For the better part of the past half-decade, members of the modern rock trio Mainstay knew they wanted to pursue a balance of artistry and ministry as their lifelong passion. After coming together as a punk outlet in members’ suburban Minnesota garages and refining its sound to a more sophisticated alternative style come college in Minneapolis, the gang amassed a sizable audience and considerable record label interest.
“Basically we chose to go to college in the city because that that would open up more doors for our band to play,” recalls singer Justin Anderson, letting out a sly laugh. “We got a breaking point where we were either going to finish school or pursue music as our reality and we basically hit the show circuit, released an EP on our own and sent press packets around until the buzz started building.”
After signing with the management firm Smallman- whose agent Mike King has been incredibly instrumental in development and promotion- a season of record label courtship ensued, prompted by plugs from Kutless’ guitarist Ryan Shrout. Such discussions led to an eventual partnership with BEC Recordings/Tooth & Nail Records, the threesome made the trek to Seattle’s famed studio The Compound to record the full-length CD Well Meaning Fiction (due February 21) with acclaimed producer Aaron Sprinkle (Kutless, Pedro the Lion, Anberlin).
“When we heard Aaron wanted to be a part of it, we kind of all flipped out,” Anderson admits. “It’s always been a dream to work with him and we’ve dug all the stuff he’s worked on before. He had an amazing way of knowing how to hang out and deal with people in addition to being incredibly artistic. And after hearing so many stories about genius producers who have no clue how to have a conversation, that was refreshing.”
Even though the sessions were going remarkably well and the group narrowed down the selection process to ten incredibly melodic, spiritually supercharged yet undeniably searing tracks, a major ordeal arose when it was time to cut the vocals. Anderson suddenly become hoarse and fell incredibly ill over just a few days that he eventually lost his voice all together.
“We literally had six days left until we were scheduled to finish the record and I got violently sick,” he remembers of the trying time. “In 23 years I’ve never had my voice leave me, but for about eight days, I could barely even whisper. It got so bad that we decided to take a time out from the sessions and just pick back up when I got healthy.”
Though Sprinkle’s schedule was slammed come Anderson’s recovery, he recommended right hand man Zach Hodges, who originally met Mainstay at The Compound. Together they retreated to a remote cabin in Santa Cruz, California and cut the vocals with renewed ardor. Those results, coupled with the previous production brilliance and the group’s thought provoking songwriting, have positioned the disc as one of the most compelling and captivating in recent memory- perfect for fans of Kutless, Anberlin, Sanctus Real, Copeland, Death Cab For Cutie and Acceptance.
“We write and perform out of the burden we have for spelling out the gospel message,” Anderson relates. “I feel like the majority of this record comes from the New Testament, which besides covering the gospels, also traces Paul talking to believers on how they should act and live. We don’t see a lot of that in America today. We see a lot of selling out and dumbing down. The key themes are sin and repentance, but also to write a record that’s a wake up call to Christians and get them to know that Christianity is not based on feelings, but rather on Biblical truth.”
Such sentiments unfold throughout numerous instances, such as throughout the grinding guitars and ethereal piano nuances throughout “Mirrors,” a track about turning away from the emptiness of the world and filling in the gaps with faith that penetrates much deeper than temporary remedy. The momentum building “Yesterday” attempts to curb listeners out of longing for pointless nostalgia in favor of seizing each new day in Christ, while the speedy guitars and harmonies throughout “This Could Be” serves as an anti-stress out anthem of spiritual sustenance. Then there’s the riveting “Take Away,” a lushly brimming ballad about the sovereignty of God and His ability to transform people’s hearts away from humanity’s sinful state.
“Our mission is to first of all write songs that would be pop gems with a great hook and a great line that will stick with you,” Anderson summarizes. “Lyrically we want to write lyrics that challenge believers and unbelievers alike that will hopefully encourage them all to look for truth. Absolutes are everywhere and hopefully our music will allow everyone to think beyond themselves and get in touch with a Higher Purpose.”