Downhere doesn’t particularly like carrying the title of a Christian band because it perpetuates the concept of a ‘culture’ it would like to see bulldozed. Suggest the guys could be contradicting themselves by staying on a Christian record label and gigging for youth groups, and the band will agree.
But they’ve got a remedy for such a precarious position. It involves hot tubs, basketball courts and Bibles.
It’s just really easy to be a Christian here,” says downhere guitarist Jason Germain, 25, sitting barefoot on the couch with band mates Marc Martel (vocals, guitars), 26, Glenn Lavender (bass), 26, and Jeremy Theissen (drums), 24, at the Franklin, Tenn.-based home away from their native Canada.
Since relocating to Nashville a little more than two years ago after signing with Word Records, the guys from downhere have made some observations about their Southern, religiously rooted community that they say, frankly, are getting on their nerves.
“It really struck home when [working out] at the YMCA,” Germain says. “I started noticing that in conversations, everyone was talking about church. I was like, “Everyone here is a Christian.”
For these four members whose 9 to 5 is spent performing for a largely “churched” audience and whose little amount of free time is spent with other believers like church family and gym buddies, they are troubled by the lack of opportunity to be “salt and light.”
Germain demonstrates. He’s got evidence, he says. He calls it “field research” — from the hot tub of his own gym.
“I’d sit down beside a stranger and say, “So how was church on Sunday? “They’d be like, ‘Oh, really good!’ I haven’t been let down once,” he boasts.
Martel nods in agreement and adds, “I didn’t grow up in the Christian culture. I grew up in Montreal, where about .5 percent of the population would consider themselves evangelical Christians. Ask somebody how church was on Sunday, and the response would be, “Church? That’s funny, man. You still dress up in a tie on Sunday morning?”
And although the band can be sarcastic about the over-abundant church-going population at home, whether on the road or soaking in hot tubs, the lack of opportunity to live “missionally” has prompted downhere to ponder solutions. And much of the band’s musings on the topic made it onto its June sophomore release, "So Much for Substitutes" (Word).
“God has been showing us that we’d just been talking to Christians, hanging out with Christians and going in churches, and we realized that we needed to branch out,” Martel says.
Part of that branching out for downhere has been simply to make a conscious effort to meet others unlike themselves. “I’ve gone to play basketball a few times at the YMCA and have gotten to know people by doing that,” Lavender says. “It’s easy to get involved by joining a club or team that‘s not part of your church.”
“Or developing a conversation with the guys who work at the gas station,” Theissen cuts in. “I just need to be aware and conscious of the people in my everyday life: The lady who checks me in at the gym may not know the Lord.”
While being aware that those opportunities for contact is key, the guys have found that even more effective in pointing people toward Christ is service.
“Regardless, if you’re from a different place or culture, when you meet someone’s needs,” Germain says, “whether it’s just doing it for your neighbor who needs her car washed, that’s the stuff that really counts.”
Granted, the guys aren’t ready to chuck their musical aspirations to hand out rice in a third-world country just yet. “We’ve had conversations to the effect of, ‘What are we doing?’ How is [playing in a band] more impacting than, say, working for the Salvation Army and really meeting people’s needs?” Martel asks.
The band agrees that the question is still unresolved. Whether the future holds a dozen more records for downhere or not, the guys are unapolgetically uncertain.
About an hour into the interview, the guys have begun to unwind. Their collective easygoing nature begins to emerge as they joke with one another and tell me about their lives prior to forming the band.
Their interests outside of the job range from playing jazz trumpet (Lavender), piloting (Germain), working with youth (Martel) and participating in sports ministry (Theissen). The guys also say they would be content to pursue a path other than music — if that’s how they’re led.
“People ask us about our goals, and we really only have one — to be faithful,” Theissen says. “This is the album we’ve been given. It’s a gift from the Lord. We want to say, ‘Let’s do this with excellence.’ And when the time comes to go back to flying or building canoes or whatever, then we’ll build excellent canoes.”
Sprawled around the living room of the two-story house they’ve shared until recently, the guys seem genuinely absorbed in the topic we’ve begun to explore. They are quick to point out that neither the Dove nods nor time spent touring was their original intent, and they give Christ the credit for allowing such success.
“There are so many strange things that have happened in the past year,” Germain says. “It’s been like, ‘How did that happen?’ God must have orchestrated all these people to come in at the right time for this to work.
“We enjoy what we do, and we feel totally blessed, but it’s almost a harder thing to do than being in ministry where you see growth. Obviously, we want our music to do well, but it would be nice to be a youth pastor or work for a service organization because we’d be there all the time to see growth, make more money and be with our wives more.
“We’re just trying to hold things as open-handedly as we can. We were a geeky little band in Saskatchewan. All these things have come together, and it had nothing to do with us.”
And while they’ve been faithful to walk through the doors that have been opened, Germain adds that the band is still constantly re-evaluating the platform it’s been given as it relates to the rest of the world. “The only reconciliation I have is that this is the life God’s given me so far. You’ve got to ask yourself every time you walk onstage or in whatever you do: ‘What exactly about this life that I am living is worth dying for?’ If what we’re doing is not worth dying for, why are we doing it?
“For us it’s a big responsibility. But since we’ve been given this platform, we’re going to say things [from the stage] like, ‘Surely the Lord lives.’ That’s what makes it worth it.”
Despite the band’s recent revelations about relating to the world, downhere is still, nonetheless, a “Christian” band, signed to a Christian label and touring mostly in churches and playing for youth groups.
“We’re not afraid to say we’re a Christian band, signed to a Christian label. We’re part of this culture because there’s not necessarily everything wrong with it,” Germain says. “We feel like we’re contradicting ourselves sometimes, but we also feel called. And we’re in the place where God wants us to be. It’s hard to make sense of it; but then again, God doesn’t always make sense.
“We’re not justiyfing it,” Germain concludes. “Sometimes it’s better to call out the pretentiousness of the whole thing and say, ‘You know what? It is backward. We are contradicting ourselves. We are a pretentious rock band that has too much clothing.’”
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