LTTM spoke with GRAMMY-nominated, Dove Award-winning Phil Joel about his new band Zealand and their long-awaited full-length debut album 'Liberated', plus his memories from his time in the Newsboys and his thoughts on making music.
For those who haven't heard of Zealand before, can you tell us a bit about the band and how you got together?
Phil Joel: I pretty much grew up in a band called Newsboys. I came to the US with them back in the day and after awhile decided it was time to be a big boy and move on to something different. I didn’t exactly know what that was meant to look like or sound like but I knew it needed to be fresh and be more connected to youth and less focused on radio. Anyway after a few years of touring as Phil Joel the band kinda formed itself into the group we are now. These guys are quality guys and they round out the sound of what Zealand has become and what we’re becoming. We still feel like a baby band and I hope we never lose that feeling.
Many people will remember your time in Newsboys fondly, what's your favourite memory of being in that band?
PJ: As for favorite memory, I think it would have to be the fact that I got to do so many iconic things that I always dreamed of doing growing up, like going to the Grammy Awards and playing places like Red Rocks in Colorado or the Roxy on sunset strip. I definitely got to check off a bunch of bucket list stuff.
Tell us about the new album 'Liberated' from Zealand?
PJ: We headed into making this album over two years ago and thought we knew where we were going but once we got down the road we felt like we’d gone the wrong way and had to put the brakes on and make a direction change. We ended up throwing out a bunch of songs that were good songs but just didn’t feel like us. We had to get back to writing and also rewriting other songs that had been shelved. It was hard work but we’re really glad we did it because in the end I think we captured a really honest collection of tunes that feel authentic to who we are. We’re really proud of it.
Which is your favorite song on the album and why?
PJ: Wow, thats like asking a Dad to choose a favorite child or something. I love all of these songs for different reasons but if I had to pick one It would be Deeper Water because it has a feel and a depth that connects to anyone who’s going through changes in life and who is experiencing divine love in the midst of the changes in a richer and more real way. Ha, that sounded kinda fluffy but when you listen to the song you’ll get what I'm saying... or maybe not? I guess It depends on where you are in life right now?
If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
PJ: Jon Foreman from Switchfoot would have to be my top pick. He’s one of the greatest songwriters alive and he just keeps getting better. Plus, he’s a great surfer and I like the idea of going for a surf in the morning and then writing a song in the afternoon.
How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?
PJ: The sound would be categorized as Alternative Pop but the lyrical content would be considered Christian or Gospel because for us that's where the songs come from. Our faith shapes who we are and is a very real part of our lives and so the songs reflect that.
How would you define success in your career?
PJ: I've seen a lot of people sacrifice the wrong things to succeed in this business. Jesus said “what good is it if a man gains the whole world but in the process loses his soul?” If I can succeed in opening a few ears and hearts with our songs and at the same time not lose who I am or the important relationships in my life, right? That's gonna be the win.
What is your favorite album of all time?
PJ: I instantly know the answer to this question but I second guess it and go crazy running through music in my mind but I always come back to my original answer, The Joshua Tree, U2.
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your mp3 player. What track is it?
PJ: 'Don’t Give Up’ It’s the new Snowpatrol single. Lyrically appropriate and its just a dang cool track! Either that or maybe Bitter Sweet Symphony by the Verve. One of my favorites tracks ever, I wish I wrote it.
What does the next year hold for Zealand?
PJ: We’re gobbling up every moment because we realize what an enormous privilege it is to get to do this and based on all of the experiences we’re having and the and things we’re learning we’ll be writing a lot of songs for the next album. We're having so much fun being on the road this year playing the new songs, I don’t want it to end. It all feels new and fresh and really creative so if next year is anything like this one then bring it on.