Mac Powell

From Christian Rock to Country, Third Day Frontman Keeps the Faith

When Mac Powell began experimenting with country music, the twangy chords were greeted mostly with hallelujahs.
Crowds have always cheered when that drawl occasionally seeped into his forceful vocals. However, most fans also wanted some blessed assurance that Powell will remain as the charismatic—in every sense of that word—frontman for Third Day.

Mac Powell on the Grand Ole Opry Stage

Photo Credit: Joel Dennis ® Grand Ole Opry

“Third Day is still very much together, with a great, new album about to be released this fall and a tour planned for 2013,”
says Powell, of the Atlanta-based, multiplatinum Christian rock band. “I just kept getting these other song ideas that didn’t quite fit lyrically or musically with Third Day, and I filed them away to the ‘maybe sometime’ category. That time came when I had a little bit of a break from touring.”

Powell, 39, introduced some of this new material at the Country Music Association festival in June, and he has just released a selftitled album of 12 originals worthy of any tear-stained honky-tonk jukebox, with some barnstormers (the propulsive “June Bug”) and ballads (“My Love for You Remains”), exploring the dynamics of relationships and love for home. Songwriter Brett James, the Grammy winner behind “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” collaborated on a few of the tunes, and Jason Hoard, a multi-instrumentalist with Third Day, served as producer and contributed banjo and mandolin accompaniment.

Powell wrapped a well-received tour of the Southeast—a region that enjoys many name-dropping shout-outs on the album, including “One Mississippi,” “Carolina,” and “Sweet Georgia Girl”—on Nov. 3 at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta.

’Bama roots show through

“This album is a return to my roots,” Powell says. “My childhood was spent in the great state of Alabama, a little town called Clanton. It’s one of those little towns that people will stop at the gas station in on their way to Florida. My father listened to a lot of Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and those guys, and I also listened to a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. We moved to Atlanta when I was in high school, which is when I started looking at music as a way to share my faith, but I never forgot the sounds I grew up with.”

So Third Day bassist Tai Anderson playfully announced on the band’s website: “He’s gone country. Just look at that … beard.”

Conveniently enough, Powell’s new look suggests both a “long-haired country boy” and a beatific Christ-figure. He jumps
headlong into those dichotomies of Southern life—partying and worshipping—with “Saturday Night”: “Well, Sunday morning I go to church / I say my prayers and read The Word / Trying to find forgiveness for what I did Saturday. Ah yeah, Saturday night… We’re gonna have a good time, gonna let our hair down Saturday night.” Powell seems to be winking good-naturedly at his listeners with those lyrics and with the moniker of band backing him up: The Backsliders.

“That nickname started as a joke, and it sort of stuck, but we’ll probably change that name,” Hoard says. “It’s all meant in good fun—we do a lot of joking around in the studio. But Mac—and the rest of us—take our faith very seriously.”

As Anderson points out, “God is still God, Third Day is still Third Day, and Mac is still Mac. If you’ve ever been to a Third Day
show, I think you’ve discovered that the challenge is not getting Mac to talk about Jesus. The challenge is getting him to stop.”

Keeping the day job

In its 20 years of rousing performances, Third Day has racked up four Grammys, 24 career Dove awards, and a cover of Billboard magazine, which ranked the group “one of the best rock bands.”

“The biggest honor for me was when we were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, alongside so many of our heroes,
in 2009,” says Powell, who has made a career of reverently shaking up formats. Third Day is credited with changing the tenor of contemporary Christian music and broadening its audience—“sort of like a sanctified Skynyrd, maybe?” jokes Hoard.

“I remember when Third Day first came on the scene and the church gradually began to embrace rock ’n’ roll as a legitimate
form of praise worship,” says Michael Fisher, a north Georgia minister and artistic impresario. “I was a youth director at one of the early megachurches outside St. Louis, trying to introduce guitars into the service. At the time, a lot of what was called contemporary Christian or Christian rock was embraced for its message alone, even though some of it lacked structural quality. Third Day, like Amy Grant, was a standout because their music was just so tight by any definition. And Mac Powell has such a strong, distinctive voice that it will benefit him in whatever direction he wants to go—it transcends genres.”

Third Day’s latest album,

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, is set for release Nov. 6, and promises some fresh and unconventional flourishes from legendary producer Brendan O’Brien who lent his sound wizardry to the project.

Between both projects, Powell will be beating that well-worn path between Saturday night and Sunday morning—always keeping the faith.

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