While Switchfoot’s massive break-out hit, “Dare You to Move,” was igniting romance between Mandy Moore and Shane West on the silver screen in 2002’s A Walk To Remember, the song itself was taking on a life of its own. The epic cut not only made the San Diego-based rock band a household name, but it also stirred listeners around the world to action, including a young college student by the name of Josh Wilson.
Although Wilson was already well-versed in guitar and piano by the time he enrolled in Nashville’s Belmont University, the preacher’s kid and avid instrumentalist envisioned a post-graduation job as a studio musician, content to remain behind the scenes. However, his professional journey took a turn when he personally experienced the power of lyrics set to music.
“I fell in love with songwriting in college, because there were songs in my life that literally changed my path,” he says. “There was a big decision I needed to make, and I made it because of a song. Jon Foreman’s singing in my ears, ‘I dare you to move,’ and I did. I thought, ‘Wow, music is powerful. I want to learn how to do that,’ so I started writing in college. I never ever thought I would be an artist because I’ve never loved the spotlight.”
You’d never know it based on Wilson’s engaging stage persona and the way he articulately answers questions posed in an interview setting. He appears poised, thoughtful and confident. “This is not natural. I’m an introvert who deals with anxiety,” he admits during our session, where his publicist and manager are also present. “I never thought I’d be sitting in a room with three people while they watch me.”
Wilson candidly chronicled his ongoing struggle with anxiety on his 2013 release Carry Me. Having experienced paralyzing panic attacks, there was a time when he wasn’t sure he could leave his home, much less tour the country and stand on stage to sing in front of thousands of people each night. He admits to telling his wife on more than one occasion over the past few years that he wasn’t sure he could continue on this career path of writing, recording and touring.
Although he still struggles with intense bouts of apprehension, with his latest album, That Was Then, This Is Now, he made the intentional choice to move forward in faith— despite his fears—and ended up finding inspiration in the unlikeliest of places.
“To be able to do another [record] is always an honor,” shares Wilson who’s been signed to Sparrow Records for nine years now. For this particular studio album—his fourth full-length—he adds, “I had a lot of bouts of writer’s block, and, I’d say, a decent amount of discouragements along the way just trying to find these songs.”
The mandolin-laced title track, centered around the transformation that occurs when we encounter Christ, took on an entirely new meaning for the singer/songwriter when he performed at a graduation ceremony at a local rescue mission in Nashville, a place where he serves and performs often. The ten men gathered had taken part in a year-long recovery program and were transformed from the men who had walked through the same doors of the rescue mission twelve months prior.
The before-and-after picture Wilson paints in his song became flesh when he saw the living, breathing examples of the graduates sharing their personal stories of redemption and restoration there in front of him.
“They showed a ‘before’ [photograph] of the day they came in to the mission—drug and alcohol addicted, with no hope in their eyes,” Wilson recalls. “So a year later, they’re standing here giving a testimony of what God’s done in their lives in a suit, poised, smiling, hopeful—a literal ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture. Their story is everyone’s story. It’s just a little easier to see it in their lives because they had previously come from the
Through that experience, Wilson realized the title of his new record, and the songs therein, actually give context for a wide variety of people’s stories, including his own. “The album title applies to so many things,” he continues. “We are a new creation. We are dead before we meet Christ; we are alive now that we know Him. There is a big change when we come to know Christ. We’ve gone from death to life.”
In addition to serving regularly at the Nashville Rescue Mission, Wilson and his wife, Becca, also give their time and talent to an area chapter of Capernaum, Young Life’s program for special needs kids. Ironically, the couple stumbled upon this new mission field accidentally.
The day they moved into their current neighborhood, Wilson recalls pulling the “For Sale” sign out of his front yard and feeling the presence of someone directly behind him. He turned around to find a young man on a bike
grinning from ear to ear. “We could tell pretty quickly he was someone with special needs,” Wilson shares. His name is Jay. “We’ve been in that house almost five years now, and I’d say he’s at our house every other day.”
Upon getting to know their new neighbor better, the Wilson’s soon found out Jay is 26 and lives with autism and cerebral palsy but can get around on his bike, which he uses to scour the neighborhood to talk with people. “He loves gadgets, so he loves my studio,” Wilson adds. “He loves to see all the gear and plug stuff in.”
It was through Jay that the singer and his wife were introduced to Capernaum. The Young Life club meets every Monday night and provides dinner, Bible study and worship for kids just like Jay. “It’s around 30 or 40 kids of all ages and ranges of special needs. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen because they’re all so joyful,” Wilson says.
He and Becca have now been to several of Capernaum’s camps. Wilson often leads worship for their Monday night clubs and has also hosted multiple tour fundraisers to support the organization. Meanwhile, Becca is helping to start a new Young Life club for kids too old to attend Capernaum after seeing a need to help them obtain jobs and integrate into adult life. The organization has become an unexpected blessing for both of them.
“We went because we met Jay. He literally came to our door,” Wilson laughs. “We weren’t necessarily looking for it, but we’ve fallen in love with that organization.”
It’s evident Wilson and his wife both have compassionate hearts for service. The singer met his now wife after a show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when some mutual friends introduced them. “I flew back, and we talked on the phone for 24 hours a day for the next month,” he jokes of their whirlwind romance. “Then I went back for our first date.” Wilson proposed after only six months, and they were married a year and a day from the first night they met.
The couple is expecting their first child in October. “I’m excited to be a dad,” Wilson says. “I know it will be a lot of hard work but a lot of fun [and] very fulfilling and enriching.”
When asked what he fears most about impending fatherhood, his introspective answer parallels his thoughtful approach to songwriting, faith and life. “I think one of my fears is not having answers to all their questions, because I don’t have answers to all my questions,” he admits, adding, “The way I want to approach that with my children is to be as honest as I can, particularly with regards to faith [and] the big questions in life. If they ask me something I don’t know, I want to say, ‘I don’t actually know the answer to that. Let’s see if we can figure it out together. There are a lot of mysteries in life, and that’s okay. Let’s find out what we can and leave the rest in God’s hands.’”
It seems he’s taken his own advice as he’s intent on not allowing the fear of the unknown to define him. As a result, he’s more confident in his calling and harnesses a renewed passion for music and a rejuvenated appetite for life. Whatever role he finds himself in—singer, songwriter, friend, believer, servant, husband or father—the significance of what he does isn’t lost on him. After all, he still remembers that feeling he experienced in college more than a decade ago after hearing one song and being inspired to move in a new direction.
“I take this very seriously,” he affirms. “I don’t know who is going to hear these songs or what they need to hear.” Like his listeners, he’s still working through his internal struggles one step at a time, leaving his
“then” behind and trying his best to live in his “now.”
“I haven’t necessarily gotten completely free of my anxiety, but I’ve decided to continue moving forward,” he says. “God’s using me despite my weakness.”
As long as the stories from his own life permeate his music and transparency is his guide, Wilson can’t lose.