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Thursday, September 22, 2011

7eventh Time Down Interview

Hailing from Mount Vernon, Ky., the members of 7eventh Time Down are poised to take the world by storm with their overt message of Christ.  The group signed with the major, Christian label BEC Recordings, which houses many well known Christian acts including:  Jeremy Camp, Kutless, Hawk Nelson and Manafest.  Their debut album, Alive In You, was recently released on Sept. 13.  Featuring southern guitar hooks, worship anthems and infectious lyrics, 7eventh Time Down has crafted a memorable and moving debut.  On Sept. 20, 2011, I had the chance to speak with the lead singer of 7eventh Time Down, Mikey Howard, about their new album, the band’s ministry, and the craziness of touring.    

Webb:  For those who don’t know you guys, could you give me a brief history of the band? 

Mikey Howard:  Well, we all grew up together in a small Kentucky town, Mount Vernon.  Austin and I first met playing in Little League T-ball together.  We were just friends, and we knew each other throughout school.  In middle school, we started our first band.  It was a typical cover band; we played Third Day, Big Tent Revival, Supertones and just whatever we liked to listen to.  Eric was also in that band with us.  Cliff didn’t come along until about seventh grade.  I met him playing football for our middle school team.  Yeah, we just grew up playing music together, and playing sports together.  That is kind of how we got our start.  After high school, we decided to go full time into the music ministry, and hit the road.

Webb:  So what inspired you to play music full time?

Mikey Howard:  For me, it was surrendering more to ministry at a younger age, and realizing the gifts and abilities God has given me.  So it just seemed natural to pursue music as the ministry that God had for me.  What inspired me most was honestly the Jesus story, to go out and further the kingdom.  Music was the vehicle to do that because that was the one thing that I felt confident enough in to go out and stand in front of people.  But, as far as being in a band and 7eventh Time Down, there are a lot of bands that inspire us, DC Talk, Third Day and that kind of thing.  But, the heart and soul of the band has always been ministry first, band second.  Not to be too Sunday school, but definitely the inspiration and heart that drives behind what we do is without a doubt the Jesus story.  Furthering that story, and just helping grow the kingdom by doing what we do best together.  That is being 7eventh Time Down.

Webb:  Your debut album just released a couple of weeks ago.  How excited are you for this release of this album?

Mikey Howard:  Man, we are absolutely excited.  It has been so awesome.  In a way, it feels like a new beginning.  You kind of feel like you are starting all over.  It’s just exciting, overwhelming, humbling, those are all the best words that I could use.  Humbling is the absolute best word that comes to my mind, just knowing that God has ordained this.  Allowing us to do this at this time for his purpose is just awesome.  It is unbelievable, super awesome.

Webb:  I do want to talk about a couple of your songs.  The title track and first single is “Alive In You.”  Could you tell me a little bit about the story and meaning behind the song?   

Mikey Howard:  Yeah man.  That is probably the first song that we started writing for this record.  It is kind of a culmination of what God has been doing inside the four of us over the past eight years touring.  It is our declaration and soapbox of this is exactly why we are doing what we are doing.  It is because of Jesus.  This is why we are doing it, and this is why we choose to be away from our families.  This is why we travel all of over the country.  It is not for self glory; it is not for a big production on a big stage somewhere.  It’s not for the recognition of 7eventh Time Down, but it is completely and totally in the name of Jesus.  That is why we are alive.  That’s why we breathe.  That is why we sing.  It is kind of our declaration of that to the world.  In hopes, listeners will hear that and be inspired to want that same relationship with Jesus.

Webb:  For me, my favorite lyric on the whole album is on that song.  I love the part where you sing, “a Jesus freak till the day I die.”  I love that lyric that you guys wrote.

Mikey Howard:  Yeah dude.  We get a lot of comments on that lyric.  That was one that we were in the studio tweaking the final lyric.  It was one of those things when we were like, ‘man is it cheesy?  Are people going to think we only put it in there because of the whole Jesus freak movement?’  But, honestly that song “Jesus Freak” by DC Talk really helped shape the way that I followed Jesus at an early age.  It gave me the okay to be bold about Christ in school, and with my friends.  It carried over into my adulthood.  My wife is the same way.  My family is bold about Jesus.  Just all of us, my band, and everybody that we know that song really impacted us as kids to want to change the world for Jesus.  For us, that lyric just had to stay in the song.  No matter what negativity it brought from certain critics, it had to be in there because that is just who we are.

