Motown Gospel/Capitol CMG emerging artist Jonathan Traylor breathes new energy into the faith-based music scene with his major label debut, The Unknown, available now. Beginning as a three-track release, The Unknown is an innovative playlist-styled album that will continuously be updated with new songs and video content over the course of the year.
Writing from a place of transparency and authenticity, Jonathan Traylor has been celebrated for music that is both compelling and relevant. Inspired by a personal season of blindfolded trust, The Unknown celebrates the constant faithfulness of God in the midst of uncertainty.
Q: Jonathan, thanks for doing this interview with us. Let's start with yourself: how did you first feel the call to sing for the Lord?
My home church where I grew up, Body of Christ Family Church in Red Oak, Texas, Pastor Billy Grate, I remember, we had the instruments, we had the amazing choir, the band we had an amazing time. Worship was just crazy. They would always ask me if I can sing, and I was really bashful and I was like, ahh I am not doing that.
It was a time where our musicians transitioned out, the choir turn to a praise team and there was a need now. They were asking for people to sing. I was in choir in school, but I was like I am not singing in the choir, I am not singing in the church. It was kind of intimidating; you have these people older than you and I was like ahh nah. I remember just talking to my mom and praying about it. My mom said, "if there is a need, hey fill it, God will help you." It was scary man. At first, I felt forced to do it. But when I started doing it, when I said yes to it, it made me more comfortable and it was like ok I can do this.
My godmother is an amazing worshipper and I would watch her play the piano and she would go in. It was as if she was playing and God was downloading music to her right there and she was just trying to get it all out, crying and going in on worship. I remember at a young age watching her and saying I want to worship like that, I want my worship to have that kind of intensity. There was just a piano there after the musicians transitioned out, and I wanted to play, because we also needed a musician, not just singers. I remember telling the Lord "I want to play; I want to be able to serve my church."
At that age I do not know what I was thinking, but I wanted to play. My grandmother told me to call my godmother and have her pray for me and see if she can impart that gift in you. I called my godmother and she prayed for me. She went in, she prayed on the phone extra hard, she prayed down heaven. I remember her saying "I pray for a double portion; I pray God that you will bless him with the gift of the piano..." she was going in.
I remember fasting that day. I went down to the church and went to the alter and began praying and crying out to God. I got this weird notion to grab the anointing oil. I dabbed it on my fingers, my tongue and on my ears. I was feeling extra save, I felt like I was about to be Beethoven. I headed over to the piano and played a Fred Hammond song "Give Me A Clean Heart," from my cd. I began to instantly pick out the notes and it was crazy to me. And of course, I did not start off just killing it, but God developed the gift so fast. I did not know why God was putting stuff together, but for me to start singing and playing the piano God started giving me songs. The rest is history. I invested in a little Casio from the pawn shop. I would go in my room and I would just start singing and writing songs. I never knew that this would happen; me singing and this becoming a full-time career. It has been really cool to look back and see that and see where I am now.
Q: How did you then get to work with Motown Gospel?
It is still crazy and mind blowing to me. Honestly, I got serious about the music and things started happening, opportunities started happening, doors started opening for me. This is amazing. I am on platforms with artists that I look up to. I had the privilege of going on tour with an amazing artist by the name of Jonathan McReynolds. It was a cool tour, my first major tour. I was able to see how the tour life was: sound checks, lobby time...I was really in, this was really cool to me.
I knew that every event, every concert, every stop I was going to go hard. I didn't know who was in the crowd, but that wasn't my intent; I just wanted people to experience God and also had a great time and when I got of the stage they would be able to still sing the songs. People started talking and word must have gotten back to the right people. I started to get phone calls and emails from labels. It was really cool to even experience that, to be in that time. I was like "how do you know me? how did you get my number? I'm just Jonathan Traylor." But God knew.
