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Mainstay

To discuss Minnesota pop/rock band Mainstay's sophomore project Become Who You Are, Jesusfreakhideout.com's John DiBiase had a one-on-one conversation with frontman/vocalist Justin Anderson. Covering the new album's themes as well as personal struggles and how they fit into the Christian walk, the conversation takes an honest look into what went into making Become Who You Are and beyond...
This interview took place on: 8/29/07.
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  • Jesus freak Hideout (John DiBiase): Hey man, how's it going?
    Justin Anderson: Aw man, I'm tired! I'm doggin' it. (John: Why?!) I don't know. I'm just tired. I haven't slept well for three days. Been traveling... But I'm doing good, though. Life is good. It's just my body's like "blech!"

  • JFH (John): I totally understand! ...Your new album Become Who You Are is a drastically different record from your debut. Is this intentional, natural, or would you say kind of a mix of the two?
    Justin: I would say it is kind of a mix of the two. Well Meaning Fiction was recorded about two, two and a half years ago. Wow, I guess 2 and a half it would have been - in 2005! So we didn't really know who we were at the time, but we knew in what direction we wanted to go. And Aaron Sprinkle helped us get to a certain spot, but at the same time, I didn't push myself vocally a whole lot and as a band we didn't push ourselves. At the time, we didn't have Dan or Scott in the band, and then this time around, for the past year, we've been asking ourselves what kind of record we want to write. What do we want it to sound like? And this and that and everything. I kind of realized we wanted our rock songs to rock more and we wanted our soft ballads to be a little more sweet and a little more dynamically bound. And we wanted our Christian songs that were very explicitly Christian to be very explicitly Christian. And then our songs that were a little more melancholy, to just let them go wherever they felt like. It's kind of a lot of different moods and a lot of different - hopefully "dynamic," is the word we use about this record. It goes from just me at the top of lungs, just belting something, to just quiet and acoustic guitar, and not much else going on. And so that's kind of cool because we wanted to push that dynamic of everything in between from soft to loud to dark to happy to everything.

  • JFH (John): Do you think you were trying to start over with this record? In a way, do you see it as a sort of rebirth or just the next chapter for the band?
    Justin: That's a great question, and I think it is kind of just the next chapter. I heard Johnny Resnick of the Goo Goo Dolls say one time albums are like photo albums. They're like pictures of where you were at that time when you recorded that music. And that is just a really good way to portray that. And for where we are now, as a four-person band that we dynamically have now, this is a perfect representation of that. And the themes on the record are that, the tones - as far as the recording and engineering side of it - is exactly where we're at, it's just very honest. It's an honest rock record. It's not slick and smoothe and perfect, it's just honest. At times it's raw and at times it's pretty. And it's just kind of the next chapter as far as where we feel we're heading - where I feel I'm heading vocally, where Ryan feels he's heading as a drummer, and more importantly above all of that, where we're heading as songwriters to get better as a band. It's exciting, cause if you could write songs that the CCM crowd enjoys, and if you could write songs that maybe the more indie crowd enjoys, I'd say that that's a cool spot to be at. It's kind of what we're aiming for.

  • JFH (John): What kind of musical influences do you have for this record?
    Justin: We listen to a lot of Tonic. I love Jeremy Enigk - love everything that he's done, from Sunny Day Real Estate to now he has his solo project. We've always loved Jimmy Eat World, we've always loved bands like that. It's kind of just a mix of pop to rock to alternative. I really can't put my finger on it because there's times where it sounds like it's a pop record, and there's times where it sounds like a rock record, and there's times where it sounds more alternative, so it's hard to say exactly who we sound like, but it's easier to say the influences that give us some ground to make the music that we do.

  • JFH (John): What brought you and Jeremy Camp together to work on some of the new stuff, and what was that like for you musically?
    Album cover Justin: Jeremy's so cool, dude. It's cool cause we had this connection, y'know, we've known Jeremy for awhile and he's a cool, cool guy. We had the opportunity to write with him and I was thinking, "Why would we turn that down?!" You have one of the best CCM writers, I think, in the history of the biz. He's written some of the most honest and simple songs of faith that really touch people. A guy like that really understands how to get into his own heart and how to convey that to people. It's a gift, y'know? With that opportunity, we just went for it and it's just been a great relationship for us. We're going out with him this Fall on tour. The first single, "Believe," is the song I cowrote with him and it's cool because you take really dark stuff - stuff like, when life is like garbage, I'm still gonna believe in Jesus Christ. It's a cool thing to say and I hope people resonate with that. It's from the heart and it's not contrived or weird, but it's really just two guys - me and Jeremy - sitting down and being like, "How can we take what we've experienced, from depression and sadness and heartache, and say that to someone in the sense of 'hey everybody, this is what we think, and this is where we've been, these are the darkest times we've had and no matter what happens, what comes our way, we're still going to believe.'" That's really fun to connect with that.

