He speaks quietly, but when Jason Germain, co-lead singer and guitarist of Canadian band Downhere talks about their new album, Ending Is Beginning, he might as well be singing to the skies.
"First of all, we're not ending as a band, not by any stretch," Germain points out, laughing. "But the title does reflect the idea of coming to the end of yourself, of letting what you can't change be and letting God make His strength known in our weakness. Those things that we all experience, things that don't seem to run true, He often uses to achieve His ultimate aims for us. God uses us in our weakness. He is closest to us when we most need him. We want to capture that idea in the work we're doing now, so Ending Is Beginning in many ways reflects of where we are as a band."
"Where they are as a band" has changed through this group's emergence from Canada's alt-rock scene on the wings of their Dove Award nomination for New Artist of the Year and two subsequent Juno Awards for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album Of The Year and Best Gospel Album, Canadian Gospel Music Association Covenant Awards for Rock Album of the Year and Rock Song of the Year and Dove Award for Modern Rock Recorded Song of the Year.
The change manifests itself well in a dozen ways on this album alone, from the garage-rock guitar that kicks off "Bleed for This Love" to the challenge - "follow the star to a place unexpected" - posed on the final track, "How Many Kings."
"The journey to finding the right songs for Ending Is Beginning seemed to be one that was a little longer and more difficult for some reason," explains bassist Glenn Lavender. "Part of that was a really busy schedule leading up to recording which doesn't allow much time for writing. However with the end result, I really feel like many of the songs reflect things we as a band and individually have been going through and that makes it feel like more of a project that is 'ours'. We've also taken some chances with the music. We have explored some different sounds and styles and had a lot of fun doing it."
Yet every note played and every word sung on Ending Is Beginning seeks unity with listeners who have found comfort and inspiration in what downhere has offered on disc and onstage over these past seven years, while also welcoming new listeners to this epic musical journey.
From private thoughts to the most glorious vistas imaginable, Ending Is Beginning is in the end a conversation, in which Germain and Marc Martel speak candidly about how they're handling their struggles of life while also preparing for the triumph promised by their faith.
"With our previous album Wide-Eyed And Mystified, I think we found our sonic stride," says co-lead vocalist and lead guitarist, Martel. "With Ending Is Beginning, we're building on what we've discovered we really are. We've found the balance between Jason and me as lead singers."
"But we've also changed in ways to reflect how the world is changing and how that relates to faith," adds Germain. "Ending Is Beginning is probably the most positive record we've ever recorded. It's almost epic in its statement of hope. But that message is set against a backdrop of despair. There comes a point in anyone's life when you realize that some of our wounds aren't going to heal. Some of our problems won't go away. There are always going to be temptations. I mean, hope has always been at the core of who we are, but it's taken on a more complex form."
To illustrate, Germain looks back to "Breathing In," from their self-titled debut album in 2001. "'Death is no conflict for those who belong,'" he quotes. "It's this idea that everything is going to be okay. I still believe that's true, but as you move through life and draw closer to death, the message becomes more serious - and, at the same time, more beautiful and even more hopeful."
Another quote from "Hope is Rising" on End Is Beginning, measures this difference: "I've lost all my earthly optimism, but it's going to be alright, that the good will win this fight. Somewhere between youth and disappointments, the dream became despair, the love became a lie. Just now I've reached the end of my line. Just now I'm too tired to keep on trying. But hope is rising - it's a sunrise for the end."
To mirror this point, the melody climbs on the chorus, lifting the listener toward the mysteries represented by the title. So it is through all of Ending Is Beginning, whose title encapsulates the essence of all that Downhere strives to communicate on each electrifying track.
And so, where their preceding album, Wide-Eyed and Mystified was to a great extent the product of deliberate introspection and reflection, Ending Is Beginning rose from the band's engagement with its professional and personal lives. Its songs were written during short breaks between tours or just before going into the studio. As a result, the energy of their shows courses through each track; urgency and immediacy infuse the craft of their composition and the candor or their lyric. This is music sprung as much from the presence of life as from the imminence of salvation. Joining Downhere at the production helm for this landmark project were veteran producers, Mark Hiemermann (DC Talk, MWS) and Stephen Gause.
That makes Ending Is Beginning, in Germain's phrase, "a soundtrack for authentic Christian living. We try and take the truth we know from the Word, apply it to our lives, and create prayers, almost liturgies, which people can sing along to in their own pursuits."
"We wanted to make an important record," Martel emphasizes. "You get the sense in the world right now that maybe something really big is going to happen soon, that maybe the way of life we enjoy isn't going to last much longer. We had that in mind as we wrote; we want to write songs that have meaning, no matter how things are going."
"So when we wrote 'Cathedral Made of People,' the idea was to create a song that's going to have meaning for people in even the hardest situations," Germain adds, noting another standout track from Ending Is Beginning.
Martel picks up the thought, leaning forward. "That's why we changed the last verse. We first wrote, 'If they throw you in prison, what will you do?' But 'if' just wasn't strong enough, so it became 'When they throw you in prison, what will you do, and they hate you for the things you know are true?'"
"Even in 'Hope is Rising,' we bounced around the idea of saying, 'just when I reach the end of my line,'" Germain continues. "But that wasn't strong enough, so we said instead, 'Just now I reach the end of my line.'"
The two co-writers and lead singers, whose friendship and collaboration dates back to their days as college roommates, are speaking now enthusiastically, each reflecting the other's commitment as well as the entire band's resolution to take downhere to a higher level in especially challenging times. Clearly they've been tempered by time, yet their resolution as believers, like their commitment to each other and to their mission, only endures and grows with time. And that sentiment is echoed by the band's drummer, Jeremy Thiessen.
"It's been nearly nine years since downhere was born back in Canada," reflects Thiessen. "The music industry has seen some pretty significant changes and challenges in that amount of time and so have we. But the one constant in our story is the sense of calling. Were it not for a deep conviction in each of us that this is the mission the Lord has for us in this season of our lives, I doubt very much that downhere would still exist today. It is out of this conviction that we find the strength and determination to press on, pursuing excellence in all that we do until we feel this chapter is done."
Ending Is Beginning is about that too - the glory of God first and foremost, but also about how time opens more paths toward what God promises to the faithful, each treasure along the way richer than the next.