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Dara Maclean

While on a stop in Bethlehem, PA on Dara Maclean's fall tour with Casting Crowns,'s John DiBiase caught up with Dara to discuss her sophomore album Wanted, her musical influences, and what constituted the name change from "Dara Joy" to "Dara Maclean". And scroll to the bottom of the page for photos from Dara's October 12th performance...
This interview took place on: 10/12/13.

  • JFH (John DiBiase): I noticed you did the "International Justice Day" for International Justice Mission recently. How did you get involved with them?

    Dara Maclean: A friend of mine--who I work with in the industry and love, she's actually the head of the radio department at Word--told me about a benefit that was happening for International Justice Mission and then I started doing my own research. I'd been really praying at the time about the right organization to get involved with so that this is not about selling CD's, but that this is about a point, which is the Kingdom of God and being able to build a part of it. Once I really prayed about it and really felt that that was an organization that really fell in love with the thought of rescue happening all across the world, I thought "how powerful!" And, to me, they're winning the fight, because they are a group of investigators, social workers and lawyers that go on the ground and, with proper funding, are able to literally uncover corrupt law enforcement so that it doesn't just stop one thing, it stops everything. And, everywhere in the world, these things that are happening are all illegal. It's not like they're legal. Then they're just going in and enforcing actual law and uncovering corruption in those areas. They're able to shut down whole brothels at a time! And, too, it's not just human trafficking; it's slavery and abuse of any kind. So, [it could be] something like illegal property seizure--a lot of that is in Uganda with widows and orphans. It's basically A to Z. For me, specifically, it's learning about ending human trafficking, and they are the organization [to do that]. Every time I hear Gary Haugen speak, I just fall in love all over again with the heartbeat of justice. They're very relentless in their pursuits, and there was a case where it even took 7 years to rescue one girl. But they did it!

    So I'm a freedom partner with them on a monthly basis and I just thought how powerful would it be to say "who cares--fill in whatever your vocation is--yes, I'm an artist and I have a responsibility to use this platform, but who cares about any of that? At the end of the day, we all have an opportunity to literally be the hands and feet of Jesus. And it's awesome because, [even though] you're not a lawyer and you're not going there in that country and you're not doing that exact thing, if you're sowing towards it then the way that God looks at it is the same. That's incredible! So I want to empower the eighteen-year-old generation that wants to be most popular or wants to be voted "Am I pretty? Can I be a cheerleader?" and I want to say, "You know what? I did all those things, for sure, but what if, at eighteen years old, we thought about getting to rescue the oppressed all over the world? Well, we can do that!" It's amazing! My heart is to really empower a generation, honestly, that is probably the most self-consumed, especially with social media--and then being able to use those resources. It's a beautiful thing when used for the right reasons, especially in this generation.

  • JFH (John): That's really cool. I think the thing they talked about the most when I was in youth group and stuff was mostly just sponsoring a child. Which is great, but it's not the same thing as really getting involved.

    Dara: And that's amazing. I think the biggest thing is doing whatever--like if it's a Feed The Hungry organization or World Vision or Compassion--it's awesome. It's just being aware that there's a need and saying "God, how can I fill it?"

  • JFH (John): How did making your first nationally released album, You Got My Attention, affect how you approached making your sophomore album, Wanted?

    Dara: I don't know. It's felt like--I have no idea what it's like to have kids. Y'all, in fact actually in some ways know more because you have wives who have had children, but I feel like I've been in labor for two years, metaphorically. Really, I'm clueless to the actual experience, but it felt like that. And then all of a sudden I just feel like it was very intense and challenging in the moment. And a lot of tears and a lot of self-revelation of "I am not, but You are." And letting God really free me from perfectionism. And to understand that I've been anointed to be excellent in the thing that I've been called to do, just like all of us have. But perfectionism is about me and excellence shows people a God that's faithful and is after them. So, [I've] just been learning about those things and I will say: two years ago, I was me and I created a record and God set me up with the right producer and I partnered with my team at Word that I love and I know I'm supposed to be in partnership with, and all of the right pieces were there. And then that happened again, but with some different players, honestly. For this season, for this record, there's a different producer and his name is Paul Mabury. He, at this time in my life, really knew how to merge--y'know, worship is not a genre, it's a lifestyle and I wanted everything to feel like worship, as an acoustic solo artist. And he, because of his experience in the Hillsong world as well as a soul/funk drummer all over Australia (he's such an Aussie), he knew how to merge those things really beautifully for me and we didn't have to try to be soulful, we were just going to be who we were, y'know? We would talk about God, we would cry, there would be musicians and people in the studio who would light candles and I would go sing for hours. It was really beautiful and I would want that to be the case every time. And regardless of what does or doesn't happen with this record, I know, two years later, it's me, but two years older and hopefully we laid a foundation two years ago and then it's an awesome, exciting thing to get to keep building on it and just trust the Lord that the most people can be reached and that the music and the content heals hearts. And only God can do that, but to get to be a vessel of that.

