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Christian Living

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Tenth Avenue North: Shining the Light

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

CBN.com Relentless touring, growing album sales, and an tremendous desire to share the Gospel, has propelled contemporary Christian recording artist Tenth Avenue North to the top of the charts in 2010.

Since winning a Dove Award for Best New Artist in 2009, the band’s second album, The Light Meets the Dark, debuted in May at number 15 on the Billboard Top 200 chart and climbed to number one on the Christian album chart.

While the accolades have certainly been impressive, none of it really matters to the Florida based quartet.  They are more interested in touching hearts and seeing lives changed through their music.

CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Tenth Avenue North frontman Mike Donehey to discuss their latest single “You Are More”, the pressure and temptation of becoming the next “big thing” in Christian music, and his greatest hope for their music. 

Your second album, The Light Meets the Dark, is doing really well. Often a band experiences a bit of a “sophomore slump” but it seems you folks have made the transition from album number one to number two just fine.  What do you attribute this success to?

Mike Donehey: It’s been cool, because we’ve been a band like 10 and a half years, but “Over and Underneath” was our first major label release. For us, we had put out independent records. And so all the songs on Over and Underneath were actually written within the year I recorded them.

Let’s talk about that period between the first record and the second. Did you folks have any sort of a strategy going into the second one? Or did you go with the flow and write songs as things came to mind?

Donehey: Both. It’s funny. I had a song that’s on our second record that I had actually written the day we signed with Provident. But we had already had all the other songs laid out for the first record. And that song is called “Oh, My Dear,” which actually became the guiding force to what the whole theme of the record would be, because that song is about the story between me and my wife, where she confessed some things to me that she was really scared of telling me. And it really helped me say, it was a call to believe the Gospel. And so what’s the next step from the Gospel? Well, it’s not, “Okay, I believe the Gospel, so now I’m going to go and try and be a really good person and do all these amazing things for God.” No, it’s therefore in view of God’s mercy, offer your body as a living sacrifice. So it was like, I don’t want to take people on a journey of, “Okay, I believe the Gospel. Jesus is enough for me. His sacrifice is everything. And now I’m going to go try to be a really good person.” It was more of like, “Now, because Jesus is true, that enables me to be honest about how screwed up I am.” I think that’s more of a logical next step.

You have a new music video for your single “You Are More.” What was the inspiration for it?  It is a rather interesting video to say the least.

Donehey: The chorus is “You are more than the choices that you’ve made. You are more than the sum of your past mistakes. You are more than the problems you create. You’ve been remade.” And what we’re hitting on, in the video we actually had, we did an online campaign where we had people send in phrases that they have a problem believing they’re forgiven of, past mistakes. So I guess you could say our mistakes and our past bullies us and for's against us. And so in the video, we have some people and some real life people, and we wrote all these phrases that people send in to us on our website. And we wrote them on a chalkboard.

It made for a real nice backdrop to the video. 

Donehey: The point of the video is that all of us have fallen. No one seeks God. No one understands, not even one. And so I wanted to write a song that says, “Okay, look, the choices you make do not make you who you are. The choices Christ made for you is what makes you a new creation.” If that’s true, the old is gone, the new has come, and out of that new identity you need to go and make choices.

Changing gears, I read a quote about you recently that stated, “It’s like an 800 year old man resides in Mike Donehey’s head.” 

Donehey: Yes. It’s painful. He’s really unruly.

So, my question is, does an 800-year-old man really reside in there?

Donehey: Part of me just feels like I’m not really that wise, I just rip off all the guys that are smarter than me. So a lot of the things I say are things that have just been handed down to me by other men. I think truism isn’t necessarily what I can spit back in an interview. It’s more about how it affects my everyday life.

There’s a line in “You Are More.” It says, “This is not about what you’ve done, but what’s been done for you. This is not about where you’ve been, but where your brokenness brings you to. This is not about what you feel, but He what He felt to forgive you and what He felt to make you new.” And what I’ve learned and especially in this postmodern culture that we live in now, people say, “My feelings are paramount. My feelings are what I’m going to then use as a lens to interpret truth.” So what I feel is first and then what’s true is seeing through that lens. And I feel like that can’t be the way we see the world. We have to look through the lens of truth at our feelings and have our feelings bend around the bar of truth and never have the bar of truth bending around our feelings.

I was talking to some industry folks in Nashville recently that said Tenth Avenue North seems to be emerging and positioning themselves to become the next “big thing” in contemporary Christian music.  Is that something you would welcome?

Donehey: Well, there are pros and cons, man. It was the same way when we got signed, like it’s amazing to get to go and to have a larger platform and reach more people. I wish I could just sit here and tell you all the stories that people have written in to us about hearing a song on the radio and how it led them to confess an affair that they were having or led them to drop a drug addiction. It’s been insane. And so there’s this beautiful thing of when there are more people that you’re playing toward and there are more people that you get to hopefully speak the Gospel into their lives. But at the same time, there’s cons to that. It’s harder for us to sit and talk with people who come to our shows.

So, the challenge becomes how to stay connected with your core fan base while breaking ground with newer audiences.  Sometimes when artists try to do this they lose sight of their original vision.  This leads me to ask what’s your greatest hope passion for your music?

Donehey: I think it’s easy. I think hopefully all of our callings are the same, and all of our greatest hopes are the same, and that is to go into all the world and make disciples. I think that’s a sort of misconception that people who do music or people who are a pastor or people who are a writer, they are the real ministers. And the rest of us have to kind of sludge through our day and just make much of them, because they’re going to minister. I feel like Jesus calls all of us to make disciples. And so my thought is whatever you’re passionate about, whether it be music, whether you’re a lawyer, whether you’re an interviewer, whether you’re a garbage man, whatever, that we would use what we’re passionate about, what we’re doing occupationally, and use that to make disciples. So in some way, I don’t feel called to be a musician. I feel called to make disciples.

2010 is starting to wind down but it has been a very good one for Tenth Avenue North. What lies ahead for you guys in 2011?

Donehey: We’re going to have some babies. (Guitarist) Jeff (Owen) and his wife are having a baby in January, and my wife and I will be having our second child in February.  So that is right up front and pressing what we’re thinking about right now. As far as the band and musically, we’re going to probably do a spring tour with Third Day and then do some festivals in the summer and keep songwriting. I’ve already started to write some songs that we’re pretty excited about for whenever the next record gets made.

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