Four-piece rock act Downhere has been earning their keep for almost eight years and released their latest project,
Ending Is Beginning last year through Centricity Music. As the band preps for their next studio release, Jesusfreakhideout.com's
Matt Johnson recently spoke to the band's lead vocalist Marc Martel about their latest record, their longevity and more...
This interview took place on: 2/16/09.
Jesus freak Hideout (Matt Johnson): You guys just finished up the
Bethlehem Skyline Tour. What's the whole experience (preparation, audience, & performance) like compared to a typical show?
This was the first year of the Bethlehem Skyline Tour, although the album compilation Bethlehem Skyline has been out
for a year or two. Any time we can travel on a tour bus, which is very rare, it's definitely a plus. It's a huge
improvement on the quality of living, as opposed to living out of our usual 15-passenger van. Of course, that wasn't
the best part of the tour. Getting to tour with our Centricity label mates was a blast. Some we had toured with before,
and some we hadn't. We are all friends, and it was sweet to get to know one another that much better for two weeks.
Compared to our "typical" shows or tours, it really felt like a vacation to me in some ways. Sure there was still the physical
labor of setting up and tearing down the stage production, but the concert itself had a very laid-back feel. Much more "hanging
out in your living room," and less "epic rock show." I was always pleased after every show to not be dripping with sweat,
and I was even wearing a tie most of the time! It's the little things. Not to mention the fact that we (Downhere) only
performed about 8 songs, as opposed to the usual 13 or 14-song set.
The tour itself was met with all the growing pain that tours typically go through, especially on their first year - a
couple of poorly attended shows. Comes with the territory I guess. But all in all, we were really well-received. The
last stop on the tour was a sold-out show near Minneapolis. Always nice to go out on a high note! And I think we
all put on a really good Christmas concert that put everyone in the true spirit of the season.
JFH (Matt): The new record features your Skyline song "How Many Kings."
How difficult is it to develop and say something fresh about Christmas with the plethora of "old favorites" out there?
You know what? It's really hard. At least, for me. I probably wouldn't have said that a couple of weeks ago, but I'm
currently in the process (here, in mid-February!) of writing another Christmas song for our forthcoming Christmas album
due out December 2009. I'm not finding that it's coming quite as easily as it did for "How Many Kings." That song is the
Christmas song I'd wanted to write all of my life. The sentiment in "Kings" was something that I hadn't really heard in a
Christmas song, and I knew it needed to be written, so I wrote it. Now I have to come up with ANOTHER original Christmas
idea? How many can one man have in his lifetime I ask you? I'm just one man!
I also find myself struggling with the whole "this doesn't sound like Christmas" phenomenon with every new song idea.
But really what does Christmas "sound" like? I think it "sounds" like tradition. It's more than adding sleigh bells to
the track. I think it's just a good song that everyone who hears it wants to sing over and over every year. I have to
keep reminding myself that. Like if Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" was a love song instead, it wouldn't sound like
Christmas would it?
JFH (Matt): Parts of your new record, Ending Is Beginning, seem to take on a
slightly more serious tone (considering lyrics, album title, & even band promo pics) than your previous efforts. Is there something to that?
With EIB, we did set out to make a more serious record. Not a "dark" record, but a "serious" one. The motto we were
following the whole time was "something people can sing along to no matter the situation life has handed them."
I believe we succeeded in that with most, if not every song. Out central theme on this record is Hope. Hope in Christ.
Hope that is rooted in God's Word, and therefore a hope that will never leave us dry or wanting in an ultimate sense.
And like the song "Hope Is Rising" states, our hope comes from nowhere else but the death and resurrection of Jesus.
I love the little play-on-words-slash-double-meaning that Jason came up with, which is the centerpiece for that song.
Hope is rising in the sense that, like a sunrise, there is hope on the horizon of our lives... we know that it will all
end well, despite our current circumstances. But also "hope is rising" in the sense that our hope as followers of Jesus
is in the resurrection - the fact that our new life is made possible by Him defeating death, and that we have been crucified
and risen to life in the spiritual sense. It's that moment when we admit that we can't make sense of life without Christ...
that's when we END, and where He gives us our BEGINNING. And if you take time to go through the album's lyrics, I think
you'll find that idea in every song, at least in some form. It's definitely our most mature-sounding album to date,
and you're right, it shows in everything down to the photo shoot.
JFH (Matt): You always include content that is challenging and yet still
encouraging for the listener. "Cathedral Made of People" is definitely one of those songs. What do you think about
when you write a song that "calls out" the listener?
