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Shawn Thomas
You’ve just released a new CD called, “In Between the Shades of Gray.” What’s different about this release from others you’ve done?
My previous CD that came out in 2013 (called "Voice of Worship") was lyrically based on scripture. That was a new way for me to write (and a challenge) as far not just "going with the flow" and having to use and adapt a pre-written lyric. I enjoyed that experience, and on this new CD I did refer to scripture for some inspiration, but not as verbatim.  

For the current project, most of the songs were written completely independent of one another without any planned template or theme for what the album would be about. What was fun about that, is I got to write about anything that inspired me at the moment - from personal experiences and relationships, to convictions and beliefs that I hold dear, to other artists and their music.
This CD is also a return to more of the pop/rock style I started with, and I also had a lot more fun doing production and arrangements with the new CD, because pop and rock studio type projects just seem to lend themselves to using a lot more "toys" in the recording process.  

How did you pick your title track?
Actually I had a really hard time with that! As I said, part of what made this project different for me was I had no plan, so what happened was I ended up with a bunch of songs and no idea how they all fit together. I kept going through each song title in my head and always thinking, “Nah, that doesn’t fit.”  

Finally it dawned on me to do what I’ve seen a lot of artists do, which is find a lyric from a song that seems to match or describe your project over all, and use that. “In Between the Shades of Gray” is a lyric from the twelfth track called, “Never Gonna Steal My Joy.” I think it works great as a CD title, because as a phrase all by itself, it kind of describes the details that are hidden inside of randomness, and this project definitely started out random!  

Are you planning a video to go with this recording? Any images or ideas you’d like to share for a sneak peek?
Yes, yes, yes – and I can’t wait! I already released a lyric video for the first single, “I’m Alive,” but I’ve got plans for 3 others as full production videos, so I hope it all works out.  
The next single will be for a song called “All That Wounded Really Means.” I’m still working on the concept for that one.  
THEN – what I’m really excited about is a duet that Rev. Yolanda (aka Roger Anthony YOLANDA Mapes) sang with me called “Eye of the Beholder.” A lot of the footage for that video has already been shot, and I’m just sitting on it waiting until it’s time to release it in music video form – hopefully around the start of the year.

Finally, the third video I’m hoping to complete is for a song called “Peculiar People.” I love this song because it plays with the King James Version of 1Peter 2:9 which says “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” A “peculiar” people - I love that! So the song talks about being perceived by the world as weird, unusual, odd, not normal, and so on. I think it would be so much fun to make a video around a theme like that.

Are you married to your partner? If not, any plans to do so?
Brian and I had our Holy Union on October 26, 2008. We are also registered with Palm Beach County in Florida as Domestic Partners. Right now Florida does not recognize the marriage of same-sex couples, although recent cases may result in that lack of recognition changing soon. We both consider our Holy Union service our wedding, so once Florida does recognize the marriage of same-sex couples, I'm sure we will go through the legal procedure, but probably won't have another service or wedding. 

How do you keep your relationship back home strong with a fair bit of touring?
Two things help us:
When Brian and I met, I had already been touring full time for several years, so we’ve never know our relationship any other way than for me to be gone a few days each week. I think it would be harder had we been together for a time first, and then I started travelling.

The other thing is that Brian traveled and toured for years as an evangelist, and has been involved in ministry most of his life, so he knows and understands what I’m doing.
There are times Brian travels with me, and I love that. Obviously, we do miss each other when we’re apart.

Is there anything you would like to say to LGBTQ youth or people of faith who are struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?
I recently heard an amazing transgendered black woman speak at The Evangelical Network Conference. Her name is Carmarion D. Anderson, and she began her message by declaring that there are two words that drive her crazy when she hears them. They are "affirming" and "inclusive." She explained that both of those words say to her that either an individual or a group has predetermined what is appropriate and what isn't. She went on to say that she prefers to redefine what has been called "affirming" and/or "inclusive" by renaming it a "Brave Space."  

In a Brave Space, you are who you are without offense to someone who is not who you are, and you are free to be all that you are - because we are brave enough to be ourselves and brave enough to let others be themselves.  

