By Joshua Maloni
"My client has the pop culture appeal of the Beatles - not to mention Adele's vocal prowess and the lyrical genius of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. This artist is ready to take over the world of music and take center stage in living rooms around the world. Go now - right now! - and download songs, buy concert tickets and grab a T-shirt or two!!"
Writers regularly receive this kind of bio from band management. It's what one expects in this age of uber-promotion and social media.
Tenth Avenue North's bio is little different.
Rarely do journalists receive text that reads, "I think this is a fresh season because I finally let a lot of my dreams die."
Not taking the self-high-five approach, Tenth Avenue North opted for straight-up bluntness when describing their 2016 album, "Followers." Such an approach is unusual - but it was fitting. It's that kind of honesty that is threaded through the album's songs.
It's also reflective of the band members' personal journeys following the 2014 release of their album "Cathedrals."
When explaining his "dead dreams," frontman Mike Donehey explained, "I think with this record ("Followers"), I started to realize how a lot of my dreams weren't big enough and that they were very much mine - like getting signed, getting played on the radio. Those aren't the kind of dreams that will satisfy your heart. If our hearts are made for a new kingdom - a new heaven and a new earth - if that's what the bent of our souls is, then these little man-made dreams aren't ever going to be enough."
In other words, the members of Tenth Avenue North realized inner satisfaction would come from a deeper relationship with God, and by spending more time with family, much more so than from record sales, fame or filled venues.
The band made a concerted effort to streamline concert dates, and then crafted songs that speak of being a follower of Jesus rather than one's own god.
A wiser and more refreshed Tenth Avenue North will perform May 6 in Hamburg. On the schedule that night will be songs from their new album, plus a healthy dose of the band's "Over and Underneath." The 2008 record spawned hit singles "Love is Here," "Hold My Heart" and Gospel Music Association Song of the Year "By Your Side."
Drummer Jason Jamison recently spoke with NFP, providing additional insight into "Followers," his band's recent journey of self-discovery, and a live show that will celebrate the songs of the past 10 years.
Oh, and did we mention Tenth Avenue North is fresh off a tour with MercyMe, the subject of the blockbuster film "I Can Only Imagine"?
An edited Q&A follows.
Tenth Avenue North
NFP: Tenth Avenue North is coming here in May with your own tour: the "Over and Underneath 10th Anniversary Show." But prior to that, you've toured with a little upstart called MercyMe. What was that like, with the movie out and their return to the national spotlight?
Jason Jamison: Yeah man, we toured with MercyMe years ago. They were one of our first tours, and we love those guys. ...
This tour's been great. I mean, I can definitely tell they're pretty busy. ... We've had all different kinds of kind of crazy stuff happen, but the shows have been incredible. People have been turning out and really wanting to see these guys and see what they have to say.
We had Dennis Quaid (who stars in "I Can Only Imagine") come a couple times to some shows and play. He's got a little band called Dennis Quaid and the Sharks, and they came out and they played some songs. He was on stage and did some "I Can Only Imagine" with Bart (Mallard of MercyMe).
You can tell for them this is the big time, and it's fun to kind of just hang around it and see what's happening. And you know, it's been good for us just to kind of be back out with those guys and getting in front of some of their fans. And I definitely see some Tenth fans showing up to these shows, as well.
NFP: "Followers" is an interesting album for me because, especially with songs like "What You Want" and "Control," you celebrate the idea of giving up individual dreams and plans. That's not often celebrated. Tell me about embracing what God wants and where God leads.
Jason Jamison: I would say a lot of times that's the struggle of Christian life is trying to figure out what is our plans, what's our agenda, and then, you know, what's God's agenda and what does he have for us. And oftentimes they can be in conflict. Sometimes they're right alongside each other. But we've always said that we want to wrap our beliefs and the way that we act on those beliefs around the word of God.
And when I look at scripture, it shows that the God that we are worshiping, the God that we serve, is a sovereign God - that he ultimately is in control. And so, when we approach life, when we approach this band, when we approach our careers, we typically hold it with open hands. You know? We believe that God gave it to us - that God gave us this amazing career, and the stage that we have, and the voice that we have. God gave us that. And so, ultimately, it's his to take away, if he wants to, as well.
I think there's a fear that goes along with that. You know, there's definitely some anxiousness and some anxiety that it can happen. But if you kind of give yourself a reality check and really go, "Do, I really believe that God is sovereign - that he's a good father for us?" Then we also have to believe that what he has in store for us is good - and that he knows what's best.
And so that's kind of how we just approach our career, in general; our families; and just the way that family and career go hand in hand. We just kind of go, "Man, scripture's pretty clear on stuff." And I don't think I ever read a scripture where it says, "You must go be a CCM drummer for a big band."
But as far as me taking care of my family and, you know, being a husband and a father, and a follower of Christ, then, you know, that's a little different. So, I think whether we're playing drums or guitar or singing - or whether we're working construction - either way - (we) make sure that we're holding our jobs and our careers with open hands. And just kind of asking frequently, "God, what do you have next for this group, or am I in the right spot?"
NFP: You spoke a little bit about family obligations. Obviously, you know, when you guys are recording this, when you put it out in 2016, that was sort of a big thing that you guys were wrestling with - was finding that balance with family and career. I'm wondering, in the almost two years or so that have passed, do you feel that you have found a better balance between career and family?
