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By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

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
Frankly I did not plan on getting hurt today
From your chair in the clouds
Benevolent are your ways
While the beggar bleeds the children play
Everyone wants to know why
Isn't it always the question? 
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. 
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 your stone
That light up another's sky
I'd rather be your stone
'cause all your stones become your diamonds. 
"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."
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," says Martel.
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."

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reservedA 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 driven."
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

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. 


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