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Interview May 28, 2003
By Josh McConnell
On June 10th, 2003, Canadian-based Downhere released their highly anticipated sophomore album So Much For Substitutes. In late May Josh McConnell was able to talk with Marc Martel and Jason Germain via phone to discuss the new album, what it was like moving down to the USA, and more.
Josh McConnell: Your sophomore album, So Much For Substitutes, is releasing in just under two weeks. What can you tell us about it? What do you think fans can expect from it?
Marc Martel: Especially the fans who’ve been to our concert, they can expect something a little more congruent with our live sound. A lot of people would come to our concert, and often they would come up to us after and say, “Whoa, I didn’t realize you guys were really a rock band.” Sonically, it’s a lot more honest, and we’ve been able to capture the band’s sound better. We all played our own instruments; on our last album we had a couple of session players that played. We put a lot of work into the lyrics. The last one had more vertical music, a little heavier on the worship kind of songs. But this one is observing life down here. It’s more of a commentary, just dealing with the things we are all struggling with, but with the background of knowing God.
McConnell: What is the meaning behind the name So Much For Substitutes?
Martel: It’s a line from the second song on the album [“Stone”], but we thought it was a really cool title for the whole album because we are saying so much for the things we searched for happiness in, searched for fulfillment in, and just left us feeling empty. At the same time just turning towards the Lord saying, “Yeah, I realize you are the only one who can give me fulfillment, and all those substitutes are worthless.”
Jason Germain: It’s a “so long” to everything that is a distraction from our true identity or our true sources…joy, life, any sort of pathway that would lead us away from that. It is, in a satirical way, saying, “So much for you; I’m going to follow the truth, even though it might cost me something.”
McConnell: You have gone with more of a rock edge on this release. Why the decision?
Germain: This album shows a longer period of growth, even though our first album only came out a year and a half ago. A lot of the songs on the first album were also on our independent release including: “Larger Than Life,” “Raincoat,” “So Blue,” “Calmer Of The Storm.” A lot of those are four, five, actually I think “Raincoat” is maybe six years old. We heard a lot at our live shows from people saying, “Wow, you guys are a lot more rockin’ than your album.” So as far as production and stuff this time, we said, “It would be really good to be what we are on our album. Just to show our true colors.”
McConnell: The new album has some great lyrics on it. What is the writing process like for you? Where does your inspiration, the ideas, come from?
Martel: They come from all over. As artists we try to write about stuff we are dealing with and not just come up with subjects off the top of our head. As artists, we are called to write about the things that God has taken us through. A lot of the songs on our album are from issues that we’ve struggled through over the last couple of years although there were a couple of songs that were inspired by stories that a friend of mine told me, or something that a friend of mine struggled through. “Feels Like Winter” is about a friend of mine who struggled through depression. With this album we tried to not be afraid to deal with stuff that isn’t necessarily positive, although there’s always a positive hope that we have behind these things. Often [in] Christian music, there’s always the pat answers, and we wanted to let people know that there aren’t always pat answers. We know that in a finite way, God always wins and there’s always hope in Jesus. But struggling in the day to day stuff isn’t always easy, and that inspired the writing process for this album; we wanted to really present to people a hope that is realistic.
So there’s a lot of different stuff. Jason wrote a song called “In America” that was inspired by the culture of Christianity and how, well, I should let him talk about it, he could express it a lot better than I could. *laughs* We both wrote songs that are wake up calls to the Christians around us. But at the same time, when we say that, we are talking to ourselves too. Anytime it sounds like we are pointing the finger, we are pointing the finger at ourselves. Songs like “Comatose” are wake up calls.
Germain: Inspiration is just life. It’s inspiration with the worldview of God, and God being alive and active in our lives. But the process is very cool because this time we got to do demos for our songs. We did full versions of the songs before we hit the studio so some of the songs, lyrically, are a lot different; it varies from song to song. Marc and I had a couple of different ideas that we combined and headed on “Last Night’s Daydream.” I had a verse and he had a chorus and then we put them together.
McConnell: Are you planning on doing any tours for the new album or just a number of miscellaneous shows throughout the summer?
Martel: We are doing one short tour in the south, about five shows in the beginning of July. After that it will be mostly just a few festivals for the summer, and in the fall we are planning on a two-month tour, going out with an opening act.
McConnell: Is it just a States tour, or would you be coming up to Canada as well?
Martel: I’m not sure if they figured that out yet. I would love to get back to Canada, though.
McConnell: What about music videos? Any word yet if you’ll be able to do at least one for a track off of So Much For Substitutes?
