Meet the Artist: Tenth Avenue North Print
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Monday, 25 June 2012 10:58 AM America/New_York

The members of Tenth Avenue North talked with Christian Retailing about the band's third studio project, The Struggle (6-02341-01632-2, $9.99), releasing Aug. 21, 2012, from Reunion Records and Provident Label Group. Band members are: Mike Donehey (lead vocals, acoustic guitar); Jason Jamison (drums); Jeff Owen (background vocals, electric guitar); Brendon Shirley (keys) and Ruben Juarez (bass).

The Struggle is your third studio project. How is it distinct from the music you created earlier as a band?

Mike Donehey: We have new members now. [With] a lot of the songs we did in the past, we did songs first and then tried to build the music around it. This time a lot of them we did the music first. ... We feel like an artist with more colors at his disposal, and I think people find that to be true, that there's more sonic soundscape and more texture and more colors in the music itself in this record than before.

Jason Jamison: This record was only [produced by] Jason Ingram. In the past we've had a couple of other producers with us. I think that the process we went about with writing and definitely the addition of Brendan and Ruben [who] bring their own style, their own tastes ... and so you're going to get a really congruent sound from what we play live to what you're going to hear on the record. And we actually spent the past year and a half demoing these songs and writing them on the road and experimenting with recording gear on the bus or in the dressing room, so we just spent a lot of time with the songs, and we really tried to focus in on the stuff that we loved and replicate it when we got in the studio.

Brendon Shirley: We got to spent more time on it and let the ideas simmer a little bit more than it was possible to in the past, so we just had a lot of time to amend musically and lyrically. So we're really happy with what we've come up with.

Why did you name this release The Struggle?

Donehey: [For] our very first record, we said we wanted to write songs that conveyed truth and the struggle to believe that truth. This record, our hope is that we would communicate the freedom that we all have to struggle, that because of the grace offered to us at the cross, we're all free to fail, free to make mistakes and free to struggle. But because Christ not only died, but was also raised from the dead, we also know that though we are free to struggle, we also are not struggling to be free and so our hope is two-fold, that we would remind people who've fallen or failed that there's grace that they fell into and that they can get back up, and we also want to remind them that it's not a hopeless cause because there's a power that raised Christ from the dead that lives in them so they actually don't have to keep struggling, but that there's a grace that strong enough not only to forgive but to also heal us. We hope that that two-fold message goes through every song, like the permission to fail, but also the call to be healed.

What themes are present on this album?

Donehey: Almost all of the record you could find scriptural reference for in the chapters of Hebrews 10-14. There's a lot of things about temptation and that the way we overcome temptation is to set our eyes on the city that is to come. That's in Heb. 11, that we walk as strangers here. There's a lot about forgiveness and our struggle to forgive and our struggle to believe we've been forgiven.

Jamison: I would say that this record is, I guess I could say, more practical in the sense that I feel like our listeners are going to be able to relate to these songs on what they're going through on a day-to-day basis. There's a song called "Don't Stop the Madness," where I know, for me, there are several times throughout the day where I go, 'Oh my gosh, it is just so crazy, there's so much going on right now." Or maybe someone's going through something; there's a song called "Worn" that talks about just being wore out. There's a song [called] "Losing," talking about forgiveness. I think most of the songs you go and look at them and listen to them, there's a way that you can grab a hold of a truth and apply it to what you're going through that day.

How did the song "Losing" come about, and why did you choose it as the first single?

Jeff Owen: We got letters submitted to us through a radio station that had their listeners write in and tell their story. We were supposed to write a song about one of the stories, but when we actually got these 10 stories and they were all kind of about the same thing, and there was this congruent idea of forgiving people and letting things go that you would probably have the right to hold onto, these things done to them and these things that have happened in their lives and so we wrote this song based around that because it seemed to be the No. 1 thing that everybody was struggling with. And so the song is about forfeiting your right to hold onto a grudge or your right to hold onto the pain and the grievance when something has been done to you. And it's problematic because you're most definitely getting the short end of the stick. You're getting the raw end of the deal, and that's what happens. You have to die to that and that's what it is to forgive someone and show them grace. And so we've had the song for a while; we actually had re-recorded it to put on this album and we're just excited that it's a single.

Donehey: The theme is the permission to struggle, but also the call to stop struggling, and so even "Losing," it's giving people permission to even feel how hard it is to forgive, like it feels like losing because ... to forgive, it requires death, like you have to absorb the pain in order to give back grace. There's a dying that's involved, so giving people permission, it feels like losing, but also reminding them that hey, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." He prayed that when He was being crucified, so the call is hey, if Jesus can forgive people driving nails through His wrists, then surely He can give us the power to forgive the people that have hurt us.

How did your fans play a part in the recording of this album?

Ruben Juarez: Our fans are on several of the songs on the record. We were on a couple of different tours this past fall and spring where we would bring our own portable recording gear to different cities and we'd ask fans to come and meet up with us so they could get the chance to sing on some of our songs. So we did that with a handful of cities and, thankfully, we were able to put all the songs that we recorded on this record. I'm not sure of the exact number. I think it's somewhere around 800 or so people. That was a huge part of being able to connect with them from city to city and kind of get past the point of them just being fans and then turning into actual friends where they'd come and we could just kind of hang out and talk and laugh and have a good time.

Jamison: When we were on tour in certain cities, we would set up an event, whether through Facebook or Twitter, [and] we would tell people we're going to be at a certain church. Typically that is where it was at and then we would teach them I think it was three songs and then we'd have them talk and chatter, do whatever, and we would use those files, so we actually recorded them on the road and then we imported them into the actual record, so they're singing on the record, which is really kind of cool. And for us, what it was was to share the heart behind the songs and the record and get them to kind of go on the journey with us and really understand what we're singing about.

Donehey: We recorded them all singing the same songs and put them altogether on the same track. So on the actual record you've got fans singing in Fargo, N.D., and fans singing in Omaha, Neb., and fans singing in New Mexico, and they're all put together and all of their voices are in there singing on the final. ... It was a lot of editing.

How would you encourage retailers as they interact with their customers around this release?

Jamison: I think this record is going to be a tremendous encouragement to anyone who's struggling on a day-to-day basis to feel alive and to understand the gospel and live it out, so I think it's just going to practically apply to a ton of situations that people are going to be walking through.

Owen: We're really excited about this record. We feel like it's the most personable album we've crafted, so we're really excited to see what God does with it.

Donehey: Sometimes the only thing that will calm my kids down is if I play [what they call] the People Song ("The Struggle"), which is the song that has the different voices of the fans. ... I feel like I enjoyed this record more than the previous two, so hopefully other people [will] enjoy it as much.