Living The CCM Star Life

Tuesday 23rd August 2005

Atlanta rockers THIRD DAY spoke to Mike Rimmer about the paradox of being one of the world's most successful Christian rock bands while walking humbly with God.


The first thing that Mac Powell says to me as he pulls open the door to the hotel room is "Oh no! Not you!" He has a smile on his face so I gather that he's pleased to see me really. It's springtime in Nashville and I'm talking to guitarist Brad Avery and the singer from one of the world's most successful Christian rock bands.

Four storming concerts in each of the countries of the UK in early June will seal their popularity in the UK but right now they're both trying to talk to me with English accents. And failing! Mac confesses, "I've actually been watching Mary Poppins and trying to learn the horrible Dick Van Dyke accent!" Hmm. it might work for the London gig but I don't think it's going to be appreciated in Cardiff, Edinburgh or Belfast!

Having never played in the UK for their whole career, the last 12 months have seen the Atlanta, Georgia rockers play the UK not once but twice. Mac shares, "It was incredible. It really was. You never know what to expect when you go to a different country. The whole time I'm thinking, 'Does anybody know who we are? Are we just going to show up and there'll be 20 people there?' We'd actually flown in that day, got a couple hours of sleep and then went to the venue and there's just a mass of people outside. I took a few photos because it was you'd have thought The Beatles were coming to town!"

The memory of that first British gig has stayed in their minds. Brad laughs, "When we tried to get round we got stuck. We couldn't get in. We had to hike over a 6ft wall to try and get into the venue!" Mac chips in, "Even after you see all of these people you wonder how they are gonna respond to the music? But it was amazing! There were a couple of thousand people packed into this club. I don't mean this in a negative way but it reminded us of something that we would have done a few years ago here in the States. It was exciting that people had never seen us before! That's what's so great about playing in the UK. Here, people have seen us before and they know our music."

It must have been a while since the band could walk around near their fans and not get swamped. Even at an event like Gospel Music Week in the world capital of Christian music, there's still a ripple of excitement when the band walk through the hotel foyer. Mac plays it down, "There aren't a lot of people who are star-struck by Third Day. Maybe if Michael W Smith walked by they would be, but not with Third Day! They realise we're just normal guys in a band."

Having a high profile in Christian music does raise some questions when you read Scriptures that tell you the first will be last and the last will be first. Will Mac Powell be at the back of the queue? Brad quips, "He'll just be happy to be there!" Mac answers, "I read something in a magazine about a Christian artist, I can't remember who it was but they said that the worst place for a Christian to be is on the stage. Because you do have people cheering for you and people are trying to serve you and tell you how great you are and paying lots of money to come and see you play and buy your t-shirts and all these things. So it is a dangerous thing, but being in a band I think makes it a bit easier because we're able to humble each other. Whenever I start thinking, 'Man, I'm the man! Look how great I am!' I got Brad over here going, 'Hey, you mind picking up your junk from the bus?! It's getting in my way!'"

Family responsibilities also keep things in focus for the band. Powell recalls an incident the previous year when Third Day were headlining in front of 12,000 people in a local arena. In front of the stage, the crowd were chanting the band's name. But backstage Mac remembers it was a different story. "I'm all excited and thinking how great we are. And before we go out on stage my wife hands me our baby and says, 'Hey, will you change this dirty diaper for me? So I have to do that before I go out on stage! So those are humbling moments and those are things that bring you back to earth."

The band have come a long way from their self-titled debut album of southern rock through a phase where their two worship albums were their best sellers to the critical acclaim of their latest pair of albums, 'Wire' and the live album/DVD recorded on the Wire tour. Things have changed and also as they have progressed, the band's vision has had to be modified too. Brad explains, "I think it works with anybody who has goals and dreams. You have aspirations and hopes and things like that. I think initially, we were just excited about playing music. We didn't have any agenda necessarily, just to do what we do and enjoy it and to hopefully bless people while we're at it. Eventually, all the other things come into it. You find out that people enjoy what you're doing and when they do that, record companies and things like that get involved. Then business takes over in some respects and you have to balance that."

Brad continues, "But honestly I think, very innocently, we all had a talent we felt blessed to have and that we wanted to serve God using it. I don't think that's really changed. I think when it comes down to it, we wanted to use what we have to bless people and to honour God. Obviously it grows. We want to take our message to the entire world, when before it was just, 'Can we go play the skating rink?' But it's still the same heart."

But doesn't it get more complicated when the band is more successful? "In some ways," Mac responds. "But I think a lot has not changed. Perhaps we're in front of more people and making a few more dollars then we did in the days when we were driving in a van with a trailer. But it hasn't changed a lot. At the risk of saying the same thing over and over; we're just normal guys. We really are down-to-earth. We realise that the success we have is not based on our talents, it's based on what God has for us and wanted to accomplish through us. That's a humbling thing. If we had a little bit of success and I think I told you this before, we would probably be prideful and go, 'Look how great we are!' But because it's gone so much further than it would have, just on our own merits and talent, we realise it's not just of us. So all those things of travelling and concerts and interviews.things that come with that, it hasn't really changed a lot through the years."

Third Day have certainly managed to stay down to earth in their approach. Maybe their bank balances are a little healthier than in the early days and the addition to their inner circle of wives and children have added to their sense of responsibility. However whether they like it or not their success has meant that they have had to create a bit of distance between themselves and their fans. These days there would be chaos if they went out to the merchandise table at the end of the gig to sign stuff.

Surely that distance means a change in perception. Mac comments, "If anything, that's probably the major thing that has changed. It's a lot less of a one-on-one conversation after a show. That still goes on because there are many people, even people who work at the concerts who don't know who you are, those kind of conversations work. And people who come early who are big fans and they bring a friend and we're just walking around and meeting people. So that still happens, just in different circumstances and different times, not at the merchandise booth after the shows. So yeah, there probably is a bit more of a distancing when it comes to us and our fans, but hopefully when we do a show we can break down those walls a little bit."

Brad adds his thoughts, "I think that happens even in every day life. Even at church I sometimes wonder, 'Would these people really even come up and pay me any attention if I wasn't in the band? Would people be my friend otherwise?' And I think it just happens in real life. You eventually have to be real with people. That's just the way it is and they see that you're a real person and that you don't have any airs. You have problems just like they do and you change diapers! They realise that it's just regular people."

Mac finishes by teasing me that he didn't see me when they were last in the UK. He smiles and threatens that I'd better catch the show this time around. Sadly I didn't make it to any of the June gigs. Mind you, changing nappies, even with a rock singer, has never been my thing!  CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

Reader Comments

Posted by Bernadette Kaderli in South Africa @ 12:56 on Nov 22 2011

First heard of Third Day quite by chance about 4 years ago, my sister got their album free when she bought a cd from Hillsong. I was blown away from the beginning by the essence of Innocence in their music and performance and the fact that the band seemed so down to earth. Especially their live version of "Will you Worship", "Spontaneous song" and "Friend of God". After reading this 2005 interview I can only conclude that these guys have no - I am greater that thou attitudes - and I believe 6 yrs later that they are still as humble as when they started out because they advocate that ALL THE GLORY GOES TO GOD!!! and that is how it should be. May you keep on rocking for The Greater Glory. much love, Bernadette Kaderli in sunny South Africa and I wish you would come tour here!!!

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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