Jonathan Kemp: What would you say is the biggest difference between Winter Jam, with it being such a large tour, and all the smaller ones you’ve done?
Dara Maclean: I think the difference right off the bat, is number of people. The fact that we’re getting to stand up there on a platform and see thousands upon thousands of people in one show, in a couple of hours, that’s a huge honor and an amazing opportunity and pretty life changing. I’m standing up there in awe that I’m even up there. I’m pretty amazed at the faithfulness of God. So yeah it’s awesome, Winter Jam - there’s nothing like it.
JK: So which do you prefer, bigger shows or smaller ones?
DM: That’s hard because this is technically my first touring season. So, I’ve been on four tours, but they’ve all happened in the last six months. I’ve grown up on the stage my whole life, but it’s different when you’re in front of 15 to 20,0000 at night. I want to say both. Both because I love getting to take my time - one of my favorite things is a stripped-down acoustic set, you know that you can do full band and you can build it but I love getting to just take time and talk to people. Give me 200 or 300 people and let’s make jokes and talk about the Lord and His goodness and really get to go deep. And then in this situation, the more that I do it I’m hoping that I can experience that in a larger capacity.
JK: You released your debut album on Fervent Records, You Got My Attention, last year. What would you say was the theme, or what were you trying to say through the album?
DM: The consistent theme throughout the record is freedom and redemption and that more is available through Christ. “Suitcases” is the message of leaving the past baggage in the past and understanding collectively, like let’s sing this anthem and dance our way to freedom and understand that we don’t have to keep holding on to the stuff that literally is robbing from us. From that, to freedom, to a love song, it all comes back to the love of God and the heart of God for us. And when we begin to understand that, I believe it changes things.
JK: So you worked with Ian Eskelin on the record.
DM: I did.
JK: What was that like?
DM: Amazing. He’s so good at what he does and he was able to take all of my dreams - I’m really soulful and the music that I really like is very soulful - and he was able to say, ‘Ok, let’s hone those things and add a few things.’ I learned so much. I joke and call him my favorite ghetto producer ever. We just had a great time. He really let me be hands on with the experience, so I got to learn and be as involved as I wanted to be, which is in everything for the most part. He did his magic and was amazing, but I got to learn a lot.
JK: How would you say it was different from when you recorded your independent albums?
DM: It’s different because you don’t have someone that’s been there. As much as you love the creative freedom to just do whatever you want to do; if you trust someone that understands your heart and your music and who you are sonically, they can actually show you things about yourself that you didn’t know were there. I think a great producer does that and we took that journey together so it was really great.
JK: So do you prefer working with a record company or working independently, because you signed with Fervent not too long ago?
DM: I’ve been with Word for a couple of years. I love my team in every way. I think the difference is, my dad will say, “A contract is only as good as the people you are going into it with.” I in every way strategically saw the hand of God put people in my life. My publisher, her name is Susan Riley, and she’s a dear friend of mine. She’s in my life, and the brand manager, and the head of radio, we literally are like a family and very close. There are emotional highs and lows with every relationship and working relationship, but I wouldn’t want to be doing it any other way at this exact moment.
JK: How did you develop your style, which your Facebook page describes as, “70s influenced acoustic soul meets modern pop?”
DM: Well at 13 I was given a guitar. This friend of mine probably didn’t know the impact that they were going to have on my life. I dove into songwriting, so I was like, ‘Three chords, I’ve got tons of songs I can write with three chords: A, E, B.’ That was the first song that I wrote, was in that key. I at the same time got my hands on an unplugged Lauren Hill record and then proceeded to buy anything and everything that she had ever done. I just began to develop and grow. The biggest testament to artistry to me is discovering how to be a worshiper and knowing what that looks like in your genre. I grew up as a corporate praise and worship leader, did that for years, and that was probably the best training ground because within just discovering the heart of worship the Lord really developed who I was supposed to be as an artist - in the midst of loving soul music and all of those things. And two, I jammed out to Krystal Lewis when I was nine years old; I had every record she ever did.
