Walking the Rock Star Tightrope
Third Day's Tai Anderson talks about his faith, the band's fans and detractors, and the prayer that keeps him going.
BY: Interview by Dena Ross
The past few years have been good to Christian rock group Third Day. Last summer they played for a national audience at the Republican National Convention and were the subject of a special on 60 Minutes. In February, they took home a "Best Rock Gospel" Grammy Award for the band's seventh studio album, "Wire." And, in April, they won two Dove awards from the Gospel Music Association, for "Best Rock/Contemporary" album and their contribution to "The Passion of the Christ: Songs"-bringing their total number of Dove awards to 23. Currently on tour, bass player Tai Anderson spoke with Beliefnet about the "country club" insularity of the Christian music industry, how music is like politics, and how he becomes a Christian every day.
You've been the Christian music industry for a while. How is it different now than it was ten years ago?
I feel like when we started-as we were on the outside looking in-we kind of thought, "Christian music really isn't very good. Hopefully we can help to make it better." Now that we've been in it for ten years, that's not something we have to worry about as much because everyone is making great music.
It's a little less cheesy?
Yeah. I really think it is.
Ten years ago it felt like there was a gap-that Christian music was always ten years behind in the trends. And now, maybe that gap has closed a little bit. Maybe we're just a couple years behind [laughs].
I think with Third Day's kind of music, we'll never be the hottest, trendy thing because we're more just rock 'n' roll. There's different [genres.] "Oh it's punk rock this year or ska this year or whatever." But I think when you just [play] rock you might never be the biggest thing, but it's pretty solid.
A lot of Christian bands, like Switchfoot, for example, have managed to cross over into the mainstream. People like them now and don't even realize they're considered a Christian band.
That's the cool thing. Now mainstream music is looking to Christian music for the hits.
We took [Switchfoot] on tour in 1997--their very first tour. We had heard their first album, before it came out, and we were like, "This is a great band--as good as anything else out there."
When I was listening to the latest album I was surprised to how diverse you are musically. On one level, you're this hard-rocking band and then you go into a worship song that still has a rock background. But it seems like both Christians and the spiritual-but-not-religious-crowd can relate to it.
Yeah. That's the challenge that comes with being in a Christian band after a while. You want to talk about spiritual things, but not in a religious, confusing way.
I think [the Christian music industry] can start to feel kind of country-clubish. Especially for [lead singer] Mac [Powell], writing songs where he knows there's certain vocabulary that Christians understand and are going to respond to. But at the same time, it doesn't make any sense to someone isn't already part of the club. So that was our challenge: How can we talk about this spiritual reality in our lives without using religious jargon that's immediately alienating to people?
There are some songs on the album, like Rock Star, that seem like good old-fashioned pop-rock songs that don't have any religious undertones. That song is just about getting caught up in the glamour of your celebrity, right?
One little spiritual thing [about the song] is certainly not religious, but it comes in that bridge where we're saying: "To you I'm nothing, but to you I'm something, something so much more." That's saying, when you're trying to please people it never works but no matter what you are, to God you matter.
That song sounds very pretentious, but actually it's not so much about us. It's more the people that want to be us. Everyone wants to be a rock star. [But] as you're striving to impress people [you may] realize that's not where your identity is.
How do you stay grounded?
For me, it's something simple-when I go on stage I always wear a cowboy hat. And so when I put on the cowboy hat I'm like, "OK, I'm going into rock star mode." And then when I get off the stage, I take it off.
As a band, if anyone does anything sort of haughty we're all there to let each other know about it.
Certainly having kids and being married keeps you humble. And also, when you don't meet every one of your expectations, it's humbling. When we started "Wire," we were thinking, what's happening to Switchfoot was going to happen to us. And it doesn't always happen. You [can] go, "Were we dreaming too big? Did we think too much of the music we were making?" Or you just go, "We still get to make music for a living."