The story of Tenth Avenue North

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in ItFlip through any Christian songbook and you’re likely to notice a pattern. Most popular songs fall under three major categories: love, praise, and adoration.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: So when an award-winning Christian band decides to produce an album outside those themes, it prompts a question. World Radio’s Myrna Brown asked.

SONG: [Love Is Here]

MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: Mike Donehey is still the frontman for the college band he helped form nearly two decades ago.

DONEHEY: This one time I remember we were at this high school camp and I’m trying to talk to them about the gospel. I was like, “Man, you guys were all emotional last night. Tell me about the gospel. And they looked at me and said, uh… be a better person. And I’m like, no, the gospel is you can’t be a good enough person. He was a good enough person for you.”

SONG: [Love Is Here]

Donehey says that night he and his bandmates went back to their dorm room and wrote the song, “Love Is Here.” It launched 10th Avenue North into the world of recording and touring. Donehey says it also redefined his role as a Christian artist. 

DONEHEY: If I’m not embracing the fact that people look at me as a teacher, then I’m not really being responsible for the platforms I’ve been given. 

The Fredericksburg, Virginia, native says he’s never been more convicted by that sense of responsibility.

DONEHEY: And I’ll be honest, man, there are these song ideas I’d had and we had recorded demos for them. We just kept saying, we can’t put that on a project. That won’t sell. And I realized at that moment, like if I only put out songs and art and music that I know will be commercially viable, then maybe I’ve stopped telling the truth and I’m only selling the truth. 

SONG: [Love Anyway]

In October 2018, 10th Avenue North released The Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say. It’s a collection of six songs that tackle topics rarely put to music, including sexual abuse, pornography, and politics. 

SONG: [Love Anyway]

Each song on the album corresponds to a short teaching video, led by Donehey, who’s also written his first book. 

DONEHEY: Jesus frees me to speak up on issues without fighting against people.

But the music is still his primary teaching tool.

SONG: [I’m Listening]

Personal and emotional stories from family members inspired the song, “I’m Listening.”

DONEHEY: And I’ve heard them tell me how no one believed them. And they weren’t trying to be political or out anybody. It was about their life. 

The shame and illusion of pornography is captured in the song, “Counterfeits.”

SONG: [Counterfeits]

 Donehey says commercially, the project performed poorly

DONEHEY: Oh terrible. Worst thing we ever put out. What’s beautiful in a sense is I put that record out with less fear than anything I’ve ever put out because there is sort of like no need for it to be hugely successful.

Donehey says he’s learning to see success through a different lens.

DONEHEY: This one girl messaged us the day it came out and said I was sexually abused by my pastor 10 years ago in youth group and nobody believed me. I gave up on God and called myself an atheist ever since. And I listened to your song today,  and I don’t know if I’ll come all the way back, but it reminds me that maybe Jesus is different from my youth pastor.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Myrna Brown.

(Photo/Tenth Avenue North)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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