Soundcheck: Third Day “Leads Us Back”

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In their new worship album in more than a decade, Third Day seamlessly delivers signature vocals, fresh melodies and outstanding collaborations with Natalie Grant, Michael W. Smith and Michael Tate to name a few. Read on as the multi-platinum, Grammy-award winning band reveals their inspirations, everyday manhood, who they worship to and their creative journey to “Lead Us Back.”

 

Q: What is the story behind the new release and how did it come to fruition? Tell us, what is at the heart beat of the project?

Mac: Thanks again for inviting us in. This goes without saying, but we are really super excited about this album. We are not one of those bands that always says – this is the best record we’ve ever made – because we know that albums come in seasons, from a lyrical and from a musical standpoint. All that being said, I think this is the best record we’ve ever made (laughs). I really do. It is a record we’ve wanted to make for several years now, but just never really had the opportunity or the right songs or whatever it was until now.

We knew that we wanted to present something musically different, than we had ever done before. And we knew we wanted to shake it up as a band, not only to keep ourselves interested, but also to keep our fans interested as well.

We wanted this to be an album that churches could hear and feel like they could do the music. Or that perhaps, various groups of people could come together and use. For this effort, there were lots of group ensembles and a choir on the album. We really wanted to make it feel very corporate, and we are really happy with how it turned out. A lot of the album is about Exodus, the story of Moses. A lot of the songs are about the correlation between someone leading God’s people from slavery into the promise land… and that correlation between Moses and Jesus and how we as believers feel that God leads us with Jesus out of our sin and out of that slavery [in a sense], sums up the album, in a not so small nutshell.

Q: Let’s speak to the collaborations of on project. I know you went to some different producers to work on this one. Please tell us about the experience and why you chose some of the collaborations you did for this project?

Mac: These guys really shook it up for us in the studio. A lot of it really started with me singing acoustically on the melody. The producers would record and the other guys would come in and add their things and some-times the drums were almost last. Which is really different, but it allowed David [our drummer], to kinda of live with the song, and to be able to approach and re-approach the songs. Generally, the drummer goes first and everybody follows.

Usually he comes out with the first ideas for the song and while a lot of times those are the best ideas, there have been times when he was like, “man, I wish I could go back and redo that” but by then we’ve gone so far down the road, that it’s hard to do that. This time David really had a chance to play around a little more with the music and the songs than he had ever done before.

David: As the Drummer it was really refreshing to follow instead of lead. For anybody listening [or reading this] as a musician, as a drummer, you know that when you are in the studio, it’s intimidating when all eyes are on you at the very beginning to lay down this stellar timeless piece of drumming and it just doesn’t happen very easily – because we are not a band that is going to get together and do months and months of rehearsing before going in to record. It’s very on the fly. And while I’m not ashamed of what we put together in the past, I just felt like [and I know all of us felt this way], it was great to play our album for someone or just for ourselves and hear something we hadn’t heard before. It took getting way outside of our comfort zone and working with some guys who live in a very different ‘zone’ and who were able to sneak into the music in a way that I don’t think we could’ve even tried or had the idea of how to do. Again, I think this is our best album yet and there are a lot of reasons for that, but definitely having J and Johnny [in there] to put their perspective on it musically and sonically, helped it turn out really good.

Mark: For us as a band making music [and this being our 13th album together], we have certain things we do and do really well, so it took a lot of trust on all of our parts to turn over the reigns to these producers. At the end of the day, we can all say that we wanted to shake things up, or that we wanted the album to sound fresh, but to be able to really go and do that, you have to trust the people that you bring in. And while I think that we all knew that if it came down to it, we could always go back the way we normally do things and get in the room together and just record it, we were like, before we do that, let’s give these guys a full chance and let’s entrust them with this, and we are all really proud with the results.

