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Artist Interview

Tenth Avenue North Reminds Us of The Struggle

By Hannah Goodwyn Senior Producer
We are free to struggle
We're not struggling to be free
Your blood bought and makes us children
So children drop your chains and sing

These are the powerful, freeing words in Tenth Avenue North's new song, "The Struggle", off their new album of the same name. Peaking at No. 9 on Billboard's Top 200, The Struggle hits on themes of grace and forgiveness, according to the five-piece Christian band.

Recently, the guys from Tenth Avenue North called in to chat about the project, the inspiration behind the album and its single, "Losing", and why God allows us to struggle through life.

Hannah Goodwyn: How did you come up with the name of your new album and what's the message you guys want to share?

Mike Donehey (lead singer): The name, The Struggle, comes from what accidentally became our mission statement. Our very first record we were getting interviewed and asked what kind of songs we hope to write, and our answer was that we want to convey truth, but also the struggle to believe that truth, because truth without the emotion behind it can often come across as just cruel. All of us, whether we admit it or not, we're weak and sinful, and we need the help of the Holy Spirit. We all struggle to believe the truth.

So, this record, it's sort of a practicum, really. It's the everyday lives of us and the people we know, and that's who the songs are addressed to. Our hope is to communicate two things, one, that in Christ we're free to struggle. It's not our performance that validates us, right, it's the blood of Jesus. And so, that means we're free to fail. We're free to make mistakes because there's grace. But it also means that because the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us, it means that we're not only free to struggle, but we're also not struggling to be free. Because that same grace that had the power to forgive us, also has the power to heal us.

Goodwyn: What inspired the artwork on The Struggle's album cover?

Jason Jamison (drummer): My great grandfather used to be a whaler, a harpooner of whales. So for all of you who are animal rights people, I apologize. But he had—two of his journals were published and they had in some really kind of intriguing—and I really enjoyed it—like pen-and-ink kind of artwork of its turmoil on the seas and the ships and just kind of cool nautical stuff. So, we started looking at those, and it started getting our minds wrapping around that idea of seas and waves, and Jeff ran across something interesting.

Jeff Owen (guitarist): I was in Florida where my wife and I were staying at a friend's house and this Rembrandt painting, [The Storm on the Sea of Galilee], was hanging on the wall… So I took a picture of it and sent it to everybody and said, "What about this picture?" The guy that does the artwork here at the [record] label said that he was already working on a draft using that very painting. The next day he sent us these pictures of what he had been working on, and we all just loved this Rembrandt painting being used to, I guess in a sense, communicate what the record is about.

Jason Jamison: It's kind of a hybrid of two paintings. He put two things together to make that one and it was magical and we loved it.

Goodwyn: Do you think God causes struggle?

Mike Donehey: To embrace that question fully, we have to look at some promises. Jesus promises us struggle, does He not? But to say that He causes it would to infer that He causes sin. Now, we are already sinful, so anything He throws at us you could argue could cause a struggle, and it's not necessarily Jesus' fault that we have a hard time with it; it's our own sinful nature. But I like to think of it in a way that evil and struggle exist in the world because, yes, at the end of the day God is sovereign over it; but I don't believe that God causes the struggle as much as He withholds His grace that could otherwise prevent it. So, we shouldn't ask why there's so much struggle, why there's so much evil. We should ask why isn't there more, if we're really honest with the desires and the darkness of our hearts.

Goodwyn: The title track prominently uses the word "hallelujah" in its chorus. What does that word means to you?

Jason Jamison: It's a sense of rejoicing, you know, to say it's a celebration. That the word "hallelujah" is the first word in the chorus, and it's right before the phrase "we are free to struggle; we're not struggling to be free." In a sense, for me when I'm singing a song or playing it, listening to it, it's amidst all of this, all of the issues we go through here on earth, all of the struggles we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Hallelujah in the sense that I'm free to struggle.

My identity is not wrapped up in how great I can be and how perfect my life is and how I have it all together. So, hallelujah that Jesus has freed me from that prison, if that makes sense. And now, hallelujah also that we are free to struggle and that we're not struggling to be free.

Mike Donehey: Hallelujah, I don't know if you know this, but it comes from two Hebrew words: "hallel" and "jah," which means "praise." It's "praise to the Lord."

Something I say every night is that the Gospel frees us to believe: one, that we're worse than we give our credit for, but that we're also more loved than we ever dared imagine. So, the freedom, hopefully, is that we actually stop thinking about ourselves. Even the word "hallelujah" reminds us it's praise to God that we're free to struggle because of Jesus. If we're not struggling to be free, if we're healed from our struggle, it's also praise to God. We no longer look at ourselves and pat ourselves on the back when we conquer our struggles. We look to our Father who, His Spirit is acting in us to will and act according to His good purpose. So, it always results in other directed praise to God, not ourselves.

Goodwyn: What was the inspiration behind your worshipful new song, "Grace"?

Mike Donehey: I started penning the chorus to that song because my mom and sister were in a fight and they were being a bit unreasonable. So, I wrote that chorus in hopes just to remind them that, "Look, as long as you're both worried about getting what you deserve and being treated fairly, this is never going to work out. At some point, you need to remind yourselves that the only way you really change someone's heart is through kindness."

Romans 2 says that it's the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance, not the judgment of the Lord that leads us to repentance. Interesting. So, that's just a call to remind them and remind all of us that grace is the way we're going to change people, not a judgment.

Goodwyn: The Struggle's first single, "Losing," touches on the theme of forgiveness. Where did the idea for this new song originate?

Mike Donehey: There's always a death involved whenever there's forgiveness. That's why Jesus had to die because someone has to absorb the pain. They have to absorb the worthy judgment of a wrongdoing. So, the question for us is in order to forgive someone, the thing that stinks is that I have to feel what Christ felt. I have to feel a loss and a death and absorb that pain in order to be able to give them what they don't deserve, which is grace.

That song started by a bunch of letters we got. We did a bit of a radio thing with a radio station called WAY-FM, and they sent us all these letters of things that people were struggling with, and we wrote a song in response to it.

Jeff Owen: There was a common theme of forgiveness and letting go of hurts and the right to hold onto bitterness. But one particular story was about a young woman that was actually raped, we think in Puerto Rico, from what we remember. Six or seven years later, she eventually had moved to Miami and was working at a fertility clinic and one day, randomly, in walks this guy and his wife. They were having problems with getting pregnant, and it happens to be the same guy that had raped her. She was just struggling with why did God reintroduced this guy into her life. Why is the hurt still there, and should she forgive this guy and all of this anguish. It was really just a crazy story of randomness; but also, at the same time, it still carried that same theme that all the other letters had of what had happened in their lives, or what was done to them, and letting those things go.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for For more articles, visit Hannah's bio page.

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