Robin: It's great to meet you.
Darlene: Lovely to meet you, too.
Robin: Where are you at this afternoon?
Darlene: This morning. We are in Phoenix, overlooking cactus. (Laughs.)
Robin: Well, I've been listening to your album before you called, and now I want to hear all about it. Why did you decide to do a solo album now?
Darlene: It's a funny thing. I've always written worshipful songs, but writing about other things is not new to me, although people don't think of me that way. I really knew that someday I would do this again, because I have done this before. I sang professionally years ago, before I started leading worship at our church. But in order to do this again, I really wanted it to be in line with our church leaders. I only wanted to do it if I had their support, and they were really happy to see me do it. I'm really quite amazed that it all happened so easily, actually.
Darlene: Well, we didn't have a lot of extra time to do it. We didn't have months off or anything; I had a couple of weeks off. And we were working on our last Hillsongs album at the same time. Between that and being a mother, there just wasn't a lot of extra time left. So I would sneak a little time in here and there to run off to the studio and sing. But I really knew in my heart that God would be faithful to honor the time that I had left.
Robin: Who produced it?
Darlene: David Holmes produced it with me -- he's a great producer, one of Australia's best. He would come and record the music and keep the whole project humming, and then whenever I had a moment, I would go sing. Every Monday night, usually, we would get together and work on it and then I would go back to work and to church on Tuesday and he would keep going until I got another moment... And a couple of songs we gave to a guy I really like from Australia named James Roche. You've probably never heard of him, but he's done some songs that I really enjoyed.
Robin: Tell me about some of the songs.
Darlene: There's a song on there that I wrote for my husband, Mark.
Robin: Yeah, I remember that one. That one kind of jumps out at you because it's not what you're used to hearing Darlene sing.
Darlene: Yeah, my husband's been begging me to write him a song for years! (Laughs.) He's like, "Well, you've written everyone else a song..."
Robin: Oh, the poor thing! This is so sad...
Darlene: (Laughs.) I write a lot about moments in life. I have a girlfriend who had a baby, so I wrote a song for her. When my dad died, I wrote a couple of songs about that. Just these moments in life that impact you. I write a lot about moments of change. I write a lot about my love of God. I write about his truth and power. Which you'll hear on this record.
Robin: Songwriting is something I wanted to ask you about, because that's probably the one thing you're known for more than anything else. People know you by your songs. What does the process of songwriting look like, for you?
Darlene: I never really studied for it, although I have read a lot of books about it. But I write constantly, wherever I am. Sometimes I'll be at the piano and there will be a chord progression that I just can't let go of. But there have been many times when I'll be somewhere and I've got a song in my head but I have not found a piano yet! I've got a song like that right now -- I've actually got the lyrics written out right in front of me here, but the melody only exists in my head.
Robin: So you've got the words written down but not the music?
Darlene: No, I've got the music all in my head. I can see my fingers playing it, but that's it.
Darlene: I've just got to get to a piano and sit down and play it. I'll probably play it through twice, and there it will be. So that's a good example of how it happens. But I don't have a set time when I do it or anything, just whenever it comes. Sometimes it will be late at night. I have actually sung into my own answering machine at times.
Darlene: Because you always think that you'll remember the song, but you never do. I used to walk around with my little recorder, but I always forget it now. So I'll just pick up the phone and go, "Hey me, it's me! Remember this song!"
Robin: (Laughs.) Well, whatever it takes.
Darlene: Yeah, exactly. (Laughs.)
Robin: There doesn't seem to be a set way of doing it. Everybody's different. I just talked to Mark Schultz the other day and he was telling me how he always goes to this one special place to write and he gets inspired there...
Darlene: But my life isn't like that. You know? I'm a working mom. I work at the church. And between all that, if I get a moment, I want to make it count.
Robin: You're pretty well known in Australia, even among mainstream music fans. The line between "Christian" and "secular" isn't as distinct there as it is here. It's really hard to get Christian Music onto mainstream radio here in America; is it easier in Australia?
Darlene: Well, you know, I've never really done the whole industry thing. We did approach some of the songs on this album from a non-churchy perspective. Like the song "Pray" -- we tried to use some of these songs to speak to people who need to hear those kinds of positive messages, in a way that they would understand. We thought that if we made it too churchy, then others wouldn't relate to it. So we tried to give it a little bit of an edge, and reach out with it to those who are attracted to that kind of musical language.
But to answer your question, Sony is planning to promote this album to general listeners. We've partnered with them -- with Sony -- for this album, and they really believe in it. They have so many divisions -- Sony New York, Sony Asia, whatever. And Sony Australia is releasing "Pray" [to mainstream radio].
Darlene: And I'm like, "You do know what this song is about, don't you?" And they go, "Yeah, and thank you for writing this." So I'm like, "Cool." I went in and played a few songs for some of the company's executives, and they were very moved, and one of them said, "This is the message that people need to hear right now. We can't wait to share it with them." And these are the same people that are promoting big-name artists all the time!
Robin: That's remarkable.
Darlene: I know, I can't explain it.
Robin: What's your favorite song on this record?
Darlene: I love "Beautiful Savior." Last year I recorded a CD for my grandfather, who's 96 years old. It was just me and a piano and some hymns. He had been wanting me to play "some real Christian Music" for years. (Laughs.) He goes, "When are you going to get rid of all those pesky guitars?" So while I was doing that for him, I really fell in love with this song.
Robin: Out of all the songs you've ever done, what is your favorite song to perform live?
Darlene: More than any other song, I love singing "Shout To the Lord," because people get so caught up in worshipping God, and they forget about everything around them. It's breathtaking. They totally get their eyes off of me, which as a worship leader, is my aim.