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Tenth Avenue North Searches for Community in Cathedrals

By Chris Carpenter Program Director Have you ever thought about why it is so important to be a part of something that is larger than yourself?  To be in community with others is essential.  It can be a time and space where life is less about individual dreams and more about serving others well.

With their fourth studio release, Cathedrals, platinum-selling recording artist Tenth Avenue North suggests that as a community of believers we can become a place of protection and safety for others.

I recently sat down with Tenth Avenue North’s lead guitarist Jeff Owen to discuss how as Christians we are not meant to be alone, why the band decided to take a very different approach in recording Cathedrals, and whether delivering pizza was an effective way to get the word out about their new album.

Your album is called Cathedrals. That’s a simple title, but I sense there is something far deeper in its significance. So, in the spirit of this record, what is the term “cathedral” symbolic of?

It really spins out of the idea that Jesus Christ dwells in us. He doesn’t dwell in buildings, and so we believe wherever you go, you bring Christ with you and that is being a cathedral. What we want is for people to realize that cathedrals are a safe place and that we should be a safe place for others, that safety, that community; and because we have a song called “No Man is an Island,” that’s calling people out of their island of isolation, and we want people to embrace community.

You mention “No Man is an Island” and that is the first single on the new record.  What’s the story behind that song?

That phrase, “no man is an island”, stems from an old John Donne poem. We just thought it was an interesting phrase. It can mean so many things, and we really just thought, wow, so many people just isolate themselves; they’re too much for other people to handle, they believe that no one understands, And really, Christ calls us into community with each other, and we want people to not stay on an island but to leave their island and go into that community that I talked about earlier.

I understand that you guys have just about put everything you’ve got into making this record. My sense is that you put it all on the line for this. Is that true?

We worked really hard. We wrote for three, four months solid, recorded for an entire month, and I think this is the first record that we wrote entirely as a band. So I think just the attitude behind this record, it’s just so communal, I suppose. There’s just kind of a new brotherhood behind this record.

Traditionally, Mike Donehey (lead singer) has written much of the music.  It’s interesting that you wrote this entirely as a band. Since this is your fourth studio album why did you make the decision to do that now?  Why change the formula that had been working so well for you?

You know, I think, before we were still trying to figure out who we are or what we sound like. There’s also kind of a formula you follow, especially as a newer artist with a record label. Your “good songwriters” are your go-to. So before, Mike had written most of the songs on the first record and a lot of them with other outside songwriters, and gradually there was less and less of that and more and more writing with myself or writing with somebody, the guys in the band.  We just felt like that as a team we kind of want to know that our staying power or our ability to do this doesn’t require other people to get involved.  We just knew there’s something about playing a song night after night on things that you had a part of is way different than playing someone else’s song.

The band has been together for a long time, nearly 15 years.  What keeps the band moving forward and continually breaking new ground with your music?

I think I could speak immediately to that. Our record came out a few days ago and the label calls with their first report on sales and their projected figures.  I will confess they were low for this day and age. Record sales just aren’t happening, and you can’t help as a human but wonder about your effectiveness when another artist sells way more than you do, but then we quickly snapped back and realized that, as a buddy of ours said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And we actually got stuck on the bus for three hours in traffic, and we thought, man, let’s just find people on Twitter and direct message them as well as people who have bought the record or fans of ours and just call them. So we called them as a group and just talked to them, prayed with a couple of them, sang to them; and it really just kind of recharged us that if a handful of people come to a show or buy our record, then man, we’re touching their lives and that’s the joy in this.

Fantastic! After people listen to Cathedrals, what’s the one thing you want them to take away from that listening experience?

I think we just want people to realize that they’re not alone in their struggle. The whole record is about community, but we want people to understand, believers and unbelievers, that life by yourself is insufficient. You need outside help. There are just so many unbelievers realizing that they need a Heavenly Father, or a believer realizing that they need more than just Jesus. I’m not saying for your salvation, but a lot of people will corner themselves by saying, oh, it’s just me and Jesus.  Yes, that is true but He also called us to each other and to serve each other.   That’s what we want with this record.

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Tenth Avenue North

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featured cd

Tenth Avenue North: Cathedrals Cathedrals (2014)





did you know?

Tenth Avenue North takes its name from an east-west road in Palm Beach County, Florida.

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