Dallas is home to one of the richest religious music scenes in the country. Over the summer, we'll be attending services, both big and small, of many denominations, as well talking to musicians, directors and pastors.
"Today is a celebration," Patrick Ryan Clark tells the audience. "So let's celebrate." Dressed casually in jeans, Patrick Ryan Clark, with the band behind him, looked like a rock star. He could've fit right in with Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas or Coldplay's Chris Martin, two of his biggest influences. But unlike Thomas and Martin, Clark is a Christian artist signed to a Christian label, Word Records.
Clark opened the 11:15am service at Watermark Community Church with a cover of "Your Love is Strong" by Switchfoot's Jon Foreman. In between songs, he told the congregation about his recent experience performing at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church's National Celebrate Recovery Conference in South Carolina. He discussed how the program helped him overcome his pornography addiction eight years ago. Then, after quoting relevant Biblical verses, Clark played a song about how God helped him through addiction, called "Where Would I Be," which was one of the three original songs he performed.
Clark isn't a new face at Watermark Community Church. Starting in 2008, he was their worship pastor for about five years, until he left the church several months ago. But Sunday, July 14 was the first time he's led worship since he officially left, because the usual worship pastor was out of town.
Amanda Barstow, a student at Richland College who has attended Watermark for about twelve years, misses Clark's presence at Watermark. She still keeps up with his music and finds that it helps her connect with God.
While Clark left the church on "great terms," he now has more time to travel and write songs. He's also currently in charge of the music at Providence Road Church in Norman, Oklahoma, where he grew up. The church, started recently by two of his friends, has only about 100 members. While the church doesn't have the resources of Watermark, Clark finds it "refreshing," and loves the opportunity to create his own vision.
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Although Clark was born and raised in Oklahoma, he is, in many ways, a product of the Dallas music scene. While part of a band, he and his friends considered pursuing music in California. However, they decided to stay closer to home and, around 2003, they moved to Dallas, largely because of the Deep Ellum scene. Clark, who had never sang or played an instrument until college, played secular music at various bars and clubs around the area with his band.
While he had long been a Christian, he didn't consider playing Christian music until around 2006. While attending a Christian conference for college students, he noticed a girl so moved by the music that she was bawling. In that moment he found that Christian music could be much more powerful than secular music. "Before that," Clark says, "music for me was all focused on Patrick Ryan Clark."
Soon after that experience, he began leading worship at a small Frisco church. After performing there for about two years, he joined Watermark full-time in 2008.
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Last March, he released a seven song EP, Lifted Up, which was produced by Ed Cash. Cash is huge in the Christian music industry, having earned multiple Gospel Music Association Dove Awards and several Grammy nominations. He's worked with some of the biggest names in Christian music, including Chris Tomlin, Amy Grant and Mark Hall of Casting Crowns.
Working with Cash in Nashville was "incredible" for Clark. "Recording in the same room as some of these guys that I've looked up to for so long was a really humbling experience. Really, the whole time I was recording that record I was just going, 'How the heck did I get here?' I kind of had to pinch myself."
Clark has come a long way since his first solo album, Translation, which he released in 2006. "When I started doing music, I had some people that I loved and I wanted to sound like them. You know, I would hear Coldplay songs or Matchbox Twenty or someone like that, so, in my early days, I would just try to be like those guys. I think it takes artists a long time to really find out who you are and what kind of music you really love doing," Clark said. "I still pull from those influences, but I really just try to be myself. I've gotten to a point now where it's like, 'Hey, this is who I am. This is the way the Lord has gifted me. This is me, take it or leave it."