Tauren is the former frontman for Royal Tailor Band, a Provident Label Group/Sony Music act whose two albums over a five-year-career garnered two Grammy nominations and another for New Artist of the Year from the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards.
The group maintained a whirlwind schedule, playing an average of 140 shows a year with artists like Casting Crowns and Third Day and on tours like Winter Jam and The Rock and Worship Roadshow. The warm reception to their progressive pop/rock sound indicated crossover potential, which led to an internal struggle for the band: should they stay in the CCM market or take aim outside of it?
Eventually, life pointed in other directions. The guys began to marry and start families, and their perspective of life on the road changed. In 2015, the group parted ways to pursue individual interests.
But Tauren feels he has unfinished business.
In many ways, pursuing a solo career feels like a complete reboot. May 2016 saw the release of his first music in three years. The hard-hitting “Undefeated” featured Reach Records’ rapper KB and served as the soundtrack for the internet-famous Dude Perfect’s “World Records Edition” episode on YouTube, which garnered over 14 million views in just three weeks.
It’s a taste of the unconventional approach he and his team are planning. “I want to be a pioneer for Christian music, but I’m not trying to be famous or be cool for the sake of being cool,” he explains. “I want to say something that impacts people.”
Back home, Tauren and his wife, Lorna, have been quietly busy building a life around ministry and music. In addition to serving on staff at her father’s church in Houston (called Royalwood), the two have launched a private music academy called Prisma Worship Arts School, which has expanded to two locations with 20 “Dream Coaches” and 100 students – in just two years.
The couple also travels regularly to help churches develop worship teams and music programs.
Throw a toddler, Kanaan, and newborn, Lawson, into the mix and the Wells have their hands full. But Tauren’s past compels him to do more. And his wife champions the idea, even though it will mean his travel schedule will pick up.
“We said this from the beginning: We are called to this,” he says. “I may be the artist that’s got the deal, but this is a family calling. We found our thing, which is Prisma. We pour into that together equally. Everything else we do, we’re also connected on.” That commitment to family is part of the way Tauren continues to rewrite the narrative of his life’s story.
Coming from a broken home seemed like a set back for Tauren but ultimately was a setup for God to do what He does best; create beauty from brokenness.
“My parents actually met acting and performing in musical theater. They may deny this now but they were both natural entertainers. My mom acts on occasion locally in my hometown. My Dad was really into music and we had all kinds of instruments, drums, keyboards, you name it, in our house. Looking back, I can’t believe he used to let me mess with all his stuff... I could’ve destroyed it at six or seven years old.”
“It was actually my dad and ‘step’ mom’s (we don’t use that term) relationship that ultimately led to us making God and faith a real priority. I’m grateful for my blended family and I have strong with relationships with all four of my parents. God truly builds on what remains in our lives. As I plugged into church, that brought other really influential people into my life.”
He benefitted from the presence and involvement of his uncle, who was also his youth pastor and worked at Tauren’s high school. He mentored Tauren, even helping him study John Maxwell books on leadership during his lunch period. Over time, Tauren became hooked on youth ministry and singing.
“Seeing him doing ministry and all of that inspired me to think, That’s what I want to do,” Tauren says. “I spoke to our youth quite a bit. He helped me put ideas together. I’d always submit my messages to him, and he would walk through them with me. He showed me, ‘This is how you move on the stage. This is what you do with the mic. This is how you address the people in the room.’
“Then, my pastor let me preach in our main Sunday morning service,” he continues. “He took me through the whole sermon, and got me in there. I preached it just for him. He really took time and was intentional about investing in me.”
His uncle was the first to encourage Tauren to pursue music. “At 16, he told me, ‘You have a good voice. You could lead worship, but I need you to be able to play an instrument.’”
Tauren began learning to play the piano, but “I couldn’t learn songs fast enough,” which was like “torture” for the worship band, so he began writing his own. “No one knows if you mess up your own song, so I started doing that,” he says with a laugh.
While continuing to learn piano, his natural talent for music began to emerge. At the same time, he grew to love all aspects of youth ministry: from the set design to leading to speaking. Not content to focus on one area, he began to see the entire package as a creative director.
That interest led him to Bible college, where he met his future bandmates, his wife, and eventually the lead singer of Leeland, who introduced Royal Tailor to Provident’s executives, who later signed them.
But the early college years were formative for another reason. It was there Tauren’s dreams of becoming a minister were crushed.
“I went to Bible college feeling pretty good about it,” he says. “Then, realized there are a ton of talented kids out here. Then, a lot of people frankly just did it differently than me. I learned from a student ministry vantage point. These guys were watching their 55-year-old pastors preach. Their speaking dynamic was totally different than what I was used to.”
