Darlene, when did you record your first album?
I recorded my very first solo album about 13 or 14 years ago. It’s a bit of a collector’s item (laughs) – the cover photo is to die for… not! I’ve made a couple more since then, but I’ve just been waiting for the right time really, with our family and church commitments.
Mark and I are on staff at Hillsong Church, and I’m the worship pastor, so after being a Mum and doing that, this project has definitely had to take second, third, or fourth place! I feel very blessed and feel like it has been the right time to do this project.
The first time people saw you performing it was in Australia as a 10-year old on the Happy Go Round television show, and later they heard you on jingles for KFC, Diet Coke, Special K and McDonalds. These are things you do to prepare for a pop career. Was that your goal at the time?
I think, many years ago, I would have loved to have been a pop singer or something like that. I praise God for age now, and a little bit more wisdom and understanding of what some of the true values of life are. I certainly don’t struggle with that thought anymore.
You’re known today as a worship leader and composer of songs like Shout to the Lord, I Will Run to You, All Things Are Possible and The Potter’s Hand. When did your passion for worship begin?
My passion for worship really started to develop from the moment that I got saved, at fifteen. I guess also because I’ve been paid to sing full time since I was ten, I had a small understanding of what I thought, then, was the reason for music.
Once I got saved and really met Jesus, my whole understanding of why music was even there, started to change, and I’ve been on that journey, discovering freedom and integrity in worship, for many years now. Sometimes, I feel like I just know less and less!
One thing I do know, is that through worship, and through learning how to love my God with a whole heart; through that process, the walls of my heart have softened, and I just want to worship my God in spirit and in truth.
In discovering how to worship God in “spirit and in truth”, how do singers and artists fit within the church framework?
One of the things that I have been challenged with over the years is where musicians and singers and artists ‘fit’ within the framework of local church. What I’ve discovered, is if the heart of the church is healthy, there is always a place for someone who just wants to serve and celebrate community in the magnificence of being a part of a family. There is always a place for musicians and singers within a healthy church framework.
It doesn’t mean that you can only play your music inside a church. In Psalm 84, it says “blessed are those who dwell in Your house, they are ever praising”. One thing I know is that when the artists of the world; the passionate people of the world; the creative people; when they find themselves ‘ever praising’, which comes out of being planted in a great house, it really causes them to be very strong. Once they are strong, they can go anywhere, and just be anointed to worship the Lord wherever they find themselves.
It’s a magnificent thing to be part of. I’ve personally found that once I’ve let go of my own agenda and let myself fall into the hands of God and serve to whatever: music, cleaning, just serving to see the Kingdom of God established where God has planted me, then I have watched God put legs on all of my dreams!
Really, it’s the promise of Matthew 6, and the heart of our awesome God towards His kids.
That journey you’re talking about has led you to serve Him at Hillsong Church in Sydney?
I’m very much still the worship pastor of Hillsong Church, where I oversee this wonderful, wonderful, team of people who love the Lord and just want to serve Him through their gifts. Also watching over and making sure the integrity of worship is alive and well, and that the church will have a greater understanding, week after week, of what it actually means to open their heart to the Lord through praise and worship. This is one of the greatest honors in my life and I love it very much!
What role does Mark your husband play at the church?
Mark, my lovely husband, oversees all the media in Hillsong church, all the print and TV production and many other things. We have also established Mercy Ministries of Australia, where Mark is much more “hands on”, especially at the moment. We are watching Mercy explode in our nation. It is very needful.
In a sense, the new solo project Kiss of Heaven takes you full circle. It takes you back to your early days when you were singing pop music, but now with a confidence and spiritual sensitivity that we’ve only heard on your worship albums. Is this a new direction for you?
Kiss of Heaven isn’t a change of musical direction for me at all but, it really comes out of the fact that I write a lot of songs. I sing and I record a lot of music. I can’t remember a week in many years that I haven’t recorded somewhere, for something. It’s really a part of what I do and who I am.
These songs are more of an expression of some of the music that is in me, but is not necessarily congregational singing. There are still a few songs in there that are congregational songs, but some of them are just songs from my heart to the Lord, or my heart to my husband and celebrating that.
Talking about congregational music, I understand you also working on a new Hillsong project now.
We are always working on a Hillsong recording! We have recently finished Simply Worship 6, and now we go into rehearsal mode for our next live album. It’s pretty exciting and a great honor and I do not take the responsibility lightly. I love it!
