Over the past decade, singer-songwriter Tauren Wells has gone from releasing a major label debut project as a founding member of the Grammy-nominated Christian pop group Royal Tailor, to embarking on his own solo career and earning six No. 1 hits, including his latest, “Famous For (I Believe),” featuring Jenn Johnson. The song just moved to the pinnacle of Billboard’s Christian Airplay chart, and has held the top spot on Mediabase for seven weeks. “Famous For (I Believe)” is also nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song at the upcoming Grammy Awards, while Wells’ latest album, Citizen of Heaven, is up for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.
From the beginning of his career, the 34-year-old singer-songwriter from Houston has had a hand in the creation of his own material, including his Platinum-certified hit “Hills and Valleys,” and Gold-certified track “Known”—which is why the creation of “Famous For (I Believe)” marked a unique challenge for Wells as a songwriter.
“The song came to me through [songwriter/producer] Chuck Butler,” Wells says. “He had already co-written a version of the song, and he played it for me. Then my A&R guy, Jason McArthur, came to me and asked, ‘Have you heard this song?’ and wanted me to record it. I had a big shift in my perspective about two years ago, where I wanted to be more open to other contributions, and not feel like I had to write every song I record. I was looking at the careers of others that I greatly respect and it’s not that they aren’t great songwriters, but they also have the skill of identifying great songs. The cool thing is that the original writers on ‘Famous For’ (Butler, Krissy Nordhoff, Jordan Sapp, Alexis Slifer) let me come in and put my spin on it. We worked on the verses and chorus a little and I wrote the bridge. So I got to jump into something that already existed, which was an amazing position to be in.”
Wells follows the chart-topping success of “Famous For” by helping to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking, teaming with the Tim Tebow Foundation to release the anti-human trafficking anthem “All God’s Children,” which Wells penned alongside Bernie Herms and Ethan Hulse.
“I already had the writing session lined up,” Wells recalls. “Tim said, ‘Why don’t you write a song for us that we could use as a call to action?’ I texted Bernie and Ethan before my flight from Houston to Nashville, and they instantly said they would. When I landed, I had a voice memo from Ethan and it was the hook of the song. I was like, ‘What?! This is perfect.’ Then we got in the room and shaped the lyric. In that room, over the course of six hours, we covered so much ground.”
The song’s opening verses offer context, laying out the backstory that led to a child being sold into human trafficking: “Father died at the hands of a cruel disease/Mother cried as she tried to find food to eat/She was traded for change as a slave/Hasn’t even turned thirteen.”
“Tim told me the circumstances around some of these situations. For a lot of them, it’s a parent or family member selling their child, or niece or other relative, into slavery because they have been put in the most dire situation. Imagine the circumstance that you would have to go to, to mentally be in the place that you would have the thought of using your child as the means to survival,” Wells says. “That is the ultimate tragedy to me. That backstory is important for giving people context for the familial struggle that happens in these situations.
“What is cool about Tim’s foundation is not only do they perform rescue missions to help get children out of these circumstances, but they also come around families in these communities to help them create opportunities so they don’t feel like they have to resort to that in order to survive,” he continues. “One of my favorite lines is this: ‘Two eyes open/see the truth for the first time/they move 10,000 hands to reach a life/start a chain reaction… That’s the truth of it. It just takes two eyes seeing what’s going on, and caring about it.‘”
Wells grew up in a musical household. His father played drums and keyboards in a band and would bring Tauren with him into the recording studio. Recognizing his innate love and gifting for music, he began singing in church choirs and by age 15, he knew he wanted to lead worship and use his talents to bring comfort, inspire positivity, and effect change.
“I really focused on playing piano and I began writing songs out of necessity,” Wells shares. “I couldn’t learn the worship songs fast enough, so I just started writing my own songs. When I was young, my parents got a divorce, so writing and singing was my space to filter through all of the changes that were happening in my life.”
That creative ambition led Wells to enroll in bible college, where he studied theology and music. He joined an on-campus vocal ensemble and began composing music for the group to perform.
“They recorded and released some of those songs. It was the first time I heard something I wrote that was made into a finished product,” he recalls. “From there, I got GarageBand and started learning to record my own music, then formed Royal Tailor while I was in college.” To date, Wells has earned eight Grammy nominations, alongside six GMA Dove Award wins.
His sophomore solo album Citizen of Heaven also includes “Until Grace,” a collaboration with country trio Rascal Flatts. He points to Rascal Flatts and Chris Tomlin as examples of artists who live by the ethos “May the best song win.”
“I look through their song credits, and they didn’t write every song that was a huge No. 1 for them. They wrote some of those. Within my genre, Chris Tomlin is an inspiring story for me. He’s one of the most prolific worship songwriters of our generation. Yet, his first song that broke out on Christian radio was ‘Indescribable,’ and he didn’t write it. He heard a great song, recorded it, and he’s done that several times in the right moments. Recently he did that with ‘Good Good Father’ [penned by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown]. What a great opportunity for those writers. I want to have that skill to use good songs throughout hopefully a long career.”
Wells released Citizen of Heaven nearly a year ago, just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced concerts and large-scale events around the world to grind to a halt. Like many artists, Wells has used his time off the road to explore new things: he launched a podcast called The High Note with Tauren Wells, teamed with K-LOVE OnDemand for the just-announced virtual concert experience Citizen of Heaven (Live), and has been working on new music.
“It was discombobulating at first,” he says of the extended time away from touring. “Like everyone else, my whole rhythm was thrown off. Normally, it takes me like six months to get back to that [creative] headspace after we put an album out, but I was ready to write after Citizen of Heaven released. Heading into the next album season, there is no pressure. I don’t have a specific date for when my next album is coming out, so it has been a cool time to create. Though Zoom writing is not my favorite, to be honest,” he adds. “There’s just this relationship component when you get in a room with someone you really vibe with, so I’ve missed that.”
Still, he says virtual co-writing sessions have made it easier to work on new music no matter where his co-writers happen to be, such as his recent session with Herms and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard. “Tyler’s in like Idaho or something, Bernie’s in Nashville and I’m in Houston. It’s awesome that we can all be in different places and still make something happen,” Wells says.
The extra time has allowed Wells to explore topics and sounds that may not be a perfect fit for his own projects, though he hopes the songs will find homes on other artists’ albums.
“One of my co-writers Paul Duncan said, ‘This is like the golden hour of creativity for you,’ and that’s how I’ve felt. If I’m writing and it needs to be a worship song, let it be that. If it’s a love song, let it be that—even if I don’t cut the song. I’m trying to develop that songwriting muscle where I don’t feel like I can only write for me. Maybe it’s a song that is going to help someone in a battle through cancer, a song that’s going to carry someone through the death of a loved one. I want to write something that will legitimately add something to someone else’s artistry. That’s the long-term goal.”