It’s only been two years since Tauren Wells took home his Dove Award for Best New Artist, but what a two years it’s been. In that time, Wells has watched the world change the same as we all have, and he’s done his best to stay true to his own art in the middle of it. 2020’s Citizen of Heaven finds his pop sensibilities all the sharper, churning out his unique brand of timeless, retro-influenced jams that feel both classic and current, while forefronting his message of faith. It’s no mean feat.
RELEVANT caught up with Wells over a Zoom call to talk about the kind of music he makes, getting namechecked by Steph Curry and his counter-intuitive calling.
How are you handling quarantine starting to lift?
I’m not in a hurry to reacclimate to the culture, but I really think it’s more we’ve reverse-engineered ourselves where we’re not really going out. I used to feel like, well, we need to go somewhere to eat. Now I’m like, “Well, I can just get a turkey sandwich.” I’ve readjusted to a different way of living.
Your music sits in an interesting place between timeless and timely.
I think about how long songs live. I know that our culture is super into finding the next thing, but my approach so far with my music has been counter-cultural. We just take our time and believe in the songs.
My hope is that the content I’m blessed to produce outlasts the trends. It’s this unique balance of making music that’s relevant and sonically competitive with every other genre but that has so much weight in what is being said that it outlives some of the new pop. There have been artists in mainstream genres, obviously, that have given us songs that have withstood decades. What I’m trying to do is make music that my kids listen to in 20 years, and they’re like, “Dang, this was good, good for my soul.”
So you don’t mind if it’s not the absolute coolest music in the room.
What I’m more focused on right now is not being cool, honestly. I think cool is a very small room, and not a lot of people get it or get access to it. I want to make stuff that hits you on a soul level. I’m going to dig out something from deep inside of me, and that’s going to be what sticks.
You don’t feel called to chase trends?
I think ultimately with me, beyond being a songwriter or a musician or artist or whatever, I feel like that’s just one piece of what God has called me to do. And there are many other pieces to me being faithful to the mission that he’s called me to. The overarching statement of that for me is to call greatness out of others.
It may sound trite, but I am a product of someone seeing something in me that I was unable to see in myself and that many of the people around me were unable to see. So many of us are living with these ceilings over our lives because people can often only see us how they have seen us. We don’t really get a lot of permission to evolve and to grow and mature and to do things differently and to want to step into different places and broaden different lanes.
I’m trying to have music that resonates with the people who feel like there’s been a low bar that’s been set for their lives and to raise that bar. Now, I just happen to believe that with God, we find our greatest possibility for potential, that when we align our gifts with his purpose, that we see ourselves in the fullest way and we’re able to operate at our full capacity.
Whether it’s a sermon or a song or a conversation or a design, I’m trying to get people to see themselves how God sees them, and that’s how I feel like I’m really going to achieve something. I had difficulty because all of my identity was wrapped up in the things that I did. Then I realized that God really works through us in a few different ways, that within every person there is an identity. There is a calling and there’s an assignment, and our identity doesn’t change. We are sons and daughters of God.
I feel called to call greatness out of others, but the assignment, the expression of that, can change from season to season.
Some people might get nervous around that sort of message. The idea of us making ourselves great, instead of focusing on the greatness of God.
I think it’s extremely arrogant for any human being to believe that our fame could even be considered as a rival to the fame and the glory of God. For God to say, “I’m going to elevate you, or make your name famous or make a nation out of you,” or “Your descendants are going to be like the stars of the heavens,” you’re putting some big expectations over someone.
There is no competition. I mean, you’ll never get close. It’s a different category. It is not possible. So in light of that, let God do every possible thing He can do in and through your life, knowing that it is from Him, it is for Him, it is through Him, but we are going to bring Jesus to the world, and He happens to want to use us to do it. That’s the beautiful thing about it. We get to participate.
It’s been cool to see you getting a lot of love from some surprising sources. Seems like you’ve fans in high places.
I will say for whatever reason, having people like Steph (Curry), like Russell Wilson, like Lionel Richie, like Rascal Flatts, these different people …I’m just thinking of people who have posted publicly about my music. Tori Kelly. I mean, there’s just been amazing support from people who have credibility in other areas of culture. Once these people are more open about their faith, or more open about what they’re listening to or reading, it just adds amazing cultural credibility to what we’re doing, not just to the art but to the message of it. That’s what’s been exciting for me.
I think it speaks a lot to not just the music or anything, but what God is doing right now. He is shining a spotlight on the Gospel, and in America. I think it’s unique because so much is driven through entertainment culture and through sports culture, that of course these would be the places that God is using to elevate His name and His glory for more people to see. And I just think it’s super dope to be a part of. We’re all in the game.
We all have a part to play. I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s only us. It’s we. It’s journalists, radio programmers, editors on Spotify, playlists. It’s trainers that are talking to athletes and agents that are setting up Instagram lives with movie producers. The most amazing thing about the Gospel is that everyone has a place. Everybody has an opportunity to be a part. The people on the sidelines are the people in Heaven. That’s the great cloud of witnesses. You and I get to be in the game and it’s an honor.