Is it okay for Christians
to doubt whether or not God is really concerns himself with our every day
lives? Are Christians destined for hell because they deal with issues like
depression? Rock band Downhere, fronted by lead vocalists / songwriters
Jason Germain and Marc Martel, have been using hard hitting lyrics, deep
guitar grooves and great hooks to bring these issues to the forefront since
the band's inception in 1999.
“The real issues of Christianity
are lived out in surrender to God, admitting where we have fallen, and
admitting where we are desperately in need. I think that is what we are
trying to do with our music,” says Germain. “I think sometimes that isolates
us from the wide Christian radio (scene). There are certain songs they
would never play on the radio that we don't necessarily need to be put
on the radio but we would play in our concerts. I guess a part of
what's marketed to Christians is this happy lifestyle and it's not a bad
thing but it's not the whole picture. What we are trying to do is
reach the people who have really felt personally that inconsistency that
we are talking about. The Christian life appears in a lot of ways
to be talked about (in terms of) joy, love, peace and the fruits of the
spirit but where's the room for doubt? If I am experiencing these things
does that make me not a Christian? "
The name of the group was
birthed from a set of circumstances that would shake the very foundation
of faith for even the most stalwart Christian. The name is based
on a song that was never made available to the public. Germain remembers,
"We had two friends die on one weekend, in separate incidents. It started
making us think about eternity. Basically the song has a surrender sort
of sense that we're down here and God has the picture figured out."
Their first, self-titled
album featured songs "Breathing In" and "Reconcile" which spoke to similar
themes. Downhere continued to challenge the comfy zone of Christian music
with songs like "Larger than Life" and, from their __So Much For Substitutes__
album, the song "Feels Like Winter." The later was inspired by a
friend of Martel's who was struggling with depression.
Another hit song, “What's
It Like," goes right to the heart of the matter, questioning why God appears
silent in the midst of our trials and suffering. Martel, whose voice often
reminds one of Fred Mercury of Queen fame, sings,
In my life
all the strife is getting in the way
As evidenced at a recent concert,
this song is a fan favorite as Martel had no trouble in coaxing the audience
to sing the chorus with him.
Frankly I did not plan
on getting hurt today
From your chair in the
Benevolent are your ways
While the beggar bleeds
the children play
Everyone wants to know
Isn't it always the question?
Martel says, "We always
want our songs to give a voice, in particular to the corner person.
The person who is dealing with something that feels that maybe they are
not supposed to vocalize or anything like that. I think we want to
be the band that deals with issues like doubt even about our faith in God.
We've made a point of going to those places on purpose."
The band isn't about doom,
gloom and skepticism, however, as they offer the message of hope through
songs like "Stone" :
I'd rather be
"Breaking Me Down," which features
some great guitar riffs, won a Dove award in 2004 for Modern Rock Recorded
Song of the Year. The song could not have been born out of more unusual
circumstances. Downhere was stuck in a Chicago traffic jam. Bassist
Glenn Lavender relates, "I plugged my bass into the speakers in the van
with my effects pedal, we just started doing stupid stuff for awhile and
played the little riff that became the main part of one of the verses in
that song. From there Marc did his magic and completed the song and took
it the next level."
That light up another's
I'd rather be your stone
'cause all your stones
become your diamonds.
The group was formed when
three of its members met at a Bible College in Canada, drummer Jeremy Thiessen,
Martel and Germain who also play guitar. They met Lavender the next
year while attending a World Vision retreat in Florida.
The band members do not
take their success for granted. "I think every time we hear one of our
songs on the radio it's a surprise. I guess the melancholy nature of the
artist just assumes for some reason the worst about their art. It's
always a pleasant surprise. We're catching on. This is cool. This is good,"
Leroy Harder, the President
and CEO of smaller label Slyngshot Records, their first record company
remembers, "They had the same humility-wrapped ability that has brought
them to where they are today."
lot of their fans may only see the glamour or supposed glamour of being
in a rock band and never consider the sacrifices that are made. While most
people planning their weddings would be with their fiancée doing
all those fun things like disagreeing over the guest list or the color
of the napkins for the reception, Thiessen has been touring. At the time
of this interview Thiessen's May 15th wedding to Erin was only six weeks
away. How was he handling it? "I'm as excited as all get out and want to
have the wedding over with so we can get on with life." During the same
time frame he had also been dealing with a bad knee hurt while shooting
baskets in a gym.
Most of us can book off
work when we are ill but not the members of a rock band. Lavender recounts,
"We just did a little trip up in Michigan and Mark's voice was totally
gone. He could hardly talk normal. Jason got sick so his voice was on the
way out. These guys probably won't say so, but we just go to work.
We did the show. Maybe if we didn't tell the crowd they wouldn't have noticed
a whole lot but that's just something you've got to do when you are in
a band. You can't show up and say sorry we're not feeling well." After
thinking about it for a few seconds the band could only remember two cancelled
concerts and that was due to being turned back at border crossings.
They feel a strong commitment to the promoters and fans that often have
been planning the concert for months.
In 2003 while on tour the
band traveled with a camera man. They created a DVD, While the World
is Asleep, that provides a behind the scenes look at a band on tour.
Lavender says, "It shows how tired and run down you get. We know at least
one person who shows this DVD to prospective new bands. I don't know if
he is trying to scare them from being on the road or what. It pretty much
can do that."
With Word Records since
2000, Downhere is a polished act that can hold their own with any mainstream
or Christian rock band today. Also understand this; they want you to become
hooked on their music so they can have an opportunity to share with you
why their faith in God is important to them.
When Lavender meets people
he always describes Downhere as, "a rock and and we play in a lot of churches."
Martel chips in with, "We're a rock band that likes to roll." To which
Germain adds, "We always say we are more modern rock, kind of pop, melody
By Joe Montague, exclusive
This material may not be
redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague.
Joe Montague is a
freelance Christian journalist / photographer who has been published in
a variety of community, daily and Christian newspapers coast to coast in
Canada and the United States. Joe Montague's ministry of journalism
is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went
to heaven far too early at the age of 18.