  • JFH (John): Was it a big difference working with Ian Eskelin (for You Got My Attention) and then Paul Mabury (for Wanted)?

    Album Cover

    Dara: Yeah, absolutely. It's comparing oranges and apples. Ian is such an awesome producer and he's an amazing songwriter, and I learned so much from him. That was very exciting and that's exactly what it was supposed to be for the first record, You Got My Attention. But, two years later, you have different thoughts and interests and you're two years older. And then you pray and say, "OK, God, what are the pieces in this puzzle that are going to help me accomplish the call that is on my life?" Y'know, the people that are supposed to be involved for this season. Paul was one of them.

  • JFH (John): Did you feel any pressure making this album?

    Dara: Yeah! For sure. People have been asking me that and a sophomore release is definitely pressure, but if it wasn't that, then it'd be something else. *laughs* There's always an opportunity to feel pressure. My biggest thing when I was growing up was that I didn't want to fail. Because I always felt called to the industry. I always wanted to do this. I'm very humbled by the fact that I'm actually getting to do what the Lord put in my heart. So I've always felt like "If I fail, I can't handle that. What do I do? How do I prove to people that You put this on my heart?" and then I realized I was just trying to get an identity and proving that instead of just trusting God is who He says He is. And He's done everything that He put in my heart, but better. So that, to me, is only the faithfulness of God. But I think pressure is something that, for some reason, I don't know why, but y'know how I mentioned the album process was like being in labor? As soon as my husband came into my life, things got settled and I've had such a refuge in him and the way that "One can put a thousand to flight, but two can put ten thousand to flight," and we have just seen multiplication in our lives; it's not perfect, but it is so perfect for us. And, man, I just feel so settled and so at peace that, regardless of the things that make you feel pressure, [those pressures] are starting to lift. Because I'm so convinced and confident in the plan of God that He has on our lives as every child of God should be, because God is the perfect father and He said He'd perfect the things that concern us if we'll let Him. And I need Him! I need Him to. And He is, and I will always tell people that. This has been a really amazing season.

  • JFH (John): Was there anything specific that inspired the "Wanted" concept?

    Album Cover

    Dara: Everything, actually. That's the reason why the single, as well as the record, was called that. And the music video for "Wanted," they are the most beautiful kids. We were in Mexico and on the streets and it was a very organic thing that happened when we turned the cameras on. They just kind of flooded the streets and we were like "Do you guys want to be in a music video?" And it was just an amazing two days. Best job ever. Hopefully, it's just this beautiful metaphor to say there's a child in every single one of us. I think it's important to focus on the universal need because every single one of us is the same, regardless of whoever would tell me "this is your musical demographic" and I'm like "that's awesome, that's great and we'll focus on that demographic, but who does not need to be loved?" Y'know what I mean? The hardest of hearts or the youngest of children? Like 5 years old, 90 years old, male, female. The universal need and driving force is like someone telling me that I wasn't a mistake or that I'm worth it. When I know someone's going to fight for me, man, I feel invincible! And the Bible says that we love Him because He first loved us, John 10:10. And it's just this revelation of [speaking that] especially to a fatherless generation. I think that a lot of men are really scared that they're going to be like their fathers or they didn't have a father so they're like "I've got nothing to pull from, I don't even know what the love of God the father is like because I didn't have one," or any girl that you meet. And so, again, this is not like a demographic, I think this is a human need, so Wanted as a whole, my prayer is that it would speak to that and would offer the answer of a Father that's never left and says that you're worth it.

