Joel Vaughn is the artist with the powerful voice behind the amazing album, Surrender (you can read the TBAP review of Surrender here). I’m delighted to have him stop by on TBAP today to let us know more about the person behind the album, as well as the story that led to his career which began in 2005. Follow our chat below!
Miranda ~ Hello Joel! Glad to have you visit TBAP today. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Joel: Hi! Thanks for having me! Well, for starters, I’m a Christian recording artist based out of Nashville, TN. I grew up around a lot of music. My mom was a worship leader, and we were a very musical family. Over the past 12+ years I’ve led worship for many congregations, and traveled the United States sharing my story and my music. There’s never a dull moment!
Miranda ~ How did you become a Christian? Tell us your story!
Joel: I remember that longing in my soul for something more even before I knew how to tie my own shoes! One Wednesday evening in the spring of 1992 in Amory, Mississippi, I asked my mom if she would walk with me to the altar so I could give my life to Jesus. She walked to the altar with me, prayed with me, and I prayed to God for salvation. I vividly remember the change in my heart. Some people may think that it’s crazy, or that it was too early for me to know at 6 years old, but I felt the Holy Spirit in that moment in a way I will never forget. I don’t remember the exact day of the month. But I remember the blue sky before walking into the building, the time of worship and that we sang “Create in me a clean heart,” the color of the carpet, the smell of the air in the building, the feel of the rickety old Church pews, and the tears that ran down my mother’s face when she prayed that prayer with me. That was the day.
Miranda ~ When exactly can you say music became a part of your life? When did you decide to become a professional?
Joel: Music has always been a part of my life. I don’t really know when I started to become a professional because, this is what I’ve always done. I just have a different platform now. I kind of knew the path that I would take very early in my life. God gives each of us gifts, and mine were pretty clear to me when I was just a 7-year-old kid singing special songs in Church. However, I think the defining moment for me was one summer at youth camp in 2001. It sounds cliché, but I was going through a rough time as a teenager. We had moved twice and more than 1000 miles within 6 months. I didn’t know anyone except three people at this youth camp, and none of us saw the other very much the entire week. I didn’t want to be there, but I didn’t want to go back home either (whatever home meant at the time). One of the last nights of the camp, I was standing in the back of the outdoor amphitheater when I noticed a man walking up to me from my peripherals. I was pretty shy, and I was just trying to keep a low profile and not be noticed, which ironically, made me stick out. I know the Holy Spirit led that man to me that night because he spoke words to me that I’ll never forget. While worship was happening in the front, I was standing in the back of the room with my hands in my pockets. The man touched my arm to get my attention, and then I turned to look at him. He had tears in his eyes, and he looked straight into mine and said, “I don’t know who you are or what you’re going through, but God told me to tell you that everything is going to be okay, and that He is going to use you to do something mighty for His kingdom. I don’t know what that is, but I had to come tell you.” This man knew nothing about me, my situation at home, or anything about my talents. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. That’s the year I began to take singing seriously. And by 2005, I had started leading a group of 350+ students in corporate worship at the University I attended.
Miranda ~ Did any experience in particular incline you towards Christian music instead of secular?
Joel: As a preteen, I always thought it would be cool to be a part of an all-male vocal group… okay, I’ll call it what it is, “boy band.” It was 1997, and they were cool back then, right!? Anyway, I knew in my heart that it wasn’t what God had intended for me, even if it sounded cool to me. Not to go into detail, but there were many trials and difficulties early on in my life that pointed me to Christ. Sometimes, it felt like my faith in God was all I had in the most difficult times. So, naturally, I wrote and sang about the grace and mercy God showed me, through every difficult time. I look back and I know that even though there were things that happened in my life that were awful, God used those moments to humble and prepare me for what I’m doing now. That might sound dark or bleak, but hindsight is 20/20. So my natural response is to worship God in the face of adversity. He led me through all of it, and I’m thankful for it. I think that’s what led me to this industry.
Miranda ~ How would you describe your early days into the industry? What lessons did you learn that have kept you afloat till now?
Joel: I still feel like I’m early in my career even though I’ve been doing this since 2005! It might sound vague, but the one thing that I can truly say that has been consistent and kept me afloat, is my trust and dependence on God. I made many mistakes early on, and one of them was choosing to trust myself and my own willpower. You can’t go through life steamrolling ahead on your own without eventually crashing. It’s good to know that I have a gracious savior that’s always ready to dust me off when I do. I’m hoping I get this wisdom and discernment thing down eventually!
Miranda ~ Your lyrics are deep and can be termed organic. How do you get inspired to write and, is it the lyrics before the music or the music before the lyrics?
Joel: Thank you for the compliment! I have a lifetime of inspiration even though I’ve only been on this planet since 1986! But seriously, I get inspired by stories of grace and redemption. It’s hard not to write and sing about the God who saved you and brought you out of the slavery of sin and shame. These days, it’s a lot easier because I get to co-write songs with some incredibly talented people who have a different story and perspective than I do.
On the second half of the question, it depends. Sometimes I have lyrics ready to go; sometimes it’s just a few chords on my instrument that I write lyrics to; and other times, I go into the studio with my friends and with nothing, but we create a full song with tracks in about 2-3 hours.
Miranda ~ Do you have a separate career as a songwriter and, how do you balance being a singer and songwriter if both careers are separate?
Joel: I don’t know if I would call it a second career at this point, but I will definitely say I am always writing. I never really stop. If you have to separate the two, then that would be when you are primarily the songwriter and not the performing artist. That’s a tricky one for a lot of us creative people. For me at this point, I don’t separate them because I write/co-write most of my songs. For me, they are one and the same.
