Describe how you entered the independent gospel music industry?
Hmmm – hard to make a long story short… I didn’t plan to go into ministry. I think if I had, it probably wouldn’t have worked. I had recorded several secular CDs in the 1990s. Sometimes people would say to me after hearing my recordings, “you should sing Christian music” -- but “Christian music” to me meant hymns because the church I grew up in only had traditional and classical music. I didn’t want to sing that style, so I never paid any attention when people would encourage me to sing Christian music – even though they probably meant “contemporary” Christian music.
I didn’t know what contemporary Christian music was – I had barely even heard of Amy Grant, much less someone like Steven Curtis Chapman. Then in 2002 I started writing music that had Christian and Spiritual lyrics – not really on purpose – just what was coming out of me. I had no idea what I was going to do with this “pop” style Christian music. I thought that no one would want to hear it. Then a friend of mine invited me to sing at his church and do one of my new songs. I thought he was crazy, but he said his church liked “that kind of music”.
It opened up a whole new world to me of worship and praise music and contemporary rock and pop Christian music. So I released the CD, “Everything I Am” in 2003, still with really no idea what I was going to do with it. I was invited to sing at a couple of more churches, and thought, “well, maybe I’ll just visit a church every once-in-a-while and sing a few of these songs.” But within a few months, the opportunities to visit churches started coming more often and by the end of the year I was traveling more weekends than not. I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it, and now 8 years later, I still don’t know what I’m doing or how I’m doing it, but somehow it’s working and I’m loving every minute of it and I’m filled with gratitude and awe every step of the way.
For folks that might not know please tell us what the message is behind Shawn Thomas’ music and what Aaron’s Rainbow Project is?
I’m an openly gay, contemporary Christian singer/songwriter with a ministry that includes an outreach to the GLBT community. I visit churches, groups, and events hoping to share the Grace message of God’s Love, through concerts, workshops, and spoken message.
My middle name is “Aaron”. Actually my birth name was Aaron, and then I legally changed it to Shawn Aaron Thomas in the 90s. Before I was involved in music ministry, I had already set up “Aaron’s Rainbow Project” in order to self-publish songs and release recordings. Then as the music ministry grew, I named it “The Ministry of Aaron’s Rainbow Project (ARP)” as a way to be able to talk about the music ministry without directly talking about myself. I didn’t want to have “Shawn Thomas Ministries” because I didn’t want the focus to be on me, but on the outreach and message of the ministry.
Faith is a huge part of your music. Please tell us what Faith means to you.
Paul tells us in Romans that it is our Faith that makes us “righteous” or “right standing” in the eyes of God. The song “By Faith” that appears on the CD, “Worship & Desperation” is based on that concept.
I had a friend once explain to me that people often think of Faith as being the opposite of doubt – but that she believes the opposite of Faith is certainty. If you are certain of something, then you have no need for Faith because you already know everything for sure. If you have doubt, then you have to rely on Faith, because you don’t have certainty or proof. Pretty cool…
Please share with us who Shawn is as a child of God and what that image looks like?
I have no idea how to answer this – ha! :)
I do know that we are all created in God’s image, and that creation is the vessel and temple inside of us that hopefully we choose to share with the world.
It has been three years since your last original album; in what ways have you seen yourself grow personally and musically?
It’s been a fun few years in getting to work with other artists in recording and production through Shawn Thomas Studios. I’ve had the chance to work on everything from country to hard rock to dance. You learn a lot working with other artists and how they create and play their own music. Obviously some of that rubs off and I find myself incorporating techniques, licks, and ideas that I picked up from other artists. What a cool thing!
Also since I’ve been touring most weekends of the year, I’ve become more confident on the guitar and playing live and even “unplugged” more than in years past. There’s a lot more guitar in the recording of “Covered and Created” than on previous CDs.
I think another thing that’s interesting as a songwriter or recording artist, is that when you release a “new” project – it’s new to everyone else, but for you a lot of the material is months or even years old because you’ve been working on it and getting it ready. In addition, up until the point of releasing a new project, you’ve been performing your previously “new” stuff, knowing that you actually have other “new” stuff that nobody can hear yet, because you’re still promoting your previous “new” stuff! Crazy, huh? I guess, my point is that when you hear an artist performing a “new” song, chances are that emotionally and even musically, they may have already moved on to another place with other music that’s inside them and just not released yet. It’s like what you release and put out there tends to be a few steps behind where you actually are in your life and music. Weird, I know… :)
Your latest work double-CD “Covered and Created” uses scripture for lyric, please tell us how this has influenced the new “Created” songs?
Two of the original songs have lyrics taken directly from scripture:
“The Everlasting God” is taken from Isaiah 40:25-31.
