The road to Mainstay’s sophomore album from BEC Recordings, Become Who You Are, was not the path of ease, least resistance, or even just convenience. But the Minneapolis-based modern rock quartet is fine with that, according to front man Justin Anderson, as they simply mined the challenges of life to add to the album’s already significant potency. Band members Anderson, drummer Ryan DeYounge, guitarist Scott Cambbell, and bassist Dan Ostebo have traveled from their early suburban garage beginnings, through a more sophisticated season as a college band, to land finally at widespread interest and acclaim from audiences. So they know a bit already about growing pains. Their 2006 debut album, Well Meaning Fiction, came out of the gate fast and hard, making a resounding impact with singles “Take Away” and “These Pages” before landing the band on the short list of “the year’s best new artists,” compiled by Jesusfreakhideout.com.
The debut brought the rockers respect from fans and industry insiders alike for their unflinching willingness to both address the church and make themselves personally vulnerable. Along with more riveting guitar riffs and madly melodic songwriting, Become Who You Are continues the boldly open trend, and for all the right reasons. “If we’re going to do this,” shares Anderson, “it has to be about God, about the deeply intimate relationship we’re experiencing. Otherwise, it’s not worth it,” he admits laughingly.
The road to the studio this second time was a long one for the hard-working, increasingly in-demand band. Aside from playing the major festivals like Creation East and Spirit West Coast, they also toured with Sanctus Real, The Afters, John Reuben, and Falling Up, as well as adding their searing rock to the See Spot Rock 2006 line-up. In the midst of two years of hard road time, they poured heart and soul into writing the compelling songs of Become Who You Are. “I hate to use clichéd phrases,” relates Anderson, “but it really becomes growth, those hard times of losing things and feeling beaten down. To work through these kinds of issues on the road, where there is so little consistency, was so difficult. But all that emotion poured into these songs, and became real pathos that people can actually get their hands around. It’s exciting to me to think that my heartache could be used for someone’s encouragement. “ It is that sacrificial spirit that accounts for the warmly inviting “Island,” inspired by Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” a softly encouraging word of hope, a recurring album theme. It is a song that will minister to hurting hearts of many kinds, but especially the often overlooked lonely. Anderson openly confesses his own struggle with feelings of depression and isolation, so he finds great solace in the soul power and healing potential of the album’s new songs.
When the band returned home to Minneapolis from the road last fall, they wanted to take the struggles and challenges of the past two years and pour them into a personal project, one that bore the intimate marks of their own growth. For that reason, they decided to record in town, with up-and-coming producer Luke Fredrickson, a decision that reaped great sonic rewards. They spent almost six months in the studio, but the thirteen captivating tracks drip with honest passion and a deeply sincere message.
Mainstay composes together, while Anderson, with the help of Marc Byrd (“God of Wonders”) and upcoming tour-mate Jeremy Camp (who co-wrote on the song “Believe”), heads up the writing of the lyrics. Mainstay broke completely out of the box with these straightforward anthems of truth and hope. The album opens with “Away From You,” a gripping track dealing with his sister-in-law’s miscarriage, and the lessons learned from observing her response of honest sorrow tempered by deep faith. “I can still barely tell the story without crying,” Anderson admits. But he poured that message of grace and strength into the track’s riveting rhythms, and you find yourself pinned to your seat by its intense delivery as much as by DeYounge’s relentless beats.
Grace and hope burn through the album with high beam force, resonating in the bouncy rhythms of the ambient praise track, “Stars Are Singing,” the slammin’ energy and perspective of “Am I Keeping You?”, and the spiritually-charged truths of piano ballad, “Where Your Heart Belongs.” The richly diverse album moves with ease from Delirious?-like epics such as the majestic “Don’t I Look the Same,” to spare, nuanced tracks like “Only One.” But it is the potent closer, “Hang On,” that most reveals the unwavering focus of Mainstay. “Life is hard,” Anderson shares honestly, “and faith is hard sometimes. But I’m realizing on the other side that no matter how ridiculous or convoluted it all seems, Hope never left. Not just glib, stupid-smile hope, but true honest hope. We don’t aim to be the most artful rock band, or to impress our peers, but to let our brokenness shine through to meet the needs of God’s people. We don’t want to preach, but to come alongside.”
Mainstay is doing just that with the spiritually-driven rock of Become Who You Are, music of the soul that will lift up the disenfranchised with its hope, and stir the heart and feet of all listeners when it releases from BEC Recordings on September 25th. And that makes every pothole along the way worthwhile.
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