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Ryan Stevenson's New Album Goes Beyond His Wildest Dreams

Kimberly Carr - Digital Media Producer

Grammy-nominated songwriter and new author Ryan Stevenson and his wife Kim had just welcomed a new addition to the family when we talked about his new album, Wildest Dreams, yet the tired dad was still full of energy. He tells me that their new baby girl was promised to them years ago, when their oldest son had a dream at only three years of age. Her big brothers are “over the moon,” and are enjoying their answer to prayer. As if a new baby wasn’t enough to keep Ryan busy, he has just released a new album and book, and started a new podcast – all in the midst of a global pandemic.

Wildest Dreams easily carries listeners through deep facets of Ryan’s life and experiences with a familiar and on-trend 90s beat. The lyrics throughout offer a sense of nostalgia, and left me feeling like I picked the lock on his journal and snuck a peek at the innermost corners of his heart and mind. I asked Ryan all of his recent adventures, and what it's like to open himself up to the world.

Can you tell me how your life experiences influenced how you see God and how you see the world today?

I think it really not only comes from my time as a paramedic, but just my life. I was born in Southern Oregon in a tiny little farming community and we grew up – no bones about it – we grew up really poor. We grew up in a little single wide trailer, mobile home, less than a thousand square feet. We didn't have a lot. I was very aware of that even as a young kid and for some odd reason that really established a deep-rooted insecurity in me because all of my friends were really wealthy and they were the kids of the landowners and the ranchers and the business owners.

I was on the opposite side of the planet as them… I was a super late bloomer. I didn't hit puberty until I was 18 going into my freshman year of college. So I stayed in the body of like a sixth-grade kid all through high school. Talk about brutality – just torture, horrendous, horrendous identity complex and the battering was unbelievable. So I think there's some things rooted in my psyche and emotionally that have tormented me for a long time and have had the potential to really derail me.

In this crazy weird journey that I've had the opportunity to navigate, there has always been this innate, inherent, still small voice nudge. That is the Holy Spirit's voice. I know that voice, and that voice has always told me, ‘You just keep walking and being available and I will make a way.'

I had a wonderful family, wonderful friends, there were still all those things buttoned up and gift wrapped. There's the common thread through it all. I feel like it's easy to sing about joy. Like you said, it's easy to sing about joy with a grateful heart, because I can look back so clearly and see in all of this and every detail He was crafting a story that has really truly not only blown my mind, but really has blown the minds of a lot of people around me who literally said, ‘Stop what you're doing. Give up. Quit. You are not an artist. You will never amount to anything. You're not going to go anywhere. You will never be successful.’ I'm not on my high horse today saying, ‘Look at me.’

I know what it's like to be dropped from a record label and lose my whole team and lose everything. And to be on this derailed train that you know is going nowhere, my dreams were shot. Even in the aftermath of all that, I've seen God pick me up out of the ash, blow me off, dust me off. It was like, ‘Hey, let's just take a minute. Let's heal up. Let's work through some of this stuff and we'll just keep walking and we'll just use whatever the world thinks is foolish to confound the minds of wise people. And that's just my story.

I read somewhere you said 'You’ve got to build an altar to the things that God's done in your life.' And I don't think it's conceited to say, ‘Look at this great thing that's happening because God has been there.’

I'm so glad you brought that up. Yeah, there's a song on my record called ‘Back to the Altar’ and it’s probably one of my favorite songs on there. I got asked this question the other day, you know, it was kind of similar to what we were just talking about, ‘How do you reflect?’ And I feel like there's a common theme in all these songs of looking back and reflecting. I'm just reminded of so many times all throughout the old Testament and in the Bible, where God told people to ‘Stop what you're doing, turn around and return to that place. Return to that place where I set you free. Go back there and remember what I've done.’

And that is just the story of my life. It's easy for me to go back to those places of my first love and that first altar, where I say, ‘God, you stepped in and you intervened in my life right here. And you saved me from – I mean – he's saved me from absolute, just catastrophe. I would have done that. I promise you I would have squandered my life away. Having been raised in the church, I know me when I was 21 years old and I was so wounded and so dark and so just so desperate for any kind of attention that had I had this when I was 21, I would've blown it.

That's such a tough age, too.

