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While touring in support of their latest release Wide-Eyed And Mystified, pop/rock quartet Downhere met up with JFH's own Matt Johnson on a spot date in Edinboro, PA, for a Q&A about the band's new album, history, and... bologna sandwiches?
This interview took place on: October 15, 2006

  • JFH (Matt Johnson): The new album, Wide-Eyed and Mystified, what's the message you're trying to convey?
    Marc Martel: One of the over-arching themes for the album is surrender. We were two-thirds of the way through writing the songs and the theme of surrender, whether it was spoken or not, kept coming through on the songs. So we just decided to write a song called "Surrender." It was about coming back to the basics, everday surrendering our will. When we come back to the basics, we come back to the gospel. There're a couple songs, especially "A Better Way," that are just like a fresh look at the gospels. The last album, So Much for Substitues, we kind of pointed some fingers and we wanted to do the opposite with the new album. We wanted to be more inviting and invite people into the journey of surrendering our lives.
    Jason Germain: Yeah, it's kind of simple. Just the gospel requires a child-like faith. When Jesus told his parables, it was the humble and the broken who could understand them. It's kind of our coming back to the really simple and child-like faith and surrendering.

  • Jesus freak Hideout: How was the writing and recording process different for this one than the previous two?
    Jason: downhere album cover We tackled it three different ways. We worked with two different producers and we self-produced as well. Probably the biggest one was working with an A&R guy, John Mays. He's just a brilliant guy. He's been in the industry forever and ever. He really pulled some great songs out of us. We also worked with Mark Heimermann and Greg Collins who have two different takes entirely as it pertains to producing in the studio. Greg Collins is a real sort of "sound nazi" as it's all about getting into the sound of the instruments and the vibe. Where Mark Heimermann, not that he doesn't do that, but he's more organically and sort of just lets things happen. He throws a bunch of things at the wall and sees what sticks and what doesn't. Greg comes from the profession, slick L.A., thing having worked with U2, Gwen Steffani, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Matchbox Twenty. He just had a lot of experience in the studio, not that Mark doesn't. It's just a very contrasting style. Mark has worked with dc Talk and Michael W. Smith and is from a different world. It's kind of cool, we got to self-produce three of the songs on the album as well. That was a real fun experiment that worked. I think my favorite moments were at the end working just because the songs were very ministry-oriented to sort of bookend the recording experience. It was the easiest, smoothest, and quicket recording we've ever done. When you have a song, it doesn't matter what you do, the truth of it is going to shine through.
    Marc: Even though it felt like we had no time to do it, it was easy once we were in there. The biggest thing as far as the writing was this is the first time we were really tweaking ourselves until it was right. I think that was the biggest difference as far as the writing.

  • JFH: Speaking of the songs, the song "The Real Jesus" makes a pretty strong statement. Where did that come from?
    Marc: It came out of a lot of frustration with the music industry - Christian Music industry in particular. I was like, "You want me to sing about Jesus? Here, I'll sing about Jesus and I'll say his name a hundred times in a song. There." That was the song I worked the hardest on. It started out as a cynical look at culture and how it treats Jesus. Then John Mays, our A&R guy, started challenging me on the song, telling me "I don't think we're there yet." I realized after monthes of writing this song, it was supposed to be a challenge to me and a challenge to the church because we are God's Plan A for demonstrating who Christ is to this world and there is no Plan B. It's a tricky little challenge to the church in disguise, not so hidden. *laughs*

  • JFH: What was it like the first time you did a show and you heard the audience singing your own song back to you?
    Jason: I think it's a little revelation. Being writers you can be the most self-critical people on the planet and I think when those little moments happen, it's a thanksgiving that God could use a small journal entry in a way that impacts people. Sometimes when I'm driving, I wonder if someone in the world is listening to me. Because that would be really weird and there's a possibility that it's true! The really cool moment was when I was going through a pretty dark time in my walk. You never turn on the radio and hear yourself. They're always playing someone else. It's like "Ah man, Casting Crowns has this slot," but I drove my wife to work and was driving home and was listening to my usual rock station and decided to see what the Christians were listening to. I popped it on and there was me singing "Great Are You." The words just took on new life. I was ministered to by my own song. *laughs* It was totally bizarre. I know it's kind of diverted from your question, but I think it's just a sense of being humbled in finding that God can use you in someone else's life with the song that He has given you. Also, we don't want to sprinkle any sort of "spiritual pixie dust" on our songs. There's nothing inherently valuable in our words. It's the words that we've pulled from the Word, the Bible. It's not a new thing that we're accomplishing, so to be used to sort of translate the Bible into another language is the humbling thing.
    Marc: It kind of proves to me as well if the song does well in Christian music it's often because the song is a truth that everyone resonates with. If we're getting played on the radio, it just proves to me that everyone has the same needs.
    Jeremy Thiessen: I think, as far as the show setting goes, there's a point when you've played a song so many times that you go on auto-pilot. Then when you get a chance to look out at the audience and you see someone worshipping or just broken singing this song at the top of their lungs without any awareness of the people around them, it reminds you how many hours you spent in the van that day or the days you spent away from family are worth it. It's ministry that I'm able to be a part of. It's an encouragement.