  • JFH (John): Is there a song on the album that is most personal to you or your favorite?

    Dara: "Blameless" is a song that I had written years ago, and I really felt like it was supposed to be on this record. And it's my way to write a worship song, and I think it's most personal when I actually talk about it, like tonight at the show, because the subject matter talks about identity and a little bit of what we've already talked about--getting my identity from being this perfect little Christian church girl that said "God I don't want to fail, I want to do what You called me to do," or on the other side of it, feeling like "How can I even get up on a stage?" Y'know, I've been getting up on a stage and doing worship or something pretty much my whole life, or from thirteen--on. So there'd be times I'd get up on a platform and feel like "I have no right to be up here. I feel like a complete disappointment and a complete failure. I don't know how You're going to use me, God!" And it was just torment. *laughs* So, "Blameless," when the Lord gave me that song, I just remember having prayer time and God arrested my heart and said, "You get up on a stage and you preach about redemption and forgiveness and the way that I see You: nothing missing, nothing broken and wholeness. And you're just holding yourself to a completely different standard." I remember the Lord so strongly on my heart saying, "When is the sacrifice of my Son going to be enough for you?" And it wrecked me in the best of ways. It shook legalism and religion and the lies of the Enemy off and my eyes were really opened to see Ephesians 1:18, "That the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened that we would know the hope of our calling." That verse in and of itself - that's the difference. We can read the Bible all day long and we can get religion from it. How does that happen? That's not God's heart. It's the filter of "Do I know the heart of God for me and the love of God for me? Because, if I don't, then I'll add a new definition to 'failure.'" And it's honestly why people run from the church, because somebody's broken and talking about religion and putting the Bible through that filter and so people hate religion. And the Bible says the law brings death, but the Spirit brings life. So, "Blameless," for me, has been that song, and the revelation of saying "You said it; that I no longer live but You live in me, that I can awake to righteousness, that when You look at me You see blameless and whole and I can never do anything to make You love me more than You do now. If I actually believe that is true, and how You view me, then I would start to change. Because I would see myself the way You have always seen me. And that's blameless." So, that's really why that song's personal.

  • JFH (John): Is there a sound clip, sampling at the beginning of "Nobody But You?"

    Dara: Mmhmm!

  • JFH (John): What's that from?

    Dara: It's from Esther Williams. She was beautiful and would do the synchronized swimming movies, and a lot of them were filmed under the water. So Paul [Mabury] sampled the beginning of a scene where she dives into the tank and looks really beautiful and I loved it!

  • JFH (John): Do you like old movies?

    Dara: I love old movies. I'm an Alfred Hitchcock fan.

  • JFH (John): Really? Do you have a favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie?

    Dara: Vertigo and Rear Window are pretty much tied.

  • JFH (John): I like pretty much anything with Cary Grant in it.

    Dara: I love North By Northwest! That's one of my favorites. Cary Grant is suave! ...Like the shampoo.

  • JFH (John): They don't make 'em like that anymore!

    Dara: They don't! ...Except for my husband.

  • JFH (John): *Laughs* Good answer. Do you have a favorite classic film actor/actress?

    Dara: Grace Kelly. I think she and Audrey Hepburn represented an era that I feel is timeless and sometimes lost.

  • JFH (John): Who have been your most influential musical inspirations?

    Dara: It's a very full question. I didn't start listening to secular music till around 13; my parents were the product of the 70s, so they cleaned house when they got born again, but my mom literally did what I do now but in the secular arena, and then they got born again. And she did that on Christian TV and stuff like that and then her dream was to see Matt and me do that, which is kind of amazing and she's really selfless. They grew up on all things soul music, so like motwown, September, all things that had that backbone, that "pocket" music. And I still love that kind of music, old to new. And those are a lot of UK artists that I love, that are just gritty, rootsy, soul, "where did they get that voice? You can tell what they listened to when they were younger." But, when I was 8, my dad got me, literally, every single Crystal Lewis record. I mean, I sang a duet to "God's Been Good To Me" at my church. And I loved "El Shaddai" by Amy Grant, and I grew up on Passion worship. So when I was 13, a friend gave me a guitar. I discovered Lauryn Hill on Sister Act II. That changed my life. Then I got her Unplugged record and realized "She's the most crafted, gifted lyricist, as well as vocalist," and I [thought] "I don't even know if she knows the degree of what she's talking about" but she was literally just talk-singing The Bible. And it was very interesting to me and I just said, "I want to learn how to craft a song like that, knowing what I know." So I will say Crystal Lewis, Lauryn Hill, soul music, and worship music. So I've been involved in worship and youth ministry since I was 13. So at 22, I stepped out full-time and did three independent CD's, but the evolution of me being an artist happened when soul music met worship music in my life and that's what created it for me.