Martel: We’ve always had a negative view on videos because we’ve seen very few Christian videos we liked. I don’t know if that’s because of a lack of budget, or a lack of creativity, or just a lack of good directors in the Christian industry. We don’t plan on doing one anytime soon. I wouldn’t mind doing one someday, but I’d have to make sure we have a really good idea going into one before we undertook that. I don’t want to make a video just for the sake of making a video; it’s got to be artistic, and not just artistic, but it’s got to be cool. *laughs*
Germain: [A music video] would be really nice, wouldn’t it? But the problem with music videos is it’s not really cost-effective. The problem is there’s not really many places to service a video. There’s really not a wide platform for it and we don’t want to do a bad video either. We are just waiting for that door to open, if it’s going to open.
McConnell: What is it like sharing lead vocals? Is it difficult? Is there any level of competition, even just for fun?
Martel: On the new album there’s a little less of the sharing lead vocals thing because of how song writing turned out. But [as for] live, I think we’ll always have a pretty good balance of sharing lead just because we’ll always be playing “Larger Than Life” and some of the bigger songs we shared vocals on. It’s just really normal for me, it feels weird not sharing vocals anymore because it’s the only thing we’ve ever done. I was never in a band before Downhere, so it’s all I know. We went to Canada in February, out west, and it was really cold and Jason got really sick. It was the first time it ever happened, he wasn’t able to sing for two or three concerts, and it was really hard on me. I found myself having to cover for him on his parts and I got exhausted. *laughs* It wasn’t a good thing. So I really enjoy sharing vocals, it just evens up the tasks.
Germain: Yeah, there’s definitely competition. *laughs* But I haven’t known it any other way. Marc and I have been writing music together for, what, six years? Or maybe eight years, I don’t know. *laughs* So I don’t know much else. It’s a cool thing as far as in the scope of an album, there’s a sonic break. I listen to some albums that I love the guy’s voice but after a while it’s just the same thing, so I pop in another CD because I want to hear a different sound. On our album it’s a bit more of a journey, there’s more unexpected turns that way. That’s what I liked about like Caedmon’s Call, and other bands, like The Beatles. It would be one thing, then it would change but they would still have a continuity to it because there [were] backgrounds that sounded like the leads. Plus, Marc and I have a lot of fun singing together.
McConnell: What are some of your goals? What are you trying to achieve as a band?
Martel: We are always striving to speak truth in a creative way, and as soon as we stop doing that I don’t think it’ll really be worth going on. We are always trying, in a smaller and more specific way, to write lyrics that aren’t trite and to always be honest in our songs. On a larger scale, we hope to be doing this for a few more years anyway. But we want to be willing to stop when we need to stop, and be open to whatever doors the Lord is closing, not only opening. So if it needs to stop someday soon then I hope we are going to be willing to see that and be willing to stop. But I’d love to keep doing this for another five or maybe even ten years, if that’s possible; also to stay open to each other in a band because I think that’s one huge thing that I think speaks to people, just how well we get along. And in the few times we do experience where we are not getting along so well, the way we handle that situation also speaks volumes to people. Keeping short accounts with each other and just being real brothers in Christ to each other.
Germain: Our goals as a band are the sum total of all of our individual goals. When people ask questions like this, I like to focus on things that aren’t always focused on. I want to make sure that at the end of this band we are all still friends, because we are brothers in the band. But you’ve got your hopes as far as what platform you are going to be giving, and how well you sell. Those are all really just stupid business things that aren’t really important in the scheme of things because we all are ending up in the same place. Your career is ending up in the same place too. *laughs*
McConnell: You are originally from Canada. What was it like moving down to Tennessee a couple of years ago? Were there a lot of major things you needed to adjust to?
Martel: At first it was a little bit of a culture shock, the new accents and not being able to find the stuff you are able to normally find at a Canadian store, just mostly little stuff. I didn’t really have a huge, hard time with anything big. After a while it turned out really good. It’s kind of scary, but I’m starting to feel a little more at home in the States than I am in Canada now.
Germain: Yeah, the groceries are different; a lot more packaging you have to weed through. *laughs* But socially, it’s a lot more Christian here; you have really, really big churches. It’s overwhelming how many people here are professing Christians.
McConnell: Do you miss Canada a lot? Do you still follow along with what’s happening in the news?
Martel: Oh yeah, totally. Our families still live there, so we are always pretty plugged in. We were just at The Vibe Awards in Calgary. That was really good to catch up with Canadian artists. We’ve been a little bit out of the loop as far as the Canadian Christian scene lately, and it was really good to be able to hang out with all of the Christian artists and see what’s going on, see what God is doing in Canada as far as music. Our families all live in Canada, so we get up there now and then. It’s not so much the country we miss, but the people there.
McConnell: In closing, is there anything you would like to say to those who will be reading this?
Martel: Keep searching for truth. Don’t be satisfied with the pat answers that often the culture of Christianity will feed you.
Germain: *laughs* For some
reason Red Green came to mind. “Keep your stick on the ice!”