Christian rock band Hillsong United bring their message to Hong Kong
Christian rockers encourage fans to get the most of out life
Jonathan Douglass has not long been back home in Australia when the call comes through from 48 Hours. He is soaking up what he says is sensational weather after a few weeks on the road.
It's hard not to be swept up in the 30-year-old's enthusiasm — even as the wind and rain batter Hong Kong for yet another day — as Douglass begins to describe the sun shining outside his window, before he turns to how he became involved in Hillsong United, one of the most popular and some might even say influential bands in the world.
As a youngster, Douglass was like the thousands of kids growing up around the beaches of Sydney with a daily routine that focused on the twin passions of surfing and music. That should come as no surprise — it's how almost every kid down there starts out in life.
But Douglass and his friends were also actively involved in Australia's Hillsong Church, founded by Brian and Bobbie Houston in 1983, and by the time the 1990s were coming to a close, it had evolved into an organisation that had spread across the country and the world.
"I grew up in the church and have been going since I was four years old," Douglass says. "I was in the youth group in my early teens and a bunch of my friends went to school together. We were passionate about surfing and passionate about music, and just enjoying life the best that we could."
The fact that music played such a central role in the way the Hillsong Church worships gave Douglass and his friends the chance to expand their horizons a little more than your average group of young hopefuls, tucked away in some suburban garage dreaming of the bright lights.
"Our message was always to do the best you can with what you love, and for us that was music," says Douglass. "Being in the church, we were always encouraged just to absolutely go for it, that being a Christian shouldn't be something that holds you back — it should push you forward."
Encouraged by their church, Douglass and his friends formed Hillsong United as a faith rock band, and since 1999 they have produced a string of albums which have topped charts all over the world.
"I only ever got into music because I loved it. I never thought or dreamed it would become what I do with my life," says Douglass. "I guess 15 years down the line, to be in a band full time and to get to travel the world and spread the message of what I'm passionate about is kind of a dream come true."
Douglass normally shares vocals with Taya Smith, but she took the lead on last year's soaring Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) which proved to be another hit for the band, topping the Billboard Christian songs chart.
When we talk, Hillsong have only just finished touring the US — a trip that coincided with their church's first Sunday service in Los Angeles. They also spent time holed up in a house south of LA working on their next album.
Douglass says the communal way the band goes about its business is a reflection of the way they try to live away from music. One of the main themes that runs through the teachings of Hillsong Church is that people should always strive to reach their full potential, he says.
"Life is always evolving," he says. "And we're obviously trying to get better as we get more experience. But it's always been a case of us writing all the time. There are times when nothing is really happening, but the great thing with smartphones is you can record vocals wherever you are — you know, in a meeting or in the toilet, if it comes to you, you can record it.
"But we try to gather and throw our ideas on the table, and the best pieces of music come to the top eventually. For us, the specialtime is when we can get together in a studio or a house and just go for it and make music we are proud of."
The band first played in Hong Kong in 2011 and have affiliations with a number of local churches that use Hillsong United's music as part of their services. On the eve of their return visit, Douglass says he believes one of the reasons their music has been so celebrated across the globe is the fact that people are attracted to the positive messages they convey.
"When we tour and we do these events, we definitely enjoy ourselves, but we want to encourage people because you should get the absolute most out of life. There are bad days and good ones, and sometimes the bad outweigh the good, but there is a lot of hope in our music. We want people to come away feeling better about themselves and full of hope."
Hillsong United, June 6, 8pm, Star Hall, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$380, HK$420, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: untitled.asia