3. Q: How does this album differ from Offerings… What can fans expect differently from this project musically?

Mac: That’s a great question. But I’m not sure we can necessarily pinpoint anything in particular. I think [the album], has a lot of different tones that we’ve never used before. Guitar tones, drum tones, and things like that, but also just our approach and the song writing and the sounds are the main thing on the record that you’ll hear that are different for Third Day, and as one of the guys said earlier, my voice is there, and I
sort of think that brings it back into the middle as far as people knowing that it’s Third Day. I’m not a musician, I’m a singer (laughing), so these guys can answer that, but I know Third Day music more than anybody else in the world besides these guys and It’s fresh to me and it feels different. I know that our approach is different and sometimes when your approach is different, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a different outcome, but I definitely think we have a different outcome with this album. It is really big sounding and intimate when it needs to be and hopefully, everyone will hear those differences.

Mark: The one difference between Offerings and Lead Us Back is the challenge of recording a worship album. You want to have it be music people can sing along with and engage in and use in their church, and that was easier on the Offerings album cause many of the songs were five years old and had appeared on earlier albums. Half of those songs were recorded in the studio and half live, so it was easier to capture that corporate feeling – where as on Lead Us Back, because these songs were all brand new, we had to go about it a little differently, and the main way we did it, was by bringing in an ensemble choir of about a dozen people to sing multiple parts while layering them. The smaller number gave us an intimate corporate feel and I think it really bridges the gap between the normal Third Day project and this worship kind
of album.

4. Q: You have some familiar voices and some new comers as guests on the album… Give us a sneak peek as to who we can expect to hear on some of the tracks.

Mac: Sure. We have one song in particular called “In Jesus Name” featuring great friends like…Natalie Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Michael Tate from the News Boys. David Crowder is also singing on it. On other songs we have Harvest Parker. She is actually singing a lot on the album and is going to be on tour with us, filling in some of those kind of choir parts and the female vocals all over the record. Chasing Furies also sings on the project as well.

5. Q: Speaking of the album, what is your favorite track on the project and what did it mean to you personally?

David: It’s a toss up for me cause there’s a song called “Your Words” that I really love the feel of, and Harvest sings on it. When she comes in, it’s just magical and sounds so great. “In Jesus Name” with all the guests on it just haunts me. It’s such a great message and the mood is one that I think is really different for us…Maybe not a different melody structure, but different in the way it was treated.

Mark: “Soul on Fire” is the lead single. We were about halfway through the recording process (where you kinda of feel like we’ve got a bunch of good songs but there’s just one song that comes to the table and pulls everything together) and “Soul on Fire” was that for me this time. It just has this energy to it that sounds like Third Day, but it’s very fresh sounding compared to things we’ve done in the past. I may be partial to it because we’ve been playing it live and its been going over really well.

I know we are only supposed to say one, but I got to throw in another. There is a song called “I Know You Can” which was one of the later [songs]. Musically, I absolutely love it and could have it on an infinite loop. It’s something about Mac’s vocals and the melody that’s just so great, I could just listen to the sentiment “Jesus I know You can” over and over. I often get into situations in my life where the answer I want to give is I can’t, cause we all struggle with self-confidence, but knowing He can is the hope that keeps me going. It is such a great sentiment and I just love that song.

Mac: I’m gonna go with the song called “Our Deliverer is Coming.” There is just something about it. I think it’s probably the most different sounding song [in a good way] that we’ve ever had on an album. There is just something about that message… It kind of goes back to what I was saying about the correlation between Moses and Jesus at the beginning of the interview. They were people of faith…thousands of years ago… people of Israel looking for someone to deliver them and to lead them out of their slavery…and then that happened through Moses… fast forward to when Jesus comes and the people of Israel are still asking for a deliverer from the bondage of Rome and the oppression they were experiencing, and even now till this day, people of faith around the world pray for deliverance from sins and oppression and different things that people go through. It is something I think about when I hear that song. It just kind of joins us to people of faith through thousands of years and through millions of places around the world. It kind of joins us together in the hope that we have – so that is probably the one I would pick.

 

Q: You guys are headed on the tour to Australia next week…and starting at the Beacon Theatre in NY on March 3rd…What are some of the tour plans for Lead Us Back songs of worship?

