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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Downhere and There and Everywhere--a Vertizontal Interview with Jeremy Thiessen

Over the past few years, I have become friends with Jeremy Thiessen (far left) of the band “downhere”—one of my favorite bands to come along in a long time and a favorite of many Vertizontal readers.

Not too long ago, I got to hang with Jeremy and his wife Erin in Nashville for a bit. With a new album coming out in September, I asked Jeremy to share some thought with Vertizontal readers. He obliged, shared some great insight, and mocked me in fun for my many questions.

So, grab your favorite beverage and a lightweight snack (I'll explain later) and learn what Jeremy has to say about love, stardom, music, and gluttony as well as sharing his favorite drummer joke.


Thanks for taking the time out to chat, Jeremy. We know you are a busy man.

I hear you guys are in the studio! Tell us a bit about the new
album “Ending is Beginning.” We are all drooling to hear it.

Well, I think you're going to find it's fairly similar to the sound of
"Wide-Eyed and Mystified". We really felt like we finally were able to define the "downhere" sound on that last record, so we simply wanted to continue that. So look for a significant amount of piano and dual vocals on this record once again.

I guess you can’t go wrong with more of a good thing.

I have heard you articulate you feel downhere has a pretty clear mission to the church (I don’t want to put words in your mouth). How does that affect the songwriting?

Well, I'm not one of the primary songwriters, so I don't feel like I'm the best one to answer this question. We do feel like our primary calling is to the church. However, I don't think that effects the songwriting in a huge way. Marc and Jason try to write songs that resound with people regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey. We've said before that we want our music to be a soundtrack to the human experience... sounds artsy-fartsy, I know - but I hope you get the picture.

Dude, I make my living as artsy-fartsy. Sometimes more artsy and well . . . anyways . . .

I always like asking this question: If you could spend a day with anyone—living or dead—who would you spend it with (Jesus, Paul, or any other biblical personality is out of the question)?

One of the people I would like to hang out with would be Steve Jobs. But there are plenty of others... Brennan Manning, Abe Lincoln, Jeff Galloway, Ryan Hall (running role models), etc.

At least one of those is on my list—I’m sure you can guess.

Speaking of wonderful people, I met your wife, Erin in Nashville recently. She’s awesome. Which came first . . . Erin the downhere fan or Erin the Jeremy fan?

She is definitely awesome. Erin the "Jeremy fan" came first. She didn't really know about downhere until we started hanging out. Here's a crazy story - she was at the Dove Awards the first time we performed (they were nominated for "New Artist of the Year")... but it obviously wasn't a memorable performance as she can't remember it.

Ha. Well, good to know she didn’t just fall for your rockstar charm. But since we’re on rockstar charm, I have read your blog for a while now (Blog title: “NormalRockStar"). You really have a lot to say about the tension of celebrity rockstar vs. Christian musician in a band. Even the title of your blog says a lot about you. Share a little of the tension with the Vertizontal readers.

I called my blog Normal Rockstar because I wanted to help burst the perception that rockstars can't be normal people. Your question really brings up two areas of tension: the rockstar vs. normal person tension, and the rockstar vs. Christian musician tension. As a rockstar, there are a number of times when I envy the "normal person" - I would like some routine in my life, I'd like to be home more regularly, I would love to participate in a local rec basketball or softball league... you know, "normal" things like that. Then as a Christian musician, there is always that tension of being the "rockstar" and still being a servant... At the end of the day, I have to constantly remind myself that the world does not revolve around me, even if it seems like it does sometimes when I'm on the road in "rockstar" mode.

Thanks for being transparent, man.

Okay, some lighter questions . . .
I love the drum sound on “Wide Eyed and Mystified” (not that I don’t like them on the other albums). Do you play a big role in the studio sound and production of the drums?

I really don't - I can't take any credit for how the drums sound. I play everything - that's for sure. But we make sure we work with recording engineers who we know get great drum sounds and let them do their job. The drums will sound different in the drum room than they will in the studio anyway, so having someone tweaking the mics and such in the studio who's familiar with the kit and with the mics being used is always a huge asset.

God bless good engineers. My friend Craig Alvin is engineering in Nashville now. You guys should look him up. Genius. What is your favorite drummer joke? I know you’ve heard them all.

I have definitely heard many! One that a lot of people may not be familiar with is this one: "How can you tell the drum riser is level?" The drummer drools out of both sides of his mouth.

What is your favorite downhere song? Why?

My favorite downhere song right now is a new one called "My Last Amen". It's on our record which comes out September 23rd. The song is an epic journey - it's one of those tunes that just when you think it can't get any bigger/cooler, something else pops in and takes it to another level. When I first heard the finished product I felt physically tired by the end of the song - like I'd been on a roller coaster or something.

Okay, now I can’t wait. It is a cool thing when you can brag about your own music because it isn’t all about you—it’s your friends playing—it’s a collaborative effort.

Riddle me this . . . when I met you a few years back, you had long curly hair, glasses, and your physique was a bit different. How did you turn in to such a stud and what drives you?