One of the directors of Motown Gospel direct messaged me while I was in a meeting. I called him right away just to hear his heart. He let me know that he was a fan first, he loved my heart and my ministry. He stated that people had been talking about me, he see what I am doing, he hears everything, and it has been a blessing. For him to come from that standpoint and also wanting to get to know me, that was really dope. After a few conversations with Motown Gospel it just felt like family; it felt right, and I ended up inking a deal with them. It has been an amazing, stretching, opening and cool experience so far. I love it!
Q: With your new album, you have said in a press release that you wanted to raise a new generation of wild worshippers. What does it mean to be a wild worshipper?
A wild worshipper...I looked up the word the other day. If you look up the definition it can seem like everything negative. But the two words that stood out to me was untamed and fierce. When I think of wild ones, I think about people like Francis Chan that goes against the grain. It is not about the building. Its about his people. It is about God. People that get to the root of the matter. When I think about street ministry...I remember going out to some city we were out there in front of an abortion clinic and for the women that were coming in we were praying for them and loving on them.
When they drove in, they had hopelessness on their face. Some came with their parents and some came by themselves, but they all had the same hopeless face. We were able to talk to some of the women and some ended up making the decision to chose life. It was really cool. Those are wild moments; those were wild people to me. Those people care about the heart, they care about the things that Jesus cares about. It is not about the numbers, it is not about the money, it is not about none of that, it is not about how many followers I have. They are people that do not care what you think about them, they just want to make Jesus proud, they want to bring him glory. I love that.
A generation of wild ones: people that are authentic, raw, bold, unashamed, untamed, the ones at a worship experience that are shouting at the top of their lungs, they are jumping, they are going crazy giving God everything. Outside of the church, if they see someone that is hurting or broken, they will go tell that person that Jesus loves them and start praying for them on the spot. They are not worried about religion or traditions, that is all gone. They are going hard after God. And that is what I mean about developing and helping raise an entire generation of wild worshippers.
Q: Talk to us about your new album, what were some of the highlights for you in making this album?
Being able to write the songs; starting them off in my room on the piano and guitar and it just clicks, like you know this is it. The words start flowing, it just keeps coming and I am able to finish the song and present it to my manager and wife. Then they were like 'oh this is something." It was cool to go to the studio and record them. Even before it got to the ending point before we were done with the song, you just knew, once we put that first chord down and did the demo with the rough vocal you just knew the song was going to be something, that it was going to bless someone.
There where times when I brought my guitar in and played "You Get The Glory" and the room would be quiet, I am think they are listening. I would look around and folks would be crying. Even my manager, who is a man's-man cried after hearing one of the songs I will be releasing soon. It is not about the tears; it is about what my songs are doing for people in the seasons that they are in is really dope. These are highlights to me. The reactions of people. It transcends past an emotional thing. It is doing something to their heart. It is transforming, changing, realigning, and refocusing things for people. Those are things that hype me up. This is big. These are the songs that people will go back to when they are going through again, and it will help them.
Q: Why did you name the record "The Unknown"?
The Unknown is a double meaning. The first meaning is blinded faith. Just was trying to figure out what was going on the latter part of last year. I mean it is like you signed to a major label, you go on tour, all this good stuff is happening, everything thing is happening and out of nowhere everything just shut down. And you are like God we were doing so good, I just said 2020 was going to be the best year of my life. To be real, my finances was looking good, everything was flowing and, then stuff just started happening.
Started getting bad news after bad news, just a whole bunch of curves and curve balls. I just had this big question mark in my mind like "Ok God what's next. You know I am an artist. You know this is how I take care of my family, why is my friends going through this..." God said "trust me. I know you do not understand. I know you can't see but take my hand, keep walking, keep following me, keep going." He never told me where we were going, but I knew it would be better than where I was at the moment. He just told me to keep going. It was a scary and still the most scariest thing for me and still is. I was walking into the unknown, but God knows. He knows where we are going. He wrote the plan. He made it. He knows the future. The first meaning of The Unknown is trusting God, I pray that it restores trust in God and his words.
