“Musical diversity is important to me,” Tauren Wells, former frontman of the Christian dance-pop band Royal Tailor, tells Apple Music of the stylistic breadth of his second solo album, Citizen of Heaven. “I want to have who I am expressed in what I do, because I'm a mixture of a lot of different experiences and different cultures—being biracial and being in the church world—but not so sheltered that I haven't experienced other things in the world.” Wells proves himself to be an energetic embodiment of post-genre fluidity over the course of 13 tracks. Some showcase his agile vocal runs, tricky phrasing, breezy earworm hooks, and grasp of several decades’ worth of pop-R&B textures. Elsewhere, he veers into the funky slap bass, jazz chord voicings, and mass choir sound of gospel and the steadily swelling, communally singable uplift of contemporary praise and worship choruses. Even his guest performers—country-pop trio Rascal Flatts, Bethel Music’s Jenn Johnson, and Kirk Franklin, the defining gospel voice of the hip-hop era—hail from far-flung scenes. But at what Wells calls a time of “so much political, social, cultural turmoil, so much tension and dissension,” he made spiritual unity an underlying theme of his songwriting. “So this album is just a reminder that if you feel like a stranger sometimes, it's because you are; if you feel like a foreigner sometimes, it's because we are—because we were not just created for this world, we're created for the next one. We're citizens of heaven.” Here he talks through each of the songs on the album that bears that title.
Citizen of Heaven "In the original demo, it really has this Timbaland vibe to it that I really liked. As we were producing it and kind of putting the pieces together, I felt the statement is so strong that the lyric is making that the track has to be a banger. It can be nothing less than just in your face and really aggressive and kind of pushing the limits a bit of what you expect to hear sonically from a song about faith. That really drives a lot of my production decisions and the way that I like vocals treated. I want this to sound like it could live on any Top 40 session even though the content of the song may be different."
Like You Love Me "My friends, co-writers, and co-producers on this song, Chuck Butler and Jordan Sapp, came to Houston and we got an Airbnb for four days and we just wrote every day morning to night. This was maybe day three, and we had written some other ideas that we had kind of already started, but this idea completely started from scratch. There are some Christian songs where it's like, 'Well, are they talking about God or are they talking about a girl?' We were talking about that and I was like, 'You know how easy it would be if this was just a song about this guy that's trying to get a girl, but she just keeps dating all these other guys, but you know she really likes you, she really loves you, you're the real one?' Like, 'Come on, girl, you don't even love them like you love me. I mean, why are you wasting your time?' Then Chuck was like, 'You know how I hear that? You don't love them like you love me. Like the sparrows, the stars that God put in the sky.' And I was like, 'Chuck, you're a genius.'"
Prelude With Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Worship "I can remember where I was sitting when I heard Steven Furtick deliver this message. He was talking about the prophet that scripture talks about, who is running for his life. He's being pursued by his enemies, and he's in a cave and trying to figure out where God is. He's in this identity crisis and consumed with fear. This earthquake happens, and the prophet said he wasn't in the earthquake, and then a fire came and he wasn't in the fire, and strong winds blew and he wasn't in any of those huge moments. Then he heard God whisper, 'What are you doing here in all of this doubt? What are you doing here in all of this fear? How did you get to this place? Do you know who you are? Do you know the purpose and the intention I have for you?' Pastor Steven said, 'I always wondered why God whispers. Why wouldn't God be in the fire? The reason God whispers was because he wanted the prophet to know he was close.' That just hit me so deeply because I've been in so many emotionally charged atmospheres, I've been in the places where you would think God would be the closest, and yet where we really find him is in the whisper. It's in the moment that we're not really even looking for him. He speaks to us like that because he's right there with us in the middle of our fears, in the middle of our doubt, in the middle of our addictions, in the middle of our struggles. So I wanted that to be a part of the album. I hoped that it would hit people the way that it hit me."
Close "Something that I learned from Maroon 5, if you listen to their songs, they're some of the saddest songs you've ever heard, but they're uptempo tracks. So they reverse-engineer the lyrics to work against what you're hearing, so this idea kind of gets stuck within your heart. I've approached songwriting like that sometimes, and I felt like this was the perfect time. I felt like the layup is you write it as a ballad, and it would be more powerful, actually, if I could do it as a hook that people would be singing to themselves all day, just to get that in your heart and your spirit like God is close to you. So I wanted that to make it as sticky as possible."
Perfect Peace "That song, I think, carries peace. It kind of gets you into a place of being relaxed and calm and still. That's what you'd only experience through intimacy, and the relationship that we have with Jesus is an intimate relationship. When we allow songs like this to be sung over all the craziness in our lives, then we can actually feel God's presence in it. When I first got that melody, it was just so what I needed, and I love how it came out. We actually kept the demo vocals. I tried to go in and recut it, and it just wasn't the same."
