Featured on every major Bethel Music release since 2010 with songs like “Jesus, We Love You,” “One Thing” and “Faithful to the End,” Paul and Hannah McClure serve as worship leaders and songwriters with Bethel Music and at Bethel Church in Redding, California. Long-time pillars in the Bethel community, Paul and Hannah recently embarked on their first standalone album, The Way Home, which dropped August 30. Brian Johnson, Josh Baldwin, Seth Mosley, Matt Hammitt, Mia Fieldes and a host of others joined Paul and Hannah as co-writers in the nearly four-year pilgrimage. The collection is an homage to the couple’s North Carolina roots, songs filled with truth housed Americana and folk-inspired sound. Recently, Paul McClure took a few minutes to talk with us about the journey to release date, musical inspirations for the record and what it's like to work with the Bethel community.
Congratulations on the release of The Way Home! When did you first feel a calling to pursue a standalone album?
Thank you! We are so excited about the new album and that it’s finally out! We started on this project at the end of 2016. We made our first trip to Nashville to start writing for it in December of that year. We wrote a lot of songs on that trip but only one ended up making it from then until now, "Holding On To You." It’s pretty funny and just like God that the one song to make it from three years ago would be about trusting in Jesus! We’ve been through some highs and lows as this project was postponed a few times, and as we continued to develop our sound and songs, but we are so grateful in hindsight that the album happened when it did.
How long has this project been in the making and what were some of the highlights of the journey for you?
We have been writing towards this album specifically for about two years. One of the best things about working on this project was it helped us realize that we love songwriting! We’ve written a lot of songs in the last couple of years but not all of them were for this project. We learned how to take writing seriously and give time to it, which will serve us well long after this project.
One of the biggest highlights was working with our friend and Bethel Music CEO, Joel Taylor, on the album. We have known Joel for nine years but got to spend a lot of time with him crafting these songs over the last year. Joel is an incredible songwriter and this project wouldn’t have happened without him. He saw something in us and made sure that we were captured in an authentic way, true to who we are.
Another highlight was working with David Leonard, Brad King, and Seth Talley of CreakMusic who produced our album. We didn’t meet those guys until March of this year, so we haven’t known them very long, but they’ve become lifelong friends. It was a major joy to work with them, and we are amazed at how well they captured us and pulled stuff out of us in the best way.
How would you describe the sound of this album to new listeners as well as those who are frequent Bethel Music listeners?
I would say the sound is a blend between worship, country, indie and Americana/folk. We are from North Carolina, so we wanted those down-home roots to shine!
Who or what were some of your biggest inspirations, spiritually and musically, in developing this collection of songs?
We wanted to write songs that would encourage and uplift people and point them in the direction of Jesus. Our hearts beat for songs that make it easy for people to encounter Jesus. We are church kids through and through, so we have always loved worship and songs for the Church. We did our best to write songs that would be fresh and "us" but that could also be sung by churches and worship leaders. We think every song has a unique story and testimony and we have learned there’s inspiration everywhere in our lives if we will be aware enough to see it. From moving across the country to California, to becoming parents, to traveling the world—there have been so many things that continue to inspire us to write songs that tell our story, and the story of Jesus and who He is in our lives.
Musically speaking, we have so many influences. We were fans of Brian and Jenn Johnson and Bethel Music before we joined the team, so they have inspired us for years and still do today. It’s fun to be a part of a group but still be inspired by what they do—we are really inspired by all our Bethel Music family. From a musical/production standpoint, Kacey Musgraves’ album, 'Golden Hour,' has really influenced us for a couple of years now.
What was behind the decision to name this collection The Way Home?
We wrote the song "The Way Home" in February of this year with our friends Josh Baldwin and Ethan Hulse. We were actually writing for Josh's album at the time, but after we wrote the song Josh said he thought it should belong to us. We hadn’t even considered that we would call the album 'The Way Home' until we were in the process of recording. While Hannah was tracking, we took a lunch break and were talking about singing, and we both came to the agreement that we just needed to have fun and sing like we used to. We decided to get back to the days where we sang and created just for fun and took the pressure off of ourselves to sing or sound a certain way. It was amazing what that conversation and decision did for the rest of the tracking process. After that, Hannah suggested we call our album 'The Way Home' as a picture of us returning to the joy of creating, worshipping and chasing Jesus.
Which track from the new album was most difficult to write or record and why?
The hardest song to write was definitely "Holding On To You." As we mentioned earlier, we started that song in 2016. Sometimes in songwriting, your heart knows what you want to say but you just can’t get it right on paper. We wrote and rewrote that song about 15 times trying to get the message across in the best way. That’s the great thing—and also the hardest thing—about songwriting.
The hardest song to record was probably "Tender Hurricane." We tracked all of the songs live at Layman Drug Company studio in Nashville. The initial take of “Tender Hurricane” was amazing, but we all felt that it needed a more simple, folksy sound and the original was a lot more rock ‘n roll than we wanted. David and the guys were amazing at being willing to rework stuff until it was perfect!
What were the first and last tracks you completed for this album and how did they stand out to you?
Other than "Holding On To You," "Great Grace" and "Tender Hurricane" were written a few years ago with our friend and songwriter, Tony Wood. Tony is an incredible writer and we love working with him. "Great Grace" started more as a poem that Tony wrote, and we worked it into a song. It’s one of our favorites on the album.
The last track we completed was "Believe In You." We wrote that with David Leonard in March of this year, just after meeting him. It’s one of our favorites, both in the message of the song and how it sounds. We wrote it in about an hour with David and it just speaks to the ease we felt in working with him.
How would you define success for this collection?
Success for us is that Jesus would be lifted high first and foremost. We want everything we do with our lives to point people towards Him. This is all just noise without Jesus. Success is also people finding themselves and their story in these songs and encountering Jesus, who is hope, freedom and life.
Earlier this year, Bethel Music and Jeff Roberts & Associates (JRA) announced their partnership to support touring ventures. How will this influence your ability to share your music and upcoming releases for Bethel?
Working with JRA has been amazing. We have loved getting to know all of them and working together will definitely help us reach people we wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Even this year, we did a lot of festivals that wouldn’t have happened without JRA. It was so much fun to bring some of what Bethel Music is about—in regard to the prophetic and healing aspects—to the festival environment.
What does it mean for you to be a part of the Bethel Music community at large and pour into others in the group, such as recent signee Brandon Lake?
It’s been amazing to meet and get to know Brandon and his beautiful family and to minister together. I think as a whole, we just want to do life together and be part of each others’ stories. We love getting to do ministry together, but we love the fact that we’re friends and family first. Brian and Jenn are our neighbors here in Redding, so we actually get to do life together. Ministry feels like an overflow of our relationships and the fact that we are all running after the same things.
In 2010 we came to the Worship School that Bethel Music hosts every summer. We were just hungry worship leaders who wanted to learn and soak up what was happening at Bethel. We fell in love with the people and moved here a year-and-a-half later. We wanted to be around them and ended up getting to join the team, which has been one of the biggest honors and blessings of our lives.