Canadian melodic alt-rockers Downhere have had much success with their third recording, Wide-Eyed and Mystified, so much so they have recently release an acoustic version of the album for fans called Wide-Eyed and Simplified. Soul Shine's Amy Hammond Hagberg recently caught up with vocalist and co-founder Marc Martel between gigs.
SS: How did your band form?
MM: Well, Jason Germain and I are the two singers and we kind of formed the band together in college÷ we were kind of like a college promotion team at the same time as being a rock band, so the college really got behind us and sent us out with really good gear and mics and sound and everything and paid for our travel expenses and everything like that. And then, a couple years later, we got a random email from a guy who worked for Word Records and eight months after that we negotiated a record deal and moved down to Nashville÷We've been the same band for about 5 years now.
SS: What school did you go to?
MM: It's called Briercrest Bible College in Saskatchewan.
SS: So how did you come up with the name Downhere?
MM: Hmmm, that also has to do with something that happened at our college÷ one of our hall advisors, or resident advisors, was a friend of ours, and after our first year of college this guy kind of tragically died in a Jet Ski accident on the west coast÷ so I wrote this song called "Downhere" kind of based on that experience÷ We can't see the big picture, but at the same time we acknowledge that God knows the big picture. It's a song about putting our trust in Him. When we were looking for a band name we really wanted something that had a lot of meaning for us that would kind of keep us accountable to what we believe is our calling. So we found that "Downhere" really resonated with what we wanted to be.
SS: I'm curious about the title of your latest recording, Wide Eyed and Mystified. Where did it come from?
MM: It's been just under three years since we released our last album÷ so the new album is kind of like a re-emerging for us÷ We're still are in love with what we're doing - we still love music, we still love traveling and meeting new people all the time÷ With the title we're saying we're still wide-eyed and we've been living in Nashville now for five years and hopefully we're not jaded by the industry. Even though we've already gone through one relationship with a record label and been dropped, we're not discouraged by that. We still feel that our calling is as strong as ever and we're still mystified by the Gospel. The title just points to the emotions that we feel when we first encountered Christ, Wide Eyed and Mystified ÷ like wow, he loves someone like me.
SS: When you look at this new record, are there any specific themes you are dealing with?
MM: Definitely. You know we kind of assessed half way through our writing process, Jason and I, we kind of looked at the songs we had already and said, you know, is there like a theme that's kind of weaving its way through this? And we came up with the fact that the theme of surrender in all of our lives to God is really coming across in a strong way in a lot of the songs. And because of that, I actually wrote a song called "Surrender" just to kind of encapsulate and just kind of drive it home. And the fact that surrender is a daily step of obedience, it's more than just giving up; it's an act of faith of putting your life in God's hands and saying, "Do whatever you want with it." I think that's a pretty strong theme on the album.
SS: What's in your CD player - what are you listening to?
MM: Oh man, what am I listening to? I listen to a lot of people's music that I know who aren't necessarily known. Like one of my best friends who lives up in western Canada just sent me his CD and I'm getting in to that.
SS: What would you consider to be your greatest achievement?
MM: ÷That's a really hard question÷ We just got back from Morocco; that was pretty cool÷
SS: Did you go to Friendship Fest? Tell me about that÷ what was it like?
MM: It was just our first time being in a completely Muslim culture. It was really eye opening. All the news that we get here about Muslims is from the extremists you know, it's not from the normal, every day Muslims. It was really interesting to see nominal Islam. You know how most people in the South say they adhere to Christianity in some form - but we all know it's such a small percentage of people who are really devoted Christians. Well, it's really the same over there. You see the mosques everywhere, and you hear the daily prayers being called 5 times a day, but you see maybe just 3 or 4 people actually praying during the prayer time. Everyone else is just walking around being totally oblivious. So, you know, it's the same over there, it's just a different religion.
SS: More cultural than really religious.
MM: Exactly. It's the culture's religion just like Christianity is the culture's religion here. That was really eye-opening for me. And it was just really weird÷they want to be seen as a culture or a country, Morocco especially, that's open to the [culturally] Christian countries and wants them to come and visit and be tourists and everything. Yet÷ you're not allowed to proselytize even if you're a Christian; you're not allowed to preach at all. So it's kind of like this weird oxymoron that they have going on there. Really kind of dark. You look at their architecture and you hear their music and it all sounds so archaic. It's like they haven't progressed in their art, like they've been stuck in the second century as soon as Islam took over.
SS: Did you have to modify your message or the songs that you performed?
MM: They said, "If it's in your song, do whatever you want." They just considered it art. But you are not allowed to preach in-between your songs, which was different for us; we definitely had to change what we said. But we couldn't speak English anyway because nobody understands English there. Their second language is French and I grew up in Montreal so I grew up with French. So I did speak in-between songs, but what I was allowed to say was, "We're here to be friends" and that kind of stuff. Which is true÷ if we just come in and barge in like "Hey, we're North Americans and we're going to teach you a thing or two, Jesus this and Jesus that" it's not going to be received. And it hinders what the missionaries who've been there for so many years are doing with building relationships and whatnot. It's a really slow process in countries like that. So we were happy to just blow in and just let it be one more stepping stone in the promotion of the Gospel in a kind of foundational way. We just let Christ be shown in our manner and the way we spoke. It was great.
SS: What do you do to get pumped up before a concert?
MM: I make it a point to relax and stretch my legs. I think I prefer to be relaxed than pumped up when I go on stage. Because when I go on stage, it's just craziness.
SS: What keeps you up at night?
MM: The few times that I don't get to sleep, well, besides jet lag, is when I feel unprepared for a show. Every now and then we'll go 2 or 3 weeks without playing a show and then we have a show coming up and I'll have a dream about forgetting the words and I'll wake up in the middle of the night ÷ it's just horrible.
SS: If you could only share one thing with your young audience, what would your message be?
MM: A lot of people come up to us after shows and ask us, what did you guys do to get "big" or whatever. And we just tell them, it's not that we're big or anything, we were just faithful with our gifts. Our first regular gig, Jason and I, was leading worship in a special care home for old people, leading hymns for these people. We just loved it. And God really used that. It was growth from just being faithful in the little things. That's been our experience - it's just steady growth. Everybody's got gifts and I think they're just looking for the next big thing and just chasing something that maybe isn't there and maybe will never be there. But God has put them where they are at the moment for a very good reason and is going to use that if you just take the opportunity right in front of your face.
For more information on the band please visit www.downhere.com.
Amy Hagberg is an internationally published freelance writer. Her work has appeared in magazines all around the globe. She is also the author of three books: How Do You Know He's Real: Celebrity Reflections on True Life Experiences with God, and How Do You Know He's Real: God Unplugged feature the Christian testimonies of famous actors, recording artists and athletes. She also wrote the book, My Favorite Christmas (Integrity House, 2006), which shares precious holiday memories by noted celebrities. Find out more on her website, www.amyhagberg.com.
Writer: Amy Hammond Hagberg