I think, especially for people of faith who are also GLBT, there's a habit of apologizing for who we are as Christians, and that we are afraid of not just being hurt ourselves, but afraid of hurting someone else's feelings - and so we strive to be "affirming" and "inclusive." I stand with Carmarion in declaring a Brave Space.  
If you are struggling with who you are as a person of faith and/or with who God has created you to be in your gender or sexual identity - I say, "Be brave." Don't apologize for who you are or for your beliefs, and don't be so easily offended by others who are being brave in who they are and their beliefs. Be who you are. Instead of striving to be included and affirmed, let's be brave!

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What instruments do you play?
I once heard Keith Urban say that he plays keyboard like a guitar player. I’d have to say I play guitar like a keyboard player, and I play keyboard like a guitar player. In other words, I play just enough on both to get me in trouble. I’m learning to play drums too – which I love. I’ve only played drums live a couple of times, but I’m hoping to improve A LOT and get more comfortable playing with a group or band.

What are your thoughts on the importance of social networking? Which ones do you focus on and why?
Okay, let me preface this by saying – if something’s working for you and you’re getting results, then great. Keep at it. I’m just sharing what my experience has been. I also realize that I fill a very specific niche as an out Christian artist, so that’s a factor on how things work or don’t work for me as well.
I used to be on facebook, and dropped it a couple of years ago. I do see its value as a purely social tool, and I know many use it to keep in touch with family long distance and so on – which makes a lot of sense. But as a promotional tool, what I found was that I was spending so much time trying to keep up with sharing posts and links and events and so on, that I was neglecting my main website and email newsletters. I also found that whenever I posted info on facebook, it got very little (if any) actual follow-through reaction. What I mean by that is you can get as many “likes” as you want on your new CD being released, but that doesn’t mean you sold anything. Same result was true if I posted about a video or even a free song - almost no actual response other than lots of kind comments and “likes.” However, when I posted something on my website, or sent out an email blast, I always had immediate, tangible reaction in either sales or views or downloads, or whatever the information was about. So I refocused my energy back to the website and email blasts and ditched facebook. From that experience, I had no real interest in twitter, or google+, or instagram or others. Again, as a purely social experience, for fun – I get it. For business, promotion, and marketing – didn’t work for me.
What’s interesting is that in the past few months there have been more and more articles on industry blogs and websites about studies showing exactly what I experienced, and now the music industry as a whole seems to be questioning the value and effectiveness of using social media for marketing.

Have you always been openly OUT as a gay artist? If not, when did you make the decision to be out?
I came out when I was 26, but I had released 3 recording projects before that. (The first two were on cassette – I’m old!) Those three projects were also more secular in lyric, so I was trying to sing pop-love songs singing “ooh girl….” and stuff like that! Ha!  
One thing that I’ve shared before in interviews, is that I hear stories from or about other Christian artists who came out after they had begun their careers in Christian Music, and they have such horrible, painful experiences. I’m grateful that for whatever reason, the order of events for me was that I came out first, and then didn’t release my first Christian CD until a few years after that.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for you as an Independent artist as and as an open Out LGBT artist… or does it make any difference?
Well, like I said, I know I’m in a very specific niche – but I’m hardly alone. There are many openly gay Christian singers and songwriters, and but for the path prepared for us by some of those pioneers, “out” Christian artists wouldn’t be able to share our faith in the way we can today.  
I think the common challenge for those of us in the “gay Christian” category is finding a place both in the church community, where we can be considered abominations, and in the GLBT community, where we can be considered traitors or worse for holding on to our faith. It’s the “rock and a hard place” scenario.

Finish these sentences:

The lesson I keep learning is….
there is always enough. I think we’re trained/taught to fear lack. We believe if someone else does something or has something, then that leaves less room for us to do it or have it too. I’ve found the opposite to be true. There’s always enough. The more the merrier.

The song that changed my life was…
“Electric Youth” by Debbie Gibson. (I know, I’m a dork!)

I still get nervous when…
I sing a song for the first or second (or third) time. I have horrible rote memory, and I forget words to my own songs all the time – especially when they’re new.

What keeps me up at night is…
our pug, Zoe. She’s less than 20 lbs, but somehow in the bed she expands exponentially and takes up the whole thing with no room for me and Brian.
"In Between The Shades of Gray" is the new CD from openly gay, Christian singer/songwriter,
Shawn Thomas.

We talked to him about his return to pop/rock, his feelings on social networking, his challenges, his life partner and his message to LGBTQ youth.
Preview Shawn's new CD!