When Canadian melodic alt-rockers Downhere hit the U.S. music scene in 2001 with the release of their self-titled debut, Christian music fans took notice. The band's combination of powerful vocals, intelligent lyrics, and commitment to ministering to their audiences, helped earn them a Dove Award nomination for New Artist of the Year, a Juno Award for Best Gospel Album, and Canadian Gospel Music Association Covenant Awards for Rock Album of the Year and Rock Song of the Year (for "Larger Than Life").
The momentum continued with the release of So Much For Substitutes in 2003, earning the band a Dove Award for Modern Rock Recorded Song of the Year for "Breaking Me Down," as well as Best Male Vocalist honors from Christianmusictoday.com for co-lead vocalist Marc Martel.
For Downhere, the aforementioned industry accolades heralded the advent of a quietly introspective time. Two scant months after winning a Dove, they retreated from the forefront of the industry to reassess their direction as a band. A widespread and fiercely loyal fanbase continued to follow them through their dogged touring schedule, but behind the scenes, the band carefully took stock of where their ministry and artistry were going.
"We went through a brief season," says Downhere drummer Jeremy Thiessen, "of saying 'OK Lord, are we still doing the right thing? Is this band still where you want us?'"
"But pretty quickly we all agreed," adds co-lead vocalist/guitarist/keys player Jason Germain. "This is what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to be on the road, encouraging the church, singing our love songs. So we hit the road and that's where we've been for three years, touring and playing."
Life lived and lessons learned during that season find musical expression on the band's highly anticipated Centricity Records' debut, Wide-Eyed And Mystified. Produced by Grammy Award-winners Greg Collins and Mark Heimermann, along with the band themselves, Wide-Eyed And Mystified is a project ripe with a mature and passionate sense of calling, purpose, humility and community, not to mention raw melodic power. For Collins, whose credits include U2, Gwen Stefani and Matchbox 20, the project marked his first production in the Christian music arena.
The 13 musically diverse songs that comprise Wide-Eyed And Mystified have as their unifying center not only a hard-won sonic identity that comes through the band's years of playing as a unit, but a deeper cohesion drawn from the web of relationships, rooted in love for Christ, that extend from the band to the circle of people closest to them, and outward to the hundreds of churches they serve each year in ministry.
From the epic, orchestral "A Better Way," which speaks of Christ's sacrifice as the ultimate love letter, to "The More," an energetic mod-rocker centered on the daily outworking of one's faith, Wide-Eyed And Mystified maintains a sense that this isn't just a band making a record, but four committed believers issuing a communal call to walk out the implications of Christ's teachings.
"Since the beginning," says the band's bass player, Glenn Lavender, "we've tried to be a band that remained down-to-earth. We always want to be real and accessible to the kids where we play. We talk to them, play soccer, hang out, pray with them. When they see that we're real people sharing this journey of faith with them, it gives our music a different voice in their lives."
While Downhere is comfortable in their role as ministers to the church, they've long sought to maintain a standard of honesty in expression that intrigues and draws nonbelievers into conversation as well.
"We throw a lot into our 'vulnerability box' and really try to be relatable to the audience," Jason explains. "People can sense the fact that when we sit down to write a song we're really pouring ourselves into it, so there's a humanness they relate to."
Another stand out cut on Wide-Eyed And Mystified is the Brit-pop tinged "The Real Jesus." The song begins as a commentary on Western culture's numerous misunderstandings of the person of Christ, but it quickly reveals itself as a call to the church to proactively wrestle with what it means to live as Christ's representatives in the world.
"One of the themes on this record," says co-lead vocalist and guitarist Marc Martel, "centers on being real about what a life of faith is, rather than quoting easy cliches and saying 'Everything's going to be alright.' There are quite a few songs on Wide-Eyed And Mystified that acknowledge faith isn't always easy."
The ambient piano-based "Unbelievable" stands as a thematic counterpoint to the ongoing tension of sanctification, acknowledging that worship of God is an eternal calling, and that we are a part of an unfolding history of generations whose voices are joined in adoration of God's love.
"I don't think we solve much by pointing out problems," Jason says. "The solution comes through pointing at God's heart. When you understand how much God loves you, when it hits you for the first time, it's like a tidal wave and you're just totally lost in it. That's something we're trying to communicate. Despite difficulties, conflicts and broken relationships, there is a God who is Love, and worshipping Him is our highest calling."
Downhere acknowledges not only the legacy of worship, but the ongoing legacy of faithful service to God that has been handed down to them by previous generations. Marc and Jason joined forces to write the soaring anthem "Little Is Much," an emotional tribute to their fathers, both pastors of rural churches.
"My dad's not a great gifted speaker or a brilliant theologian," Jason explains, "he's just a wise and faithful shepherd with a great heart. His years of ministry embody for me the truth that if God is in something, no matter how tiny it is, it amounts to a greatness we can't even understand. That's our hope too, as we write and tour and sing our little songs, that God would take the four of us, take Downhere, take this record, and use them in a bigger way."