Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.
Today’s post covers (shocker) not just one song, but one of my favorite bands of all time. I’ve chosen them because their entire song output is really well done and is still incredibly relevant, especially now during our current Coronavirus quarantine.
That band would be the Canadian Christian rock group downhere (they stylize it fully lowercase; don’t shoot the messenger!) I mentioned in previous posts about my musical upbringing, a long-standing interest in CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) but how those tastes have changed over time, and also about the multiple bands I’ve been in. Come to think of it, I failed to ever mention that my bass guitar playing also got me into several “praise and worship bands” over time, including the high school praise band at church, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry band at UTM, and that group eventually morphed into ByGrace, which was semi-independent and played various events and services throughout Northwest Tennessee from about the middle of college up until I left for grad school. But throughout all that time (going back to high school), it seemed that hardly anyone I knew with an interest in CCM had any clue who the group downhere was…which was a crying shame. Perhaps it was because they were from Canada, eh? (That joke’s more funny when you live in Michigan, I promise…)
I think I actually “was subjected to” (as in, their music was played on a bus trip somewhere with the the church high school youth group and I just happened to be paying attention) their first album, the eponymous downhere (2001), which the youth pastor had bought at some event in Memphis, I want to say. I’m ever so glad he did. After listening to that album several times throughout the rest of high school (the youth pastor must have been a fan, because it was a regular feature of bus trips!), I bought their first CD online (still a big deal in the early 2000s, children 😆) but kinda forgot about them for a year or so after I started college—more on my lengthy college music experience starting with tomorrow’s blog!
Then, completely randomly, one of my coworkers in UTM’s Instructional Technology Center had on a playlist of music that made me say, “Hey, is that the singer from downhere?!” To which he replied something to the effect of, yeah it IS downhere—how’d you know? At that point I realized that I’d somehow missed the fact that the band had released two more albums! Needless to say, I had to get caught up…and went on a downhere spending-spree and musical obsession that ended up lasting years. [While Facebook was still in its relative infancy, I even became friends with two of the band members (this was before public figures or celebrities/musicians could have Pages to “Like and Follow”), bassist Glenn Lavender and drummer Jeremy Thiessen!]
Side bar: I knew it was the lead singer (okay, there are kinda two co-singers in the band, but one who does more than the other...k?) Marc Martel because he has an incredibly distinctive voice—uncannily similar in timbre, range, vibrato, etc. to Freddie Mercury of Queen. So much so that downhere essentially went on hiatus because Martel auditioned for and was picked up by a Queen revival band Queen Extravaganza (sponsored by a surviving Queen band member) from 2012–2016, after which he then moved on to another Queen cover band, The Ultimate Queen Celebration. Crazy good.
The thing that drew me to Downhere’s music (and I own all six of the studio albums they released; they unfortunately went on an indefinite “hiatus” right after I finally got to seem the live for the first time in Knoxville, sometime around 2012) more than any other CCM artist was the depth of their writing and their complex musicality. Both of these attributes were particularly bold choices while the band was active (~2001–2012) because most CCM was moving in the opposite direction…more repetition of text and all-but-stripped of musical complexity (and that’s to say it’s necessarily for bad motives: many CCM artists work to write songs better suited for praise and worship services popular among many Evangelical denominations/churches with contemporary music services).
But downhere was better and more than that. They wrote narratives that were meaningful and complex; they had songs that are poignant; songs that were (and are) incredibly relevant to contemporary issues: reconciliation (“Reconcile”), personal struggle/depression (“So Blue,” “Raincoat” ), war, division (“1000 Miles Apart”), poverty (“Little is Much”), a certain vapid interpretation of Jesus common to some corners of America (“The Real Jesus”)…. it goes on. The group was simply brilliant and wrote well-thought-out music that the general public apparently just didn’t buy (seriously—the group won loads of awards but toured in a 15-passenger van for almost their entire time together…At one point early on they wrote a tongue-in-cheek song called “Rock Stars Need Money”!)
So, Matt, which songs should we listen to? (I’m glad you asked, but it’s hard to narrow it down…)
The song that perhaps had the largest influence on me…and was actually my morning alarm for years (first by using my MacBook in college and then when I eventually got an iPhone) is the song “Hope is Rising” from the 2009 album Ending is Beginning.
There are several more downhere songs you should listen to, right now in particular, because of their relevancy during the ongoing Coronavirus situation, as pointed out by one of the band members on Facebook recently. I’ll leave you with a few. Take some time (since you’re presumably reading this on a Sunday, right?) and listen to all, if you can.