Webb:  I totally agree.  I think your message is definitely bold in this album, and especially on the last song, “Rusty Nails.”  Could you tell me a little bit about the story of “Rusty Nails?”

Mikey Howard:  That is a song that we really didn’t know if it would end up on the record or not.  “Alive in You” was the first song that we specifically wrote for this record, but “Rusty Nails,” was one of the first songs that 7eventh Time Down ever wrote as a band.  It was one of those songs that our friends and fans that have been following 7eventh Time Down for a long time already knew.  That song is a real humble response to the cross and to the Jesus story specifically.  It is really just a humble way for us to respond to that amazing transformation story.  It was the last song that we recorded for the record.  It was one of those ones that we were like, ‘as long as this song has been around, it doesn’t matter.  As many times people have heard it, it doesn’t matter.’  We felt like this song had a message.  It had something to say to the masses.  Being this was our first national release, we felt like it needed to go on there.  The lyric and the message behind this song needed to be heard.

Webb:   How would you guys describe your music to an average person who has never heard you before?

Mikey Howard:  It is just a really big, bold sound.  I hate to get too specific on what we sound like with people, but I tell people that we sound like Daughtry, or maybe an amped up version of Jeremy Camp.  It is just good rock and roll music with a real strong Jesus message behind it.  I think a lot of Third Day fans even like our sound because we have a little of that southern draw to our music.  It is just a good blend of rock and roll.  

Webb:  You have already touched on this a little bit.  But, besides the overt message of Christ, are there any other messages that you want to convey to listeners?

Mikey Howard:  Yeah, I mean there are tons.  I think most importantly what I would love to say to people that are listening to our music is we hope that it inspires you first, if you are on the fence about Christ, to become believers.  What more could a band like us ask for?  For people’s lives to be transformed through our music because of the Jesus story.  I think second, for people who are already believers, our prayer is that their story would not end there.  We pray and hope that through our music that they are inspired to actually step into the way of Jesus, and actually living like Christ in the world.  Not just believing in him, and not just being okay with their eternal destination.  As good as that is, and as much as we affirm everything that the Bible has to say about eternity, salvation, the cross, Jesus and the resurrection, [we should] know that Christ also died so we could live like him in the world.  So that this world could be changed here and now, and give people hope in this world and this life.  That is woven throughout our album and our lyrics.  Hopefully, [we] just want to inspire people to live like Jesus in this world. 

Webb:  Now on a little lighter note, do you remember where you were and what you were doing the first time you heard 7eventh Time Down on the radio?

Mikey Howard:  Yeah dude.  It’s a little tricky because you have Iphone apps now.  I had heard it on the Iphone apps a lot.  But, actually being in the car and just randomly coming on the radio, I was actually with the entire band.  We were on tour, and we were driving through Texas.  We just had the radio on; and sure enough out of nowhere, ‘a brand new band from Kentucky.  This is 7eventh Time Down with “Alive in You.”’  We just started screaming like little girls [laughing].  We were just so excited, everybody was cheering.  We could barely even hear the song on the radio because we were so excited.  It was a really neat experience; it was definitely overwhelming.

Webb:  How did you guys first get in contact with the major label BEC Recordings? 

Mikey Howard:  I think we had put on a showcase for a bunch of labels in Nashville.  This has been awhile back.  Basically, a lot of record labels from Nashville and across the country came to check out what we were doing and our music.  We played this showcase, and afterwards it was the first time we had ever met anyone from BEC and Tooth and Nail.  That is what kind of started the relationship.  Shortly afterward, we just really liked them [BEC Recordings], and what they were doing in the industry.  They seemed to really know what to do with a rock and roll band.  With the success of Kutless, Jeremy Camp and Thousand Foot Krutch, they seemed to know what to do with the rock acts.  We had played with a lot of those bands, Kutless in particular.  Just having the chance, before we were on the label, to see the ministry mindset behind Kutless, and also seeing that spill over into BEC.  They are just incredible people.  To get to be a part of that family has just been awesome.  Anyways, I kind of got off track, but after the showcase we talked to a bunch of different labels.  We ended up picking them [BEC Recordings], and that is kind of how it happened.  They picked us; we picked them.

Webb:  What was your feeling when the signing day came with BEC Recordings?

