I definitely believe that everything is spiritual. I wrote the song “Piedmont Park” for my boyfriend that I’ve been with now for over two years. He’s a huge part of my life and my kids’ lives. He’s from Georgia, and when we started dating, we’d go to Piedmont Park in downtown Atlanta. To me that song is about this love I never thought I’d get to experience. It’s a very spiritual thing as well.
Can you talk about the song “Broken Heart”? Who was that written for?
“Broken Heart” I had written for my parents, about yearning for them to be in my life and knowing that they chose not to be in the years since I’ve come out. They chose their religious beliefs over being in my life and it was devastating. The week after I got the final mix back for that song, my parents were in a car crash. My father passed away and my mom was extremely injured. All of a sudden, after my mom was not really in my life for six years, I’m sleeping on the floor of the hospital with her at night as she’s in the ICU trying to survive.
She’s really making an effort now to be in my life, my boyfriend’s life and my kids’ lives. And it’s something we both have talked about, how it’s so sad that it took that tragedy of losing my dad for her to realize that they were doing it wrong by thinking God would want them to not be in my life. But my album release party is at the Columbus Museum of Art tomorrow night and she asked if she could come. This will be her first time seeing me perform since I’ve come out of the closet.
“Hey Jesus” was also on your 2017 album “Love Is Love.” Why rerecord it for your new album?
I was sitting in my living room with a guitar in 2016 after coming out. I had all these feelings of grieving the loss of my family and my church family. Grieving that I had been brainwashed to believe I would be an abomination in God’s eyes. I had been married to a girl and had two kids. My whole identity was wrapped up in being a certain thing. Then to finally have my life fall apart and to face this major part of myself I’d never faced, writing that song was me grieving everything I had felt my whole life growing up. I wrote it in less than half an hour.
After I put the song out, it’s been amazing. There’s no marketing behind it, it just slowly grew and it’s now become personal to people that message me every day from around the world. It was featured in PBS’ first LGBTQ special that came out in June for Pride Month. Doing it with Semler felt like a way to put it out again. This doesn’t just belong to me anymore. This song belongs to every LGBTQ kid that has grown up being taught there’s something broken about them.
What does it mean to you to have that song on a Christian Spotify playlist?
The gatekeepers used to reject artists like me after coming out, or Jennifer Knapp when she came out six years before I did. There are still so many closeted LGBTQ artists in Christian music. So it’s fascinating that now, me as an openly gay man and Semler as an openly queer artist, have this song together on one of the biggest Christian playlists in the world. Hopefully, people who need to hear those words will find that song, whether it’s an LGBTQ person or their parent, sibling or friend. This song is easily one of the most meaningful songs I’ve ever written. To get to be subversively in this space feels so redeeming and so beautiful.