Famous For (I Believe) "I have at least enough humility to say, 'I know I'm not going to write the best songs; there's going to be better songs.' This was a song that I heard that I didn't write on originally, but I just knew that there was something to it, that it was special. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to bring in a friend of mine, Jenn Johnson [of Bethel Music], who leads worship and has been a part of so many worship songs that have helped so many people connect with God. I thought it would elevate it so much further beyond just what I can do."
Millionaire (Good Like That) "I listened to gospel music, sang gospel music, wrote gospel music, recorded gospel music as a kid, a teenager, and when I was younger in college. The first songs that I wrote were choir songs. So we sang, my sister and I, all of the Kirk [Franklin] songs, from God's Property, Nu Nation, Rebirth, all that stuff. I wrote it with two friends of mine. I was out on tour with Danny Gokey and his music director, Eric Ramey, who is a producer, singer, and songwriter, and his keyboard player Monty also is an incredible musician and songwriter. So we were writing throughout the tour. I came into the dressing room one day and they were singing this hook. So we finished out the song together and I said, 'We have to get Kirk Franklin on the song.' I went to Dallas in the studio with him and I asked him if he would produce it, and he said that he would. So he brought his singers and we got it captured. It's just so special for so many reasons for me, having loved him growing up and then getting to work on something with him."
Done "I started leading worship when I was 16, and that was my entry point into music. I was singing songs for the church, and more so than even singing songs was bringing people into God's presence. If I can just pull back the curtain with a worship song for people to see what Jesus has done, then that's the real win, and this song so clearly articulates that. It's a song about the gospel, about how each thing that Jesus went through in his death, burial, and resurrection had a direct correlation with what he does in our lives. I want that to be sung by people. I want that truth to be declared, because the gospel is the most powerful message that there is."
Miracle "Michael Jackson was my favorite artist growing up. I happen to have a voice that leans itself to that. These are the tools that I got, these are the experiences I had, this is what I was exposed to. What I love about it is that it's another genre-defying song, because people like to put Christian music in a neat little box: It all has to sound like this, all has to look like this. Even when we were writing it, my producer on that, Jordan Sapp, said, 'I never get to make music like this.' I don't want to rot away on the inside creatively, because for some reason we feel like we have to because we make music about our faith. I don't care what you believe—when this song comes on, you're going to move."
Until Grace "When I wrote this song with Ethan Hulse and Chuck Butler, it felt like it had a country thing to it. Some people may look at me and may look at my body of work so far and be like, 'Oh, country music, huh?' But what they wouldn't know is I was 13 when I heard my first Rascal Flatts song, 'Prayin' for Daylight,' and I can sing every word to that song, and every word to multiple albums. So it felt very natural for me to do this. The fact that they were gracious enough to get on the song and make it happen is just a dream."
Trenches "In my own life, I've kind of struggled with entering into the pain of other people, not knowing what to say, not knowing what to do. So the answer for me has been to withdraw, but that distance only creates more dissonance really, relationally. So I want to learn from the example of Jesus. He actually climbs into the trenches with us. If you're fighting cancer, he's in the trenches with you. If you're going through a divorce, he's in the trenches with you. If you're wrestling with your identity, he's in the trenches. He's not like, 'I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do.' That is the reality of what we believe. It's the God of all creation, becoming a human being and stepping into these dust-filled streets and walking with us. I really believe that this song's going to minister to a lot of people that feel like they've been fighting alone."
Love's Worth the Fight "This one came from just difficult times in marriage, honestly. My wife and I, we've been married nine years, we have three kids, and a couple of years ago we went through a really difficult season of life. I was dealing with a bunch of stuff that I had internalized and shoved down deep, and it triggered things that she was dealing with and struggling with. I sat down at the piano and wrote the chorus. The heart of it for me was we have something so special together. We have this beautiful life together, we have these beautiful kids together, we have have this beautiful love story—this is worth the fight. If it hurts and it's painful and it's difficult, it's worth it. I think that there is a broader application to where we are culturally and what people are fighting through, and struggling with, and having conversations about, but it's really that the bottom line to me is this girl that I have vowed my life to is worth fighting for. I wanted to have a song that was more aimed at that idea directly, because it seems a lot of Christian songs won't really go there."
Carry On "Once we finished the demo, my wife's cousins had a baby that was stillborn. I just had the demo version of the song and I sent it to them as a source of encouragement and they ended up playing it at her memorial service. I just had a sense right from the start that it was that type of song, that it would be a song for people that are going through loss you can't quantify, through difficulty in life that you can't quite wrap your mind around, and you're down to walk through it if you know that you don't have to walk through it alone."
Citizen of Heaven
Like You Love Me
Prelude with Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Worship