LISTEN TO THE ARTIST SPOTLIGHT
Joel Vaughn is an American EDM artist who does worship leading & writes music.
In 60 seconds, could you kind of give us a summary of who Joe Vaughn is?
So I am an American artist. I was born and raised all over the United States. My dad was in the military, so we moved a lot. I started singing in church when I was 7 years old, back when you would sing with to tracks on cassette tape way, way back. And I kind of felt a calling and tugging in the ministry. By the time I was 14 years old, I started playing acoustic guitar and drums with my brother. We led worship together for the youth group and we did these Christian music singing competitions here in the States. And by the time I was 17, I met my wife, who’s now my wife, and we started doing worship together in college. And after that I just kind of started touring regionally all over the United States. So Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado. And it just grew from there. And eventually I was offered a recording contract in 2015 and signed it in 2016 and it kind of took off.
Did you always want to get into music as your full time gig or was there ever another path you were thinking about going down?
I think when I was 4 I thought I wanted to be an engineer just because I like to play with Legos. Then I found out I wasn’t good at maths. I can count to four and to eight really well. And that’s all you need to be a musician. No, I briefly thought about going into the military just to pay for a college education. But the only reason I would have gone into the military was to pay for a college education for music.
So for me, it’s always been the vehicle that I’ve chosen to use to do what I do. So I’ve known since I was 4 years old what I was made to do and what I was meant to do.
You’re part time worship leader with your church. You’re an artist. Do those two worlds come together or is very different to what you do as a solo artist?
Well, I’m not doing as hardcore EDM as I had been doing three or four years ago, so it’s kind of at a happy centre, thankfully. Now, when I lead worship at a church, it’s typically what you would hear in your local church, singing songs like from artists like Bethel or Hillsong or Passion. Like I tended to do songs that I can lead corporately and people can sing along with.
Now, when I go to youth events, that’s where things get a little bit different and they kind of expect that. So it just really depends on the context of what it is I’m doing. If it’s a celebration and in a youth event or some type of other event, then, yeah, we can break out the fun songs and stuff like that. But in context of where I lead worship at, I don’t do those songs. It’d be kind of funny if I saw Grandma just getting down to wide awake.
Do you struggle with these two musical identities?
I think that struggle was something I dealt with in years past, but isn’t as much of a struggle for me now. I guess I’ve been on this planet nearly 35 years, at this point. And in my younger years that was a struggle. How do I reconcile this artist thing with this worship leader thing, and one seems to be more about like a brand and an image. And if you get to know me as a human being, it’s laughable that I even have a “brand or image”. It’s like I poked fun at myself probably more than anyone should. And if you come to a concert of mine, it might be shocking to most people that I am more comfortable with an acoustic guitar in my hands and just talking and just sharing my heart and pouring out my heart what God’s doing in my life right now. And just sharing stories and telling a few jokes that sometimes gets me into trouble. But that’s where I’m most comfortable.
Festivals are very weird for me. I actually haven’t done a whole lot of festivals in the past 2 years because you get a 15 minute snapshot. There’s not a whole lot of time to really proclaim the Gospel and share what’s on your heart. You’re really up there for 15 to 30 minutes, high energy doing that sort of thing. And it’s not to say that I don’t like doing that. I just find that with what the Lord called me to do, I am more comfortable in a space where I can talk about the things that God’s teaching me and telling me. I say all that to say it’s not very hard for me to reconcile those two things because they’re really one in the same. I am just as easily comfortable to start leading a worship song and one of my concerts as I am to sing any of the songs that I’ve written. And I think that people, when they come and they notice that maybe that’s why they keep coming back. Either that or I’m just funny to look at.
Tell us a bit about the heart behind the song ‘I Look to You’
I wrote that in 2017 with my friend Ross King and my friend Carter Froch and programmatically it just ended up being the song that melded those two things together and felt perfectly. I just remember noodling, bringing my guitar to the studio that day. I didn’t have a single idea. Normally when you go into a co-write, you like to have an idea to bring because, it’s rude not to show up with an idea.
I remember showing up to the studio that day. And here’s something that you might think is kind of cool. I wrote half of the last album and I wrote that entire song in Michael Tait’s studio. The other singer for DC Talk, and he would come down every now and then and say hello and that sort of thing. He wasn’t there when we wrote the song.
But I remember coming into the studio in his basement and bringing my guitar and I was just noodling and I said, “Guys, I’m sorry. Like, I just got off the phone with my mom and had the most discouraging conversation I’ve had in a long time. And I just I am not feeling this today”. And I was really worried about my mom that day. She was going through a crisis and she called me while I was on the way to that co-write. I was just like, I don’t know how to help her. I don’t know what else to do, but to tell her to, you know, take her eyes off of the problem and fix them on Jesus. And my friend Ross is like, “yeah, well, that’s what we should write about today”. And I was like, “All right, I don’t know that I have much, but this is what I got”.
And so all I had that came out today, that day was the words ‘I look to You’. And we just started putting all these emotions together and putting all these words to these emotions together. And like how I talked about, I just had sleepless nights over what was going on and how I wished I could help. And so really, that song was written more not for myself, but for my mother to encourage her to remember, to look to Jesus when times are tough. Luckily, she pulled through that hard time in her life. But I really wrote that for her to encourage her.