Exclusive: Futures Bringing Light To Mental Illness With “Overcoming Everest” And ‘Hills & Horizons’ Album

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Futures kicked off the new year with the release of their debut LP, Hills & Horizons, on DREAM Records.  Two years in the making, the 11-song album features songs written by Mark Evans, Danae Leslie, Ryan Rolls, Chloe Evans and Andrew Barlow. The title track, which brings language to the mystery of the ups and downs of life, garnered over 100,000 streams across all platforms in its first week. The single also saw early buzz at radio with its debut on PLAY MPE as the most streamed/downloaded song in its first week. And in February, Futures along with members of the local community took on the goal of climbing Stone Mountain 17 times – a Mount Everest equivalent. The “Overcoming Everest” climb served as a representation of perseverance through some of life’s most difficult moments in the band’s ongoing mission to raise awareness of mental illness and invite hope and healing into their lives and the community. In this TCB Exclusive, Mark Evans, Ryan Rolls and Danae Leslie reflect on their recent “Overcoming Everest” climb and their debut album.

Before we start with your new music release, I want to talk about an event you held last month (Feb 26). Can you share when you first had the idea for the “Overcoming Everest” event?
Mark: I was in Australia, probably about nine months ago. We were talking through things we would love to do. A long time ago I lived on the streets for two weeks, and I’m passionate about homelessness and awareness. We were thinking about what season we are in and were talking about mental health. As much as we love words, and songs matter and words matter, but why don’t we do something that really pulls into our community. Our ministry is to pull people together into messages that matter. These things are what the church, in general, and bands like us, have opportunities to do. Mental health is like overcoming Everest every single day, so why don’t we climb Mt. Everest together, or at least try. And then I brought it up to Danae.
Danae: Yes, over lunch. You asked how many laps of Stone Mountain we would have to do. It snowballed from there.

What most stands out to you about the day and participation?
Ryan: I think after doing the event and in the moment to see an idea take off the way that it did. We probably had close to 140-150 people that came out for the event, which is awesome. And then to see how much awareness we made from there. It was amazing to see how many walks of life we had not just intentionally showing up to the event, but unintentionally participate after finding out what and why we were doing. We met a guy who told us his story about 2020 being the hardest year of his life. He went on this crazy health journey and lost 142 pounds, and went after physical fitness. And he wanted to climb with us. And it’s amazing to see that anytime we gather in agreement, or what we did this event for, to see people identify their story. It’s not just the words that we say, but the actions that we do. And seeing the ripple effect of that – things going from conversations to action. We live in a day and age where everyone loves to talk, but not everyone loves to do. To see us taking this path from conversation, and the relationships formed that day, has been really eye-opening. We were never made to do this alone, and it was another opportunity for unity across many walks of life.

How do you think putting this event together will impact your future work as a group?
Mark: The clear takeaway for me walking up and down that mountain so many times is the difficulty of it alone. I did a few laps where I was walking just by myself versus with people and a team. And it’s my prayer that the revelation and impact and ripple effect is continued for ourselves as Futures and our church. We have a global church called Influencers Church with campuses in Australia, Atlanta [GA], and Indonesia. And my prayer is that the local church and global church will continue having these conversations and doing things that impact. We love Sundays and worshipping together, but there are so many opportunities on Saturdays, at 8AM, just like this one on Stone Mountain, where we can gather people. I think it’s going to shape what we do around intentionality. We walked into this walk with another level of intentionality. We don’t want to just write a song and put out an album; we want to tie this with something practical that changes people’s lives and is tangible. 

You also started off the year with new music (Hills & Horizons). How does the title capture the theme of the project?
Danae: ‘Hills & Horizons’ for us was our song that was the most collaborative song yet. We wrote it in the throes of 2020 in a writing retreat in Savannah, GA. Most of the album actually came from that retreat. We broke off into different groups. But on the last night we all came together, and Mark came with the idea of writing about the hills and horizons, the ups and downs of life. Sometimes you can feel like you’re going over and over in these cycles, and learning to trust God through it all. I think as we sat down and began to write on this, it quickly became clear that it wasn’t just my story or Mark’s story or our, as a band, story. It began to take shape that hills and horizons was the overarching theme for so many people. Showing our friends and family the mixes and masters and people were relating so much to that theme. 2020 felt a bit like the groundhog day, cycles and cycles, but learning to trust God and be okay with not seeing the big picture. It really was the overarching theme of the ups and downs of life but having God there through it all. It resonated so much with us, so it was no doubt that it stood out to us to make that the album title and theme that threads all the songs together.

Is there a track, or lyric, on the EP that means something different to you now than when you first wrote it?
Ryan: So much of the songs that we wrote were written in 2020, the height of the pandemic and uncertainty and everyone looking at life in a different way. I remember a phrase that I felt God gave me early in the pandemic was “this hasn’t changed you; this has exposed you, exposed what you really believe in and what is really valuable to you, what you are running from and running to.” When we wrote all these songs in such a trying and uncertain time, it’s interesting and people are surprised when they hear the album because a lot of the songs are joyful and upbeat. They have this positive and forward-moving type of outlook. These songs almost sound like they don’t match the season we say we were in. But when we face challenging times, we really have one of two decisions – to set up camp around our feelings and uncertainty, or the opposite. I may be facing adversity or hardship or the most dark days of my life, but it doesn’t change the fact of who God is. David encouraged himself in the Lord, and these songs are a little bit of that. These songs are who I know God is, so I’m going to still sing that God is good. You can take everything from me but you can’t take the love I have from God. I think that’s why this whole album means so much to us. We had every opportunity to write songs around the dark days and the struggle, but instead despite our feelings and circumstances, it doesn’t change who God is. We are going to write in faith and boldness and pulling myself out of the pit. So when I look back on the lyrics, I’m actually proud because we could have easily written a different album.

What are you most expectant for in 2022?
Mark: There are so many things. This album has taken two years, and it’s not the only songs we’ve written in two years. As a band and a group, we probably have sixty songs in different genres and ideas that we’ve written. So this album is almost launching for us a whole new journey. We have Dreamers in Australia, the youth band, who just had an EP. We have a live album we are going to record in two different countries at the same time coming in May. There are so many songs and artists. So it feels like this is the beginning of what will be our most fruitful year yet. So we are very excited. Anxious is probably the wrong word, but we don’t get to see how it’s going to work out, but we are very excited for everything happening.

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