Well - this is a tricky question to answer! We're on our fourth album, and I'm on my fourth haircut - long curly hair on the first, dreadlocks on the second, shaved head for the third, and "normal" hair on this new one. I'm in front of people all the time and have my picture taken fairly regularly (I HATE photo shoots, but it's the only time I get free "cool" clothes!), so as far as the drive goes, I've got some pretty good motivation just from a vain level to try and stay in shape. But it's tough out on the road - I try and lift weights as often as possible when I'm at home, and I picked up running about 4 years ago and have run a number of marathons and such since then. (Running is the easiest exercise to do on the road - all you need is some shorts and shoes. I've actually started a running club called Rockstar Runners - check it out at One of my biggest pet peeves is overweight/fat pastors - I wrote a somewhat controversial blog post on it recently (feel free to read it and tell me your thoughts). So I don't want to be "that" guy - if my body is truly the temple of the Holy Spirit then I feel quite strongly that I need to do everything I can to take care of it... so exercise, sleep/rest, fuel/food are all important factors in that whole equation. Am I where I want to be as far as fitness/physique goes? Nope - not yet. But my goal is to be in the best shape of my life by the time I'm 30 - which gives me about 6 more months!

My motto is “run when there’s danger.” It’s torture for me. But, I agree that staying in shape is important. I read your post on fat pastors and agree on many levels. Hard to preach about spiritual health when you set your Bible down and rest your elbows on your fat rolls.

Back to music : : : Our church still loves singing “Great are You” from the first album. We still get requests for it. Why do think that song is so magical?

"Great Are You" is a beautiful vertical worship song that has really resonated with people I believe because of the vulnerability of the lyrics. It's a plea and a confession at the same time - there's something freeing when we understand that we don't know the whole picture and that's okay... we worship a God who does.

A lot of Vertizontal readers are in bands, play in church, write music, etc. And, a lot of them get frustrated that their “great songs” don’t get heard by the rest of the world. What advice would you give to aspiring professional musicians?

This is something that we as a touring, professional band of 9 years wrestle with constantly. When as an artist you feel like you create your best work and put it out there for the world but no one wants to hear it/buy it, it can become a source of angst/frustration really quick. We had to come to terms with the fact a long time ago that our validity and value as artists was not tied to how many records we sold or how many people came out to a show. We are given our gifts first and foremost for the edification of the Church and to bring glory to God - if that is happening in our lives and in the lives of the 10s, 100s, or 10,000s that hear our music, then we are serving our purpose as artists.

My good friend Dave who serves on staff with me at Westwinds is from Vancouver, BC. I told him I had a friend Jeremy from Canada. When I told him you were from Saskatchewan he said, “that’s not Canada.” Could you shed some light on this?

Well, for starters, you can tell your good friend Dave that I'm actually from BC - I went to Bible college in Saskatchewan and that's where the band started. Saskatchewan has been the redheaded step-child of western Canada for a while - a lot of agriculture there, not a lot of money. However, recently they have discovered a TON of oil in Northern Saskatchewan, which will make it probably wealthier a province than Alberta (which for years was the richest province in Canada due to all the oil found there). So Dave might want to get cozy with some Saskatchewan folks in a real hurry! (That was probably more than you bargained for, huh... A little Canadian history lesson for you there!)

Someone recently told me they thought downhere sounded like Keane. I told them that is impossible. If they sound alike then Keane must sound like downhere. Have you ever had that comparison?

Hmmm... I think maybe I’ve heard that before. I get it - a lot of our songs are piano-driven, like them. Keane is one of our influences, but I think the dual lead vocals throws out that comparison in a real hurry. I really feel like we've been able to develop our own sound over the past two records - "Wide-Eyed and Mystified" and "Ending is Beginning".

I’m almost sorry I asked that because I hate being compared to anyone myself (although Keane is a great band). Someone once told me I sound like Neil Diamond and I wanted to punch myself repeatedly in the neck. I mean Neil is cool and all but . . .

So, Marc and Jason share lead vocals. Have you ever tried to become the third lead vocalist?

Nope, and never will. I'm happy to sing "oohs" and "ahhs" in the background - I know my strengths, and being a lead vocalist is not one of them!

You guys have a page on Wikipedia. Have you ever edited it?

I don't think so... But every once in a while I do get a kick out of some of the not-so-accurate "facts" listed there!

Cool. I am going to post a bunch of "facts" about you and see how long it takes you to change them.

Let's get heavy : : : What do you think God wants to tell the church at this moment in time?

I think God is preparing the Church for some pretty major stuff to come down the pipe here soon. That's the theme that really came out in "Ending is Beginning" - that there is still reason to hope, even though times can be hard/rough/seemingly unbearable.

What is the one thing you want to tell Vertizontal readers?

On a surface level: download "Wide-Eyed and Mystified" for free in June! Go to and get it now. And mark your calendars for September 23rd, the release date of "Ending is Beginning" - you won't regret it! On a deeper level: one of the things we always encourage people to do is to bloom where they're planted. The Lord's plans are not our plans - my "Five Year Plan" in college definitely did not include my moving to Nashville to become a professional musician. That was never even a dream of mine! But the Bible stories are true... as we are faithful in the little things, more will be entrusted to us. To quote a song from "Wide-Eyed", "little is much when God is in it." Don't pass up the little things looking for the big thing.

I like the "surface level" and "deeper level" distinctions because I only asked for one thing and the two distinctions allowed you to sneak in two answers. Wow. You should be a preacher.

Okay, everyone . . . go here to download “Wide-Eyed and Mystified” for free while the offer still stands—through the month of June.

Listen to downhere. Support the band. Read Jeremy’s blog.

Thanks, Jeremy! You're a great man. A great, fit, normal rockstar kind of a guy.

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