  • JFH (John): Do you have a favorite or most meaningful song on the record?
    Justin: Um, it's hard. I mean, I go back and forth day to day, but one of them that I really, really love, because I feel like it encapsulates exactly where I'm at as a person individually, is the last track, "Hang On," and it's really kind of just a down, simple, piano-driven kind of song that says, "Here I am, I'm 25, I am bitter at some things in life, I'm cynical about a lot of the church and the church in America and about believers who have really treated me poorly, and I'm not a kid anymore, and I don't have a really bright outlook on Christianity in America. Yet, in the past year, I've kind of just realized that no matter how much the church screws up Christianity, or no matter how much I screw up Christianity for that matter, and my walk and what Christ calls us to be, and no matter all that stuff, no matter how bitter or cynical I get, the goal of our lives is that we were created by God to know Him and to serve Him." So it's really a song just saying, "I don't really know how I got to where I am, but I want to go back to a simple faith in Jesus." That's an encouraging thing for me because it's not like a song that says life is easy and life is fun, it's a song that says "Life is hard and I'm a cynic, but y'know what? I can remember the first time love turned me around." I can remember what it was like to hear that - that there is forgiveness for sins in Jesus Christ. And there is free grace to be had in that. And that was the best news of my life. I can remember what that was like and I can remember what it is to walk with God. It's a really honest song and I don't have time for anything that's not honest. I hope it ministers to people too because I've found that there's a lot of people like that out there that need to hear that message.

  • JFH (John): Totally. And when I read about that track, I could totally feel that. I'm 27 and I've also found it's easy to get cynical or jaded about things, about fellow Christians. And in the music industry, too. And then you just need to realize God's bigger than all that, y'know? And we need to focus on seeking God on a one-to-one basis and not always let the stuff around us leak in. It's tough. And I read your song comments on that track and I'm just thinking, "Yup, I totally feel ya, man. I totally feel ya."
    Justin: Yeah. *laughs* I'm hoping people will just resonate with that, y'know? That's exciting to me, honestly, cause I don't know... I don't want to just pretend like everything is all right, but we need to be seeking to know Jesus on a day-to-day basis. That's what we're created for. That's encouraging.

  • JFH (John): And it's songs like that that speak to me, personally, more than most worship songs because to a degree, sometimes with worship music we get in this little happy bubble where everything is perfect. And, to be honest, life is never perfect. We're getting hit with trials all the time - good days followed by bad ones. But I think God also tries to keep us grounded sometimes. I read a devotional recently about the thorn in Paul's flesh that he used for boasting in weakness and it hit me that God probably uses things like that to keep us humbled and grounded...
    Justin: Yeah, I completely agree with that. And sometimes we look for purpose and meaning in stuff, like 'maybe this happened because of this' and that could be, but sometimes I think God just - and I hate to say it, but - plagues us with stuff just because he knows best.

  • JFH (John): Yeah, exactly. But I could tell in listening to this record - and especially the first one - that you just really were going through some tough stuff. But there's so much more hope in the new album. Was it kind of a process of coming to that point or did some particular moment occur where you just had this renewal of hope?
    Justin: I went through some really dark times this past year. I think it was a gradual process of learning - and this sounds really cheesy, but - how to "be" - and not have to be anything for anyone. But just to follow Christ and trying to live genuinely. And if I have a problem in my head, and I'm bummed beyond belief then that's the way it is, y'know? And if I have some hard circumstances in my life, whatever it is, it's just being honest and being genuine and being open and being real. And I think that creates kind of an atmosphere of being okay with not being okay. And y'know, for artists they're seen smiling all the time, they're on stage - stage voice, stage personality, signing autographs, and I have that to an extent, but y'know, I'm a person too, and I just really have learned to be me and to be vulnerable and just being like "hey, I sing - I try to sing - and I fail sometimes at that, but that doesn't make me any different from the average person. I still have heartache, I still have depression, and I still have issues and circumstances that are hard and I think it's just a process of being okay with admitting all that and leaning on people around me, leaning on God." And eventually God brought me out of that and it's been since April or May that I've kind of had some of that darkness lifted off of me, and at the same time I know that, if you've ever struggled with depression, it's never fully, fully gone. Well, really, it might be gone, but it's not always situational, not always circumstantial. So it's really just letting it go and being like, "It's okay, I don't have to happy, shiny, smiley to people today, I could just be myself and trying to love Jesus, and if I'm down, I'm down." And that's okay. And if I'm up, and I'm excited, that's great too. Either way, y'know?