It really is. And you know, I look back and I'm so thankful that he spared me. A lot of my friends got record deals when we were 21. In fact, I was part of a band that got signed to a record deal. And our lead singer decided to go solo and kind of, shelved the band. I was so angry. I was so angry in that moment. I was so embedded and so heartbroken thinking, ‘My dreams are shot. This was our big chance!’ I felt so betrayed. That record deal only lasted about a year and a half, then it ended horribly. And I would have been a part of that, you know? And the Lord's like, ‘You know what? I'm going to pull you out of there. I'm gonna close that door for you for a little while, and we're going to go walk it out.’ It took me 13 years to get to the record deal.

But you know, how much longer would it have taken if you, like you said, had been a part of that crash and burn, to recover from that?

I don't know that I would have recovered. It reminds me of this analogy is thought of this. The Lord is – He's so good. I call Him the bud nipper. The Bible talks about the Lord being a planter and a gardener, right? And so I call him the bud nipper. He knows that I have the potential, even as a young plant, even at a young age, he knows that I can bear fruit. He knows that I can grow some fruit, but he knows that I have no roots. I don't have the infrastructure and the root system and the branches to hang on to that fruit. I start at producing all this fruit, my branches will crack. My roots will shrivel up and I'll just be a dead tree. So in his goodness as a good gardener, as a good father, as a planter, as the Bible calls him, he comes in, and he pinches those buds. He nips them before they get a chance to really start growing because nipping those buds, it makes my roots grow deeper and it makes my branches get stronger. It's the goodness of the gardener that nips the buds in an early stage that makes that tree super healthy down the road. And I'm just – man – that is just what the Lord is.

So, I read that you grew up in the church. What moment did Jesus become real to you?

I had a massive profound encounter with the Holy spirit when I was 26. Something that I can't explain – just like blasted by his spirit. Even as a young kid, I gave my heart to Jesus when I was seven. My mom and I prayed together on her couch. I grew up knowing that I wanted to belong to the Lord and I didn't want to be a rebellious kid. I was never a rule breaker, I wanted to please my parents, I never wanted to disappoint them, and so I never wanted to disappoint God.

Jesus was always real to me, but somewhere along the way, I was also taught kind of parallel right alongside that God is good, He’s also moody, and God is mostly displeased with me. He's kind of that celestial cast iron being out there in the cosmos with his arms folded in that scowl of disappointment. That's father God, but then he had to send this Jesus guy to come deal with me and pay the price. ‘Cause he's out there somewhere really ticked off. That's how I thought of God until I was 26 years old and realized that God – father, son, Holy spirit – they're one in relationship. And I'm included in that relationship and nothing has ever even existed outside of that relationship.

The love of Christ became so real to me. I had read Romans eight my entire life, that chapter, that passage, but it really started to jump out…it says nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the love of God. The Lord just begin to unwind all this damage and all these lies that I believed my whole life in the church. I had been believing that if God is mostly displeased with me, then what kind of a kid wants to run to a daddy, Abba, who's mostly kind of ticked off with my performance?

It sent me into a performance-based relationship into my entire adult life where I’m only feeling like I'm as good as my last ability to do really well. It put me on this tight rope of what I call the ‘shame and sin cycle.’ I'm good for a while, then as soon as I mess up, I go into crazy bouts of depression and shame until I think God's okay with me again. It's absolutely dysfunctional and unhealthy. It's really been in the last few years, honestly, where I really started to believe and know and understand that He loves me in spite of nasty, horrible parts of my life and my humanness because he was human too.

Well, a big part of your life journey is when you meet your helpmate. So as you're kind of growing in this and dealing with that, you met your wife and got married. How much of a role has she taken in shaping your faith and who you are today?

Monumental. We got married well before anything musically [happened]. I mean, I played music in college, but she married me because she loved me and she just believed that I was the one for her, I guess. But I think I naively, you kind of go into marriage thinking that things are going to be a certain way and that you're going to be a certain person. And the Lord has a pretty profound sense of humor where it ends up kind of being the opposite. And I feel like if it weren’t – no, I don't feel like – it is a fact. If it weren't for my wife I would be a mess. My wife is such my rock. She's literally opposite of me.

