BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
No Crossroads for Tenth Avenue North
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
NASHVILLE -- It has been quite a whirlwind for Tenth Avenue North over the last 12 months. In addition to being the Most Played New Artist of 2008 according to Nielson Soundscan and Radio & Records, the Florida-based quartet was recently named New Artist of the Year at the 40th Annual GMA Dove Awards.
Featuring hit singles “Love is Here” and “By Your Side”, the band’s debut release Over and Underneath remains near the top of the charts over a year after its release. Yet for all their success, Tenth Avenue North remains humble and completely dedicated to spreading the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
CBN.com program director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with all four member of Tenth Avenue North, Mike Donehey, Jason Jamison, Jeff Owen, and Scott Sanders, to discuss what it means to be called ‘the next big thing in Christian music’, the irrelevance of receiving awards, and whether there is a magic button solution to faith.
You have been together for nine years and you just received the Best New Artist of the Year award from the Dove Awards. So, obviously you are not an overnight sensation. You have paid your dues. That must be very gratifying. To be together that long and now here you are. What are your thoughts on that?
Mike Donehey: I think as an artist you make your living performing. It is ironic that we get on stage every night and we have to perform in order to tell people about a Gospel that says you don’t have to perform. Christ performed for you. Also, our treasure is in Jesus Christ. Our reward is Christ Himself the person. So, you get these rewards and you have to hold them loosely. Just accept the compliment and hopefully the reason that we won is that people thought we’re displaying Christ well. If that is the case then praise God.
As a band, what is your biggest thrill when you perform?
Donehey: As part of our show now, we bring out a mechanical bull and Jeff rides it. It is completely awesome. (laughter) We actually have video of a few of us riding mechanical bulls. Honestly, being on the MercyMe tour recently and at the end of their set they do “Word of God Speak”, “Send the Rain”, “I Can Only Imagine”, and they do “God with Us”. There are moments in there when people are just connecting with God. There is this presence of God. People are worshipping Him and fixing their eyes on Him. It is beautiful to get to be a part of something like that. For us personally, it has been absurd the stories we have been getting from this record. Our prayer making this record was not that it would be the biggest seller or most successful. Our prayer was that people would somehow encounter through all of our nonsense, guitars, and drums, and lyrics that somehow people would come to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. And to hear people tell us that it happened while they were in tears has been the most rewarding thing – that God would answer our prayer.
Jason Jamison: I think that is the biggest thrill for me. It is not actually playing the show but it is more about after the show when we are meeting people. And to have someone come up to us in tears just saying, ‘You don’t know how perfect the timing was when your record came into my hands. My husband left me and I was left with all of these problems. God used your record to pull me through some tough times.’ When you hear some of those types of stories and you realize I had no idea when we were making this record that God would be able to use it. Yes, He can use whatever but that He would choose to use something as trite as a three minute song to bring people through some of the toughest times of their lives. To me, every night on tour we get one or two of these situations that just make me just take a step back realize it is just beyond us.
Billboard Magazine said recently that “Tenth Avenue North is the next big thing in Christian music.” Those are some major expectations.
Donehey: We will all be eating fried chicken every night. We are all going to try to be really large.
In all seriousness, that is a pretty big tag to hang on an artist.
Jamison: I hope that if things get bigger that we will just continue to point people to Christ. That is my hope. I hope that we are not the next big thing but just continuing to point people to the biggest thing – Jesus. I understand where (the Billboard reporter) is coming from with that statement as far as how the industry side of things go. But our desire is not that. Our desire is even if our music is for only a few people, that they will come to understand the breadth of God’s love for them, His grace, His forgiveness, or He is a father to them. That is the intellectual side of it. If they can grasp a little bit more of the truth of who they are and who God is then I think we are happy with that. We have succeeded. Everyone talks about us having such great success for the last year but I wonder how they are gauging success? For us, it is trying not to concentrate on the big numbers but more on the one person coming to an understanding of who Jesus Christ really is.
Your debut album is called Over and Underneath. How would you describe it to someone who just picked it up and had never heard anything about your music?
Jamison: Intellectual melodic pop rock.
Donehey: A unique brand … of intellectual melodic pop rock.
What was your inspiration for the album? Was there a central theme?
Donehey: We believe the Gospel is this: that no matter who you are, you are in need of Jesus Christ. If you are doing really well and you feel like your life is awesome, Christ lived better than you. He is perfect. That should humble you out of your pride. His love is over you and at the very lowest depths of human failure Christ went lower. He went into hell itself and buried our sins on the Cross. So, that should give great hope to those who feel defeated. It comes from a song in times where I’m praying to God and He responds. So, “Over and Underneath” is a call to just believe the Gospel. It is to be humbled from your pride and to be given confidence out of your fears.
If you had to pick a track on Over and Underneath that you feel defines what the album’s message is all about what would it be and why?
Jamison: For me, it would be “Times”. Part of this song is written from God’s perspective. At your lowest point, God just says, ‘I’m there. I’m here.’ Just being able to run to Him at any given moment. I think it is a favorite for all of us, or at least one of our favorites. It just speaks pretty sharply to your heart and the human condition. Often times we run away instead of running to God.
Donehey: It is interesting that Jesus says, ‘What is the work of God?’ in John 6. He says it is to believe. And you couple that with the idea that the most repeated command in the Bible is to not be afraid. It is interesting how so often we seem to put the cart before the horse and we haven’t ever addressed the fear that we are loved by God. How can we be loved by God? I love the Dostoevsky quote from “The Brothers Karamazov”. He says, “Avoid fear, though fear is the consequence of every lie.” So, that song is me saying I’m afraid. God, am I enough? And then it is Him responding to those lies that I have believed and the fears that is has created. He then responds with the truth of the Gospel. We have tried very hard to make sure the Gospel is expressed throughout the entire album.
After people hear your music or they go to one of your shows, what do you want them to take away with them?
Jamison: I don’t say this lightly. I’m not trying to say we have some magic button and if you push it people will come and meet Jesus. Seriously, I hope people are encouraged and are given hope. I hope some people are convicted and broken. At the same time I hope people are healed and mended. We can’t do it. We will be the first people to tell you we can’t do it. We beg God that He would do some cool stuff through our music. We just want God would use us by using these songs to touch people’s hearts. That is my desire – that they would leave with Christ.
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* Some material used courtesy of Vining Media Relations
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