  • JFH (John): Yeah, dude. I totally agree with that and I fully respect you for sharing that and being open. I think it's really important for Christians to be real and open, y'know? We're all flawed, we're not perfect. And I know the church can put pressure on us to be happy all the time, to be "too blessed to be stressed" and I know there have been times when I've sat in the back pew with others worshipping so openly around me and I've just wondered what in the world was wrong with me, y'know? And I think it's great to let people know that "hey, it's okay to have an off day, and it's ok you're not perfect and maybe right now you can't worship God the way you'd like to, but find him where you're at and He'll meet you where you're at."
    Justin: Yup. I mean that's an amazing message, dude. Seriously. That's what we need to be telling each other. Because the most frustrating thing is to be a depressed person and then have someone at church say, "Well what's wrong with you?! Just have the joy of the Lord!" And that's ridiculous. I mean, we just need to be understanding of where we're at. I mean, if I'm mired in sin and you said to stop sinning, you'd be right. But being depressed and being down is not a sin in and of itself. People struggle with depression chemically and people struggle with "I've lost my job and what do I do now?!" That's not a sin, that's a hard time in life. I have issues with depression. That's something I deal with. We need to be understanding and see Christ in it, not vilify those people and say, "Well, whenever you get your act together, then you can start worshipping or seeing Jesus." But no, it's in the middle of those times that God wants us to come to Him with that kind of stuff.

  • JFH (John): That's right, dude. Just like when Jesus would have tough times and go off and spend time with God alone. It's not like Jesus was the happiest guy in the world, it's not like He didn't go through tough times. I mean one of the most powerful scriptures in the Bible is two words: "Jesus wept." So yeah, I totally feel ya on that, man.... On that note, was it difficult to write a song like "She Moves?"
    Justin: Yes, that was hard. I think it was cool because I wrote that song and I guess I was just really proud of my sister-in-law in the way she handled stuff. And that kind of faith in hardship is such a beautiful thing to me. It's that kind of Biblical faith when people get taken away from you and stuff sucks. And life is hard and you don't even understand. It's not like a roadmap of why God is doing things. You have no clue why things are crumbling around you or why they're happening this way. It doesn't even make sense. Yet you look through it and you say, "You know what, I trust God more than anything and I don't deserve anything from Him. He's good just to give me another breath in my lungs." That's the kind of song that's hard to write because it hits so close to home but it's awesome because you're proud of her because she can exhibit that kind of faith. That's the kind of faith the world needs to see.

  • JFH (John): What has God been teaching you lately?
    Justin: Boy... just to really seek the Kingdom. I read Matthew 13:44, and I was reading it this morning, and the Kingdom is like a hidden treasure in a field and a man is so stoked - that would be the New Living Translation probably *laughs* - so stoked that he sells all he has and buys that field. Y'know? Like that's how much we should value the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was so about that. And like, what does that even mean? We value our mortgages, we value vehicle payments and relationships and lots of good things - things that are not bad, y'know? But we're to value the Kingdom so much and I think it's just so intense, and the next paragraph is about the pearl with great price. A man sells all he has to buy that one pearl, and he's just enamored with it, just like the treasure hidden in the field. And we need to prioritize the Kingdom as much. And if we did, then we would spend some time to minister to a drunk or spend an extra four or five minutes to email back a fan that said "this really encouraged me." It's like, "Hey Justin, you can afford five minutes letting this fan know, 'Hey, awesome bro, hope that encourages you'" Like that's how we can be practical about seeking the Kingdom with our money, with our time, with whatever we have in our hearts. It's cool to me to think that if I'm going to prioritize like that, that's what I need to do. I need to sell all that I have and buy that field. Whatever that means! *laughs*

  • JFH (John): And that field might be Mainstay!
    Justin: *laughs* It might be! I don't know. It might be.


    Mainstay's latest album Become Who You Are hits streets September 25th!




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