I first met Josh Yeoh a number of years ago while living in Malaysia, but didn’t get to know the man until a recent trip (when I returned to the country to work on this project). I had never spent much time before in a House of Prayer, but because of my friendship with Josh I had the opportunity to do the very thing in Penang. The experiences were, personally, profound. For many of us the concept of a building dedicated solely to prayer is foreign at very least. If you have the fortune to visit the Penang House of Prayer, affectionately also known as PenHOP, you’re likely to see Mr. Yeoh sitting at the keys, playing, meditating, singing his heart out.
Josh’s work and vocation give a glimpse, for me at least, into what the ancient ministers in the temple must have been like – men like Asaph, appointed by Israel’s King David to continually sing before the ark of the covenant. Or maybe he is more like the man Annie Dillard describes in the incomparable Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the man “on the road who knows precisely how vulnerable he is, who takes no comfort among death-forgetting men, and who carries his vision of vastness and might around in his tunic like a live coal which neither burns nor warms, but with which he will not part.”
I was excited to learn that Josh recorded, and is about to release his second album, entitled In That Day. I interviewed Josh via email, and he thoroughly typed out his thoughts on an iPad from Penang.
Andrew Kooman: I’ve only heard a brief tease of your upcoming album but in it I can hear it goes a very different direction from your previous one. Describe your new sound.
Josh Yeoh: You’re right. It’s pretty different. The first one was a snapshot of my personal journey with God and what He was doing in me at that point in time. It was singer-songwriter and probably more introspective. This upcoming album captures what my life has been like ever since He called me back to Malaysia to start the Penang House of Prayer . I think the message of the CD is what is burning with urgency on my heart. It’s the understanding that Jesus is coming back as a Bridegroom, King and Judge. He’s not just the little baby in the manger, or the dead man on the cross. He’s jealous and zealous for His Bride, the Church. And He will receive the reward of His suffering. I think this “new sound” you mentioned reflects the heart and message of the album. It’s definitely a bigger sound. And I was privileged to have some of my closest friends play on this album with me. And it reflects what happens on a daily basis in the Prayer Room at PenHOP (albeit a lot more rehearsed and with fewer mistakes!). This album is definitely more congregation-friendly. But there are still a couple tracks that are reminiscent of the first CD. Yep, I’m still Josh. I still have a soft spot for the piano and cello combo.
AK: Will you be touring the album or playing gigs? How can people connect to you live?
JY: There will be four release concerts this month in Penang. Three at local churches, and one an invite-only event at PenHOP, where many of the songs were birthed [details on the website]. My full-time vocation is with the House of Prayer, so any “gigs” I have will probably be tied into speaking engagements or worship leading. I’ll be in Australia and Singapore for a few weeks in January, in Sabah (East Malaysia) in February, and in Indonesia in May next year. No “gigs” lined up as of now, but who knows? I’ll be updating my ministry page on the website with my schedule, so that’s the best way to connect. It’s also the best way to invite me to minister, or speak, or sing, or for dinner.
AK: How would you say that have you grown and developed as an artist since your previous album?
JY: Man, you don’t ask easy questions, AK! Part of my job now involves me leading worship and intercession sets for many hours in a week. In addition I’m leading worship nearly every weekend, whether at FGA Center or at different ministry engagements. And a lot of what I do now in worship is spontaneous. So you could say that I’m always writing new songs. Some are sung only once, some I remember and flesh out into full songs. So I think I’ve grown in terms of songwriting. And also vocally. I’m learning to do things that I never did in my previous album.
I’ve also been involved in several collaborative projects in Malaysia: with Oops! Asia (my song “Relent” was featured on a compilation album) and with Malaysian Gospel Music (for the recently released “Adore” album, I recorded a revamped version of arguably the most popular Malaysian worship song, “Everytime I Pray” written by Pastor Wah Lok). So I’ve spent a lot more time in studios working with different producers and learning the tricks of the trade from them. You’ll notice what I call the “Josh choir” on some of the tracks in this new album. No, I didn’t have female backing vocalists. I also got to work with Sam who taught me a lot about recording.
AK: Who are some of your musical influences?
JY: I never know how to answer this, especially if I list influences that my album sounds nothing like. I literally just looked on my iPhone to see what is loaded, because what I listen to most probably is what influences me, right? By that logic, my musical influences are: Phil Wickham, Cory Asbury, Ben Woodward, Jon Foreman, Starfield, Audrey Assad and Sufjan Stevens. My music probably sounds nothing like some of them… but I really like their music.
AK: What was the process like to write these new songs? Where did they come from and why these songs now?
JY: The process was different for each. I never know what to say when people ask if I write the melody first or the lyric or both. Many of the songs were birthed spontaneously in the Prayer Room. “Song of the Lamb” for example, was birthed during a packed out Friday Night Burn set in our old place. I remember it being a very powerful time of worship and it was like we were standing before the throne of God, and I “heard” this refrain: “I can hear heaven’s symphony resounding in worship to the Lamb who was slain”. And we just started singing that over and over for a good 20 minutes. “There Will Be A Day / Garden” were both birthed when I was doing a devotional set (soaking type worship). It was just me at the keys and I think there were two other people in the room. And I was singing from Revelation 22, and all of a sudden started to sing this chorus: “There will be a day when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes”. And as I sang I suddenly became aware that the other two people were bawling their eyes out as they encountered God. Ironic? Or poignant.
