2016's MOBO award for Best Gospel Act was a tight race. Some great artists like the eventual winner Guvna B, Sarah Teibo and Andrew Bello, S.O. and, of course, Volney Morgan and New Ye. Even though they didn't win the prize Volney and crew had the privilege of performing as part of the MOBO awards pre-show. It was at the Tru-Life Promotions Gospel Live event that I managed to sit down with Volney and discuss the MOBO's, his influences, a little bit of eschatology and, of course, the new album - Focus.
I caught your performance at the MOBO Awards, how was that?
That was amazing! It was another door that was opened that was out of the church walls which we love. We absolutely love being in the church and spreading the Gospel but the whole point of gospel is taking it out of the four walls of the church so going into a secular industry like that and doing what we did was phenomenal. A lot of people respected us, they loved us from the secular community and the gospel community, they were like "man, we haven't seen gospel done like this for a long time" for some people it was the first time they saw gospel like this, it reminded them of another Sister Act or like something that was out of the box, which was amazing!
There have been comparisons made between Kirk Franklin and yourselves. Is there a conscious effort to be like that, or is it just your natural style?
I would say I grew up on Kirk Franklin, so he will have some influences in there, always seeing and hearing his style of music and how he changed things was in my upbringing, so I would say it was something that was natural to me. I got frustrated really with church because I felt like we were always being safe and in the box. When it says dance like David, no-one was really dancing like David, they were just being in the box and keeping everything saef. I just got to a place where I said "God, I want to worship you so much that I don't care who knows it, because this is how I praise you when I am by myself," in the shower, in my private times, I look crazy in front of the mirror! It's only when we put on this persona of we've got to make it look cute in front of everyone.
And do the Pentecostal Shuffle...
So when we started up and we were doing what we were doing because we were a choir and youth at that as well! It was later on when an artist, Tye Tribett came out, and people were like "Oh my gosh, these Americans are amazing!" and I was like "I've been doing this for the last 2 years." It did take overseas to do something for us to follow. Sometimes we do that trend thing where we follow the trend in the States, but I'm happy that we're here anyway!
What is the new Ye? (pronounced Yee)
So New Ye stands for New, meaning new person, something that's never been done before, something that is always fresh, something that's just at the beginning of it. Ye from the Bible's perspective is like "Come all ye faithful" so speaking of man. So when you put that together it's new man, new being.
When my late Pastor, who passed away, gave us the name she put a description with it, she said she saw it written in the heavens and that God gave her a message with it "A lion that stoops in the presence of God" meaning that you are humbled no matter how great you are, no matter how in the Kingdom you are, because the lion is the king of the jungle, no matter how great you are in ministry, or your gifting, your talents, always be humble in the presence of God. So new man, new being, but being humble and subjected to the Spirit of God.
That sounds like a great mission statement.
For yourself personally, you said you grew up listening to Kirk Franklin etc. What is your background. Have you come through the church...
People don't believe me when I say this, but I was one year old when I started directing the choir! That was basically because a great leader and director in this country called Clive Brown, he used to be our church choir director along with Bishop John Francis and as they would sing, I was like a little baby in a nappy and I would keep on jumping and try and mimic everything that he would do. Little did people know that it would become part of my life. I have loved choirs from a young age. When it came to the choir time at church I would stop what I was doing and make my way to the front, during the preaching I would slowly go back, but when it came to the choir I was always at the front, it's always been a part of me, so that's the background, a Pentecostal background.
So when did you decide that it was more than just the choir and there was a relationship there?
So from being young I have always been doing that, from the age of 8 or 9 I was doing the church youth choir, there wasn't that many of us, but it was something never the less! I really took it serious at the age of 16 which is when New Ye was birthed. It was just getting a couple of friends and family together and singing and writing songs and little-by-little we started singing in places and going to places like Scotland, Birmingham and other places...
You need to get to Cornwall at some point...
I'm telling you... we haven't been to Cornwall! We would love to! Please invite me.