Jason Jamison: Man, you know, we did; we made a big change. I think the year prior we did about 140 shows, and we just found that our families were getting stretched. And we couldn't continue at the rate that we were going. So, we just said, "We're going to do 90 shows next year and see how that feels."
And it felt really good. And it definitely - there was a different change in family dynamics. I mean, we all have, well, most of us have kids, and they don't get younger, you know? They continue to get older and, as they get older, there's more demands, as well, and different family dynamics.
I feel like every year we're kind of checking ourselves going, "OK, so last year was great, but this year is different, because our families are different. And so, what worked maybe in 2016 may not work in 2017 because, you know, I have another kid, or my other kid's hitting middle school."
So, you kind of always have to give yourself that check, you know? Just kind of check in with our spouses and with each other in the band. Kind of go, "Where's everybody at? Is this working?" We've seen far too many families fall apart from people who tour and are gone way too long. And that's the last thing that we want.
We've always said in this band that the families come first. And we've had players, years ago, leave because they wanted to be with their family and their kids and be home and be active on a daily basis. And we've said, "Great. That's important. That's what your responsibility is."
It's definitely gotten better, and I would say that we are always continually checking. It's not like, "All right, we fixed that. Let's move on to the next thing." It's always, "Great. That worked last year, but what do we need for this year?"
NFP: I think that that's such a smart strategy to sort of reassess every year. I would think that your families would be pretty excited about the fact you guys reprioritized, because, like you said, you know, a lot of musicians - a lot of artists - are extremely career-focused - to the point of sacrificing family at times.
Jason Jamison: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, they want to see that you care more about them than a career. And you know what, I think, also, it kind of teaches our families - I have four kids - and it teaches my kids also kind of what we were just speaking about, and that is, you know, ultimately God's in control of this. We might have to make some tough decisions, but we're going to have to believe as a family that God's in control. And so, I think there's some teaching moments there for our kids, as well, just kind of how to live out a life on a daily, yearly basis.
NFP: You're bringing the "Over and Underneath" anniversary show up to the Buffalo area. What made that album so special?
Jason Jamison: Man, the debut record. You know, Mike and I ... we've been doing this for 18 years. And we put out several independent kind of projects, you know? And so, we started in 2000. But this record, "Over and Underneath," didn't come out until 2008. This was our very first like, you know, real producer, you've got a record label, and they're gonna put their marketing team behind it, and this is going to become this, you know, national release. It's our first national release. And it was the first time we kind of got a taste of, you know, you could go and play a show in California. You'd never been there before, but people are singing your songs. And you're like, "Well, this is weird," you know?
And so, it was just kind of our first step into the national music scene. And any kind of first project, I think, for people, always holds a dear place in their heart. (The album has) some of our founding songs, our first single was called "Love is Here." And I remember the first time we heard that song played on the radio, you know, we were in Orlando, and driving to a show, and we pulled over to go to I think a Panera Bread or something for lunch. And we get back in the car and someone starts the van up, and the song's like right at the very top. ... It starts playing and we're going, "Did someone put the CD in?" Like, "Who's playing a joke?" And found out there it is, on Z88 down in Orlando. We heard the song playing and we all just start freaking out. You know ... we were running around the parking lot screaming, having a good time.
There's just so many fun memories with a debut record. And still to this day, people want to hear those songs. And so, what a fun way to celebrate. We thought, "Well, let's just try to do a tour where we play that record front to back."
And then, you know, we'll probably bookend or maybe just end the night with some of the other songs that people want to hear off the other records.
But yeah, this tour's about just kind of remembering and looking back and playing some of these songs that are, I guess, classics now to some people - which is funny to say. But a record that's 10 years old can be a classic, I guess.
NFP: You're playing this record in its entirety, but what about the rest of your live show - what can we expect to see from you guys on stage?
Jason Jamison: I think people listen to our records and they don't realize how much of a - I guess you could say rambunctious - live band we are. We definitely like to bring the music to life. Our frontman, Mike, he's 150 percent all the time. You know, all energy is left on stage. And so, it's typically a pretty high-energy night. Lots of dancing, laughing, goofing off.
And then, you know, we have these songs that are what seem to be (about) some monumental things for people. We hear stories all the time from people about how a song helped shape a new chapter in their life. Or, you know, almost two weeks ago we heard about how a woman was committing suicide and heard a song and, you know, her hand was stopped. And just crazy stories about how God's been using these songs.
So, there's times where, throughout the night, we stop, and we go, "This is a pretty heavy moment." And Mike usually has something he wants to communicate through the night. We usually have something that people can walk away with.
I would say it's a pretty well-rounded evening. You get your crazy, your fun, your laughing and your goofing off. Then you have your moments to reflect and really kind of sing songs from the very depths of your soul.
Jason Jamison: Yeah, the front man's name is Darren (Mulligan). We've never toured with them. We've done some festivals with them over the past couple of years. He is incredible. He's got a heart for ministry and for really just kind of meeting people where they're at - people who may have questions and doubts. ... And we just love his heart and the ministry they have with their band. And he's had some pretty amazing songs out on the radio, too. So, I'm pumped about taking those guys ... out on the road and getting to know them better.
Tenth Avenue North brings "Over and Underneath: The Tenth Anniversary Tour" to the Wesleyan Church of Hamburg for a 7 p.m. show Sunday, May 6. For tickets or more information, visit http://wchamburg.org/events.