AK: Why these songs now?
JY: Great question. It was right after we had wrapped up our 168 Hours of Prayer in June when I felt it was the right time to make this CD. Of course, I had an internal argument with God about this because this was also the height of busyness in my life. To add to the “pressure”, I felt like the deadline for the CD was to be in November. Which gave us about 3 months to pull everything together. Ridiculous. But I like your question because I did feel an urgency in my heart for these songs to be released. I think there is a message in each song — I joke that each song is really a sermon in disguise — and each is rooted in Scripture that I hope as people sing will reveal Jesus rightly and inspire worship, because I believe worship is really a response to the revelation of who He is! Also, I think I had read or heard someone say — I think it was Bill Johnson… and if it wasn’t, then it was me — that what we sing in worship often shapes our theology, and where we want the Church to be in five years is what we should be singing today. Ok, that was a poor paraphrase. But you get the idea.
AK: What’s your day-to-day life like? (A lot of people don’t know or haven’t experienced life at an “intercessory mission” like the Penang House of Prayer). Can you describe what PenHOP does and why you do what you do?
JY:In a nutshell, PenHOP’s vision is to establish a 24/7 House of Prayer for all nations in the spirit of the tabernacle of David that is a nexus of worship, intercession and missions. (I speak on this all the time and it usually takes a couple of hours, so summarizing is going to be… fun!) I believe PenHOP is called to exist with the Church and for the Church — like an engine room that powers what He is doing in the City, and like the tip of a spear that pierces and breaks through the new things. In this season, we are called to “Awaken the Bride” to intimacy, intercession and her inheritance in Jesus, and one of the ways we have been doing that is through our 30 Hour Prayer Weekends that we hold in a different church each month.
We really want to raise the water level of worship and intercession in the city of Penang. We also run internships a couple of times a year that have been really life-changing for a lot of people. And our strategy in this season is to “spark and strengthen” what He is doing in Malaysia and in the region, so we’ve been sending teams to various places to “deposit” the DNA of the House of Prayer wherever He leads us!
My day-to-day life involves leading worship and intercession, leading people, and drinking lots of coffee. I get to serve as Director at PenHOP and so I guess I end up “directing” a lot of what goes into achieving everything I described in the paragraph above. But definitely it involves a lot of coffee. And a lot of the Holy Spirit. And coffee.
AK: Why do prayer and music blend so well and why do you think people are drawn to your house of prayer?
JY: I think it’s because it’s how God likes to be worshiped. Look at what you see around the throne of God. It’s Revelation 5:8. It’s the harp AND the bowl. I was just reading the other day about how prayer is the full spectrum of human expressions to God (Bob Sorge) and that encapsulates worship, thanksgiving, intercession, confession, etc. So I really don’t see a division between prayer and worship/music. We have an entire book of prayers that were written to music — the Psalms. So really, I don’t think we are reinventing the wheel or anything. We’re just doing what always preceded revival and nation transformation.
What draws people to PenHOP, in a word… or in four words… The presence of God. If we don’t have His presence, we have nothing.
AK: I don’t know if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, but it could be your autobiography. (Insert laughter here). You’re probably fast approaching 10,000 hours at the piano. How do you keep worship and intercession fresh?
JY: That awkward moment when I don’t know who you are referring to. But I just wikipedia-ed it and now I think I will need to get a copy for myself. Maybe as a Christmas gift. Funny story about the piano. My keyboard at home won’t turn on, I think something got fried. And the keyboard we bought for PenHOP just a few months ago — I think we may have broken the “A” key. So it makes obnoxiously loud noises every so often. Highly distracting. Ok, so that wasn’t a very funny story.
I think about the creatures around the throne whose primary function is to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. And if they never get bored and never cease to cry “Holy” because you can never really exhaust the revelation of God… I don’t see how worship and intercession could ever get stale, if it’s rooted in beholding Him, and not in what we can get out of worship for ourselves.
AK: I’m wondering what sort of cultural legacy you hope Penhop will leave in your part of the world?
JY: I got to ride in my aunt’s Prius recently and it occurred to me that this is what I want to see most of people who are a part of PenHOP. Because of the nexus of worship, intercession and missions, I want to see a “hybrid” where the answer to questions like: “Are you a worship leader, intercessor, or missionary?” is “Yes, yes and yes”. I would also love to say that we had a hand in raising the level of worship and intercession, calling a generation to wholehearted abandonment and consecration, and turning the hearts of the generations. Sounds like a lot, eh? And perhaps not what you were really asking…
AK: I’ve asked other musician friends recording albums about how they find and pursue an authentic voice and I wonder if it is especially challenging when dropping a worship CD. What, to you, is authentic worship and how do you gauge authenticity in your own life?
JY: When I talk to worship teams, I always tell them that greatness is established not on stage, but in the secret place. And I think that’s the key to authenticity. God brought (broke) me to the place where the cliche of “performing before the Audience of One” became reality. So the way I gauge is to determine if my secret place life with the Father and what I do on stage or when leading matches up.
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Visit his official website: www.JoshuaOneEight.com
Read more of AK’s interviews with artists, activists and bold thinkers here.