Mac: It is an exciting time for us. We have been rehearsing the new songs these past few days and are actually about to jump back on stage when we finish our time with you. So we are excited about the Spring tour which starts on March 3rd, the day the album drops. We will start at the famous Beacon Theatre in NYC. It is really exciting for us to be back there again and to have it be the first place we kick off the tour and the new album. But before that we go back to Australia and we are super excited about that too. We have been to Australia two or three times before, but it has been about seven years since we’ve been down under. We are super excited about going back and not only playing new songs but singing some songs from the past seven years that our fans have never heard from us live before, so it is an exciting time for us. It is going to be a long trip for two weeks. Starting in Sydney and then we go all the way across Australia to the West coast and to Tasmania off the South East coast of Australia.

We’ve also got some great shows later in the Spring and this Summer. We are doing a show in Atlanta to kind of wrap up the tour. We had a sold out show there last year and we are sort of looking to get back to that again and also for the first time in our career…(and we’ve been doing this for 20 years), we will have an historic opportunity to do something we have never done, which is to play at Red Rock Amphitheater in early June. So we have that to look forward too as well.

Q: Could you share with us the motivation behind this new group of worship songs?

Mark: I don’t know that we touched on this yet, but worship and live [music] has always gone hand and hand for us and we’ve always done worship songs as part of the show. That was a big motivation for us wanting to make new worship music. As we were putting our set list together from the last four of five years, all of the rock songs would be off of the current album whether “Miracle” “Move” or whatever our current album was, but then our worship songs would all go way back to 2000 or 2003 from the Offerings project, which is something that we’ve always done and will always do, but we wanted to just have some new worship songs to be able to do from a live standpoint which was the big motivator for the Lead Us Back project.

Q: Are there any personal experiences that inspired some of the cuts on the album?

Mac: Favorites change as time goes along and you hear stories from other people, but for me it’s a song [on the album] called “Victorious.” One time I heard a sermon about God being victorious in battle, whether on battlefields in old testament times or the battles with our inner selves, feelings, emotions, sin and all those other things that form a mental thing. For me the song is about seeing the faithfulness of God toward me and my family, and with us as Third Day, and seeing that He has been victorious for me in so many things. I love singing it. We rehearsed it yesterday and I was literally having church on the plat- form and that is great place to be. When you write a worship song or make a worship record for other people you hope to have a piece of that, and I was able to (even at a rehearsal), with nobody in the audience, just us and the band up on stage, and maybe a few crew guys entering in. We made this album for God’s glory and for people to hopefully grow closer to God and grow in their relation- ship with Him. And for us to be able to take part in that as well, is such a great feeling and place to be.

Q: In past interviews you’ve expressed that you are normal everyday people. What are some normal elements of life that you would like to share that speaks to that truth?

David: We spend a lot of time at home, more than folks realize. I think we sometimes give the impression when we are on the road that we are always gone and our poor families never see us, but that is really not the case. When we work, we work and we stay busy in seasons, but we’re home so much that there are a lot of days that I’ll go out, and mow my own grass or take out the garbage and totally forget about what I do. As a result I forget that people see us in a very different way than we probably see ourselves and I love that. All of us have different things like being parents and there is nothing glamorous about that. There is nothing superstar about changing diapers. We have the struggles of life and our kids are getting older, the culture they are growing up in is challenging and to be honest with you, the ins and outs of our lives are just like everybody else and I would love for folks to understand that we are not any different. I mean most of my friends from church or small group can’t really relate to what I do.

They can’t relate to the travel. They can’t relate to the weird hours or getting on a bus at midnight to drive to Indiana to go play a concert. All that doesn’t register… but the hard stuff of life does. Raising kids like I said and being married or just trying to grow as a believer… That stuff’s hard and can take a toll on you. We all fall short of the glory of God, because we are normal human beings. I think more and more we’ve had opportunities to give people a sense of that and that we don’t hold lightly the mantle and the platform we’ve been given. We want to use it well, so there is definitely truth to the fact that we are pretty normal dudes.

Mac: I just did the dishes and the laundry before coming over here [laughing]

Mark: I was doing dishes as well. We were just doing a radio interview last week and we [all] reached the realization that all three of us do the dishes when we are at home and that is a pretty normal thing…something we all have in common.

