Gone Country: Third Day's Mac Powell Makes Solo Debut
It’s not unusual for the lead singer in a popular band to step out and do a solo project. MercyMe’s Bart Millard fulfilled a promise to his grandmother with Hymned in 2005, followed by Hymned Again in 2008. Last year Sanctus Real’s Matt Hammitt released his first solo album, Every Falling Tear. Third Day’s Mac Powell becomes the latest to record a solo set, indulging his longtime love for country music in the process.
Though some might be surprised that the frontman of one of Christian music’s most successful rock bands is a country singer at heart, Powell says it’s not really a stretch. “I grew up probably like everybody else in the south: listening to country music,” says Powell, a native of tiny Clanton, Alabama who moved to Atlanta when he was a sophomore in high school. “[Country music] was a big part of shaping me musically and I think that’s pretty evident in Third Day music. There’s always been little tinge of it.”
Combining southern rock, country and blues into a unique sound has made Third Day one of Christian music’s most enduring bands. Third Day’s Powell, Mark Lee, Tai Anderson and David Carr have won four GRAMMYs, 24 Dove Awards and have been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Lest anyone think Powell’s solo outing signals an end to the band or even a hiatus, it isn’t so. Third Day’s new studio album, Miracle, releases November 6.
In the meantime, Powell is looking forward to hearing what fans think about both records. “I’ve been wanting to do a country album for years,” Powell admits, “and I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, ‘When are you going to do a country record?’ When you hear that many, many times you start thinking to yourself, ‘Maybe I should do this.’ It’s been on [my mind] for about five years, but I’ve been so busy with the band, I just never thought I had the time or the chance to do it. I finally got to a place where I couldn’t not do it. It’s all I was thinking about all the time.”
The result is a spectacular album produced by Powell and talented multi-instrumentalist Jason Hoard. “Jason has been playing on the road with Third Day for two years,” says Powell. “I first met him through the Glory Revealed projects and I got to know him more and see how he grew up with some of the same influences that I did. He definitely brings more of the bluegrass flavor in with banjo and being a great mandolin player. To have him there, it gave me an opportunity to work with a musician that is more in that realm.”
Another important collaborator was Nashville songwriter Brett James, responsible for such country hits as Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” Rodney Atkins’ “It’s America” and Kenny Chesney’s “Out Last Night.”
"He was really the first step,” Powell says of getting his country project underway with James' help. “I went to Nashville a few times and he would come down here to Atlanta. He wrote probably half of the record with me. We just hit it off really well and came up with a lot of ideas in a short amount of time. Jason worked on a few of those ideas as well and we started recording them and it started feeling great. Jason brought in some friends of ours to play on the record and it just worked. It came together very easily.”
Powell’s country tunes were influenced by his favorite artists. “Definitely Alabama. Being from Alabama they were a huge group that was all over the radio when I was a kid,” he recalls. “They had so many great songs. I listened to Kenny Rogers. I was a big Dolly Parton fan, and still am. Of course I love Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.”
Cash in particular was a strong influence. “This is a guy who I really looked up to,” says Powell, “because he wasn’t perfect by any means. He had many problems as we all do, and yet he was continually trying to grow his faith and share his faith through music and wasn’t slamming it down anybody’s throat. I think he was a great example – just like many country artists are – in being real about life and yet not be afraid to share that side of your faith as well.”
Fans can check out Powell’s new music at his new solo website www.macpowell.com. He will also be out on tour this fall performing his new solo album. The songs run the gamut from such fun, up-tempo tracks as “Saturday Night,” “This Ain’t No Hobby” and “June Bug” to “Julia Ann,” a poignant song about loss and the beautiful love song “Carry You.” “Mississippi” boasts an ingratiating groove and personality-packed vocal from Powell that could make it a huge hit on country radio. In fact, with the success of country chart-toppers like Jason Aldean and Eric Church, the energy and edge Powell brings to his debut are exactly what country radio is gravitating to these days. Could this be Powell's time to shine in a new genre?
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About the Writer
Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian/Gospel music for Billboard magazine since 1994. She also contributes regularly to CountryWeekly, CMA Close Up, Devo’Zine, Christian Single, HomeLife, BMI Music World, and other publications. A Nashville resident since 1983, Deborah has held editorial posts at Radio & Records, Country News, American Songwriter and Billboard. Amy Grant, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, 3 Doors Down, Third Day, Don Henley, Bon Jovi, Chris Rice, Sandra Bullock, Mercy Me, Alan Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Steven Curtis Chapman are among her many interviews. Additionally, she's a sought-after music industry analyst who has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, TNN, The Today Show, and ABC PrimeTime Live, among other outlets.Deborah is a member of the Gospel Music Association's board of directors and a graduate of Leadership Music. She resides south of Nashville with her husband, Gary, and son Trey.
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