Singer songwriter Joel Vaughn’s love affair with music began at an early age, singing in the backseat of his parents’ car and from the pulpit in his church.
Today, Vaughn is a rising star in contemporary Christian music with the radio hit “Already Done” from the album Louder than the Lies, a busy touring schedule, and a new album on the way.
Through it all, the Nashville-based Vaughn credits his faith to leading him from self doubt to liberation in Christ.
Joel Vaughn: Early Love of Music
Vaughn still remembers the first time his family realized he could sing.
“I was maybe 4 ½ or 5 years old, and I was singing along to Donny Osmond’s ‘Soldier of Love’ in the backseat of our car,” he said. “My parents turned and said, ‘is he singing? he sounds just like the guy.’ I kept singing and soon really wanted to sing in church.”
When he was 7, he sang for the first time in church to the Clay Cross song “My Place is With You.”
“I handed the cassette tape to the deacon on the stage at First Assembly of God in Albertville, Alabama and sang to the mostly elderly members,” he remembered. “There were maybe 40 people in the congregation.”
Vaughn soon picked up the guitar and began writing songs, moving with his family to Texas after his father retired from the Air Force and his parents worked on ministry degrees.
He said he still remembers one of the first serious songs he wrote during that time. Called “Wait,” Vaughn recalled that it was during a season of struggling–wondering where God would take him in his creative endeavors.
“I felt like I was in a season of waiting, just as the Israelites waited in the desert,” he said. “I was waiting to use the gifts God gave me.”
His season of waiting soon evolved into a more meaningful sense of purpose.
He and his brother Joey started a worship band–exchanging work on the guitar, drums and vocals–and began serving their youth group. That led to Vaughn following his music dream independently in Texas for several years, and eventually signing with Dream Music out of Los Angeles in 2015.
When he was a high school senior, Vaughn met his future wife Andra while providing food for a junior college ministry; she was a student at the college and Vaughn said he was immediately drawn to this “pretty blonde haired girl.” They started dating in 2004, married in 2006, and began serving together through music, leading worship for Discipleship Now weekends and other ministries throughout Texas and New Mexico.
Vaughn credits their playing together in a band with cementing their love for each other.
“We traveled together for five years before having kids, and she was always part of the worship band. It was me, her, her brother, and whoever would play bass,” he laughed. “She was on that 15-passenger van with us. She got used to traveling, and understands the lifestyle.”
When they decided to have children, the couple together knew that Andra would cut back on her work with the band. She stopped traveling when they had their children–Olivia, now 11-years old and Levi, 6.
Joel Vaughn: Making Nashville home
Vaughn’s family moved to the Nashville area in 2016, settling in Gallatin; Andra teaches at Friendship Christian School in Lebanon and Vaughn serves as the worship leader at Victory Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet.
“I was offered the recording contract in L.A., and I would be flying from there to Amarillo, to Nashville all the time,” he said. “I felt like I was here most of the year so we prayerfully considered it and decided to come to Nashville.”
His work has evolved since that time, and today he often co-writes on his projects. The act of writing songs with other artists was a process he had to adjust to–saying it was like “going to college all over again.”
Ultimately, though, Vaughn learned that partnership is a beautiful thing when it comes to songwriting.
“I always like coming back to write songs on my own, but I also love the process of co-writing,” he said. “Maybe I can’t come up with the right word to say what I want to say lyrically, and another writer will come up with a new way to say it. Other professionals see an angle you didn’t see.”
He also said that it’s been a joy to meet some of the best songwriters in the business today, crediting their character with being an inspiration to his own walk with Christ. “They’re all godly men who really want to minister to people,” Vaugh said. “It’s been a really cool opportunity.”
Since landing in Nashville, he’s enjoyed many successes. Louder Than The Lies landed in the Top 10 on Apple Music’s Top Albums Christian chart, and hit singles have included 2019’s “I Look To You,” which reached #3 on Billboard’s Christian Hot AC Recurrent chart, as well as “Wide Awake,” “As You Are,” “Pray It Up” and “More Than Good Enough.” His music has been streamed more than 10 million times.
Joel Vaughn: Praising through the Pandemic
Vaughn walked off a stage on March 13, 2020, and then everything shut down almost immediately due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the weeks, months, and two years to come, Vaughn said that he and his partners learned to do things in new ways.
“We were stuck with the rest of the world in a very scary place, but I tried to shift my perspective,” Vaughn said. “I realized that I had been given an opportunity to start writing some new music, to write about where my heart was and how I wanted to have faith no matter what.”
He was determined to give God the glory despite the difficult circumstances, and in doing so was able to finish and record the Louder than the Lies album in 2020.
Tracks for the album were recorded over Zoom and in his own kitchen; only one song–the title track–in fact, includes vocals cut in a studio (because it was recorded before the pandemic). Vaughn said that this new way of doing things has given people in the music industry a new understanding of how to create, and he thinks that will continue after things go back to normal.
After the album’s single debuted strongly on the charts, Vaughn realized that his music was being introduced to new markets.
“It really took off on radio, which I didn’t expect at all, but we realized that the song really did impact people’s lives,” he said. “I heard from people who received a message from the song.”
Vaughn re-signed with Dream Records and is currently finishing up a new album.
“They told me to just keep writing songs, so that’s what I did,” Vaughn said “We have some really good songs that we’re ready to release, and can’t wait for people to hear them.”
Joel Vaughn: The Message in the Music
All of Vaughn’s music has powerful messages about God’s faithfulness through storms and struggle.
The song “Already Done,” which was released in January of 2021, was heavily based on how Satan tells Christians lies about their situations and dually how God’s promises are real and true.
“The end of it, though, is that God loves us and wins over every lie that is told,” Vaughn explained. “You don’t have to live in fear all the time, because God’s truth wins in the end.”
Working and writing through a pandemic reinforced Vaughn’s belief in a God who sticks with you through everything.
“When God makes a promise, it doesn’t always look like what you think it will be,” Vaughn said, pointing to Abraham as an example of someone who trusted God even though he never saw what he was promised. “When God makes a promise, it’s already done. God promises that if you love and accept him, then you have eternal life and he’s for you every step of the way. You can claim that in victory.”
In working on songs for his newest album, Vaughn said that he was reminded of another message.
“One song is about being in a place where you don’t have a friend, but realizing that you still have Jesus,” he said. “I felt like that message would translate really well, and it has. I’ve had people who’ve heard it say to me, ‘That’s exactly where my heart is right now’.”
Vaughn’s latest project will overlap with concerts, worship experiences, and tours across the country. He begins a joint tour with 7eventh Time Down in April and then will perform with We are Vessel, Building 429, and Phil Wickham at different locations.
According to Vaughn, it’s good to be getting back to normal, sharing music with fans–and being reminded once again of the love he found for music so many years ago.
Cheryl Sloan Wray is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama. She’s also the coordinator of the Southern Christian Writers Conference (learn more at www.southernchristianwriters.com.)