You have had quite a journey which this year led to that MOBO nomination. How did that feel to get that recognition. I am guessing it's not what you are seeking...
And that's it. I said to the group when everybody was getting crazy and excited, I turned to the group and I said they've been working so hard, it's been over 10 years, and I said just to be recognised for what we are doing, the music that we are writing, the songs that we are writing, is being sung in churches and stuff. Sometimes you can get downhearted when you feel like you're doing something and you are not reaching anybody, but when you start seeing the effect of it, that's when it becomes a blessing! When we do this gospel thing we're not doing it as a gimmick or game or just to sell music, we are doing it so that lives will be changed. People will be like "oh my gosh! You ministered to me, you changed me." To have people on that wider scale saying "wow! that blessed me" that is the blessing, so to be recognised for that, that was amazing!
How did it feel, honestly, when it was announced that Guvna B had won the MOBO?
It was a thing where I looked at Guvna, and I thought he has a bigger fan base, so he would probably win it, but it was great to be in the category as well. As I said we are one Kingdom so when one gets it, we all get it!
It was a really tough category as well. I wouldn't have liked to choose. I have met Sarah and Guvna B and interviewed them both. I had heard your music before, although not as familiar... How do you choose?
What they said about this group was that this was the hardest group. They said they finally came together with a great group of artists so people would actually have to pick someone rather than going for someone direct. To be named amongst some UK greats was a real blessing.
So you have got the new album out, Focus, so what is it about?
The album, Focus, is about when I was in a place where I was doing so much for God, ministering everywhere, we got real busy, and I felt like in the midst of doing all of that we lost the focus. We had the message. but a message without the focus is bland and there is no salt in it, the Bible says that we are the 'salt of the earth'. I felt like I was going around and we were doing great and everyone was enjoying it, but when we came home we were empty, and when we went to do things we were empty.
God said to me "Son, don't lose your focus" and I said "OK, God". While we were doing this album, it was originally called "The Hour Has Come" the reason behind that was it was nine years since we started and it was time to birth something out. Then ten years came and it was like "God, do we still call it The Hour Has Come?" and God simply said to me "call it Focus". In this season everybody is losing their focus, being on Social Media and doing all of these things, and I'm not saying these aren't great platforms, but we get so wrapped up in what everyone else is doing that we forget what we are meant to do.
The album is to say, "Look, focus..." one of the main scriptures is "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added on." This means that if you seek Him and you look for Him and you really chase after something, when you want something you really chase after it. If you've ever needed to go shopping and you want to drive, the only thing that is stopping you is you need to find these keys, so you seek, you pull up the couch looking for them. God's like "that's what I need you to do for me, I want you to search for me because I am that vehicle that's going to bring you to that place and that destination that you see yourself, but you must first seek for me and find me. So that's what the album is about.
Do you think that is actually for the wider church? Do you think that possibly some of us have got complacent?
Yeah, I feel that, as you said, it's not just a message for us. The reason why God has allowed us to call the album "Focus" is because it's for the world. When you look at the times we are in, everyone says "look, what's happening?" This is happening and that is happening and who do we vote for and I can't believe that's happened. We get to that place where we don't understand, so we fear it. God is like "You would only fear something if you never understood it, if you focused on me and found the answers in me because you would no longer be afraid because you would understand what I am doing."
With Brexit and Trump and other political upheavals that are going on there were some commentators that said "It doesn't matter, God is still Sovereign".
This is it! We forget as the church that it's going to get worse and the Bible speaks that, there are going to be wars and rumours of wars. This is what is funny about the church, but we want to give him praise and we want to read from the good parts of the Bible, but we want to skip out Revelation. When Revelation tells us that it has to get bad for us to reap our reward. How can we reap our reward if we don't come into a place where we can say everything around us looks crazy, but God has reminded us that upon this rock I have built my church and the gates of hell will not prevail, meaning that we will be safe.
If the world is going crazy and the church looks like everything else, how is anybody going to be saved through our message?
There you go! So we have stand out, and in a dark world, if you are light, then you are going to stick out like a sore thumb!