Australia has a number of outstanding Churches that started small, but now impact the world in a very profound way. What is it about the Australian Churches- Hillsong in particular- that has helped achieved this?
Australia is originally called “the great south land of the Holy Spirit’… maybe we’re getting back to Australia’s inheritance? I think there are many reasons that Hillsong Church and many other churches around our nation are having some sort of impact at the moment. I think great leadership (is a factor); I think healthy houses are full of joy. We’re very imperfect houses but we really try and reach out into the community and meet the need that is right in front of us. I think just having a place where people can come and worship their hearts out and love the Lord, where is a lot of joy, and its not very religious, is really critical.
And I think the music is very strategic in all of that. In fact, throughout history, wherever there has been a great revival, there has always been a new song, so maybe that’s part of the reason as well. You cannot ignore the supernatural hand of God and His favor. We would be very presumptuous to ever take any credit. Apart from people who have dedicated their lives and are working hard, it is God and He is going before us and opening doors that no man can shut! And I think that (‘going before”) is available for every single person.
Just as Christian music from Australia is having an impact globally, Christian music is today beginning to have an impact on mainstream music. Why do you think that is?
I think it the impact Christian music is having around the globe now, is awesome! I don’t think it’s any coincidence. I think God is moving, I think we’re trying very hard to keep the stones quiet as we rise up in worship with integrity, with strength, with conviction and with a new song in our hearts.
I pray that more music that is “God music” will be heard right through mainstream radio and in that arena, because isn’t that where we should be… light in the dark? I think it’s very awesome. The church is rising and it is a great season for the church in the earth at the moment. As the dark gets darker… the light gets brighter. Praise God!
Kiss of Heaven has been released in mainstream music stores by Sony, and released in Christian stores through INO and Integrity Media. What was the thinking behind this, rather than releasing it as a Hillsong project?
Mark and I took a long time about choosing where to release this album. It wasn’t a hard decision, actually. At Hillsong, first and foremost, we’re a church and not a record company. We release our worship albums as a resource to the local church. We want to be a great blessing to many people and serve the people well. The minute we start doing lots of artist projects, we could easily lose the integrity of what we do (as a worship resource provider).
So, it wasn’t at all hard to see that a degree of separation would probably be good, and it actually makes it easier for the church. I don’t feel any division there. I’ve done this project with my church family, with the elders. And, in fact, the unity is probably one of the things that has given me wings to be confident and stand strong, when releasing this project.
How is the Kiss of Heaven project different from your Hillsong albums?
I think this project is different from our Hillsong productions. Its purpose is slightly different as well. Our live worship albums are there to give the greater church, every man, woman and child, a way to express what is in their heart to their God – to give them a song to sing. We often actually write the melodies and the keys, for the church. We don’t write for singers – you don’t have to be Mariah Carey or Brian McKnight to sing the songs from our church albums, because worshipping the living God is inclusive, and not exclusive.
So, those projects are made to serve and bless the local body in their worship of God, to really help give a voice what is in their heart to say. When it came to Kiss of Heaven, I had a little bit more scope. I could change the keys a little to suit my voice and could stretch out a little bit more.
I wanted to sing the songs as a singer, rather than as a worship leader. I can’t really get the church to sing a love song to Mark (laughs) – though it would be nice, I’m sure he’d love it!
Kiss Of Heaven features the song many people regard as the most important Christian song of the past 50 years. A song birthed at Hillsong. Tell us about the song that is regarded as your Signature Song.
The song for which I’m probably best known is Shout To The Lord. Even to call it ‘my song’ quite overwhelms me, because I sort of ‘happened to be at the end of the pen!’ I wrote it very quickly and it just flowed out of me.
I’ve re-recorded it on this project because so many other people have recorded Shout To The Lord in the studio, and I’ve never been able to do that because of time (constraints). I’ve really been looking forward to doing that recording for a few years. I’ve got this beautiful choir singing on the track, and there was this lovely young man in the choir who I sort of ‘tagged’ and said, “just sing a few things” and he did a beautiful job!
You know it as my signature song, but for me it’s a signature song for many reasons. I just want to spend my life shouting to my God of His greatness and His faithfulness.
One of the highlights of Hillsong Conferences over the past few years has been the appearance of Delirious. You’ve recorded a live album together and recorded a song with Martin Smith on this album. How has the British band influenced you over the years?
