this album.” We really did just scratch vocals with an acoustic guitar or piano and really just got, “How do we want this song to feel?” We tracked at the Layman Drug recording studio in Nashville and we pretty much tracked them ‘live-ish’ and we had the whole band set up in the room and tracked with everyone playing at the same time. So we kind of got the hybrid feel of “live” in that they were all playing together but obviously still studio. We were telling the guys, “Feel free to be you.” The guy that played the drums is a huge country drummer. He just played at the CMA’s as the house drummer. Scotty Murray played all the steel guitar and dobro, all that stuff which kinda made the record in my option. They were all just Nashville dudes who had that country flavor. It was just us bringing vision and then saying, “Hey guys just play.” Not much overdubbing and not adding a ton of stuff. We wanted to have space and feel organic.
WL: Obviously most churches don’t have a steel guitar or dobro. Since it’s such a big sound of your album how would you tell people to bring those songs into your church?
Paul: I think honestly that with any Bethel song or really any major label song the band is going to have to adapt to get the sound.
Hannah: Usually we do live version (at Bethel) and they are on the livestream so people can usually watch those and that’s helpful. I know when we were leading before we were at Bethel we would reference those just to see what they were doing in a corporate setting. I feel like, Now I See is fairly easy. We have tracks available for those who use them. We do Reign Above It All a lot and it doesn’t have a lot of steel or the electric guitar can try to adapt.
Paul: Honestly, we just do a little bit more live arrangement and change it up. Just make it happen for what we have. Actually, only once have we got to do these songs live with Scotty playing steel and it was spoiling. So fun!
WL: What is your favorite song on the album?
Hannah: I would say I love all of them for different reasons. Always Good is probably the nearest and dearest to my heart because it feels a little bit more vulnerable to me. I wrote that one with Rita Springer. She came into town one day and she’s just such a mom and you can kind of feel that in the song. I had been coming out of a season of feeling some postpartum depression from having our second baby so I shared some of that with her, which I normally wouldn’t do depending on the co-writing session. With her I just felt safe. The song just came out of that.
As far as leading, I think I love leading Reign Above It All the most.
Paul: That is definitely the most corporate one on our album. They are actually putting that one on the next Bethel live album. It will have the live arrangement that people can do. That song was kind of a surprise to us. We wrote it and was kind of like, “I don’t know maybe it’s too simple? Maybe it needs more?” But then we led it once and we were like, “Whoa, this song is awesome. It works.”
WL: Isn’t that crazy how that happens? You think one song is going to be the one and nope it’s this other one.
Paul: It was crazy. I know. It’s so frustrating. You never know. Because even when we sent it to Joel who was a big part of the process and we all three were like, “It just needs that thing.” Then after leading it were all like, “Whoa, never mind. That’s really good”
I think production wise the favorite song is Gone. I just love how that song sounds. Just how happy and fun it is. But the closest to me from the album is that Holding on to You song, just because it’s the one song that made it through the years of writing since 2016 and it’s about trusting God which is ironic. (laughs) But it just has that deep place in my heart for sure.
WL: When people listen to your album what are hoping is the takeaway?
Hannah: I think joy mostly, but also just like how Paul was talking about the Casey Musgraves album. It’s been the staple, the companion. One of our main goals was that our album could be music that would be a companion for people. No matter the season, even if you’re in a great season or trying one. We hope there are songs that can help people through but also to uplift people and not just stay in a low place. The lightness was a big goal.
Paul: I think people are able to find themselves in the songs and in the story. Even when we wrote Now I See, it started as telling the story of a biblical thing but then as we were finding ourselves in that story as we wrote we realized, “Oh, this is my testimony. This isn’t just me writing an external thing.” We want people to be able to listen to this and hear themselves in the story, to insert themselves in the story and these songs, hopeful, build their faith and uplift them. There’s too much downer sad stuff in worship right now. People think that if you are creative you have to be really serious and moody. It’s like, “Nah, you can be ok.” I kind of always think, “I’m an artist for sure and want to be an artist, but I also have two kids and a job” and that’s the reality of most people in life. They don’t get to live in that moody broody space. You gotta be a good husband and a good dad and good ‘whatever’ so I hope this album can just be a part of people’s life and they can use it as a tool to encourage themselves and keep going.