Go Suffer With Someone
A Conversation with Tenth Avenue North
April 29, 2009 - Since their inception six years ago, Tenth Avenue North have been playing music and traveling the country, sharing their faith with audiences wherever they go.
by Jeremy Hunt
In the words of lead singer Mike Donehey, "We're just trying to find our way in the Christian music industry 'dodging traffic at the intersection of art, faith, and commerce,' as Jon Foreman once put it." They recently shot a music video with the BGEA as a way to help raise awareness about the work of the Rapid Response Team around the world. We got a chance to chat with Mike, just days after they were named "New Artist of the Year" at the 2009 Dove Awards.
Q: What drives you guys as a band? What are the motivating factors that keep you going?
A: That's a good question. Sometimes when you're lying on the floor of a van, driving for 24 hours straight, you can start asking yourself, "Self, what in the world are we doing this for?" But then you get on the internet, and you start reading emails and notes from people who say that one of your songs changed the whole trajectory of their life, well…it makes you want to keep doing it.
So that's a huge factor for us. Hearing people's stories, and finding out how the music has helped them believe the gospel, there's nothing better. Plus, just getting into the Word can be a huge motivation. Most of the songs that I write are a response to some truth that I've learned, that I desperately want other people to get, and so it turns into a song.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a band?
A: Well, first of all, we know we can't accomplish anything. Isaiah 26:12 says, that all we have accomplished He has done for us, so we are humbled that God would do anything through us. But I think the thing we want God to do with us and with our music specifically, is to show people how intensely beautiful and satisfying He is, and to open people's eyes to believe the gospel. At the end of the day, anyone who calls themselves a Christian is called to make disciples, and so it's the same calling for us.
Q: Who (or what) inspires you artistically?
A: I like to say that the songs I write are usually a collision between the truth of God's word and the emotional chaos of my heart. So that’s a big inspiration. Musically speaking, our band is all over the board and we all love different things. 70's rock, classical music, hymns, Brit-Rock, Folk, Bluegrass, even a bit of hardcore. We love it all, so making music that we all like can be very interesting.
Q: How about spiritually? What's been firing you up in that area?
A: I've personally been reading through the book of John, and really been amazed at the power and love of Christ. I also just read a book called, "The Prodigal God," by Tim Keller and "Crazy Love," by Francis Chan. We've actually been listening to a lot of Francis' podcast sermons, and he's been really challenging our whole band to live with an eternal mindset, and give more money away. I'd say it's an exciting time.
Q: Obviously the video that we shot with you was for "By Your Side"...are there any personal stories or experiences that inspired the song?
A: For me, the song was written out of a general sense of personal failure, and the assurance of the gospel in the midst of that. But lately, I've got more letters and emails and stories than I can count.
Mostly from people saying how they're going through a really rough time, and the song came on the radio, and before they knew it, they were pulled over on the side of the road crying. I seriously have 20 or 30 emails with that exact same story. People close to suicide, marital infidelity, death, the list goes on and on. And it's been quite astounding how people have found refuge in something as arbitrary as a three minute song.
Q: Tying into the connection with the Rapid Response Team, how important is it for us to be there for those who are suffering?
A: Jesus said to weep with those who weep.
And you know as well as I do how difficult it is to do that. When someone is hurting, and our lives are going well, it can be near impossible to stop our own good time and go suffer with someone, but we need to realize that that is what Christ did for us. He didn't have to suffer with or for us. He could have just stayed up in heaven, enjoying the perfect unbroken fellowship of the trinity for all eternity, but instead, He stopped what He was doing, and stepped down into our pain and suffering. That should really wake us up from our pursuit of comfort and luxury, and help us realize that we’ll never be as close to Christ as when we take the time to ache and feel another's pain.
Q: Have you ever been helped or healed thanks to someone who walked through a tough time with you?
A: Oh, countless times. I remember one time in particular when I had been broken up with by a lady who shall remain nameless, and my friend Caleb just sat out in a field with me as I cried and cried. And I remember feeling really bad about it too, because there's so many people in the world going through awful tragedies and floods and what not, and here I was crying over a girl! But my friend Caleb really helped me in that time. He said, "You know Mike, the only reason that tsunamis and earthquakes are so terrible is because out of the 500,000 people who have died, every one of them was an individual with their own stories and broken hearts." So never think that your pain doesn't matter. God cares for every person, and tragedies are tragedies because they're made up of single persons.
Q: Just out of curiosity, had you ever heard of the Rapid Response Team before this video?
A: I actually hadn't.
Q: How much exposure have you had to the ministry of Billy Graham in general?
A: I've been very aware of his crusades ever since I was little, and for the last ten years or so I've gotten to know a lot about Samaritan's Purse. My whole family would go and fill the boxes for the Operation Christmas Child. My younger brother especially.
Q: What do the future days and weeks have in store for you guys?
A: We're going to be in South Carolina this week playing for a Discipleship Now weekend; leading worship for high school students. Next week, we head back to Nashville and start recording our next album. We're very excited.
Q: What are you listening to these days?
A: I can’t get enough of the last Coldplay Record, "Viva La Vida," actually. I also really love the latest Jon Foreman solo records. He's the lead singer of Switchfoot.
Q: Any final thoughts or comments?
A: I think that’s it.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this.