Up Close and Personal With Ashmont Hill
Heed had the opportunity to chat with Ashmont Hill, a Boston-based gospel quartet, about the release of their third album, “The Maze.” Prior to this meeting, we were familiar with their song “Love Lifted Me,” as it is pretty popular amongst church choirs, but didn’t really know much more. What is obvious, however, is the group’s unwavering commitment to singing about the unadulterated love of God–a love that is so incomprehensible that it is virtually unfathomable to the human mind.
After sitting down with two of the four members, April Joy Thompson, and Phil Thompson (sister Deborah Bullock was nine months pregnant at the time of the interview, and husband Will was home being attentive and supportive), we got a better picture of why the group sings with such conviction. There’s an anointing on this group, from the way the lyrics are inspired and crafted, to the beautiful voices through which they are delivered. Allow us to introduce you to Ashmont Hill.
Heed Magazine: Tell us about Ashmont Hill.
April: We are a family group – three siblings, and Deborah’s husband is Will. Our father is a bishop in Boston, and one time he was preaching, and asked us to sing before he preached. We’d sung together as a family before – at family reunions, and church, and around the house- but that was the first time the four of us sung together. It was something magical, and really anointed and powerful, and we decided we wanted to do something together, and that was the inception. We talked about a name, and our dad wanted us to call ourselves the “Bishop’s Kids,” which might have worked if we were younger.
Phil: But even from the beginning as kids, he would wake us up for 5am devotions, worship and reading the Word, and even though at that time we wanted to sleep at 5am, he instilled in us that this [Christian walk] is a lifestyle. Around that time, I started writing songs. I’d been writing songs for about six months to a year before that, but didn’t really know why I was writing them.
April: Our older sister Teresa, also a pastor, spoke a sermon about remembering your childhood dreams. And she challenged you, Phil. Phil used to always sit down and make up songs for us to memorize our vocabulary. He’d make up raps and songs. He worked as a physical education teacher for 10 years, and wasn’t really pursing that dream, but Teresa challenged him to write a song. The very first song he wrote is “Your Right Hand,” on “Ashmont Hill.”
Heed Magazine: So, we were going to ask you all how you met, but we know how you met…in the same house, with the same parents. So, how would you describe your sound?
Phil: Our sound is a collaboration of what we grew up listening to – the Winans, Commissioned, the Clark Sisters, etc. If you start playing a Clark Sisters, Winans or Commissioned song, we’ll go in right now. But then, as we started to get older, we began to appreciate worship music as a whole. We appreciate Michael W. Smith, Hillsong, and other artists we started to feel. Our sound doesn’t really have a color, because worship is that universal sound. You do hear the gospel sound, and the Contemporary Christian music (CCM) sound, and it’s a marriage of the two.
Heed Magazine: I feel like often the difference between the types of music is the drums, or the way the guitar is played. There is a very, very fine line between the different types of music.
Phil: It’s so fine, because when you listen to Tye Tribbett’s new music, those guitars are blaring. And you listen to certain songs, and it’s a CCM sound. It’s not like we invented this. Israel [Houghton] has been doing this.
Heed Magazine: Who are some of your musical inspirations?
April: Cece Winans is my all-time favorite. I love her! And Darlene Zschech from Hillsong, has amazing worship and writing. I’ll also say the Clark Sisters, and the Winans, Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Commissioned. I’ve always looked up to the gospel greats.
Phil: Musically, my taste is similar. But I also have writers that I study, like John Mayer, and Gungor, and Marvin Winans, who doesn’t get enough credit for the writing he’s done, and Israel – there are so many great writers who are inspirational. Recently, I’ve been going crazy on Paul Simon’s writing.
Heed Magazine: So you’ve recently released your third album. What are some of your favorite tracks and why?
April: I’d say one of my favorites is “I Believe.” It’s a song that Phil and Zenzo [Matoga} wrote , and if an unbeliever sings the words and believes them, he or she can become a believer. It’s Romans 10: 9 and 10 set to music. It’s the Gospel message put to music in such a powerful way. It’s a creed almost, saying what we believe – this is who we are, and this is what we believe. [It says] “I believe you are the Christ, I believe you died and rose again. I believe you’re alive.” So, that’s one of my favorite tracks, and my dad does a sermonette in the middle of the song, which is really cool. And then there’s another song, of a few, is “Grace Like a Flood,” which is an amazing song talking about God’s grace always being there for us, and it just keeps falling on us whenever we need it.
