The idea is simple, but its application is incredibly difficult.
Unity is a basic tenet in the rise of Third Day, the Gospel Music Association’s Artist of the Year. It also provides an underlying plank in the creation of Come Together, whose title is far more profound than the band anticipated when it started planning the album more than 18 months before its release.
While Come Together reflects Third Day’s cooperative environment, the band humbly wishes the larger church could adopt a continuously unified spirit, similar to the one demonstrated by the American culture in the wake of September’s terrorism.
“We came up with this ‘come together’ idea maybe a year-and-a-half ago,” guitarist Mark Lee reflects, “but after that, to see the election last year, and see how divided this country was afterward, I just think it’s a really fitting title for the time that we’re in right now.”
Come Together also fits the current period of Third Day’s career. The band’s creative ideals and commercial appeal have come together at the same time, with the five-piece ensemble progressing from an underdog in the Christian marketplace to a significant force. The band’s ceaseless work ethic and unwavering desire to make a difference earned fierce recognition at the 2001 Dove Awards, where the Atlanta-based act racked up five trophies, becoming the first band in two decades to win both Artist of the Year and Group of the Year. At the same time, after veering between modern rock, pop, Southern rock and praise & worship music on its previous albums, Third Day’s diverse influences all combined in a cohesive musical melting pot on this album.
“It’s the coming together of all the different identities that we’ve had,” Lee says, “all summed up in this one project.”
Come Together is the culmination of a lengthy period of recording, touring and soul-searching in which Third Day converted a loft-style office in an unfinished, suburban building into a makeshift recording studio, allowing the band enormous amounts of creative freedom. The group outfitted the room’s hardwood floors, brick walls and high ceilings with wall rugs, atmospheric lighting and a ton of recording equipment, disabled a nagging buzz, and made the place a veritable home for a month, beginning in September 2000.
“When we first set it up, we felt like we had accomplished something before we ever played any music,” bass player Tai Anderson recalls.
That sense of accomplishment only grew as the album developed. With unlimited studio time, they took creative liberties and fleshed out many of the songs spontaneously, resulting in a creative step forward. Come Together uses sophisticated counter-harmonies and a loose-but-unified rhythmic base to communicate messages ranging from spiritual appreciation to tribulation.
“I think the songs are better,” lead singer Mac Powell enthuses. “We stepped out of our comfort zone a little bit musically. Everyone always says their new record is their best, but I really feel that.”
Part of the album’s artistic success derived from an unplanned development in Third Day’s career. The group released a partially live project, Offerings—A Worship Album, in July 2000, and backed it with a small concert tour. Its overt Christian message gained huge, immediate support, propelling the band to its first gold album. Instead of finishing Come Together for release in the summer of 2001, they re-tooled their plans, to capitalize on the excitement.
“We did this frantic, quick booking of a spring 2001 tour, which turned out to be our most successful tour ever,” drummer David Carr says, “so it held everything back. But I think it was a good thing. It helped us be able to sit on the music for a while and see what we needed.”
Ultimately, they decided the album could be improved by swapping out several songs, so they booked time in one of Atlanta’s landmark studios, Southern Tracks, and cut three more: the bristling “Get On,” the thoughtful “Show Me Your Glory” and the soulful “I Got You”—all of which made the final cut.
The album also benefited from the observant view of producer Monroe Jones, whose patience and enthusiasm resulted in a series of inspired performances.
“His thing isn’t all technique and perfection,” Carr says. “It’s like capture the moment.”
The moments, and the momentum, have built slowly but steadily for Third Day since the group’s evolution began a decade ago. Powell and Lee first started working together in 1991, after meeting in high school. By the beginning of 1993, Carr and Anderson came on board, and in 1995, Brad Avery joined Lee as the band’s guitarists.
Instead of aggressively chasing the big time, Third Day atypically—and unwittingly—let the music industry reach out to them. The group pitched itself for bookings only three times during its developmental years, and each occasion led to a series of regular appearances. When the band first headed into a recording studio, it had no intention of making a demo tape for a record company; the guys merely wanted cassettes to sell at their concerts.
In short order, their efforts netted a record deal, and they set about making albums that established a unique core sound, built around Powell’s earthy vocal texture, though they doggedly avoided repetition in their albums. Following their self-titled debut in 1996, Conspiracy No. 5 experimented with hard modern rock textures in 1997, while 1999’s Time rediscovered the band’s inherent Southern roots.
Along the way, they garnered a substantial amount of attention, with 15 #1 singles, eight Dove awards, and three Grammy nominations. In addition, they scored major press from CNN, NBC’s “Today” show, Billboard, US magazine, CCM magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Minneapolis Star and The Cleveland Plain Dealer, among others. They even wrote and performed a song for Coca-Cola.
They also formed a coalition of sorts with many of their fellow performers, joining such acts as Jars of Clay, Caedmon’s Call, Sixpence None The Richer and The Newsboys, among others, with the 2000 album City On A Hill, a music community project in which numerous acts came together in worship.
The praise songs of Third Day’s Offerings, intended as a side project for the group’s most ardent fans, solidified the group’s presence. That album preceded their momentous night at the Doves, a victory accompanied by a heightened profile, which the band is only beginning to feel.
“I always thought there’s the mainstream Christian music scene, and here we are off over to the side doing our own thing,” Lee explains. “As soon as you win Artist of the Year, it means you’re right at the forefront of what’s going on in Christian music, so I think we realized then that it’s a cool thing. But it’s also this responsibility, because people are looking at us to see what we do next, and it can really shape where Christian music goes, as far as reaching more toward people that didn’t grow up in the church. So I think we have a responsibility to do some things that maybe aren’t the popular thing. Because we’ve been put in this position, we should do some things to try to influence Christian music.”
Third Day’s approach to its music is a model in communication and teamwork. Many bands, if not most, start out as a democracy, only to implode when one or two members commandeer the group’s direction. Third Day started with a democratic mindset that has only increased over time. The songwriting credits have become more evenly distributed as the group has developed, and the individual players consistently set aside personal aspirations for the betterment of the larger unit. That ideal is exemplified by its two primary guitarists, Lee and Avery, who blend so naturally that months after the completion of Come Together, they weren’t able to determine who played which guitar parts.
“You pick your spots to make a little noise, put a little signature thing here or there, but the idea is the collective whole,” Avery insists. “That’s the idea of music, in a band: You have to listen to everybody else.”
“We’re in a totally exciting place for a band. This is what we do, but it’s exciting. We’re excited about going forward, we’re excited about the future,” Anderson adds.
Its immediate future is shaped by Come Together, which unifies not only the hearts, minds and spirits of Third Day, but also the multiple styles that have represented the band’s recorded past: tuneful, edgy sounds in the title track, cagey pop in “My Heart,” Southern rock shades—crossed with a Rolling Stones/Black Crowes flavor—in “Still Listening,” and worshipful attitudes in the obviously titled “Sing Praises.”
“Come together: that’s the essence of what being a band is about,” Anderson says. “It’s the five of us, plus the huge support team of 50-plus people. We go out and do our own things. We go to our own houses; we have our own families; we have five different personalities and five different denominational backgrounds and perspectives on life. But when we come together as a band, it’s something special.”
The physical copy of Third Day's "Come Together" in a jewel case.