Things got worse from there. After a presentation in a public speaking class, a professor accused Tauren of plagiarism. “I’m taking this speaking class, and I put my message together like my youth pastor taught me: graphics, PowerPoint … I researched and put it together the whole thing. I came in, delivered my talk. He told me after my message, ‘Go sit down and don’t ever bring
something that you got off the internet in here again.’”
“I was like, ‘I did this, I wrote this.’
“He said, ‘There’s no way that you wrote that. You got that off the internet.’ I was really upset at the time. I didn’t realize it because I was just mad, but it was very hurtful.”
The false accusation was devastating and had lasting effects. Even as the lead singer of a successful, touring band years later, Tauren would organize the set list so he’d never have to talk more than a few seconds to introduce the next song.
“I could entertain, perform, sing, lead worship and all of that,” he says. “But there was just insecurity when it came to having a thought that people would actually want to listen to.”
Being in a band enabled Tauren to hide behind their collective identity. “A lot of people called me Royal. They thought that that was my name. My identity was so wrapped up in what I was doing, and not just in who I was.”
Moving into his 30s brought a period of self-discovery and reflection. In that process, Tauren sensed a “settling into” who God designed him to be: a multifaceted artist with roles as a husband, father, entrepreneur, musician, songwriter, and minister/speaker.
“I think that’s how God designed us all,” he says. “I don’t think any of us are one-trick ponies. We all have gifts. A lot of people have a hard time seeing you any other way than how they’ve seen you. People limit us to maybe the thing we do best, forgetting that there are other gifts that if they were developed, could shine just as bright.”
With that maturation came the courage to step out on his own as an artist, and for the first time in nearly 10 years, a speaker. “It took me until last year to get to the place where I’m like, I’m going to do this,” he says. “I’m going to at least give myself the opportunity. I just put a post on Facebook and said, ‘I’m willing to come talk to youth groups, churches, school groups about Jesus.’ From that point, I’ve had three or four opportunities a month just
His message? “I feel called to call greatness out of people,” he says. “I basically want to do the opposite of what I’ve experienced. If people have spoken a low expectation of someone’s life, I want to be the voice that raises the ceiling, makes them feel like they can do something great.”
The excitement and positivity are palpable not only in his talk but his music as well. Tauren’s energetic style plays on pop sensibilities with a heavy dose of urban appeal, likened to Bruno Mars, Maroon 5 and OneRepublic.
“That’s the vein that I want to be in,” he says. “Mainstream music is writing that music for high school/college students. But that’s what their parents are listening to at work and on the radio. Everyone is listening to it.”
In short, be prepared to dance. “We’re going to get down a little bit,” he says. “At the same time, I feel provoked to do something. I want it to be multi-dimensional. I want them to leave inspired, but also asking questions: What do I do next? What does what I’m feeling mean, and what do I do with it? I feel like at that point, we can give them a vision: Here are ways you can express your gifts. I feel like the music is the runway to taking people somewhere.”
The first radio single from an upcoming EP that will only be available for purchase by seeing Tauren live is “Love Is Action,” co-written with Jeff Pardo (Hillary Scott and the Scott Family) and Josh Silverberg (Jesus Culture) and produced by Jordan Sapp (Natalie Grant, NF). It’s a call to inspire the church. “If the church would get activated and go into the world and infiltrate every context they’re in, then we could change the world. That’s what this song is. Apathy is not an option, indifference is not an option,
silence is not an option. Love is action.”
In it, he sings: “Nobody changes the world standing in the crowd, nobody’s voice is ever heard until you open your mouth.”
It’s a fitting lyric for where Tauren is as an artist. “I have more awareness of who I am, what I want to say and where I want to go,” He says. “I can’t say that I had that at 22.”
“The sound is very current for what’s happening in mainstream,” he says. “It’s very progressive for what’s happening in Christian music, which is a part of what I want to do. “I want to create a new template,” he continues. “I want to go in front of people and knock down some walls so that people better than me can come behind and not have the same struggles.”
To do that, Tauren knows he’ll have to “plot a new course.” That goes down to the details of his record deal with Provident as well. “They’re doing new things with me that they haven’t don’t before. They’re using me and a couple other artists that are outside of the norm to try some new strategies, which is exciting for me.”
Tauren’s management company president, Mitchell Solarek, agrees. “Every single thing they’re doing is so unfamiliar - probably a bit terrifying. They’re doing it because they really are committed to reaching Tauren’s audience the way that they want to receive music. They’re saying, ‘Let’s follow the music. We’re in this for the long haul.’”
Manager Dennis Disney agrees: “This is a guy who’s going to surprise us and keep challenging every single person around him.”
