We Are Leo recently released an album, The Rush & The Roar (read the TBAP review here) to much acclaim and garnering a lot of attention, and for good reason! Their amazing song, 61/Twenty-three, as well as the others on the album (like Dimension!) resonates on a level so deep, it’s [nearly] impossible not to be impressed by it. The band’s founder, David Duffield took some time to chat with us on TBAP today, offering some amazing words of wisdom that would leave anyone inspired to slow down, see life through God’s eyes, and enjoy it. Follow our chat below!
Miranda ~ Hello! Delighted to have you visit TBAP today! Please tell us a bit about yourself.
David: Hey, my name’s David Duffield. I love Jesus, my wife, music, football & STAR WARS…in that order. I love connecting with people who share my passion for ministry & music. For me, life is about worship and making connections. I believe that God placed us here to do amazing things and I’m excited to walk that out in 2017 with our new record. I’m excited for the people and ministries that God is connecting me with.
Miranda ~ How did you become a Christian? Tell us your story!
David: I was brought up by an awesome mom & dad who loved Jesus very much. But like every family, we had our issues. As I progressed into my teen years, I was dealing with a lot of emotional pain. Classic perfectionist, I was feeling that nothing I ever did was good enough. I was really searching for love and significance. My insecurities led me down some pretty dark paths. I was at the end of my rope. I remember praying, “God if you’re there, will you save me?” And He did. In the midst of that brokenness, Jesus found me and saved me. He’s been finding and saving me ever since.
Miranda ~ What events led you all to come together and form a band and, how long have you been together?
David: I started We Are Leo over 9 years ago in Kenosha, WI. When I started the band, I was a recent graduate from the Living Light School of Worship and working at Starbucks. No one was investing money into us. No one knew who we were. We just were making coffee all day and working on music all night. Learning how to self-produce records by watching tutorial videos on the internet, we made our first record in our garage. And we’ve been making music ever since.
Before that, I had toured as a worship leader with Acquire the Fire and Teen Mania Missions, going to 8 or 9 countries and almost every state. I graduated from both the TMH Academy and the TMH Academy ministry internship. I also studied at Santa Barbara City College. The period for me before the band was pretty intense. Lots of preparation, lots of training, lots of connects and I feel like it gave me a really solid foundation to build on. Coming out of high school, I had wanted to be a college athlete, but I felt God leading me to give that dream up. As I gave up my dream, He began to bless me with music.
Miranda ~ How would you describe your songwriting/music-making process as a band?
David: For me, songwriting is more of a way of life. It’s about eliminating distraction and realizing that you only have so many hours in a day. I used to be on my phone all the time—Facebook. Instagram. Etc. I was always distracted and stressed out. I started turning my phone off a lot. I started realizing that I can’t fix everything. I started taking walks and making time to just be. Creativity really thrives when you give yourself space like that. I keep a lot of lists and notebooks. Anytime I hear a good phrase from a friend or sermon, podcast, movie or whatever, I write it down immediately. Then when I’m ready with a piece of music that needs a good title or line, I look through old notes. If I come up with a melody or riff in band practice, I immediately record it on my iPhone voice memo app.
Also, I study the music I like, and try to make drums or synths sound similar to some of my all times fav. I definitely pick up elements musically from stuff I love. For me, it’s all about just making music because I love it, and because it’s inside of me. I try not to think too hard. You can question yourself or wonder if it’s good enough or if people will like it. I’m learning to kinda sidestep that way of thinking and just make music that I love, and that glorifies God.
Miranda ~ What lessons/principles have you picked up along the way in the industry so far?
David: Haha! Umm, well that most millennials, like me, usually have unrealistic expectations. Good things often take a lot longer than you think they will. And that doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. My faith has been refined through fire. You gotta work hard. Make good music. Rest. Work out. Trust God. Be patient. Take time for the people in your life. Don’t take it personally if people don’t like your music, and don’t let it go to your head when people love you. Just do your thing because it matters.
Miranda ~ Songwriting that tells one’s story requires a degree of vulnerability. With this in mind, when do you know you’re ready to tell your story and write it into a song?
David: This one is hard. It’s hard to know if people can handle the “real you.” It’s something you have to pray about because, sometimes, what’s popular seems a bit neat and tidy. Resolved. I’ve found that something “faith” is a fight. Sometimes life is painful and there’s something hard that you’re walking through. Doesn’t mean that God isn’t there. Doesn’t mean that He isn’t good. He carries our burdens. He will wipe away every tear one day, because, there will be tears.
To really share something vulnerable, you have to have processed a thing to the point where you’re sharing it from a place of resolve. You have to have found God and faith and hope in the midst of that particular thing, and know what you think about it. 61/23 is a bit like for me. I’ve definitely been through the experience of being very broken. So finding healing, it’s pretty incredible for me to stand on stage and sing a song about how God’s healing my heart.
Miranda ~ How has your perspective changed since joining the industry—any particular mind-shifting experience? How has this experience affected you personally?
David: I think that things change a lot in 5 years, and that you have to be yourself. I think the temptation is to try to be better or cooler or more spiritual or less spiritual. The best thing you can do is walk with Jesus and let Him lead you into who He wants you to be. I think there was a perception that Christian music was lame or old fashioned, but actually things have changed a lot, and some incredibly cool things, with some incredibly talented and cool people, are happening in the Christian music world. I mean, Spotify has a Playlist called Christian Dance Party. Awesome, right? I’m encouraged that Christians are beginning to embrace sounds like We Are Leo, Capital Kings, Hollyn, and Hillsong Young & Free. Very cool.