The second meaning is the need for affirmation and cutting that out. We don't need to go to everyone and say "hey what do you think about me do I look good today, how do you like these shoes, how you like the song..." do not get me wrong it is good to be celebrated for your art and the things you do. But when that becomes the thing where you find your identity, that is a scary place. You should find your identity in Christ first. When you are secure with who you are in Christ you will not need affirmation from other places. Yeah, The Unknown it is a double meaning.
Q: Who are some of the songwriters and producers you have worked with on this record?
This season I have been trying to embrace collaborations and I believe it still will happen. The songs you have heard so far on the project I wrote 100% of the songs. I co-produced with Dami "Mr. Damention" Adeoye, one of my closest friends. That has really been it. For the next wave I have another amazing producer that have hopped on his name is Dana Sorèy, you may know him from his work with Tye Tribbett. I also worked with an amazing writer that I do not even know if we will release the song we made, and I really hope we do. It is a really great song. I got a chance to write with this guy name Hank Bentley, he is the writer of "Tremble." I am really excited about that. I pray that we release it. Though I write my own music, it has been really cool embrace the spirit of collaboration this season.
Q: What's the story behind your new single "I Trust You"?
"I Trust You" is really again saying okay God I do not know what is going on, but what I do know, the things I've read in the living word of God, I know that all this stuff is true. For me, is true. I know his track record with me, and I am always able to go back and see that God has always come through for me. "I Trust You" is the human part of me saying God I cannot see the full plan. When things do not happen or things not working out, I do not know if you are working it out behind the scenes for me. But the spirit of God reminds me that he has me in the palm of his hands and he will never let me go. I can really just fall back.
Have you ever been a part of a trust test? You have to fall back and trust that that person will catch you. I have been a part of several trust tests before and I have fallen on my butt. But it has been cool to know that Christ never lets me hit the ground. Even when I think I am like inches away from the ground, God is like "no, I am here, I know what you thought, but I am here." "I Trust You" is really about trusting God and saying if I fall, if I worry, if I doubt, if I fear, you are going to come running to wipe that all away and remind me of who you are, and who I am in you and who I am to you. We are his sons; a father naturally provides, protects and love, he is there for his child. Our heavenly father is that and so much more. So, do not think that you will be out here hungry, sitting up here begging, tripping. He is going to come through every time because he is our father and he loves us. And his love is pure and unconditional; it is relentless.
Q: How will these songs on the new record help us in our walk with the Lord?
These songs will restore your trust, I know that for sure by listening to the music myself, it has restored my trust in God, in everything that he had said to me. It is one thing to hear it, but when God shows up, you see it and believe it, your faith becomes lit. This music will, I know for a fact, it will remind you that you are not crazy for thinking what you are thinking. It will remind you that it is okay to not be okay. But it will also help you trust again. If you have ever been broken hearted, if someone has ever lost your trust or abandoned you, and you felt like you are by yourself, these songs will help you. Even if it is not right then and there, it will plant a seed to help you get the trust back to what it needs to be.
Not just in humanity, but in God as well. I believe that it will help people trust again. You may not know what the future holds, you may not know where you are going, you never know what tomorrow brings, but you will also be reminded that he is a God that goes before you, that stands behind you, that is all around you. He is a God that stands in the fire with you, he is in the valley with you, not just on the mountain top. He is there with you, everywhere you are. He is walking and going through life with you. He is fighting your battles; behind the scene he is working everything out for the good. When you listen to these songs, you will pray different. Your prayer will change from "give me" to "thank you" or "you get the glory from this" or even, "God I'll trust you."
I am a real person who goes through some of the same things that the next person goes through. Just want you to know that it is okay not to be okay. It is okay to come to God and let him know what you are dealing with. Do not take away the humanity of God, he wrapped himself in flesh to come down here just to save us, to feel what we felt, so do not take away his humanity. That is one thing I have been guilty of. God is with you in everything. He has compassion. Things will get better. Though not easy, saying yes to God is worth it. I do not write songs just to have them sound good. I pray that every song that I write gives a voice to the people that are feeling the same way. I also pray for a solution to include in the songs. My prayer is that God gets the glory and the people's trust are restored.