Mac: I have five kids and I’m not trying to brag, but that is a lot of freaking dishes [laughs]. I take out the garbage and do the dishes. It is like one big circle that I’ve got treaded out that you can see on the sidewalk outside. There is this trail that goes to the garbage can and then right back to the dishes (all laughing)

Mark: I get mad quite a bit when I do the laundry, because I have three kids and I feel like I am always doing laundry – all the time. Like that is all that is going on at the Lee’s house… that washer and dryer. If the washer ain’t on, the dryer is on, but I think about Mac with five and it is mind-boggling.

Q: Speaking of your everyday lives doing dishes and doing laundry. What does Third Day listen to when they want to worship? Who’s on your playlist?

Mac: Here’s an honest answer, I listen to All Sons and Daughters who worship with us at church and whose albums are amazing. I also listen to Harvest, who is going to be on tour with us. Believe it or not, we can find worship in a lot of music that is not just placed lyrically toward God. We do listen to worship artists and I am so thankful for brothers like David Crowder and Chris Tomlin and so many great artist that make great music, but we can also find ourselves worshiping God through a U2 Song or a Train song. It’s all about how you look at it or listen to it.

David: We like to listen to a lot of different things. I think it keeps us sharp as artists and musicians and it keeps us fresh. My wife will play Pandora worship stations all day and it’s really great. We get to hear from all these different artists and there is so much good stuff out there now. I particularly love all the stuff from Passion and Hillsong. There is such a believability to it which I think is so important in our industry. Unfortunately there is two sides to every coin and while there is so much music that is real and authentic, over the years I’m sure there’s been a lot of it written, because it will make some money, it’s lucrative or it’s the best marketing angle. And while that’s all fine to a degree, after a while you kind of miss the authenticity and we love to experience that.

Mark: I totally agree with what David is saying. As musicians it’s really easy for us to go to that place of being jaded. However, God has made it clear what is acceptable worship and what is not. I have to look for music that cuts through my jaded musicianness to artists like Matt Maher for an example. He is such a great songwriter. Someone actually gave me one of his independent albums just before he even got signed [and I normally don’t listen to those], but I was absolutely blown away and I am now a Matt Maher fan and champion. I love his stuff… his new album is absolutely amazing. There is also David Crowder. I was actually listening to his album this morning and there is also The Ocean Band from NY. I just love their stuff. Even as musicians we need to put our hands up and worship as well, so it is great when you can find those artists that you can relate to.

By the way here’s a little trivia, Matt Maher co-wrote “Soul on Fire,” the single on “Lead Us Back Sounds of Worship”. He is a label mate of ours. I actually texted him today and called him a name that you can’t print, but that I use to tell him, that he is such a great writer (laughs).

Q: For “Lead Us Back Sounds of Worship” what do your want the listening audience to walk away with?

Mac: Great question. I feel that I would want people to be entertained by the music and that it really grabs their ears and hearts. Even more so, that they hear the music and love it, and that it kind of draws them into the lyric and the lyric draws them closer to God.

David: I totally agree with that. I’m the kind of guy that if I get an album that I really like, I just pretty much keep it on loop. I mean it’s just always on (smile). I definitely hope that that happens and that when people put the album on, they just want to listen to it over and over. I don’t say that so we can just benefit from it, but really because the more I’ve listened to it the more I want to listen to it and I really believe it will do that for people and there’s no fluff in that statement.

Mark: Last week we were doing some radio interviews and flying across the country and I was on the plane just reading Psalm 34:3 which says glorify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together. And I just got this vision of us going into the Spring tour and having the opportunity as believers alongside our fans to live out that verse. There’s really no division between us and the fans on the stage. We are all in this together and we are really excited about these songs and hope we can glorify the
Lord together.

I feel like the message of Lead Us Back, is not a message that everyonewants – but it’s a place where all of us are, and we want God to lead us back to find that first love. To feel the way you felt when you first discovered that relationship with God… The excitement of the initial fervor that we all want, but don’t always have in life. We all want to get back to that place were nothing else is really important. Everything else is kind of secondary. We know we have family and careers, but the scripture says seeks ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and then all these other things will be added. So that is what we want in our lives. We want to see God first with every- thing in us and all else will fall into place.

Coy Brantley Curry

 

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