“Hands Up” is taken from Psalm 63:1-4, 134:2, 47:1, and Revelation 19:1 & 6
A couple of others are based on either the message contained in scripture, or inspired by the story:
“Not Unspeakable” is inspired by the courage and strength of the disciples to continue speaking the name of Jesus even in the face of prison, beating, and death (Acts 5). The song lists many of the names used for Christ in scripture such as Messiah, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Light of the World, etc... Another song, “Welcome to a New Day” celebrates the theme of all things being made new in Christ. (Isaiah 43:1-7, 16-19 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-8)
Very intriguing song title "This is How I Worship You" - please share with us how this song came about and what it means to you?
The last full CD of new material that I released was Worship & Desperation” in 2008. The biggest change for me in that project was that I focused on praise and worship music and how music can be used in services and even personal time with God. That’s a part of me now – music as worship – so I’m pretty sure praise and worship music will continue to be a part of the music that I release as well. “This is How I Worship You” is an example of that. While “Covered and Created” is not a praise and worship CD as a whole, there are definitely a couple of songs on it that are still intended to be worship songs.
Someone recently challenged me with the idea that God doesn’t need “worship” – that if God needed us to worship Him, then wouldn’t that make God selfish and self-centered? But I think the error in that question is that it assumes from the beginning that worship is something we created and are giving to God. I believe worship is a gift from God to us – it’s for us, not for God. When I say, “This is how I worship You” I’m affirming and celebrating that I have exercised my free-will choice to lift up praise and glory to God – not because God needs it or even demands it – but because I love God and enjoy expressing it - even need to express it. Worship is also something that brings people together, which is also something that we need. Corporate worship brings the various creations and images of God in each of us together making the image bigger and dissolving the boundaries that separate us. Worship is just one of the many gifts we receive from God – not because it’s for God, or because God needs it – but because God loves us and knows that we need it.
Please tells us about two of the “Covered” songs on your new CD “Covered and Created” that are not part of Acoustic Wednesday (videos) and what inspired you to choose these songs?
“The Way I was Made” was originally recorded and co-written by Chris Tomlin, a contemporary Christian artist and worship leader. I like it a lot because the chorus reminds me of this poem:
"Dance as though no one is watching you. Love as though you have never been hurt before. Sing as though no one can hear you. Live as though Heaven is on earth." (Alfred D. Souza)
“Orphans of God” is just truly an amazing and powerful song. My partner Brian and our friend Jeremiah Cummings sing the song with me on the CD as a trio. It was originally recorded by the Christian group, “Avalon”. Brian knows some of the history about the song and one of the songwriters – but you’ll have to hear Brian explain it and tell the story himself sometime when we perform it live. Ha! (that’s mean, I know…)
Everyone should have equal opportunity to enjoy music. How would you convey your new CD (the music & lyric) to the hard of hearing community.
I’ve had people who are deaf or who have hearing loss purchase CDs from me before at concerts and such. Some tell me they listen by feeling the vibrations of the beat and rhythm. In worship settings, several of the songs from “Worship & Desperation” have multi-media that go with them including the lyrics.
In recent years, I’ve also witnessed that sign language is becoming more and more a part of worship expression – not just for those who can’t hear, but for everyone. I’ve seen sign language used in dance and movement during songs, and have even used it some myself in concerts. I’ll invite everyone to learn some basic words and use their whole bodies to lift up praise and worship as we sing.
The first weekend in August, I presented a lot of the new music from “Covered and Created” for the first time at a concert at the church in West Palm Beach, FL where my partner, Brian, is the Pastoral Associate. There is a group from Fort Lauderdale called “Shine Ministries” that does sign language interpretive dance and they participated in the concert as well.
If you had only a few minutes to perform one song that would have a great impact on the world today. What song would you sing and why did you choose this song?
People often ask, “What’s your favorite song that you’ve written?” I always have trouble with that question because it’s hard to choose one song, when each original song means something different and is special to me. But a couple of years ago, a woman I had not met before and who had not ever heard of me or any of my music, asked me “Which one of your songs would be the best example of what your ministry is about?” Now that’s a different question. Today, my answer is still the same: “The Christ in You” (from the CD, “Worship & Desperation”). If I had to sum up my faith and any message I hope to convey with one song that I’ve written, it would be “The Christ in You.” The lyrics remind us that in all our trials and conflict, God and Christ are alive in us, and that as Christians we are called to not only reflect the Christ inside of us, but to remind those around us that we see Christ living in them.
Single from Covered and Created - "Hero"
We'll let "Hero" by Shawn Thomas from the "Covered disk" speak for itself - do enjoy!
Shout out time to anyone and everyone that matters most to you. Where can people find your music?
Hey! (there’s my shout!) – or maybe I should say “Hallelujah!” and fall-out in the Spirit for a real shout! Ha! :)