Motown Gospel/Capitol CMG emerging artist Jonathan Traylor breathes new energy into the faith-based music scene with his major label debut, The Unknown, which released last month. Beginning as a three-track release, The Unknown is an innovative playlist-styled album that will continuously be updated with new songs and video content over the course of the year. The triple-threat singer/songwriter, producer/musician, and dancer rose to national prominence last year, following a string of tour dates and high-profile appearances, including the pre-show stage at Kirk Franklin’s Exodus Music & Arts Festival in Traylor’s hometown of Dallas, TX. Since then, he has quickly become known for his passionate lyrics, catchy hooks, and dynamic stage performances that infuse the culture with the message of the Gospel. Traylor recently opened up with us about his major label debut, finding comfort in “the unknown” of the current culture and his hopes for the collection.
Congratulations on the recent release of The Unknown, your major label debut! How do you feel with it being a few weeks past release day?
I’m excited. It’s crazy seeing the numbers and the benefit of partnering with a label – your reach is just a little bit farther. I’ve always been used to doing things on my own, but when you partner with a label, you have to trust them. And just to see the benefit of it is just really cool. The comments and feedback are telling me that I’m helping them in their walk right now. It encourages me too – to be able to make songs that are anthems and reignite fires in people.
Can you share a little about the meaning behind the album’s title and how it is a reflection of the whole project?
‘The Unknown’ is a two meaning title. First, I just believe in the time that we’re in it’s so uncertain. Everyone has a big question mark on their minds and are trying to figure out what is next and if things will be the same. I remember being in a similar season and feeling like I was walking around blindfolded. It’s been a beautiful, but scary, journey to have trust in God and follow His voice. This whole process of learning how to trust in God and His words – that He will never leave you nor forsake you and He will be with you to the very end – it has to do with me trusting again. I don’t understand what’s happening, but He does. I love what my pastor says “I don’t know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future.” That’s been sticking with me in this season. The second meaning is the need for affirmation from people, which social media hyper-exposes. I just remember having visions of a dad and son playing baseball, with the son doing all sorts of tricks and extras, like throwing the ball behind his back. They’re both smiling – the dad is just happy to be present and with his son. And the son is just trying to impress, but the dad loves him without that. And I just felt that being placed on my heart in terms of finding my identity in Christ – the world may not know my name or my music. I may never be famous, but as long as He knows my name, that’s all that matters.
The formatting for this release is a little different, with updates to the playlist coming over the course of the year. What prompted you to pursue this endeavor? Do you have a vision for how large the collection will grow when completed?
The strategy behind this, as a worship leader, is we’re taught to not leave anyone out. You want to make sure young and old, black and white, everybody is welcome to the table. So when you’re leading worship, you want to maybe sing a more contemporary song for the younger generations, but you may want to throw a little hymn in there for the seasoned saints. The thing about that this project is that with every release we have something for everyone on this project. I don’t know how many songs it will be at completion. The label has given me freedom for which songs I feel led to add. It may be 12 or 15 or 23 [tracks] – I don’t know, but God is speaking to me, and as a vessel, I’m trying to write everything down as quickly as I can.
What has the reaction been like to “You Get The Glory”, “I Trust You” and “Purpose Over Pleasure (Live)” so far? Have there been any impact stories shared with you from listeners?
The response has been crazy – just seeing everyone at their different places. Someone just posted a video from Ukraine listening to the song. If someone would have told me when I was 15 or 16 [years-old] that my music would go all the way to Ukraine and Japan, I wouldn’t have believed it. But thank God for technology. The response has been amazing. I’ve been getting emails where people were about to give up, but my songs are helping them refocus their minds. It’s a hard prayer to pray, but not only are people listening to my songs, but they’re receiving them. It’s changing their perspectives. Believers have this thing called hope – a supernatural gift that the world can’t give and the world can’t take away. And we don’t move the same way, so when things come, we may panic or may be shaken, but then we remember that God is for us. And He is working out everything for the good, and He will get the glory from it.
Who, or what, were some of your biggest inspirations spiritually and musically in cultivating this collection of songs?
My mother. She is a singer, but more so her faith growing up that did something for me. I had a pretty rough childhood and there were times when we didn’t have money for the bills. And it could be crazy and uncertain; I always felt I was on shaky ground. But to see how Mom reacted – getting up early and praying as she did – hearing her say she trusted and worshipped the Lord, seeing her dancing in the midst of the storm – that kind of faith ignited in me to know that God is faithful and someone I can depend on. When I go through life as an adult, I can look back and say I have faith. But my mom always reminded me, that even when God can and doesn’t, He still deserves the worship.
Musically, seeing Tye Tribbett on stage and jumping is crazy. Seeing Kirk [Franklin] do the moonwalk and stuff for church. It’s just cool to see them worship and give their all. For KING & COUNTRY present Jesus in such an amazing way as well.
Success can mean a lot of things to different people. How will you define success for this album?
Man, that’s a good question. I define success for this album as chains being broken, hearts being healed, trust being restored, and my daughters one day listening to the music and thinking it’s amazing and wanting to share it. I just can’t wait to grow up and get old and see this music continuing to encourage my children and their children. That’s success to me. Getting awards or nominations – if it happens, that’s great. But for people to get closer to God, to come to know Him more, through the music. Jesus isn’t some faraway thing – I want all to know that He is near and accepts you.
With all the recent changes brought on because of the COVID-19 pandemic, what or who has helped you adapt to this ‘new normal’?
My wife and kids. I would have lost my mind a long time ago without them. We wake up and have breakfast, and I get to see them grow every day – they look different or they have learned a new word. It’s been really cool to watch them grow with not being on the road. We get to have dance parties and worship together. My wife has been a trooper, and it’s been really cool to just be with family. They’ve been helping me cope.
With social distancing guidelines imposed, how have you been able to continue your mission of worship and connection?
So this has been a really cool time because as artists, we are normally traveling and doing a lot of events on the road. But if you’re a worship leader at a local church and an artist, your artist role has almost shut down, so you’re able to really pour into your local church. That’s been really cool to help lead worship and feel like you are all in. I still do streaming and helping other churches, too. Plus I’m worshipping with my family. I thank God again for technology – it’s been helping me get the message out. We may be doing it differently, but we still have the means.