Seasoned recording artist, songwriter and producer, Jason Clayborn has gospel music roots that run deep. Clayborn has written several hit songs for some of the biggest artists in the genre including VaShawn Mitchell’s “I Worship You” and “Over and Over,” Wess Morgan’s “Get Me Thru,” Ricky Dillard’s “I Survived It,” and Hezekiah Walker’s “You’re All I Need”. He has toured the world including several European and African stints with Dr. Ron Kenoly. In 2002, Clayborn was signed to Tyscot Records as a member of the world-renowned hip-hop gospel group The Righteous Riders. In the years that followed, Clayborn was nominated for three Gospel Music Association (GMA) awards, and a Stellar Award. In April of 2016, Clayborn founded The Atmosphere Changers (also known as TAC), a gospel music choir comprised of young adults from Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. In February of 2019, Clayborn rejoined the Tyscot Records family. Clayborn & The Atmosphere Changers released their debut single to radio in June of 2019. Most recently, Clayborn joined forces with world-renowned worship leader Stephen McWhirter for the release of their collaborative album, Choir Sessions, in December 2020. And coming up in April 2021, Clayborn is poised to drop a new collection with The Atmosphere Changers titled God Made It Beautiful. In this TCB Exclusive, Clayborn talks about working on new music during the pandemic, what inspired the Choir Sessions album and what song off his new record the world most needs to hear right now.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly affected all areas of the industry including writing and recording new music. How was constructing the Choir Sessions album with Stephen McWhirter impacted by the pandemic? And, how did you meet these new challenges?
When we were working on the record, me and Stephen McWhirter, we spaced it out so we could get as much work done in the session. So we normally had 4-5 hour sessions with everybody making sure they had COVID tests and temperature checks to ensure everyone was healthy. After about 3 sessions, we had a ten song album. And the good thing about me and Stephen is that we both have in-home studios, so it is easy for us to record the demos so the choir can learn them quicker. We had to cut each song about four or five times until we got what we needed, but that was pretty much it. It worked out great and people are loving the record, and I’m just happy to be a part!
How did the opportunity to make this collaborative album come to be and how long was it in the making?
It really wasn’t that long [in the making]. Stephen said he was out walking one day and the Lord spoke to him and said He wanted him to do a choir record. Stephen wasn’t sure how to do a choir record, so he called me and asked me to write some songs. It was really organic – we wanted each of us to be ourselves and not tailor or water down who we are. So we brought both of us together. He wasn’t trying to get me to do CCM worship, and I wasn’t trying to make him be a gospel choir. But we came together and wrote each song in like 20-30 minutes. It was no time and almost felt too easy, but it was of course God breathed. It’s been just super fun to marry cultures, and I just think that’s what needs to be done in our churches too – respecting our cultures and then talking about the elephants in the room. Deal with the elephants and move on being kingdom.
What were some of your biggest personal influences in crafting Choir Sessions?
Tailoring back to the old school choirs and making sure we kept that element in there, as well as keeping an element of worship. We wanted to make sure the songs were catchy and easy to sing. Gospel has the tendency for a little more musicality in it than CCM, so we wanted to do that, but we wanted to keep the feel of both. Stephen and I are both soulful too, so we had to add that old Motown feel of R&B and pop too for a little flair. So it almost creates a new genre in the Christian market.
The ten track album contains a variety of sounds that may attract listeners outside of the traditional gospel genre. Can you talk about the intention to present such an encompassing sound?
Most definitely intentional when we were putting plans together. But when the voices came together it was organic. We would listen back and watch the videos for “Glory Hallelujah” and “Stand Up”; we were just having a good time coming together to worship.
“Same Guy” is an example of the sonic breadth of this project. That track by rapper Jack Harlow features pop mainstay Adam Levine. Talk about how that collaboration came about and the message of the song.
They had us, so let me make that clear. There was a family friend connection and they were in a studio in Atlanta and were looking for a choir, which is how we connected. Later down the line, I found out Adam Levine and some of the top hip hop producers were also involved. So I’m just happy I got the call. Gospel and Christian music are loved through all genres, and it’s a part of all genres. We just need to celebrate that fact, and that it has such a lineage.
What was the first track completed for Choir Sessions and how did it help set the tone for the album?
“Glory Hallelujah” was the one for Choir Sessions. There are so many slow worship songs, and so Stephen and I wanted to write some up-tempo songs, and we got to the point where we realized we were missing the slower paced ones.
The record features your ensemble The Atmosphere Changers. Can you give us some background on your vision for the group and how they are making a movement in 2021?
We actually started as a church choir; I’m going on being at my church for sixteen years as one of the worship leaders, choir directors. At one point, we had a choir that had over 200 young people in it. There were so many people we would have to seat some of them in with the audience. So a lot of the Atmosphere Changers have been with me since they were 12 or 13 [years-old]. And I was 25 [years-old] when I started with them. So I’ve watched them group up and graduate, get married, and have families. I would take a remnant of them out, and whatever concert or worship session it was, they would always change the atmosphere of the room. And that’s where the name came from. They’re my family, and I call some of them my kids. They are an incredible group of young adults, and I’m just glad God has chosen me to provide leadership over them. We have an album dropping in early April called God Made It Beautiful. Four songs are out now with one more getting ready to drop. We’re moving in multiple Christian genres right now, so it’s a lot of fun.
Which track on the new album, God Made It Beautiful, do you think the world most needs to hear right now?
I would actually have to pick the title track, “God Made It Beautiful”.
“God will give you beauty instead of ashes, joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of despair”
I think where our country is – the shutdown, the racial breaks, the financial needs, health needs – that God is trying to get us to see that through all of the bad things that are going on, we have to make room for Him to find a rose among the ashes. There are a lot of things we need to deal with, but we can move forward. The music video will show that we captured moments from Louisville, KY where I am from and where Breonna Taylor was murdered. Through all the protests I was out there as well, and you’ll see the good parts that the media wasn’t always showing. There were white cops praying with black folks. There were a lot of good protests happening.
What are you most expectant for in 2021?
2020 taught me to get back to God and family and let the music be the next thing that I get to. I think this year I’m just learning from last year with the creativity of tapping into other things I’m good at. So I’m just looking forward to tapping into my other gifts – writing commercials, songs for TV shows and movies, having my own show, guiding a network of songwriters and shopping songs to other labels.
You have a storied history of exceptional collaborations in the music industry, who would be your dream future collaborator?
On the gospel side, it would have to be Kirk Franklin. I don’t even need to do a song live with him, but to write a song with him would be really cool. On the CCM side, there are a couple of people. I would like to do stuff with tobyMac because of his creativity, Hillsong, Bethel Music and Chris Tomlin.