Worship leader Mike Lee is set to release his debut EP "Awakening Hearts" on May 1st. This new record is helmed by one of Christian music's most notable proucer Ed Cash (Kari Jobe, Chris Tomlin) together with Scott Cash and Cody Norris. After two years in the making, the EP is ready to resource the church with worship anthems such as "Different," "Salvation Come" and "Waking Up." Other than his music miistry, Lee also has another unique outreach of sharing the gospel through mixed martial arts (MMA). Lee and his three brothers have their own gym, Lee Brothers Submission Academy, at Liquid Church in Fort Wayne, the same non-denominational church where Mike Lee leads worship every Sunday. We are honored to be able to catch up with Mike for this Hallels' exclusive interview:
Hallels: Mike, thank you for doing this interview. Congratulations on the release of your forthcoming worship EP "Awakening Hearts." How would you describe your style of music?
Mike: Thank you! We are so excited to release this project. I feel like it has been a long time coming at this point, and I am not great about describing my style of music. I write songs with an acoustic guitar and I have some talented friends who collaborate with me, so I guess people will just need to listen and get a feel for what is. However, I would say that my sound probably falls more towards the worship side with singable songs that work well for the church- bold declarations with quiet contemplative moments that are intended to point people back to the One from whom we came.
Hallels: If there's a take home message that you want to convey to your hearers through "Awakening Hearts," what would it be?
Mike: 'Awakening Hearts' refers to the witness of the Holy Spirit, which is awakening hearts to the beautiful news that Jesus was crucified and raised! The EP is a celebration of the promised Spirit (Eph.1:13-14), and a call to respond to His witness; which is to be filled and therefore, to live a life that reflects the hope of seeing God with our own eyes.
Hallels: You had quite a campaign through Kickstarter in raising funds for the making of this record. What were the biggest joy and challenge in putting "Awakening Hearts" together?
Mike: Writing songs for the record was great and I think that goes without saying, since I am first and foremost a songwriter, but this project was unique since it was my first national release and we got to work with some fantastic producers. Probably the biggest joy in putting this together is the time spent in the studio with Ed Cash, Scott Cash, and Cody Norris. Those were stretching, fun, eventful days in Franklin, TN. Setting up and preparing for the fundraiser was definitely the most challenging part of the process. I gained a huge appreciation for those who do fundraising for a living, as it takes a lot I time and dedication. And then, we were so incredibly humbled by the response we received. It was a great blessing."
Hallels: "Awakening Hearts" was produced by Ed Cash, Scott Cash and Cody Norris. Ed Cash has produced some of the biggest Christian records including those of Steven Curtis Chapman, Chris Tomlin and Kari Jobe. How did you get to work with them? And what's it like working with Ed, Scott and Cody?
Mike: I recorded my first EP in 2011 and it was intended for the congregation of a local church in Fort Wayne, IN, where I grew up and still live. Upon completion of the project, my wonderful and sneaky bride Michelle (7 months pregnant at the time), took a handful of our tunes and submitted them through Ed's website. She thought to do this because I am a huge Ed Cash fan and she wanted to spare me the pain of possible rejection, I am sure. Recording with Ed was honestly not on my radar. The day after her submission, Ed's brother, Scott, called Michelle and shared his excitement about our music and invited us to work with them. We prayed about it and concluded that I had to do this. What followed was a yearlong process of fundraising, Skype dates with Scott, arranging, rearranging, then undoing what was rearranged, writing , and emailing voice memos before we knew that everything was in place for tracking. Vocal tracking took place across four sessions (about 7 hours each), and those were funny, stretching, humbling, entertaining days with those guys. By January of 2014 we had a mastered EP. We held a soft release in our home town of Fort Wayne to gauge response in late February and got a great response. And here we are approaching the official release of a project (May 1st) that as I review the whole process of everything I cannot help but see the favor of the Lord on all of it. What a blessing.
Hallels: You are currently the worship leader at Liquid Church in Fort Wayne, how did you feel called to this ministry?
Mike: Few things in life are no brainers and being involved with Liquid Church was one of those things for me. We are an intimate, organic community. My first encounter with Liquid was in 2006 when I visited as a young worship leader. I encountered the spirit of the Lord and from that point on I considered Liquid a sort of home, even when I left Fort Wayne to attend Bethel College in South Bend, IN. During my time at Bethel, I served in several local churches but always knew Liquid was my home church. I knew I could serve and use my talents in a lot of places but Liquid was one place where I didn't have to lead and could get fed through a pastor. The pastor, Tom Foster, was a spiritual leader to me first and his interest in my leading worship came after his passion to see me live a kingdom life. In fact, he developed me as a worship leader while I was still a young man in the congregation. In 2012, I became the serving worship leader and I assumed the position joyfully. I serve a fundamental charismatic community that is centered on truth and passionate about allowing the spirit of God manifest Himself as we live it out.
Hallels: You also have a ministry as a martial arts instructor, that's pretty unusual. Can you tell us more about it?
Mike: I was raised in a single parent home: a dad and four sons. As with most young boys, our way of playing together was wrestling with each other. When I was five, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debuted in 1993 and my brothers and I fell in love with a guy named Ken Shamrock, a UFC Hall of Famer. This led to our involvement in kung fu, followed by wrestling, jiujtsu and kickboxing, in that order. In 2005, my brothers got involved fighting professionally, and I even though I was doing music, I still tagged along. I became a sparring partner for them and a year later we began training in my dad's garage. About the time we had fifteen people packing into a two car garage three nights a week we realized that we needed to go public, so the progression of business was really natural. Now, nine years after our start in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), I am much more involved in the training process. I officially manage the fighters from our gym, assess fight tape, develop game plans, and corner guys. An important thing to understand is that our ministry is not orthodox. My brothers and I don't run a gym to get fighters to go to church. We understand Mixed Martial Arts and we are madly in love with Jesus. Our guys know where we stand and sooner or later they are going to need prayer for something, or need to talk about a problem or issue. Fighters are athletes who compete in a combat sport and usually there are some broken pieces. In order to fight, a lot of guys go to a pretty lonely place. My brothers and I have found that we can minister to them by just listening and offering spiritual advice.
Hallels: If our readers would like to purchase this new EP or find out more about you, where can they go?
Mike: 'Awakening Hearts' will release on all online music outlets, including iTunes.com and Amazon.com. More information is available on Mikeleemusic.com, Facebook.com/mikeleeband, or on twitter @Mikeleemusic. Thanks for having me!