Challenging the status quo comes with the territory for Tauren. Growing up bi-racial, Tauren knows what it’s like to be misunderstood. “People assume they know about you,” he says. “I really think that’s where we’re at as a nation. We’re at a place of great misunderstanding, of not considering the experience of others. We all want to talk, and no one wants to listen. We all want to be understood, we don’t really want to understand.”
Because of his experience, he’s learned to be a bridge between cultures. “I think that’s a part of my calling. I’m called to build bridges. But the problem with that is when you’re a bridge, you get walked on.”
…or walked out on. When Tauren proposed to his wife, Lorna, who was the pastor’s daughter, it nearly split the church. “We had people in our church that said, ‘If they get married, we’re leaving.’ It’s weird because we had other interracial couples in our church. We were a diverse church.
“I think it’s because of who I was marrying,” he continues.
“It was like: As a black person, I’m good with you, we’re brothers as long as you’re in your place. Marrying a pastor’s daughter who is white is a step out of your place. I have a problem with that.”
One hundred people left the church. However, Tauren says the church is “1,000 times better now because of that.” Tauren uses this experience to fuel his desire to make music that provokes Christians to rethink what it means to love your neighbor. “I feel like music is a great place to start the conversation,” he says.
Mitchell says that story sealed the deal for him. “When we heard some of the stories, particularly the one that happened in his church ... you’ve never seen my heart break like that,” he says. “It doesn’t take a lot of sense to figure out we’re living in a time where this is going to be one of the most complicated conversations that my children are going to have. To be able to work with an artist who gets to tell that through such an honest, personal way ... who doesn’t want to be involved in helping tell that
Tauren’s authentic approach continues to attract a range of opportunities. In the fall, he’s on the bill of two stylistically contrasting tours– 15-city national tour with rapper KB, which will take him to secular venues and clubs, followed by the 13-city “Be One Tour” headlined by top-selling Christian artist Natalie Grant and K-LOVE Male Artist of the Year Danny Gokey.
Mitchell says that contrast speaks to how variegated his appeal is as an artist. “Tauren can move in spaces outside of CCM and yet, be very accepted in that space because of the honesty and legitimacy of who he is.”
Tauren knows the millennial audience wants substance and transparency without being manipulated, so he’s particular in how he’s represented. He takes a leading creative role in every aspect of his music: from the writing, the production, the merch design and even art direction for the videos.
His goal is to create a brand people can trust, similar to career bands like Casting Crowns and Third Day. “I feel like people want to buy into brands that they can trust,” he says. “I don’t want to go through the 20 years before people will say, ‘You know what? It’s a little bit out there for me musically, stylistically, whatever, but what they’re saying and who they are is enough for me to say, I want
my kids to see this. I’m buying tickets for that.’”
While he’s perfectly positioned for that kind of success, he’s taken steps to make sure his connection to community doesn’t change with the territory. “I know that when I am done being an artist in this capacity, I will either be on staff at the church or start a church,” he says. “That’s the ultimate thing that I’m going to do. I value it now. I don’t want to get in la-la land out here on the road in artist world.”
In essence, he’s counting on the local church to be the friend who’s willing to speak up if success goes to his head – like an unsightly bit of cilantro between his teeth. “I think the local church is the mechanism to remind you of who you are,” he says. “Coming out from being on the road, or even instances like this when someone is buying my meals – this is awesome, and I’m grateful – people are like, ‘Let me carry that for you.’ People are serving me. But when I go back home to church, I can say, ‘Okay, it’s my turn to change the batteries in your microphone so that you can stay on the stage. Then I’m going to go to the back and push some buttons.’ Or, ‘I’m going to go stand out in the parking lot in 100 degrees and welcome people to the church.’”
It’s that commitment that keeps him grounded. “I’m on the prayer team, so I get emails coming to my phone all day: ‘Pray for so and so in the hospital - surgery.’ You realize real life is happening to people. Ultimately, that’s why we’re doing this - to give people hope in those moments.”
It gives him hope as well in the tough moments he has to leave his family to travel. “Kanaan’s starting to get old enough to understand that I’m leaving,” he says. “I tell him, ‘You know why I’m leaving? To tell people about Jesus. That’s what we do.’ I am an extension of them.”
As an extension, or said another way, a bridge, Tauren’s helping others cross into greatness.
Tauren’s radio single “Love Is Action” reached No. 1 on the radio charts for eight weeks. Both “Love Is Action” and “Undefeated” were featured in viral phenomenon Dude Perfect’s videos and have garnered millions of views each.
Tauren’s latest single, “Hills and Valleys” was released to radio and is for sale along with a ‘Hills mix’ and a ‘Valleys version’ of the song (three versions total) on January 20, 2017.