Miranda ~ As artists in the Christian Music industry, what would you say guides an artist in choosing to collaborate with another artist?
David: In an ideal world, it would be, because, God is bringing people together to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Collabs are definitely something that I love to do. It’s all about finding people you vibe with. It’s just something special that happens when you’re on the same page with somebody.
Miranda ~ As artists, you’re used to giving music to others. What would you say other artists’ music give to you, personally?
David: I listen to an absolute ton of music. I dance a lot. I cry a lot. It’s very spiritual and intimate. I definitely feel God through music.
Miranda ~ At a time when there’s the tendency to want to be like—or compete with—the mainstream, how do you stay grounded and continue to preach God’s Word and truth through music?
David: Staying grounded, having spiritual depth in 2017 when you have an iPhone and an instagram account and Netflix, I mean, that’s tough. Jesus talked about the kingdom being like a seed that grows into a tree. Like a vine that bears fruit. These are metaphors about things that take a long time to grow. So I have to slow down. Prayer isn’t like going through the Starbucks drive through. I turn off my phone a lot. I take hikes. I remember that I can’t get everything done, and that I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. I usually try to take an hour and half to pray in the mornings. Not being in a hurry really helps me. I see God in Nature, and I listen to podcasts of preachers.
Comparison is a killer. And it’s not just competing with “mainstream” like you’re asking about. I mean, you can be competing with other people in Christian music too. For me, it’s about learning to be content with the life God has given me. When He’s truly the center of my world, I’m not trying to be someone else. When I get insecure or worried, and I lose sight of Him, then that’s when the temptation to compare myself with others comes in. For me, it’s about learning to be inspired by other people, but not trying to prove that you’re better than them or be them—taking small elements from them that you can learn or improve—because that’s who you are, rather than trying to just be something you’re not.
I do think that good music can’t be forced, especially if you’re trying to say something meaningful. People these days are very aware of stuff that feels fake or insincere. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I know I don’t. I think people should make great music that is original to them. But finding an original sound takes time and lots of hard work.
Miranda ~ What are you most grateful for right now and generally?
David: My wife. Friends and family who love Jesus. Great food. Time to rest and have fun. Music. Wisconsin in the Summer. Oceans and waves and stars and sunshine. That I am loved unconditionally by Jesus.
Miranda ~ What would you like to see change in the Christian music industry?
David: I try not to worry about the industry in general. That’s a bit more than I have time to figure out. All I know is that I wanna connect with likeminded followers of Jesus across the world and share life, joy and music with them. I think if you know what you’re called to do and work hard, the money side of it will take care of itself.
Miranda ~ What advice would you offer to a person who wants to go into the songwriting/music business? Would you say the rules are different for each?
David: Yeah, I mean, I think more people should live musically whether you make money from it or not. Too many people are looking for some outside confirmation that they should make music (Don’t believe me? watch a season of THE VOICE). I’m not saying quit your job. In fact, quite, the opposite. But make music. Make it because you want to and because you wanna honor God, and because you wanna bless other people. Money shouldn’t be such a determining factor. People are musical. It’s not about doing music or not doing it. Just make it with however much time you have. We need music: playing the piano at family Christmas to acoustic sets in house churches, small groups, and around campfires at camps and retreats.
THIS or THAT (The Fun Questions!)
Coffee or Tea? Tea. Yerba Mate is my fav, but the guys in the band are definitely into, like, small local coffee roasters and stuff—Collectivo in Milwaukee, Hanza in Illinois.
Gym or Outdoor? Lol. Outdoor, definitely. I get up and take a walk and/or hike, depending on where we are, almost every day.
Sneakers or Boots? Nikes. Every day.
Running or Walking? Both
Cereal or Fruit? Probably fruit, with toast. And eggs.
Music or Books? Both. Gotta be both.
TV or Magazine? Hmmm. TV.
Summer or Spring? Both.
Rain or Snow? Snow.
Blazer or Leather Jacket? Leather Jacket.
About We Are Leo
Hopeful & fun, WE ARE LEO is the latest in heartfelt, creative, cutting-edge Christian music. With a lyrical depth and refreshing originality, WE ARE LEO sings about God’s love and finding hope in the everyday. Their unique way of expressing their faith inspires teens and young adults around the world, helping them find emotional healing, overcome depression, and come to a stronger faith in Christ. WE ARE LEO started seven years ago in Kenosha, WI when Starbucks barista & part-time missionary, David Duffield, and his brother, graphic designer & youth leader, Jonny Duffield, built a make-shift recording studio and started cranking out rough, but passionate demos. They soon teamed up with worship leader/guitarist, Doug Weier, and eventually, guitarist, John Panzer, to meld their music, style and message into a synth-driven, pop-rock band with up-front guitars & contagious, upbeat hooks. WE ARE LEO states: “We believe that through these songs, young people will find hope, life and joy. We believe chains will be broken. We’re fighting back against depression, doubt, apathy & addiction with the truth and love of Christ. We know that we live in a broken world but we know we don’t have to let the failures and lies keep us down. This is music for those who want to live life to the fullest. It’s for the dreamers, the believers; it’s for the broken and the lonely who want to believe that broken hearts can find healing, and it’s music for everyone who refuses to give up despite overwhelming odds.”