Quick, which Atlantan sold more than 140,000 copies of his debut album last year?
Here are a few hints: his single was downloaded 85,000 times and spent three months at #1 on iTunes; he won armfuls of awards (“Song of the Year,” “Songwriter of the Year,” and “New Artist of the Year”); his music has been broadcast on CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, ESPN, and elsewhere. Who is this rising star?
Unless you’re listening to contemporary Christian music, you probably have no idea who Aaron Shust is. Shust is an earnest singer/songwriter with a gift for writing simple songs of life and faith, and the commercial success of the album Anything Worth Saying is threatening to seep outside the traditional boundaries of modern gospel music and into the mainstream. It’s been quite the ride for a guy who only a couple of years ago was writing songs for his congregation at Perimeter Church in Duluth, Ga.
“I guess the short of it is that I was writing songs for the sole purpose of playing them in church as an offertory, or if they were easy enough to sing along with, I’d throw them into the worship set,” recalls Shust recently from his Atlanta home on the eve of the release of his sophomore album, Whispered and Shouted. His career as a recording artist was the by-product of his work with the church, and truth be told, Shust probably wouldn’t have even recorded his songs had a friend not built a home studio.
“My vision at the time was that we could sell them in the bookstore at church so that everyone could be familiar with the songs,” says Shust. “So that was my intention, just to play some songs, and then others’ intentions were to record them. “I wasn’t dreaming as big as other people around me,” he continues, “which I think was a good way to do it. I was just being faithful to where I was, and people around me were there to support and encourage me.”
Shust’s humble approach came through on his debut, and translated into an ascendancy that continues to surprise. It also puts pressure on Whispered and Shouted to deliver something bigger and better. As Brash Music’s first and only Christian artist, Shust knows that the label would love to have a hit that would break the boundaries of contemporary Christian radio.
“I think of the strength of Lifehouse and the Fray and especially U2, and that’s an incredible ministry and calling that they have,” says Shust. “If more songs come to me that can be accessible to the non-religious ear and kind of seep in messages of love without being offensive, then I’m going to write them. But I grew up in a church, and I know what it’s like to go through religious things day after day, Sunday after Sunday, and still completely miss the boat and just not get it. So that’s where my heart resonates the most,” he says.
Shust’s heart also knows that his music has, fairly or not, elevated him above his flock as a public figure. It’s a precarious position for a person of faith, and history is rife with examples of Christians whose sins have become fodder. Shust recognizes this and embraces it.
“There’s that pressure that comes with the pedestal that honestly, I welcome,” says Shust with conviction. “Because anything that can keep me away from that stuff, road rage or whatever sin it is, I welcome it. And it’s absolutely scary but if I didn’t have that pressure, I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have any accountability to my faith.”