Phil: I can just say my favorite, and the one I listen to the most in this season of my life is “If I Had Wings.” The lyrics are “I know you’re here, but I can’t see you and feel you like before. I was so strong, but now I’m waning and I’m grasping for something to hold through this bitter cold.” We are so used to singing these worship songs, where we’re lifting up His name, and we’re so used to being so cheerful. But then, when I showed the group this song in the very beginning, it was like, you know what there are people going through things, as well.
April: We all have seasons in our lives.
Phil: The chorus says “If I had wings, then I would fly away,” and it’s just what was on my heart at that time. I didn’t really write it to be on the project, but we all agreed that it could touch somebody, and it touches me. The end of the song says “you are my wings, in you I can fly away and say hallelujah.” It shows that there’s hope.
Heed Magazine: Ok, we need to listen to that one again. Now, if you weren’t singing, what would you be doing?
Phil: I was a P.E. teacher, and I taught for ten years. And then I left P.E., not to do music, but to do real estate full-time. I have a love for real estate, and flipping houses. I know this is what God has called me to do, and I’m all-in on this, but if I wasn’t doing music it would be real estate.
April: I’ve been singing since I was two! My first church solo was three years old. If I wasn’t singing, I’d still be in the ministry. I was ordained as a pastor about five years ago, and I’ve always been in ministry, and mentoring children. I’m about to go back and get a master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling. I do a lot of counseling now, so it would be great to have more resources. I love seeing the lives of young people change. I’m afforded the opportunity to also be a stay-at-home mom. So, I’m a pastor, but I also get to stay home with my two-year-old and three-year-old sons – they keep me busy. I’m also three months pregnant now, so I’d be home with my kids, which is my primary job. My family is my first ministry. I’d also be in full-time ministry, I just wouldn’t be able to sing.
Heed Magazine: Musically, where do you see yourselves in five years?
Phil: I know that I will be in music ministry in some form. I just know that there’s a gift that God has given me, and I can’t ignore it. I know that God has given me this gift to write songs, and to bless people with them. So whether I’m doing this [Ashmont Hill], or writing songs for other artists, I know that I will still be writing.
April: Same. I would love for Ashmont Hill to still be relevant, and continuing to minister and travel. I am also one of the ministers of music at our church, and standing on a stage on Sunday and leading worship is my passion. What we do when we’re on the road with Ashmont Hill is just an extension of that. The vision of our church is a church without walls. Church is not really the building, it’s the people. Five years from now, I will be on stage in front of people, leading them into God’s presence, whether it’s at Jubilee [church], or even an expansion of my worship ministry.
Phil: When April steps on stage, immediately there’s an anointing, and you know this is what she was called to do. [With] certain people, they’re trying to lead worship, and they’re good at it, but it doesn’t mean they’re anointed. And I don’t try to judge anyone’s anointing, but when April steps on stage, everyone feels it.
Heed Magazine: I think it’s harder to tell when it’s [anointing] not there, but it’s easy to tell when it’s there.
Heed Magazine: Someone can sound amazing, but when it’s [anointing] there, everyone is just slain in the spirit.
Phil: It’s not about talent, but when April steps up there, the anointing is there.
Heed Magazine: Is there anything else you want to tell us?
Phil: We have a new website, AshmontHillMusic.com. We have a video coming out for “Grace Like a Flood.” We just finished collaboration with Zenzo Matoga. We just finished a united night of worship in Boston, where over 10,000 people gathered to worship, which is historic. In Boston, like New York, it can be rare to meet people who believe in God. Ashmont Hill got to be a part of that, and we sang “Love Lifted Me,” and “Fill this Temple.” And it was just so good to be a part of what God is doing in our city.
Heed Magazine: We do have one more question. You have named artists who have been inspirational to you all. Who are some people you haven’t worked with, but would be interested in working with in the future?
Phil: We just worked with Micah Stampley on this last album. We’ve been friends for a while, but we’ve always been fans.
April: Of course I’m going to say Cece Winans. It would be a dream come true to work with Fred Hammond. It would be cool to work with the Winans.
Phil: I’m huge on Tye Tribbett. He’s just such a genius.
April: Leland is also really cool. We sing a lot of their songs at Jubilee. I also had an opportunity to work with Israel [Houghton], and did a duet with him on Freeda Battle’s “Temple Worshippers.’ So, if Israel wants to get together with Ashmont Hill, that would be cool.
Heed Magazine: Well, you’ve answered all of the questions we had, and some we thought of on the spot. Thank you so much.
Phil & April: Thank you.
Photos courtesy of Ashmont Hill’s Facebook