Josh Wilson is drawing a line in the sand. He’s no longer letting his past define him. While the singer/songwriter has been candid about his battle with anxiety, with his latest album, That Was Then, This Is Now (Sparrow), he’s moving on, despite his fears. In moving forward, he’s discovered a newfound passion for his musical pursuits.
The Texas-native started taking piano lessons in fourth grade, learned guitar and drums in sixth and seventh grade, and fell in love with songwriting in college at Nashville’s Belmont University. A self-described introvert with an aversion to the spotlight, Wilson never dreamed he’d be the one behind the mic, but God had other plans. Since signing to Sparrow Records in 2006, Wilson has become a staple at radio, amassing five Top 10 hits on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart, including “Savior, Please,” “I Refuse,” “Fall Apart,” “Carry Me” and “Before The Morning,” which landed the No. 4 spot on Billboard’s 2012 Year-End Christian Songs chart. He’s toured with some of the genre’s biggest acts, including Third Day, Steven Curtis Chapman, Matthew West and Casting Crowns; and his impressive live show has been admired by even veteran artists who applaud Wilson’s carefully honed musicianship. He’s been known to have as many as 20 instruments on-stage at any given time (and knows how to play all of them).
Although Wilson’s had a record deal for nine years, today he’s more resolute in his calling than ever before. “I think there is confidence in knowing this is my calling, but there’s also humility in knowing that my talents are on loan. I am stewarding this gift of music,” he affirms. “I feel a renewed sense of calling and purpose.”
While 2013’s Carry Me was a public admission of his ongoing battle with anxiety, Wilson says That Was Then, This Is Now is not exactly the antidote, only the next step. “I haven’t necessarily gotten completely free of my anxiety, but I’ve decided to continue moving forward. God’s using me despite my weakness,” he admits, adding, “A lot of times, I feel like fear is a good indicator of the direction you should go… Whatever you’re afraid of, you might want to look into doing.”
The tracks coursing through That Was Then, This Is Now may speak to a newfound confidence unearthed by the singer, but the road to finding these songs was arduous. The album took the longest of any he’s ever recorded to create, and he wrestled with serious bouts of writer’s block along the way, battling immense pressure to write the songs he felt people most needed to hear. “I think over the years, even as I’ve gotten better as a writer, songs haven’t gotten any easier to write,” he shares, adding, “I’d write every day and have nothing to show for it.”
This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that he takes his songwriting very seriously. “I don’t know who is going to hear these songs or what they need to hear,” he admits. “I think the more honest I can be in my songwriting, the more people believe it and the more people relate to it.”
While he was struggling to put pen to paper, his A&R representative texted him some inspiration that changed his mindset and provided a much-needed breakthrough: “Write what you need to hear.” From there, Wilson penned the short but prolific keystone “The Songs I Need To Hear,” with lyrics containing words of encouragement he needed to be reminded of that very day: I need to hear I don’t need all the answers, but questions aren’t a danger to the truth / I need to hear that what I’m doing matters, but I’m loved for who I am not what I do.
Ironically, the up-beat mandolin hook that anchors the title track, which lauds a new life found in Christ, was the first piece of music Wilson wrote for this record. Months passed before he found the right words. The song ended up being the very last one he finished.
Regardless of the time it took him to write them, all of the cuts were derived from personal experience. Wilson originally wrote “Don’t Let Go” eight years ago. “I am just now to a place where it needed to come out,” the singer shares, referencing the song that candidly talks about wrestling with doubt.
“No More” is based on Romans 8:1 and implores listeners to live without condemnation. “This song means a lot to me,” Wilson says. “I think so many times, we sentence and punish ourselves for sins we have been forgiven of. We live in guilt and remorse. We look at our past, and we say, ‘I’ll never change.’ It’s like we are sitting in a prison cell, and the door is wide open, but we are just sitting there.”
“Coming Home” centers around the theme of repentance, echoing Wilson’s intentional efforts to be transparent. “To pen a song about repentance implies that there is something that needs to be repented of,” Wilson says. “I’m not into airing dirty laundry, but there’s some vulnerability there.”
On the awe-inspiring “Blown Away,” Wilson quotes one of his wife’s favorite sayings (“Life’s too short to be too cool.”) and features her lovely background vocals. The song cuts through a sea of people unimpressed with all life has to offer. The couple is expecting their first child this fall, and “Ode To Joy”—the album’s lone instrumental cut—integrates the sounds of his baby’s first sonogram. “Our baby got its first album credit before exiting the womb,” he says with a laugh. Wilson exclusively arranged and produced the track, which also features his live touring band.
With hundreds of miles logged, a growing discography and a baby on the way, it’s clear Wilson is a long way off from the wide-eyed guitarist making the college rounds when he signed his first record deal. Lessons gleamed from life experience and facing his fears head on have helped him realize the “now” is really only the beginning, and he can’t wait to see what’s next.
“I’m so excited to take these songs out on the road with my band,” Wilson says. “I can’t wait to share my ‘That Was Then, This Is Now’ moment and hear fans tell their own ‘then and now’ stories.”
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