  • JFH (John): Speaking of your independent records, what made you go from using the name "Dara Joy" to "Dara Maclean?"

    Dara: Such a long story. [John: Really? *laughs*] Long story short... We were getting ready to sign on the dotted line with Word and everything was going really good and that was a journey in and of itself for two years. We're finally there and then my A&R rep, who had basically brought me to the label, was like, "Everything's good, everybody's so excited and ready to really dive in and stuff, but they're having an issue with your name." I was like, "What do you mean? It's my name. Like, I'm not doing some stupid stage name. I think that's ridiculous." So at the time, you'd hear all sorts of stories of "Don't compromise, they're going to try to make you 'something something'," and that is true with the wrong people. And y'know, a label is a label, but man, it's not just a label, it's like family now for me. And, ultimately, I stand accountable and I know that. So there are decisions that we mostly 90% agree on and sometimes we don't, but that time, kind of being young, I'm thinking "Oh God, this is compromise. They're just trying to change me!" And my heart was in the right place, cuz I was like "I just don't want to do that!" So I called my sister and we were thinking-- I'm Italian, and actually my dad's father changed his last name from Martorella to Maclean, so now we sound Scottish...

  • JFH (John): It's such a beautiful Italian name!

    Dara: I KNOW!! And I'm like "Grandpa, what were you thinking?!" But then my producer at the time was like, "Really? 'Dara Battistelli??'" And I was like, "OK, whatever! I love Franny but I get what you're saying!" *laughter* So I'm like "Should it just be 'Dara'?" and they're like, "You're not Beyoncé, you can't just have one name. You're not Cher." And I was like, "I'm not trying to be, but this is my name!!" So I called my sister who's also one of my best friends and I said, "Sissy, I feel like they're trying to change me. I'm not happy, I don't want to be Maclean, I don't want to sound Scottish, I want to sound Italian," so my sister said, "Baby, I hate to tell you this, but I think that 'Joy' sounds young. And maybe country. And I don't think you should be upset about it. 'Maclean' is just as much your name as well. You can be proud of that." And I was like, "Well I'm not 'not proud' of it, but I just feel like they're trying to change me!" When I look back on it, I'm like "What were you--it's not a big deal." Had they wanted me to start singing about Satan, that's when I should've been concerned.

  • JFH (John): ...That's an extreme. Yeah.

    Dara: You know what I'm saying. *laughter* But that's what I mean; as I've gotten older, stuff [like a name change] isn't as big of a deal. Y'know. Thank goodness for growth! Amen.

  • JFH (John): Last question, what has God been teaching you lately?

    Dara: Hmmm... How not to be selfish. Cuz I'm in love with literally everything about my husband and people are like, "Well, you're newly married" and I'm like, "That's awesome, but love is a choice." And, y'know, in 20, 50, 90 years, we're going to have to choose to love each other. And so, there is so much grace to make those choices now and to learn to love each other on an unconditional [level]. To not act like the guy who forgot he was forgiven a debt. And I know we can win with the world around us if we win in our private life. So, the biggest thing is, I'm starting with me and I'm praying, "God, anything that doesn't look like You, I don't want it to divide in my marriage. And then, if I can win with my husband, then we'll learn how to win with our kids and learn how to win with people who want to hear about Jesus."

    Dara Maclean: Live, October 12, 2013
    at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA
    click on an image for a bigger size
    **vertical images cropped for thumbnails**
    Photos by John DiBiase

    Dara Maclean's latest album, Wanted is available now wherever music is sold!

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