Before signing on the dotted line with Gotee Records, Ryan Stevenson spent seven years as a paramedic. The EMT and father of two launches his full-length debut, Fresh Start (Gotee), today (Sept. 18, 2015). Stevenson got his “fresh start” when he was discovered by none other than TobyMac. In fact, fans are already acquainted with this new artist through Toby’s GRAMMY®-nominated smash hit “Speak Life,” which Stevenson co-wrote. Moreover, Fresh Start’s lead single “Not Forgotten” (which also features TobyMac) has already spent multiple weeks at No. 1 in advance of the album’s release. We recently asked the songwriter to fill us in on his first studio project, where his songwriting began and how he eventually ended up collaborating with TobyMac.
1. What originally made you decide to start writing songs?
I started writing songs in college after I received a guitar from my youth pastor as a graduation present. I have always been a drummer and never had any intention of writing or singing. When I finally picked up that guitar, it was like it just made sense—I could play it, I could sing. It was seamless. The guitar opened up a new chapter for me, because I was then able to express the feelings stirring in my spirit and put them to the music I was creating.
2. How did you get connected with your songwriting buddy TobyMac (and eventually signed to his label, Gotee Records)?
I was working on a song called “Speak Life,” and Toby heard part of it when he visited the studio where I was writing. It struck a chord with him, so he called me up and we finished it together. That was really the start of a kindred relationship, which naturally and organically led to a relationship with his label, Gotee Records.
3. Has there been a recent moment in your life when you felt like you were given a “fresh start”?
Yes! When Toby signed me to Gotee, I felt like it was the beginning of a whole new season. The songs on this record were all directly birthed during this season of new beginnings.
4. “From the Ground Up (Bonanza)” is a deeply personal song for you. Why did you decide to write a song about your childhood?
I love this song, because for me, a huge part of who I am is a direct result of the environment I was raised in. I grew up in Bonanza, a small town in Southern Oregon—a tight-knit farming community. We all knew each other; it was very family oriented. Growing up on a farm taught me amazing life lessons. I learned to work hard; I was never allowed to quit; and I had to persevere even when I didn’t feel like going on. So many things about Bonanza shaped me. It weeded out any chance or hint of entitlement! It gave me sensitivity for life. I wanted to share this stuff, because I feel like it’s a mentality and a value system that’s extremely lacking in our culture today. I want to inspire people to get back to the “real, raw life” where we are loyal, integral, and honoring of our commitments.
5. What is your favorite lyric from your debut album?
I really love the lyrics of “Bonanza,” especially the second verse where I talk about “learning to drive at 11/out by the sugar beets/my daddy’s ’69 brown GMC/stick shift with a bench seat/and Hotel California stuck in the tape deck on repeat.” This is a perfect, honest representation of actual events from my life that I’ll always remember! I also love a line in my song “Chasing Your Heart” where I say, “I’m no longer hopeless/cause this door was open.” God always opens the right doors at the right time. Those open doors (TobyMac, Gotee) literally shifted the course of my life when I was at my lowest point.
6. What do you like to do when you’re on the bus traveling from city to city?
I love to rest and watch movies. The bus is a great place to escape and just wind down. I also like to read books by my favorite authors.
Purchase Fresh Start (Gotee) here.
Catch Ryan out on tour this fall with Newsboys and Hawk Nelson. For dates, cities and additional info, visit www.ryanstevensonmusic.com.