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Third Day: Still Together

  • Rachel Williams Contributing Writer
  • 2003 4 Aug
Third Day: Still Together

What is it that’s so intriguing about Third Day? I consider this as I wait, counting the minutes until the five guys of Christian music’s twice-crowned rock ‘n’ roll royalty emerge from a meeting.

They collectively greet me as I join them at the band’s Nashville-based management office to discuss the last decade. Since beginning right out of high school in the early '90s, Third Day has quietly and relentlessly built a fervent following, first among fans and more recently among critics. After finally adding a GRAMMY statue this February for "Come Together" (Essential) to an already impressive collection of other awards, Third Day is taking some time off to reflect on where the road may lead from here.

“We never had any idea that it would go where it has,” the group’s front man, Mac Powell, recalls of the start of Third Day’s 10-year career. “Yet at the same time, in the back of our minds, we knew we had something special. We wanted to be the next Petra — you know, we wanted to be the next big band that really affected a lot of people through music.”

“We wanted to be the next Petra then,” guitarist Mark Lee, the Atlanta-entrenched band’s only Nashville resident, flatly clarifies.

"We’ve always been motivated to do [music],” bassist Tai Anderson adds. “We weren’t there just paying our dues, hoping some day it was going to get better.

“We love talking about the days [when we would] drive a thousand miles to get a $3.17 love offering. When we went on that first tour and played 65 churches, we loved playing in those churches. When we got to play in theaters, we loved playing in theaters. And now, we get to play arenas. Are we hoping for stadiums next? Yes, of course,” Anderson admits with a grin.

With the success of last year’s tours in support of its gold-selling release "Come Together" and the sold-out “Come Together and Worship” circuit with fellow megastar Michael W. Smith, the band is now reaching an audience of record proportions. Though they’re uncomfortable with the label “rock stars” unless sarcasm’s involved, each of these five men admits to enjoying some of the benefits their relative fame has afforded them.

“We have to do a lot less than we used to,” laughs Anderson. “When you’re the new band, you don’t have anybody to help you. You’re driving all night; you’re setting up your T-shirts that you printed yourself. Then you go home, and you’ve got to put the names on the mailing list. But now we have people who do all this for us! We literally just get to walk onstage, throw our hands on a guitar and play. When we’re not doing all the business stuff, we can hang out together a little more because we have this whole team helping with the machinery of it all.”

After traveling across the country last year encouraging believers to worship together in unity, the members of Third Day are now finding more time to apply that tenet in their communities back home. The members’ wives, children and fellow church members are all seeing a little more of them this spring, due to a lighter touring schedule.

“I think there are struggles with [being gone],” says Anderson. “I don’t think any of us wants to put out that ‘please-feel-sorry-for-us’ vibe because no one is going to feel sorry for a musician! We realize we’re blessed. And we realize that the struggles we have with our families are not unique to us. They’re with anyone who’s married. Your marriage is something that you constantly have to work on and fight for.”

“As a Christian band that’s supposed to be a ministry unit,” drummer David Carr explains, “it’s very easy for us to get worn out spiritually. I know I struggle daily with being jaded against everything that has the label ‘Christian’ attached to it. But I love being in church and seeing fellowship the way God intended it to be. I need a place I can go and receive and not have to be the entertainer.”

According to Lee, it can often be difficult to find a crowd of believers who understands a musician’s life on the road, even in entertainment- savvy cities like Nashville and Atlanta. “For the first time in a long time, I have finally found a church that ‘gets it,’” owns Lee, referring to The People’s Church in Franklin, Tennessee. “A couple of months ago, we had a worship service where they prayed over a bunch of musicians in the church, just like they would missionaries. That was a really powerful thing to me to see the church not only understand what I do but support me with prayer.”

There is at least one unique blessing, however, that guitarist Brad Avery attributes to the band’s wealth of face time. “The more people we’re in front of — the more true fans that we reach — it adds to the number of people who are praying for us and our families,” he maintains. “Traveling around, whether it’s on a plane or a bus, we clock a lot of miles, and the odds of getting hurt somewhere out there are a lot higher. So [knowing people are praying for us] we feel an added protection over our families while we’re away from them.”

Third Day has chosen to follow up a busy year on the road with an album featuring live recordings from the tour. In "Offerings II: All I Have to Give" (Essential), the band’s sequel to its gold-certified Offerings: A Worship Album, Third Day provides a new collection of favorites and original praise & worship songs that it hopes will connect with fans.

“I don’t know what the ‘official’ definition of worship is, but to me it’s response,” declares Lee. “It’s seeing what God has done for us and how we don’t deserve that. But we want to respond to Him, just like the title of the record says: with all that we have.”

“Even saying [the phrase] ‘worshiping God with our lives’ has become a cliché,” says Powell. “Everybody’s said that a million times. But I hope that we come to the point where we really mean that, where we really live that out [with] things like World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, DATA and all these awesome organizations that have kind of restructured our thinking as worship leaders.”

Powell makes reference to the band’s own dedication to its worship in action. Last year’s “Come Together” tour donated one dollar from every concert ticket sold to Habitat for Humanity International, a non-profit ministry that builds market-quality homes for those who can’t afford them on their own. With record-setting attendance numbers, Third Day and its fans raised over a quarter million dollars together for the organization, as well as physically helped build several houses in the United States and South Africa last summer — often alongside the homes’ future residents. It is here, not as rock stars but as servants, that Third Day’s mission is perhaps more clear than anywhere else.

“There are letters we got over the holidays where these families [who live in the houses we helped to build] told us, ‘This was the first Christmas we’ve spent together in our home,’” says Anderson. “That’s something that makes you think, ‘Who cares where we showed up on the Pollstar charts or the money we took in [on the tour].’” 

“Those families whose lives were changed through Habitat and those children’s lives who were sponsored through World Vision and Compassion [on the ‘Come Together and Worship’ tour] are tangible things that you can point to and say, ‘That was the church getting together for more than just a night of worship,’” Powell adds.

As the conversation carries on past the lunch hour, I can feel a restlessness growing in my table mates, but Powell still has some energy as he talks about his dream for the future. “I remember a couple of years ago I saw this [fictional] movie about this R&B group in the '50s. [The movie] goes through all the things that the group went through … all this stuff that happens in your typical ‘Behind the Music’ story. But at the end of it, they were all together having barbeque, and all their families were there playing together….” He stops for a moment. “It makes me want to cry, thinking about it. But that’s what I want to see us [doing] 40 years from now: barbequing.” Though his band mates are chuckling, there are nods of agreement around the table.

“It really sounds cliché-ish and fake, but it is so true,” Powell says. “Someone asked me last night, ‘What do you see as your greatest accomplishment as a band at this point?’ And I said, ‘It’s that we’ve remained a band, that we’re the same members, and that we’re closer now than ever.’”

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