Mikey Howard:  Man, it was absolutely awesome.  Our day was probably a little more unique than others.  I think our families for all these years had enabled us to have our ministry.  They have enabled us to do what we were doing.  I think our families kind of felt like they were passing the torch to BEC.  Now, BEC was going to be the one that enabled us to do our ministry on a much bigger level.  Naturally, all of our families, my wife and my little girl, came.  Our parents came, and we just took a big entourage down to the office there.  We signed the paperwork and took pictures.  It was incredible.  It was an emotional day.  It just felt like it was a testament to God’s faithfulness to us as followers of him.  Just feeling like years ago God had put this in our hearts to do this on a national level, and then [we] had struggles over the eight years of touring.  You have questions along the way like, ‘did I really hear God’s voice?  Was this God telling me to do this?  Was I dreaming?  Was I making it up?’  Then to have it finally happening was just, again, a testament to his faithfulness.  He keeps his promises to his people.     

Webb:  You have already mentioned a couple of your influences: DC Talk, Third Day and Kutless.  Are there any other bands past or present on BEC Recordings or Tooth and Nail Records that you guys really look up to or draw influence from?

Mikey Howard:  Sound wise, I really love TFK [Thousand Foot Krutch].  They are just a big sounding band.  Melodically, we don’t really jive.  We are not the same melodically.  But, musically I just really like the way their records sound, and how bold their cds sound.  I really draw from them.  Vocally, for me Jeremy Camp is a huge one.  In high school, I used to drive around blasting his records and singing them at the top of my lungs.  He really helped with little things like the diction that I have, and the way that I say certain words.  He was a big influence for me personally.  Obviously, Kutless is a huge one.  We definitely draw a lot from their past records.  That music is kind of what we grew up on, so it was just natural that we would draw from that.

Webb:  Also, you guys just released the brand new music video for “Alive In You.”  Could you tell me a little bit about that process of making the video and your experience working on the project?

Mikey Howard:  It was awesome.  We worked with a really cool director named Austin Upchurch.  He is another Kentucky boy; he is from Somerset, Ky.  He did a fabulous job.  That was really my first rodeo with a music video.  I had never attempted to do something like that before.  So, I didn’t know what we were getting into.  I probably got up around 4:30 that morning.  We had our first, I don’t even what you call it, our first call to be there which was about 5:00 o’clock that morning.  It literally went all day long.  There were green screens, lighting and cameras; it was just absolutely unbelievable.  They shot our music video with the same type of camera that they shot “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “The Book of Eli.”  I didn’t even want to breathe around the camera.  I felt like if I touched it, it would break because it was so expensive.  It was just awesome having all those people there working hard to get the right shot.  You would literally spend like hours setting up lighting, and shooting this big, long scene.  Then, it would be all for four seconds in the music video.  It was really cool to see how it all came together.  I kind of knew when we shot the video that at the end I was going to turn to dust.  When we shot it that day, I was like, ‘how in the world are we going to make what we just shot, make me look that I turn into dust?’  Sure enough, it was unbelievable.

Webb:  I want to talk about your band name for a minute.  Why did you guys decide to put the number seven in your name?

Mikey Howard:  Just to be different.  There are not too many people who spell with numbers.  It just kind of seemed like a cool thing to do.  The seven is kind of that iconic thing for a band, and it just made sense.  For us, we just liked it.  Give people something to chew on, and wonder, ‘why did they do that?’

Webb:  Yeah, it definitely makes it stand out.  When it is beside a bunch of different band names, that seven really pops out.

Mikey Howard:  That’s the thing, there are a ton of other bands out there that have the seven thing going on.  For us, it was just trying to separate ourselves.  We have had that name since we started the band.  We have gained a lot of traction with the name.  So, we didn’t want to change our name, just because other people had sevens in their name.  We thought, ‘how can we make ourselves stand out, and not change our name?’  That was what we came up with. 

Webb:  Thinking about touring for a minute, how do you guys balance having family lives at home, and all the responsibilities that come along with being a full time Christian band?

Mikey Howard:  Man, that is the toughest part.  Just like I was telling you a minute ago, when I first called you, I was literally driving my daughter to the babysitter.  It is just tough, but I guess it is no different from what other people experience.  I am a dad, and dads go to work.  That is what you do.  Unfortunately, my work keeps me away for longer periods of time.  You have to make sure that you are on your phone with your wife everyday.  Make sure you are praying together, and talking about scripture together.  It makes you want to be more open.  You share all of your thoughts, and you really have to talk more.  You almost have to communicate more than people who see each other everyday.  The good part about it is when I am home, I’m home.  When I am home, I am 24/7 with them because I don’t have anything else to go and do.  So, that part is pretty cool.  It seems like there are fewer distractions when I am home.  For the most part, when I am home, we eat together and pray together.  It is just a little different, and you learn to adjust.  You have to have a wife that absolutely rocks, and mine does.  She is incredible; she definitely makes it where I can keep doing this.  She is awesome.

