When downhere begs the question "Are you comfortable being so comfortable?" on their sophomore album's cozy zone cruncher "Comatose" the band isn"t only holding listeners accountable for their actions, they"re disclosing the primary grappling that penetrates members" artistry and spirituality. Sure, the group could have rested on the laurels of what earned their 2001 self-titled debut a 2002 Juno Award ("Best Gospel Album") a 2002 Dove Nomination ("New Artist of the Year") and two 2002 Canadian Gospel Music Association Covenant Awards ("Rock Album of the Year" and "Rock Song of the Year" for "Larger Than Life") but instead they"ve set loftier goals.
In fact, not only does the resulting So Much For Substitutes expand well beyond any of their previously charted waters; it opens the umbrella of Christian based rock much wider than it's gone in recent memory. "We didn"t want to just stick to the same color palettes, we wanted to mix them up," asserts Jason Germain, co-vocalist/songwriter for the Canadian foursome. "We"re trying to explain in our art what being a Christian is and to be as deeply layered as possible."
Within the parameters of that stance, sonic solidarity overtakes simplicity, far-reaching arrangements rise above the formulaic, songwriting is clever instead of cliche and musical competency overrides complacency. Certainly their self-titled record reflected such sentiments, though the second time through downhere takes their intelligence and intensity to the next level. "Some of the songs on the first album are five to seven years old and we"ve experienced a lot of growth in all areas of life since then," explains fellow co-vocalist and songwriter Marc Martel. "In the last couple of years alone, we"ve gone toward a more guitar driven sound and a lot more transparency in our lyrics."
Much of that amplification inspiration comes from a pool of groups, which includes alternative rockers Pearl Jam, Brit-poppers Coldplay, and the intricately experimental Radiohead, all of whom the group's listened to since touring behind the last record. "When people saw us live after the first album, they were surprised about just how much we rocked out," recounts bassist Glenn Lavender. "The new disc is a much better representation of what we sound like in concert and has much more of a live feel overall."
Group members also credit the men behind the scenes for their musical maturation, such as veteran producer Jimmie Lee Sloas (Switchfoot, PFR) and engineer/mixer Richie Biggs (Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys). "Jimmie really understands bands in the studio," confirms Marc. "He's aware of the fine line between art and commercialism and he's led us to walk in between, exploring our right to be expressive while maintaining accessibility."
Such sensibilities are apparent on new songs "What It's Like" and "Headed" as radio-ready qualities are firmly planted within the creative union of rootsy guitars, pleading vocals, and infectious melodies. Equally enthralling are the pensive and poetic "Stone," along with the vulnerability-drenched "Breakin" Me Down," both of which feature an escalating electric assault. downhere's versatility is showcased even further within the beautiful balladry of "Iliad" and "Starspin," both of which balance acoustic delicacies with jarring introspection.
Lyrically, those tracks and the seven others revolve around reality-based messages of inspiration and motivation. "It was a conscious band effort to not fall into the sophomore record trap of writing about hotel rooms, flights, and bus rides," laughs drummer Jeremy Thiessen. "We"ve made a point for the songs to become a reflection of our lives and the people who share stories with us. The goal was to poetically express the struggles and joys of the human existence, which hopefully makes the music personal and relevant to those who hear it."
Part of that pertinence stems from members" ability to thrust themselves into several situations, rotating between empathetic emotionalism ("Feels Like Winter"), a discussion of societal ills ("In America"), moments of vertical adoration ("Home") and a prodding for believers to break down God-separating barriers ("Walls"). Besides simply having a personal impact on listeners, the group hopes fans will find such messages to be applicable in their day-to-day interaction with others. "So Much For Substitutes is a call of action for the church to pay more attention to those outside its walls," continues Jeremy. "When we"re speaking directly to the church on cuts like "Comatose" and "Headed," we"re saying "get out of your apathy and live the life in your daily dealings" so the world can see what you believe on a first hand basis."
Indeed the desire to burst out of that bubble is a key ingredient to downhere's new direction, permeating members" personal and professional perspectives. "I think we"ve found there is a culture that comfortably embraces Christianity and the tools people build around the faith without taking stock of what's going on in the world around them," admits Jeremy. "There's this Christian ghetto of shirts and books and music without a desire to reach outside that community. I think we have a real desire and a driving urge to be committed to excellence that can extend into the world instead of settling for mediocrity that has no chance of reaching the masses."
Aside from that commendable pursuit of distinction, the resulting brilliance instrumental intricateness, and the life-affirming statements on So Much for Substitutes put downhere on the verge of an even greater two-fold cause. "First, we want to focus on the journey of life, not just on one particular destination," concludes Marc. "Second, it's time we as believers get back to what's really important when it comes to what we believe and how we share that with others. God doesn"t accept us putting only half a foot forward, the fake facades we put on, and He certainly won"t ever accept any substitutes."
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