  • JFH: You guys are five years removed from the first album, how has the ministry of downhere changed?
    Jason: We came out of this bubble coming out of Bible school and we were so saturated. I'm sure we just looked totally bizarre to everybody. From there, I think we held on to that idealism, but understood that not everyone was on the same page with us. We wanted to have a prophetic voice with our second record. In So Much for Substitutes, I feel like we were pointing a lot of fingers and maybe not pointing them in a positive way, but really pointing out some problems with the church. I think in the process of doing that we, in some ways, alienated our audience. We decided "yeah, you're right. There are problems with the church and the humanism there, but we're also part of the mess." If we're going to be leaders, we need to lead by example. Instead of saying what's wrong, point to the direction we should go. The buzz word for how we write [on Wide-Eyed and Mystified] is invitationally. That's where we're at right now - have a prophetic voice by going the direction we should be going instead of pointing out the problem.

  • JFH: Going back to the new album, I noticed that a lot of the music sounds fuller. Was that intentional or a natural progression?
    Marc: With our first album, you'll probably say that it was a little more produced than the second album. We'd be playing concerts after the first album and people would be saying "You guys are a real rock band, but I couldn't tell that from your album." *laughing* (Matt: We had a conversation about that on the way here.) Well, alright then. We're all in agreement. *laughing* With our second album, we completely swung the other way and stripped it down to just guitars, drums, vocals and very little extras. After awhile, we kind of missed the extras, the little tasties. I think we wanted to find the balance with the latest album.
    Jason: The second record was really dry. I think it's a producing thing as well. There are things on the second record that could have been a lot fuller. All that to say, we found a place that we're really comfortable with. It's hard to make a record that is really you. You can go so many different directions and you're pulled in so many different directions by the people you're working with. We worked with people on this record who had an idea of where we wanted to go, and we have a whole lot more clear idea of where we want to go.
    Glenn Lavender: The idea of where we want to go changes week to week, month to month. It's really a snapshot of us at that point in time. If we recorded an album next week, it would probably be closer to that one, but still different.

  • JFH: Right now, what do you think God is teaching you?
    Marc: I don't get to go to church much, so I listen to our sermons from our church online and our pastor was preaching about looking for opportunities to share the gospel. That's really been on my mind lately. We're on tour with BarlowGirl and Matthew West and, obviously, a lot of those people coming to that tour are church people. It's a little hard to find those people [to share the gosple with] on this tour. For me, it's just making sure I'm not overlooking the, dare I say, "corner people," and the peole who need a word of encouragement by sharing my faith and my testimony without being trite.
    Jason: For me, I feel like God has been asking me to step into what manlihood really is and to be a defender of truth and beauty while resisting the world's ideas of what being a man is all about. It's easy in this culture to be pretty passive as a guy and not rush to the clash. Just taking a look in the circle I'm part of and what that looks like in the context of a man and being on the road all the time.
    Glenn: For me, it seems like months have gone by where God is just teaching me to be thankful. As everything comes along, I realize just how special this is and everyday we need to enjoy everything we have. Nothing is guaranteed to you, so God is teaching me thankfulness. Also this book I've been reading has been edging me this way, just to hear the still small voice of God and slow down to hear when the Spirit is talking to you.
    Jeremy: One of the things I've been learning is the importance of praying specifically, not just generally but specific things in my life and the lives of the people around me. It's been a really cool and enlightening journey to be on.

  • JFH: I didn't see what Glenn was having for dinner there, but it didn't look like bologna sandwiches...
    Glenn: *laughing* No.
    Jason: We're not home right now. We eat a little better on the road.
    Marc: That's the truth!

  • JFH: Any last comments?
    Jason: Thank you so much for the kind review. We hope we can deliver again. *laughs* And pray for us.



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