Miranda ~ In my review of your album, Surrender, I donned your music as the “Vaughn Style” being as you successfully merged pop music and R&B in such a unique way. Any comments on that?
Joel: To me, that is the highest form of flattery! THANK YOU! Haha. But seriously, in my formative years, the music that shaped my style as an artist were Pop and R&B music from artists like Boyz II Men, and, yes, the epitome of boy band music back then—the Backstreet Boys. It feels good to just let that out! No matter what the genre of music is, I’m always drawn to the vocalist. I love listening to a good singer! The “voice” is my favorite instrument. If I’ve developed a style, it’s from the constant exposure to my favorite singers and musical influences.
Miranda ~ Are you presently working on a new project or collaborating with any other artists?
Joel: I just finished this project, and I’m not on the slate to collaborate with anyone at the moment, but you never know what could happen. After my last answer, my potential collaborators might run and hide! Just kidding, I think…
Miranda ~ What do you believe a Christian music artist can add to the world?
Joel: I don’t feel like I have anything fully satisfying and tangible that’s worth sharing besides the hope that we have in salvation through Jesus. Music is just the vehicle I use to bring people there. I love a pretty voice and good, solid music that will stand the test of time, in both the mainstream and Christian industries; but music that draws people to redemption is something special to me. It sounds dramatic. But sometimes, something as simple as a song can be the one thing that saves a person’s life. I know of quite a few songs that kept me going when things were very difficult in my life. I believe the answer is hope, and I want to keep sharing that same hope in Jesus that others shared with me.
Miranda ~ What would you like to see change in the Christian music industry?
Joel: My response to anything I like or dislike is to pray for those individuals or situations, and hope those people are doing the same for me. I want to see our industry grow together for a united purpose of bringing people to Christ, and I think the people who are in this industry feel the same way. We are all in constant need of improvement. Thankfully, we have grace from God.
Miranda ~ Can you say there’s a difference between the secular and Christian music industries—if so, how are they different?
Joel: If I knew more about the mainstream music industry, I could tell you. I don’t, so I would probably give an uninformed answer. The end goal of Christian music, which is to share about the grace and love of Jesus, makes them different. However, I do think they are very much the same in that music serves as way to bring people of all walks of life together. Music is powerful!
Miranda ~ Who are the people that have inspired you the most in life and in music? How have they done so?
Joel: That’s a tough question! There are a lot! The closest to that for me would be Rich Mullins. His music impacted me from the start. Before I could memorize specific hymns, I remember singing “Awesome God” almost every week in Church and jamming out to his song, “Creed,” in the car on the way home from Church. In a lot of ways, I think he shifted the culture in the Christian industry in the early 90’s. He was different and kind of a renegade. I don’t aspire to be different or to go against the grain of the industry like Rich Mullins did, but his life inspires me. His songs point me to the depravity of my humanity, but even closer to the hope I have in Jesus.
Miranda ~ What are you most grateful for—generally and right now?
Joel: I’m grateful to God for my life, and so very grateful for my wife and kids. They are absolutely amazing. It’s an easy answer because it’s very true.
Miranda ~ What advice would you offer to a person who believes music is their calling and just starting out in the industry?
Joel: Excellent question! I believe our calling is to lead people to Jesus and to grow in our relationship with him. If you have that mindset, then go for it and persevere! It’s not an easy road for most of us, but the joy from doing what you know you were created to do, is like no other. Be open to criticism from a few trusted individuals, but don’t center your life around pleasing people either. There’s nothing worse than living a life worrying what people think about you all the time. Invest in the generation behind you, and hand the torch off to them when it is time. Spend more time with your family than you do on the stage! Finally, who you are isn’t what you do. With or without the pretty voice, the amazing guitar prowess, drum chops, or whatever, you are first a child of God.
THIS or THAT (The Fun Questions!)
Coffee or Tea? Coffee!!! Every time.
Gym or Outdoor? Both! Do they have to be exclusive?
Snickers or Boots? Wait what? Are we talking about candy bars? If so Snickers!
Running or Walking? Running—at least until I huff and puff until I pass out from eating too many snickers.
Cereal or Fruit? Cereal and milk.
Music or Books? Music!
TV or Magazine? I actually enjoy both!
Summer or Spring? Both!
Rain or Snow? Rain!
Blazer or Leather Jacket? Depends on the occasion I suppose, but leather!
Thank you, Joel, for visiting today!
About Joel Vaughn
Joel Vaughn is a singer/songwriter based out of Nashville, TN. Growing up in the South, Joel was influenced by many different genre’s but none were closer to his heart than pop and contemporary music. Joel started singing in his local church at the age of seven and he has kept going ever since. Known as “the singer” of an all-musical family, Joel originally taught himself to play guitar at age 14, simply to keep up with his siblings, all of whom played instruments. But his love of playing didn’t stop at guitar, and he also decided to pick up the drums and piano as well. By the time he was a high-school senior, he was writing songs & playing whatever musical instruments he could get his hands on.
Joel studied at West Texas A&M University, and he began to lead worship for student ministries and churches in the area. Over the last 12 years as a worship leader in Texas, he has released three independent albums. All of these albums featured the rock and worship styles that he grew up with, but as he continued to progress, his music began to mature and he began to create songs that leaned more toward the contemporary pop genre.
While his label debut EP, Kinetic showed Joel in a whole new light garnering his first top 20 Billboard Christian Hot AC / CHR single for “Wide Awake,” his sophomore release, Surrender shows an even more evolved sound—with deeper lyrics, soaring vocals, and haunting melodies.
His southern drawl, humility, and nice boy looks remind you where he comes from, but his sound will show the world where Joel Vaughn is headed. Settling in to deeper and modern music —Joel’s voice truly shines and it is clear that he is home.