The mention of a guy's dorm room generally tends to conjure up images of foul socks and pizza boxes, not record deals and hit songs. But in the case of Curb Records new worship-driven rock band Mikeschair, Pembroke Hall No.106 was more than just a space for late-night study sessions and never-ending video games-it was a space for history in the making.
"We all went to Belmont University and lived on the first floor of Pembroke except for Mike," explains Seth Jones, the multi-faceted songwriter/background vocalist/keys/guitar player for the group, speaking of lead singer and songwriter Mike Grayson. "He was constantly in our room-playing music, writing songs, recording-and he wanted something that was his own in our room."
After retrieving a chair and writing 'MIKE' on it in big letters, a befitting moniker was unknowingly born. The group is quick to point out that while it's not a typical Christian band name, it is a name that accurately tells their story without limiting who or what they're supposed to be. And with across-the-board church backgrounds and songs that consistently point upward, it would be easy to quickly stereotype them.
Bassist Jon Haire expounds, "Mikeschair doesn't exactly fit the 'worship band' stigma. We don't write corporate sing-along songs, but everything that we do naturally goes back to our relationships with God-so that is always evident in our music."
"We want to be remembered as a rock band that created a divine experience," adds lead singer Mike Grayson. "Whether it's at a middle school summer camp or a Sunday morning service, we hope that people walk away with not only a taste of great music, but an encounter with God."
However, to say that Mikeschair is simply an "experience" is a serious underestimation. The combination of Grayson's warm vocals and violinist Jesse Hale's signature strings creates a unique atmosphere in which the group's collaborative songwriting efforts can brilliantly shine through. If that weren't enough, guitarist Sam Tinnesz' rock-based hooks, Jon Haire's accomplished bass abilities and Seth Jones' inventive guitar/keys contributions make it easy to see why the five freshman went from Belmont's dorm room to Curb's reputable roster so quickly-the music easily holds it's own next to veteran industry bands.
"We want to do everything with excellence," says Haire. "That means everything from the music we make to our interaction at the merch table."
Jones adds, "We want to create songs that not only lyrically minister to the Church, but can musically transcend all barriers and genres."
With a sound that's somehow familiar and yet completely unique, it's easy to wonder where the collective influences of Mikeschair came from. The ever-eclectic Jon Haire cites everything from punk to classical while resident rocker Sam Tinnesz says he grew up listening to grunge and alternative.
Jesse Hale, however, tells a different story. His initial inspiration? Mister Rogers. "At the age of three," he elaborates, "I saw a violin special on Mister Rogers Neighborhood and started pointing and shouting at the TV 'Violin! Violin!'" His parents promptly bought him one for his next birthday and he hasn't stopped playing since.
The band's different influences and muses are evident on their debut album, which, in a true Coldplay-esque fashion, was completely recorded between classes. "It was a little difficult-running from class, to the studio, then back to class," remembers Grayson. "But it was worth it." Currently set to release in early 2008, the album is undeniably more than worth it.
Just one listen through of the first radio single, "Other Side," and it's obvious that the music going on here is much more than just hobby instrument tinkering. The five recent college alumnae have somehow found a new way to present age-old reflections on worship with lyrics such as:
"Been patiently waiting, preparing the way...When I finally see You, Your face in the clouds, I'll hear the tongues of the nations singing aloud."
The stirring words and melodic tones never seem to end as the rest of the album continues to burn even brighter with driving beats and hooky choruses-all wrapped up in chocolate-covered-sounding strings. The electric guitar and swirling Rhodes-component add an extra Keane-meets-Jars of Clay layer to the already poignant and original lyrics, which happen to be some of the most intriguing and compelling parts of the record.
"We want to present an honest approach to Christianity," comments Jones. "It's interesting because we never set out to form a band, but from the very beginning, it was evident that God's hand was in this. So we've just said, 'We'll follow.'"
Clearly, that is a good place to be. Between their fresh take on songwriting and their modern rock delivery, it's easy to see that the five young musicians have tapped into something much bigger than themselves. You can try to decide for yourself what genre Mikeschair should fit into, but by that point in the album, you'll be too lost in the inspired space and soaring melodies to even care.