Webb:  While you are on tour, how do you have your personal quiet time when you are sharing such a tight space in a van with a bunch of people?

Mikey Howard:  Iphones are a blessing [laughing].  I have an audio Bible, and I have a couple of different Bible apps that have different reading programs.  You just do it.  I am sure a lot of people think, ‘man, the guys are having a blast in the van.  They are probably laughing the whole time.’  That is not always the case.  We are tired, and everybody has their own designated area in the van.  You just chill out and make time for it.  You make time for what is important.  You just do it and get in the word.  The cool thing about us is that it makes for good van conversation.  I might have read something in Colossians, and two days ago Eric might have been in Proverbs.  You are sharing all that stuff, and it makes for good conversation and encouragement.

Webb:  You guys have toured and shared the stage with quite a few big bands in the Christian scene.  Do you guys like doing any pranks with other bands on tour?

Mikey Howard:  We try not to get in involved with too many prank wars.  But, I will tell you this.  Pillar started a prank war with us a few years ago, and we won pretty big.  It started off with them calling us and telling us that our sound man was in the hospital.  That he had fell and hit his head at one o’clock in the morning.  We get out of our hotel beds, and drive to the hospital.  Obviously, he is not there.  So, we end up calling them [Pillar], and telling them that he is not here.  They are like, ‘the ambulance just left here; he will be there in a second.’  We just kept waiting, and no ambulances came back.  Finally, we drove back to the venue, and they busted out laughing.  Anyways, that kind of started it.  The whole tour we went back and forth.  But, we told them, ‘no matter what happens between now and the end of the tour, we guarantee that we are going to win.’  The last night of the tour, we jacked their trailer up on cinder blocks.  [We] took the wheels, and hid them all over the venue.  Spray painted it, Christian vandalized it pretty good.  We did a few other pranks during the show.  They have these things that we call ego risers, where bands stand up on them.  Basically, we made an exact replica out of poster board.  They stepped up on it, and it collapsed underneath them.  All that came in one night.

Webb:  Since you guys have been touring for so long, do you have any crazy stories to share from the road?  

Mikey Howard:  Dude, there are crazy things that happen all the time.  Back a few years ago in Texas, we were running low on money.  We pulled into this parking lot of a hotel because they had wireless internet that was free.  So, we decided to sleep in the van because they had internet.  Cliff and I, we ended up sleeping on top of the van that night.  When we woke up the next morning, there was a cop car sitting next to us.  [The cop] had a camera phone out snapping pictures of us, just dying laughing.  Then he drove off when we woke up.  That was a pretty funny one.  We have had axels break off while we were driving down the road.  We have had wheels fly off, transmissions die, rear ends lock up, all kinds of crazy stuff.

Webb:  Looking ahead to the future a little bit, what are your plans?  What can fans expect from you guys in the near future?

Mikey Howard:  We are doing a tour in October with another new rock band called Ashes Remain.  We are going to be doing a few weeks with them.  We are going up to Canada and back, which is really exciting.  We got to meet those guys down at Disney World a couple of weeks ago.  They are some really sweet guys; we are excited about that tour.  We are going to be doing a Christmas song that is going to be released to radio.  We are going to be doing a Christmas tour with After Edmund, which will be fun.  We are doing a few shows here and there with the Newsboys this fall, which will be cool.  After the new year, we will probably do a new single off the new album.  Just touring a bunch, and writing new songs for the second record. 

Webb:  Any last comments that you want to share?

Mikey Howard:  I think for us as a band, we just want people to feel like a big family.  Get to know us on Facebook and Twitter.  Come out and see a show.  Share with us what God has been doing in your lives, and we would love to share with everyone else what God has been doing in us.  We just want people to take ownership of 7eventh Time Down.  We want to be the people’s band.  We love everybody, and we want to share the gospel of Jesus with everybody.  Also, inspire everybody to do that within their own communities.  That is when we are going to see a change in this world, when everybody starts living like Christ.  

Below, is 7eventh Time Down’s official music video for the song, “Alive In You.”

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