JK: So you started music at an early age, but when did you decide that you wanted to do it for a living?
DM: I joke around because at seven I went through my doctor faze; like all of us do, we go through like ‘I wanna be a veterinarian or a doctor.’ And I went through a legit doctor phase when I was little. But I also around seven or eight remember running into my dad’s office and singing a song I had that I had written about the wall of Jericho falling down. My father applauded, and my parents have literally been so supportive my whole life, like ‘If that’s a dream in your heart, you don’t settle for no. Believe God for impossible dreams.’ I want to say that 13, around that age. I’ve always known that I was supposed to sing, and I’ve always known that I wanted my life to be ministry; but around 13 or 14 I’ve been going towards the same goal ever since. Now watching it literally unfold in front of my eyes, but better, is only the goodness of God.
JK: Were your parents in ministry at all?
DM: Yeah my parents were associate pastors at a church in Florida, and also at a church when we moved to Rockwall, Texas. Then we moved specifically for the ministry that we’ve been at since I was eight years old. My dad does full-time business, full-time ministry, and they teach at our church. They’ve taught this class for about seven years, and I get to do worship with them. As a family we just love doing ministry together. Also, apart from that it’s just our lives.
JK: You said Krystal Lewis has influenced your music, but what else has influenced your music over the years?
DM: I mean Lauren Hill [and] worship [music]. My worship playlist is ever evolving and being added to, and it’s on always. I’m a worship junkie, just because that’s the heart of the matter. Even when you’re writing a love song, if you know where love comes from, that’s God. You can come from a place where it’s like, ‘I just want people to see and hear God in every subject matter.’ And that’s worship.
JK: So you know Passion, right?
DM: I love them. I grew up on that ministry, yeah.
JK: Do you think you’ll ever get to play at the Passion conference?
DM: It’s a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl. I’m putting it out there and giving that to the Lord. Shane and Shane, and Crowder and just Passion, their ministry as a whole, what it represents and the heartbeat of that ministry. Louie Giglio, I mean I love everything they do and it would be an honor to be a part in any way.
JK: Why did you choose to switch to going by Dara Maclean instead of Dara Joy, which is what you released your independent albums under?
DM: Well Joy is my middle name. This is all the fun stuff that happens when you sign to a label. You don’t always make all your own decisions and so you talk through it with your team. It came back that they were like, ‘Dara, obviously that’s your name, but Joy, it sounds kind of cheesy; it’s like a fruit of the spirit.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m sorry that that’s my name!’ *Laughs* And at first you’re really upset about it. I called my sister and I was like, ‘Sissy, they don’t like my name!’ I was so dramatic and was not even that big of a deal, because I have a last name as well. And I was like, ‘Do you like Dara Maclean, or should it just be Dara, or should it be - what should it be?’ She was like, ‘Baby, I didn’t want to tell, but I think that Joy, it sounds young and you’re last name’s Maclean, that’s who you are.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, ok, it’s my name either way.’ Then I actually liked it better.
JK: So I know it was only about seven months ago that you released, You Got My Attention, but have you started thinking about your next record?
DM: Of course, I think that you always need to be writing for your next project, always. Even in the last six months, being out and working with your band and things like that, I think it evolves in and of itself. I am actually am really excited to tackle that next record because I already feel really solid about where I know it needs to go. So yes, I’m down. I’m excited.
JK: How much of it do you write, and how much of it does your band write for it?
DM: Technically I’m a solo artist, so it’s not a group effort kind of thing. I do co-writes. I have originals on the record, and I have co-writes. Because I’m a writer I want to be involved in that process because I know what’s in my heart to say, but it’s great to do co-writes because you learn from amazing writers and they can help you craft what’s in your heart and even say it better. And then you learn and you grow as a songwriter, so the next record will be both again I’m sure.