Tenth Avenue North
Rarely has a new band delivered an album with more emotional punch than Tenth Avenue North’s 2008 debut Over and Underneath. Musically inventive and lyrically compelling, the collection helped earn the band the New Artist of the Year accolade at the 2009 Dove Awards and placed them in headliner status on its fall tour. Needless to say its 2010 follow up album is one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year.
With one listen to The Light Meets The Dark it is obvious Mike Donehey, Jeff Owen and Jason Jamison are taking a bold step forward on their musical journey. Once again the songs are poignant and powerful, and in recording the new tunes, the band brings a more seasoned level of musicianship and intensity, honed from relentless touring.
“It’s been kind of crazy I guess when you think about it,” Donehey says with a smile. “In a lot of ways, we don’t feel like anything has changed. When we get up on a stage, more people are there to see us play and more people are familiar with the songs, but the objective really hasn’t changed. The objective is for people to encounter truth and be changed.”
Tenth Avenue North meets that objective head on with the music on The Light Meets the Dark. “I’ve sort of stepped back and looked at this group of songs and really I feel like it’s a continuation of this last album,” Donehey says. “I’m not trying to blow people’s minds. I’m trying to take them to the next step. ‘Over and Underneath’ is a call for the gospel. This next record is more like ‘Okay, now if you believe that, let people see how messed up you are. Are you ready to confess? Are you ready to have all your masks taken away?”
That ability to challenge audiences to a deeper walk of faith while simultaneously encouraging them with the truth of God’s grace has propelled Tenth Avenue North to the forefront of the Christian music industry. The band’s debut disc ranked No. 10 on Billboard Magazine’s list of Top Christian Albums for 2009. The group placed two songs on the Hot Christian Songs chart, including the No. 1 radio single “By Your Side” at No. 2 and “Hold My Heart” at No. 13. Most impressive is the fact that Tenth Avenue North, still on its first album, had “By Your Side” show up at No. 3 on Billboard’s overall decade ranking of Christian Songs.
It all began for Tenth Avenue North when Donehey, and Jamison met at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. They recruited guitarist Owen and began booking themselves in churches and youth camps from Florida to Colorado. They began creating a buzz that caught the attention of label executives at Provident Label Group and landed a deal with Reunion Records.
Over and Underneath was released May 20, 2008, and quickly established Tenth Avenue North as one of the Christian music community’s most talented bands, and lead vocalist/principal songwriter Donehey began drawing comparisons to such visionary leaders as Casting Crowns’ Mark Hall, Third Day’s Mac Powell and Jars of Clay’s Dan Haseltine. For many young musicians, such early success may have proved paralyzing, but not for Tenth Avenue North because music for them has never been about awards and CD sales, but about the chance to impact lives.
“When we were going through songs and writing songs, we weren’t worried about whether or not this record was going to take,” Jamison says of the album’s potential. “The No. 1 priority is the songs and the lyrics. We want to create strong songs that hopefully draw people in to experience Christ.”
Donehey agrees, “I carry this ache with me and I don’t know if that’s common to a lot of people, but I know Paul says in Romans ‘I have unceasing anguish for my brothers who don’t believe.’ I don’t have unceasing anguish, but I do get a taste of what he’s talking about when I get up on stage and I’m talking about the truth and Christ and redemption. I look into the faces of the crowd and you can tell that some people have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.”
Owen feels the first single “Healing Begins” encapsulates the theme of the new album. “It’s where the title of the record comes from. It’s basically about confession -- confessing your sins to one another that you might be healed, which is a scary thing to do. You can believe in God and love God, but confessing the things that you keep secret and hold on to -- that keep you tied to your past and weigh you down --confessing those things is not easy. You can experience such freedom in telling someone else. You know that God knows everything about you, but telling someone else is an entirely different thing.”
The songs on The Light Meets the Dark are authentic, heartfelt and confessional. “On this record I really tried to be honest about how messed up I am,” Donehey says. “We wanted it to be a collision between our hearts and God’s truth. Sparks will fly. His grace collides with the dark inside of us. His blood can cover us and I’m trying to call people out and say ‘Look, please do not hide your darkness. Expose that to the light.’ I know that’s the scariest thought, but it’s where freedom and healing starts to take place. It’s where it all starts to happen.”
Audiences are already responding to the music. “Every time we play ‘You Are More’ people come up to us and say ‘That’s the first time they’ve ever heard anything like that,’” Owen relates. “The song says ‘You are more than the choices that you’ve made. You are more than the sum of your past mistakes.’ People don’t believe that. They believe the choices that they’ve made make them who they are and who they will continue to be until the day they die. The gospel doesn’t work on that scale and that’s what a lot of non-believers, and believers, don’t know about the gospel. It’s not what you have done; it’s about what He did for you. Christ has made you a new creation.”
Tenth Avenue North’s songs remind the listener of God’s grace and challenge believers to focus more on the things of God, not the things of this world. A prime example is “All the Pretty Things,” which encourages us to not let the bright, shiny things of this world distract us from God. “This song isn’t just about the obvious things we may be distracted by, like money, status or material things,” shares Donehey. “It’s about where we place things in our lives. Are we building our families around our faith or our faith around our families?”
In recording the new record, Tenth Avenue North worked with Jason Ingram, Rusty Varenkamp and Phillip LaRue. “We had the same producers on this record as the last record,” says Jamison. “God has really orchestrated a great team for us because they all really just love the gospel and they really just love seeing that the word of God is coming across in these songs.”
In recording the new album, the band definitely felt more comfortable in the studio; a confidence earned from spending so much time on the road the last two years. Not only did that time serve to put further polish on its musical skills, but also helped them forge a bond with its audience. Not content to just play for the crowds who came to see them, band members also held question and answer sessions during their headlining tour. Tenth Avenue North would interview its opening acts to give the crowd more insight into the music and ministry and then they’d field questions during its own set.
“We did a Q&A session where we took questions that were put up on our website. We invited people to ask questions about faith or about something they were struggling with or whatever. So we would print off those questions and we would answer like questions from our audience. We thought it was pretty fun,” says Donehey.
“We try to meet with people after all of our shows; it’s important to us to connect,” he says of interfacing with fans in the band’s seemingly endless autograph lines. “The reason we’re in this is to talk to people, engage with people and hopefully, disciple people.”
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