I'm an emotional rollercoaster. I'm heart, I’m emotion, I'm relational. I'm the charisma that's out in front and I can just do life and be in relationship with people and I feel everything. My wife is really grounded. She's really stable. She is not wishy-washy. She has an incredible amount of discernment. If I didn't have that in my life, I would be a sinking ship. There's been times in my life where I've really blown it and I've really messed up and I've really just made bad decisions that really hurt her. Even in my failures and my mess-ups, she showed me the love of Christ. The love of Christ became real to me because of my wife, because of her patience, because of her forgiveness. Nobody’s ever loved me in my life the way she has. I've never felt loved at that capacity until my wife loved me through my wounds. And it changed me.

It really is almost like I'm reading your journal when I listen to the album.

That's exactly what it is. It really is just if I could sum it up, everything that you hear in there, except maybe aside from ‘My 90s,’ because it’s a nostalgia piece, but it's still a piece of my heart. I love to reflect on every everything you hear on there is if I had, if I were to go right into the questions in my heart to God and in my notebook and in my prayer journal, that is exactly what would come out – is that record.

It almost sounds like you’re talking to your past self in some of these songs.

Oh, I probably sound crazy because I talk to myself so much! I'm always battling with myself. I don't judge other people. I'll start a song, and I'll be like, 'I wish that I could change. Why can't you do better?’ I'm tormented by those things. And I talk to myself in my songs so much. I think we all do that. And I like to find those common cores in all of us that when we sit in those secret quiet places of our personal lives, where we may never talk about it, we may never share those things with anybody. If we’re all honest, we all sit there and ask ourselves, ‘Gosh, why do I do this? Why do I behave this way? Why do I feel this way? Why did I say that?’

On March 3rd, you wrote on Facebook, “We live in an uncertain world and the truth of our humanity is the fact that we will face uncertainties in life.” What great timing for this word – right before the quarantine.

The song ‘Amadeo’ really came about after a season of seeing some of my friends going through incredible life-altering hardship, tragedy, just horrible for their family. I put myself in their shoes and I was like, man, what if this is me in 10 or 15 years? Am I going to be able to navigate a storm in a season like this with such poise and compassion and grace and be able to say, ‘God, I love you and I trust You no matter what’? That's where this came from, and then it was this whole pandemic thing. The song just kind of took on a whole other life again.

When you listen to your own music, who do you hear that may have influenced your sound?

I'm such a nineties – I really got into music in the very late eighties, like 1989 all through the early nineties. I loved Bobby Brown, Michael Jackson, Bell Biv DeVoe, Color Me Badd. All that nineties pop stuff was in my blood through and through. I started playing the drums in third grade. I would listen to all these things like Wham! and George Michael, and I would play drums to it. And I just developed early on, this pop rhythmic. I was all about the rhythm. I was all about the drums. And I'm still like that today. If the drums are not right, and if the rhythm is not right, this song isn't right.

It's the heartbeat and the poles and the backbone of the entire song. Kind of later on into the nineties, maybe the early two thousands, when I was really getting into music, I loved the band called Sugar Ray, and a lot like Sublime and acoustic pop, kind of hip-hoppy artists. That was my jam. I love the acoustic guitar and a little bit rootsy thing, but I also love hip-hop and pop and I wanted to find a way to just marry that stuff together. So that's kind of what you hear.

How do you balance having so much of yourself out there for all of us to kind of critique and evaluate?

Yeah, it's scary for sure. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have fear associated with people knowing more about my life, but I've just kind of come to a place where I feel like the Lord has given me some assurance and some freedom and I feel like that vulnerability creates more trust, not less, and that if the Lord is, has given me a testimony and things to share with people, I feel He'll see it through and protect me.

You've got a book coming out soon. Can you share a little about it?

Sure. It's called Eye of the Storm: Experiencing God When You Can't See Him. It’s an autobiography that I wrote last year, a year and a half ago. I didn't set out to write a book. I promise you that. I just, I felt like I needed to write down my story so that I could get it out in the event that someday I wanted to do something with it. I had some time to kill on a tour when I was riding in the back of a van for hours and hours every single day. It ended up catching the eyes and ears of a publisher and people really loved it. It comes out July 7th. I really love it. And it's been cool to look back again and reflect on where it started to where we are now and see the Lord's hand in every detail.

Check out “With Your Life,” the melodic, tear-inspiring song Ryan wrote in honor of his father from the album Wildest Dreams, featuring the talented vocals of Desiree Bronson:

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