It’s no secret that I am a great Delirious fan! I fell in love with their music years ago – songs like “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”, “Open Up the Doors” and “Jesus, Friend Forever”. I heard this whole new sound that the greater church could sing. I got so excited because I thought “YAY!, some new songs that didn’t come from Hillsong”. I thought that was really cool and I just fell in love with the heart of this music. I felt very fortunate to be able to connect with Delirious, over many years, at different concerts and events.
We have developed a relationship over many years and because of that relationship we really wanted to have Delirious back at our Hillsong conference. We did a live album together and we are so excited about that. Again, (this highlights) the message of unity which I feel is so strategic with what God is doing on the earth today. And I love the integrity of their hearts – they are magnificent people! They are the real thing and I am so inspired by them. I’m so inspired by their writing and their commitment to laying down their lives for the cause of the Gospel. It is magnificent.
When I asked Martin if he would like to sing on this song Walk On, he sent me an email back “Yeah sure, send me the tape” (laughs) – so it wasn’t really hard! But I feel very honored, and am very grateful to call them friends.
The song that you recorded with Martin Smith from Delirious for this album is U2’s “Walk On”. Is U2 another band that has inspired you over the past few years?
One of the artists that inspired me over many years has been U2. We love their music and we love their message. Bono is a very godly man. I love that. He gets passionate about something but doesn’t just talk about it. He actually gets in and will spend his life trying to bring about change. Whether you agree or disagree, you’ve got to admire the courage and tenacity of these people. And that, so many years on, they’re still be making great, cutting edge music, I think there has got to be an edge of the prophetic on their lives.
I particularly love “Walk On”, because of the message it contains – of courage and commitment to seeing other peoples’ lives be freed. I always held in my heart that secret desire of “if ever I get to do this album, I would love to record Walk On”. I couldn’t resist!
Earlier, I suggested that Kiss of Heaven brings you full circle. Another way it does is reuniting you with David Holmes.
God is so lovely, because with our church calendar and what we do, there is no way that I would have been able to do what was in my heart to do with this project, on my own. Dave is a dear friend of ours since before we came to Hillsong Church eighteen years ago. I think we’re known Dave for twenty years. So, David Holmes, his beautiful wife and his beautiful boys have come back into our lives over the past couple of years.
We asked Dave whether he would like to be involved in working on this project with us, and he laughed and said yes, as only Dave Holmes could! He has held this project close to his heart and kept it moving, and I am really very grateful for all that he’s done. He has a friend with whom he worked on a couple of projects, Andy Sorensen, and he said “I might get Andy to do a bit of programming, is that OK?” and I’m like “sure, cool!” They did a couple of test tracks to see if I would like them, and I loved them! From then on, we grabbed Andy and didn’t let him ago until the last day of mix down, which was months later!
I said to Andy “you will never ever say yes to the question ‘would you like to do a little bit of programming, again!’, because we sort of swallowed up his life for a little while! He and his beautiful wife, Cathy, who work as a team at a local church, are just magnificent people. Again I feel that God has pulled all of the critical elements together, so that we can bring a project they we’ll be proud of.
The other person is James Roche, who is in a band in Australia called Bachelor Girl. I think their songs have been released around the world. There’s something about his production that I’ve always loved and about their writing, he and Tanya write great songs. So we thought we would put a phone call in to ask “would you be up to doing some production for a couple of songs?” I’d never met him before and he very graciously said yes and he was such a delight. Again, I feel so honored.
Jack Jones, is a guitarist who I have loved forever in our nation, played a few little things on the project, which I thought was another bonus. We’ve made some new friends and I am really happy about what they have brought to the music.
What are your hopes for Kiss of Heaven internationally?
My hope for Kiss of Heaven would be that it is a great blessing. I pray that if people are a bit discouraged, that it would inspire them to look up. Even if you don’t know anything about God, He’s still there and He thinks you’re amazing! So if ever life gets too hard, look up and pray.
If you don’t know what to pray, I always think the Lord’s Prayer is a really good starting point. It’s amazing, you’ll sense His presence really quickly and things may not change automatically but the great thing is that you do. You start to look at things a little differently and find out that God is very faithful and very ‘there’.
A final question – how would you like to be remembered?
I would love to be remembered for much more than music. I guess the real things that would matter to me would have to come out of the mouths of my daughters and my husband. The people that are closest to me. As long as the words I’m saying and the life that I’m living are coming close, then I think that is a great thing to be remembered for.
And to fight for people who have no voice – I think that would be a great thing to continue to live my life to do and to be remembered for.
Anton Bekker (from questions by Wes Jay and Anton Bekker)
3 January 2004.