Tenth Avenue North’s Donehey finds beauty

Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North

Ten­th Avenue North front­man Mike Done­hey says he was rebel­lious as a child. The band played Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada on Thurs­day. Pho­to by Eliza Marie Somers 

As a child, Mike Done­hey didn’t take kind­ly to author­i­ty. But as the years added on, he has become one of the more intro­spec­tive Chris­tian rock artists today.

I was rebel­lious as a child,” explains Done­hey, lead vocal­ist for Ten­th Avenue North. “When I was 4 years old, we went to Dis­ney World and my mom had me on a leash so I wouldn’t get lost. Well, she looks around and sees a child who looks like me and is dressed like me. Well it was me. I took off the wrist band and put it on anoth­er kid. I went through life like that until I was in my 20s.”

And if not for a car acci­dent, Done­hey might still be fight­ing those author­i­ty fig­ures. While recov­er­ing from a bro­ken back, the then teenager asked his par­ents for a gui­tar and inspi­ra­tion struck.

It was the first time that I ever slowed down,” he says. “I always loved music and it seemed like a good thing.”

That good thing point­ed Done­hey, who says he “knew there was some­thing else out there,” in a new direc­tion and while a stu­dent at Palm Beach Atlantic Uni­ver­si­ty in Flori­da, he and a group of bud­dies found­ed Ten­th Avenue North. Since its incep­tion more than 10 years ago, the band has seen sev­er­al play­ers come and go, but its mes­sage is still the same: Truth and Beau­ty.

God wants us to seek him and to know him,” Done­hey says. “There are three ways to know Him. 

As a sav­ior: God wants us to know that you don’t have to save your­self. He’s already done that. 

As the Lord of our lives: We want to be in con­trol of our lives, but the Lord says, ‘Look I made you, and I can show you the best way.’

And as a trea­sure: Our hearts want to find what’s valu­able. And val­ue is in the cre­ator. I found that God was actu­al­ly beau­ti­ful, and I want that to be part of our min­istry.”

Done­hey and his band­mates have har­vest­ed rewards from that min­istry. The band won a Dove Award in 2009 for best new artist, and last year Done­hey took home the hard­ware for song of the year for “By Your Side,” a song he wrote with Philip LaRue and Jason Ingram. 

I kin­da felt guilty for win­ning best new artist,” Done­hey said. “We had been a band for 10.5 years, but I guess we were new to the record label.”

As far as song­writ­ing, Done­hey goes straight to the heart and the Gospel for inspi­ra­tion.

Truth with­out emo­tion is cru­el, and emo­tion with­out truth is just sen­ti­men­tal,” he says. “When I write it’s a col­li­sion of what God says and what my heart feels. Our hearts are a deep reser­voir of untapped resources. We should not be afraid to explore it, but at the same time the heart can be deceit­ful. You need a lantern to guide you, and we hope to be that guide. And I want to be that guide into my own heart too. 

When I write a song it’s because I feel some­thing, but I do not nec­es­sary know what that is. … Have you ever heard a song and you’re like, ‘Wow that’s what I was think­ing of or that’s how I feel?’ Well it’s the same way with a song­writer when you get done with a song. It’s a pow­er­ful thing.”

With his songs, Done­hey and the band want to change people’s lives while also giv­ing lis­ten­ers a foot-tap­ping beat and melody they can eas­i­ly sing.

My pas­sion is peo­ple. To let them under­stand that you don’t have to save your­self,” Done­hey says. “We look for func­tion­al sav­iors – our job, our spous­es, our homes, our wealth — for an iden­ti­ty. But we already have a sav­ior in Christ. They don’t have to do it any­thing.

”I don’t get on stage to prove that I’m a great musi­cian. I do it to show peo­ple truth and beau­ty. As a musi­cian I don’t lose my sense of iden­ti­ty if I screw up. My iden­ti­ty is because of what God has done. My iden­ti­ty is nev­er in dan­ger of being lost because of God.”

And the band has nev­er lost sight of its fans. On their cur­rent tour in sup­port of their CD, “The Light Meets The Dark,” the band mem­bers are meet­ing with fans for ques­tion-and-answer ses­sions.

We want­ed to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. We didn’t want to have a VIP sec­tion just because you paid more.” Done­hey explains. “It says in the book of James that you shall not show favor to the rich. Christ shared a table with the poor. Just because you have mon­ey, you should be given a seat of hon­or?

We want­ed to hon­or our fans who were the first to buy tick­ets. So at the venues we set up a ques­tion-and-answer peri­od. It allows us to have a bit of dia­logue with our fans. We’ve had 30 to 130 peo­ple. And the ques­tions have ranged from, ‘What sep­a­rates us from oth­er bands? Do you believe in demons? to What’s your favorite col­or?’”

Well, you can col­or this band a fun-lov­ing, con­tem­po­rary alter­na­tive, pop-ish sort of band, but don’t label their sound Chris­tian music.

I don’t believe in Chris­tian music. I don’t believe that music can be Chris­tian, only peo­ple can.” Done­hey says. “I can under­stand why bands don’t want to be labeled … be it hip-hop, coun­try, hard rock. When you hear a label you have a very speci­fic idea in your head what that music is sup­pose to sound like. What I look for is – is it true and is it beau­ti­ful? Does it teach peo­ple truth and beau­ty?”

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