A few months ago, our editorial team met around a large conference table to plan the next issue of UrbanWell Magazine. Someone in the community had recommended Ryan Vanderburg as our next Art & Culture Spotlight. Ryan and his brother, Caleb, as well as Caleb’s wife, Brianna, had recently travelled to Nashville to share a jingle that they had created for Folgers. It seemed like a cool story.
Like all of us, Ryan’s busy but he met us for an interview at the Lighthouse Coffee in Midlothian, Texas. Afterwards, we invited ourselves to his studio. We quickly discovered that Ryan’s an all around good guy: a family man, church member and devoted friend.
We also learned that his story is much deeper than a jingle. Ryan’s the kind of person we like to call “urban folk.” He’s deeply committed to faith, culture and community. As an artist, it’s all about love no matter what.
What’s your story? How did you and your brother, Caleb, become musicians? Back in 2004, our neighbor used to listen to us rehearse at my parents’ house in Red Oak. He encouraged us and booked us a show even though we didn’t have any original songs of our own. We were only 15 years old at the time but we had a bunch of different ideas of songs. Three weeks later we played the show and then we started playing every weekend. Fast forward about four or five years; we were touring regionally with Christian rock bands including POD, Red, Disciple and Pillar.
What kind of music are you playing now? We’ve been doing hard rock our entire lives but we’ve started getting soft. I guess you just mature out of it. I still love all the hard stuff but we’ve developed an appreciation for the singer/songwriter genre.
Where do you play? After recording an EP and five original songs that we’d written, we started playing at restaurants, coffee shops and weddings. It got to the point where we could focus on our music full time. Caleb became more involved at church and I tagged along when he needed me as a guitar player and second lead vocalist.
Then just a few years back, my father-in-law launched Vertical Church in Ovilla. Caleb agreed to be the worship leader. His wife, Brianna, leads alongside him. When I’m not at Vertical Church, I help out at FBC Midlothian
During the week I’m working at my studio. We are recording Caleb’s solo record right now.
What’s it like to transition from playing music together to helping produce his album? He’s evolved tremendously as a songwriter. At the beginning, we had such a limited set of ideas to sing about. But the longer you live the more experiences there are to write about.
What message does he hope to share through this album? As a whole the album is a message of hope; it’s about there being more to life than what we seem to focus on. He’s included some worship songs that are honest and sincere in ways we don’t always hear. Caleb and Brianna had a miscarriage this past year so there’s a song on there called ‘Praise You Always’ and it’s pretty much an answer to the terrible circumstances that they’ve endured. It’s a great song.
God is love. The most terrible circumstances in life cannot take away from the love that God has for us. The junk we go through is not a sign that God is not happy with us. The record is about showing people that they’re loved, and that things in life happen, and you just have to roll with it and have faith that God will make a way. He always does.
How does being from here influence your music? We grew up around here playing for Lighthouse, at the old venue. Eventually we moved to Fort Worth because that’s where our gigs were. I used to think you had to escape in order to find inspiration for songs. Or that we had to play in L.A., New York or Nashville and really branch out and get away from your roots to to do anything big. We’ve been to those places … they’re inspiring. But now my studio is in my house.
I used to get annoyed when things would distract me from what we were working on…
[Ironically, a man interrupted our interview at this very moment.]
So something like that … something that could be seen as a distraction is actually what shapes who you are. We could get aggravated that some dude walked in and interrupted … but there’s no need to get aggravated about that. Life is just a bundle of different little things that affect and mold what you become.
So where do you see yourself going as an artist? What’s next for you? I’m producing a record with a buddy of mine named Maurice. It revolves around the idea that today’s culture says that love is a certain thing that it’s not. The record is about trying to shift people’s attention towards what love really is, and when you don’t know what love is, when you haven’t experienced love … you’re blind to what love really is.
Families who’ve been put through all sorts of abuse, or neglect, quite possibly don’t understand how much they’re worth. Then the cycle perpetuates they have kids and then it just keeps going and going. A lot of songs on the album have been written to point people towards what love actually is, and not necessarily in a Christian sense, but how to relate and love people in general.
You’ve had supportive parent and enjoyed a great family life. How are you so in tune with meeting the needs of people who haven’t? We grew up around people that didn’t have anything. My mom and dad have always taken in a lot of people. At one point we had 14 people living with us – in a three bedroom home. It was crazy. When we sheltered a family with two kids and a little baby; the parents slept in the living room with the baby and the little sister and little boy slept in our bunk beds. My parents have been great examples for over a decade now that we just have to do it – just love no matter what. As musicians, that’s what we write about and care about the most.