Stars Go Dim’s recently released third studio project, Grace In The Wilderness, leads listeners on a pilgrimage toward hope that expands on the infectious pop that’s defined Chris Cleveland’s catalog since the impassioned singer debuted his first self-titled album under the Stars Go Dim moniker. Coupling meaningful lyrics with a voice that knows no bounds, Cleveland pulls out all the stops on the intrepid collection as his immaculate voice effortlessly glides across 13 tracks — all co-written by the ace songwriter, who also collaborated with talented lyricists like Ethan Hulse, Dante Bowe, Jordan Feliz and Ryan Ellis, among others. Produced by Jeff Sojka, Jeff Pardo and Anton Göransson, the new LP features the explosive “This Is Love,” the worshipful “Prepare The Way” and the affirming “Yes He Does.” In this TCB Exclusive, Chris talks about how walking through tragedy inspired the album’s title track, how songs have taken on new meaning in the months following their conception and why he thinks this is the best record he has ever released.
Congratulations on your recent release of Grace In The Wilderness! What prompted you to pick the title for the project?
It’s interesting. I wrote the title track with a friend of mine, who is also an artist, but has been a friend longer, named Ryan Ellis. We wrote with Josh Silverberg as well. It was a last-second write. Someone had bailed out and so they called me to come in. Ryan had just gone through a terrible tragedy in his family and this song just came out. At the time, I didn’t know what it was; I thought it was for him and not me. As the months have ticked by, I could not let go of the song. The pandemic happened and all of these things – it just started feeling so like a needed message, an outlet. I was just thinking this morning about the idea of grace in the wilderness. How God has been present and faithful, even in the hard stuff. We’ve still had to go into the wilderness and sometimes we like to gloss over that and put the façade on that we’re good. But in reality, some of us are walking through wildernesses. But the beauty of a walk with Christ, is not that we won’t walk through those, but that He’ll walk through them with us. And to me, this record is a celebration of that – holding both of those things. I love the song but even more the record is a celebration of the faith of God through that.
You pre-released a few tracks ahead of the full release. How do you feel those previewed the full project?
I picked the ones I really like! I love pop music, and the second release off of this was a song called “This Is Love,” which is really a love song. The video is beautiful and for any market it was just so well done. So I wanted people to see that and hear that and feel that like I did. And “Yes He Does” just felt like the first message we needed to release. Yes, we’ve been through the ringer and some people may be asking God if He’s still there and if He cares. And I wanted to give a response to that. And “Prepare The Way” we released in March; that’s a song I’ve loved for a long time. Bethel Music actually recorded it. I wrote it with a bunch of people in a Mav City camp back before the pandemic. I love the song so much and I love Bethel’s version. I started putting it in my shows because it is so powerful. It’s one of my favorite songs to play live. I hope that song gets a lot of love as this record comes out.
You wrote and first encountered many of these tracks years ago. Is there a track or lyric that means something different to you now?
This record has been done and mastered for almost a year and a half, which is crazy that it takes that long to get music out. So one of the things I’ve tried to do is maintain my love for it, which can be hard for an artist, because we move on from things, especially when years have passed. “Grace In The Wilderness” is a really great example of a song that took on new meaning. When we wrote it, I really felt like it was only Ryan’s story of God walking with him through tragedy. But as the years have gone on and I’ve gotten to sing it myself, it has taken a broader meaning. People can listen to the song and can see that God has been with them through the struggle and the desert land. It’s an honest way to say to God that this is tough but we trust Him. It’s a song that has not lost any luster for me.
This is your third studio project. How did the recording experience for this project most surprise you, perhaps even exceeding your expectations?
This one was awesome! It was really simple and easy. For one, I live in Nashville now, so it makes it really easy to write a bunch of songs. Two, a guy named Jeff Sojka, produced the whole record. He and I have worked on every project in some form, but he’s only done half of the record or a handful of songs. But he called me one afternoon and said he wanted to do my whole record. One thing I’ve learned in this business is that when you get someone who really believes in you and wants to champion you, you go for it. It was just such a great experience to do a whole record, and I think I got the best record I’ve ever made. You can listen to it 1 through 13, or 13 through 1, and it gives you a whole other vibe. If you want to be pumped up, go 1-13; if you’re in a little mellower mood, go 13-1. The whole record is cohesive, feels good and sounds good. I met some new friends writing this record, and also wrote with people from previous records, like Jeff Sojka and Jeff Pardo.
How are you looking forward to sharing this new music?
I’ve been sneaking some of these songs into my sets for the last year. So if you’ve seen me live, you’ve heard a few of them. I made a post on social media about how I’ve had these songs to myself for so long that they feel safe, and now the baby bird is flying out of the nest. My hope is that people will hear it and engage with it. I honestly think if you like Christian music or pop music, you’ll like this record! I’m biased but I think it’s great.
How will you define success for this collection?
I don’t even know what that means anymore. The last couple of years have redefined that for a lot of us. I want to see my kids grow up and I want a healthy relationship with my wife and a healthy relationship with music. And I think, for me, that’s a struggle. But when I get the messages from people that it changed their lives or affected their lives, what else can you ask for? I think radio and all those things are great, but I can’t control that. And I’ve learned to let it go; I really hope that some of these songs do well. I just hope that these songs can reach the people they need to reach, and that lives can be changed for the better.
What are you most expectant for in 2022?
I hope that I can be present for my kids and my wife and I get to have some really great days with them. And I hope people hear this music and love it. And I hope that I come to play shows and see people experience these songs like I have. If I can do all of those little things in a healthy way, I think that’s what I’m working toward. Call that expectation or hopes and dreams, but I think that’s it. I’ve left behind if people think I’m cool or if I’ve got the #1 album. But if I can impact the people around me, and to borrow from my last record, bring heaven to earth in the situations around me and conversations around me, then I’m doing pretty good.