Jacob Villalobos and brothers Matthew and Michael Paul León admit that many times pressure allows them to work more efficiently and effectively.But when they are challenged as they were a year ago when commissioned to compose the 2011 Religious Education Congress theme song, what really helps the three youth ministers remain calm and creative is prayer. 

“In some ways pressure limits us regarding the fullness the song can reach, but it allows our spirit and our prayer to be challenged,” declared Michael Paul.

Writing the theme song was not an easy task, due mainly to time constraints and juggling with their daily jobs, parenthood (Jacob and Matthew have two kids each) and marriage responsibilities, but the members of the Jacob and Matthew Band came up with “People Rise Up!”, a bilingual song included in their latest album, “Trust,” released in 2011. 

Its lyrics include the following:

“Nos mantenemos libres poniendo nuestra confianza en ti. Los corazones se abren dejando que nos renueve tu amor.” (“We remain free putting our trust in you. Hearts open up, letting your love renew us.”)

“We had to create something and we said, ‘We’ll do it,’ and throughout the whole process of getting in and out of the studio and making sure the songs are written in the short period of time they needed to get written, we had to put a lot of trust not in ourselves but really in what God was calling us to do, to share more music,” said Jacob, band co-founder with his buddy Matt.

Having led worship and entertaining at Congress since 2004, the Jacob and Matthew Band will perform (with Danielle Rose) live March 25 during lunchtime entertainment at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena (as well as on Youth Day March 22).

Source of inspirationIn a friendly conversation last week at Matthew’s home, the three band members shared their struggles, challenges and the band’s history while Matthew (lead vocals/singer songwriter) prepared coffee, Michael Paul (electric guitar) ate his mid-morning Greek yogurt, and Jacob (guitar/singer songwriter) calmly checked his smart phone once in a while, especially when asked about his favorite (Jacob and Matthew) song.

But before all of them revealed their favorites (“All I Need,” “I Will Follow,” “Desire” and “Glorious Lord”), they talked about their source of inspiration and provided a bit of their story.

“A year ago, in the middle of the recession we were noticing a lot of desperation in this country,” said Michael Paul. “People were worried about paying for their homes, about retirement, and in my parish several teens moved to other cities because their parents couldn’t afford living in the same area they had been living.

“We fall into sin because we start to look for things that are immediate. When you don’t have the patience to wait for a revelation in your life, you start reaching for other things that are not of God.”

Those were life experiences behind the lyrics of “All I Need”: 

“There is a hunger, there is a need. There is a yearning deep inside of me … You are all I need. All of me for all of you. Nothing else will ever do.”

In their teenage years, both Michael Paul and his brother Matthew struggled to find comfort. 

Although coming from a tight-knit Catholic family of eight members, where their father Marcus Gregory, a theologian and philosopher, spoke about faith to them, they had to search and find it by themselves.

“In life, things happen that are out of our control and we’re challenged and we come out short,” said Matthew. “And sometimes you get lost, confused.”

But he kept searching, and finally one day got back to Church and at the time of Communion “everything started changing for me,” he said.

“Something just clicked that day for me and at that moment I felt at peace; at home.”

Music had always been part of the Leóns environment. The parents and oldest siblings already participated in church choirs, which inspired Matthew and Michael Paul to follow their footsteps, but it was not until Matthew met Jacob that they moved to another level.

Jacob was already involved in the music ministry at his parish, St. Hilary in Pico Rivera. A “self-taught” guitar player who at 16 was hired to play with the worship team, he was assigned the theme song for a weekend youth retreat. Together with his buddy Mike Girardina (parish lead singer), they wrote the song, “Saint in the Making.”

But a couple of days before the retreat, Girardina fell sick and Villalobos had to seek an immediate replacement. 

Matthew came to mind. He knew he could sing. In previous years he had invited Villalobos to be part of their school choir, and he is also the brother of St. Hilary’s worship leader, Marissa León.

As they introduced the song, they knew right then and there that it would not be the last time they would sing together. That was in 1999.

The song was a hit among retreat participants and it eventually gained popularity as they were asked to play it in different youth events. Then people started requesting CDs of the song, which eventually led to more songs and to the 2009 CD “Universal.”

For the first two years it was only the two musicians playing, so it came natural and “personal” to use their own names, Jacob and Matthew. 

The third year they asked Michael Paul to join as well as a bass player and a drummer. Thus was born the Jacob and Matthew Band.

“We never ambitioned this type of popularity,” admits Michael Paul. Whenever they are in a plane, they have to pinch themselves to make sure it is all real, they smiled.

“Despite our shortcomings, God has pushed us in a larger forum and to travel to different countries,” he said.

They travel two or three weekends a month to different parts of the country performing mostly in Catholic settings. 

“There’s always something booked,” said their booking agent Alma León. In the next months they will be performing in Chicago and Baltimore. 

“Our goal is to serve,” said the musicians. “If people leave our concerts knowing a little bit more about Christ, our job is done.”

For more information about the Religious Education Congress, visit www.RECongress.org or email  HYPERLINK "mailto:[email protected]" [email protected]. To learn more about the music of Jacob and Matthew, visit www.wlp.jspaluch.com. 

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