First of all, when I write one of those prophetic call-out type songs I think, "I need to be calling myself out as
well, if I'm going to be calling others out." But the point of "Cathedral" was not to point fingers or even to say "Hey!
Smarten up!" That's not it at all. "Cathedral" is meant as a reassurance and a statement of identity to remind ourselves who
we are because of our common hope in Christ. As I was writing, I sort of pictured a woman who embodies the Church (ie.
"the bride of Christ"), and out of her pocket she pulls her ID card. Printed on that card are the lyrics of "Cathedral"'s
chorus. That's who she is. And that's what she needs to pull out and read every time she's faced with hardship and her faith
is challenged. In short, God's kingdom is not of this world, and He is the one who will fight for us, and somehow that's so
easy to forget. "If the Church had a driver's license, what would it say?" type of thing. Also, it's a simple reminder that
we are not alone in our struggle to live a life pleasing to God.
JFH (Matt): "My Last Amen" has a distinctive Latin flavor that sets it apart. What inspired you to go in that direction with a song?
Marc: It was a bit accidental. I wrote the song on the piano. Originally it had a real Keith Green feel to it.
I'm going to go ahead and admit that I was listening to Maroon 5's new record a lot at the time, and when I added
electric guitars to the verse I thought, "This is pretty cool, but it sounds too much like Maroon 5." So I changed the guitar's
pattern from a straight quarter note rhythm (which is more what the aforementioned band would do) to a syncopated thing.
And when I matched the drums to that feel... BANG! Latin land. So really, the latin flavor was an attempt to make it sound
less like Maroon 5. Then Jason picked up on the Latin flavor in the studio and ran with it, adding Spanish piano runs and
whatnot. Fun times in musical diversity... or the lack thereof.
JFH (Matt): You guys have been together as a band for about 7 years and four albums.
It seems to get rarer and rarer that we see that in music today. How do you guys keep tension within the band at a minimum?
Marc: We've had the same members since February 2001, so I guess we're 8 years old. Hey, when you've been
together this long, every year counts! Three of us have been together since 1999 though. Yikes. Several factors have
contributed to this. We're Canadians living in the US, and for the first 6 or 7 years of that, we couldn't get regular jobs
by law. So we just HAD to make it work. DO or die type thing. Or at least... move back to Canada. We've also been
intentional about surrounding ourselves as a ministry and as a business by people we respect and who have influenced us
since our beginnings as a college band up till now with the the folks at Centricity. We've been blessed with great support
staff, ie. band manager, sound/production engineer, merchandise manager, etc. In all humility, I think we've also been
blessed with a fair amount of wisdom in our band. This has steered our choices and shaped our priorities. From the get-go,
we always said we wouldn't let the band get in the way of the guys' marriages. And God has blessed that. It's been tough,
and tears have been shed in the attempts to work out those tensions, but it has made us stronger. We also make it a
rule to keep short accounts. If something's bothering one of us, it becomes 10 times more amplified when we're sitting
in a van together for 8 hours. So we make healthy confrontation a priority. Our 4 personalities as band mates work
well together. We have a philosopher, a performer, a connector, and a business man. We'll let you guess who's who.
So for the most part, we're not fighting for the other guy's position in the band... we all know our place. Oh, and a
little radio play here and there doesn't hurt to keep spirits up either.
JFH (Matt): Your song "The More," from Wide-Eyed & Mystified, was featured in the new
Kevin Max-starring indie film The Imposter. How cool was it to have one of your songs used for a film project?
Marc: Pretty great. I've been honored time and time again by people telling me my voice reminds them of K-Max,
and he's definitely one of the more freakishly talented singers out there today. For our song to be in a movie he stars in is
exciting... but will viewers think he's the one singing the song??? HA. I think this is now our second film placement,
and it's fun to experience how a film director sees our song fitting into his movie to "amplify" his own art. Very cool.
JFH (Matt): Any goals you're looking forward to accomplishing in the New Year?
Besides staying in shape? We are gearing up to undertake the task of recording a Christmas album in the next couple of months,
so that should be a lot of fun. I recently made a list of songs I might like us to record, and they all turned out to be old
hymns! Totally unintentional. But we'll see. We're heading over to Europe in the early summer. So far I know we're hitting
Denmark and Ireland, my favorite place in the world. It's like I always say... "2008 wasn't that great, but 2009's gonna be divine!"