While out on tour supporting Skillet on their “AWAKE and ALIVE” tour. Bill Bailey and Nathanael Dolesh had the chance to sit down with the Grammy-Nominated artist DECYFER DOWN (TJ Harris – vocals, acoustic guitar, bass; Brandon Mills – guitar; Chris Clonts – guitar and Josh Oliver – drums, percussion) during their Cleveland show in December. Where they discussed road stories and injuries, Play Station 3 tournaments, their Grammy nomination, and how Jesus Christ changed their lives. And much more. Enjoy the interview.
Bill Bailey: You guys are gonna be our first like, Christian rock band interview for Domain Cleveland. I’m trying to branch it out, you know, to get the word out there. And I thank you guys for your time and for doing this with us. Then I’ll go ahead and get into the questions here. Let’s see, this is the chit-chat question. How are you guys enjoying this Cleveland weather?
Everyone: It’s cold; not so much. Makes our bones ache.
Josh Oliver: At least we missed the snow. Keep the snow away so we can get home.
BB: Yea you guys got Michigan tomorrow right? I hear it’s colder up there usually…
Brandon Mills: I heard they have snow up there.(laughs)
BB: Well are you guys gonna take a holiday break and then go back out on the road?
Chrid Clonts: Yea a much needed break.
TJ Harris: Maybe a little bit more than a holiday break. (laughs)
BB: (To Brandon) Alright, well yea you need to heal don’t you?
BM: Yea that’d be great. (laughs)
BB: So what’s it been like being on the road with Skillet and Hawk Nelson?
Everyone: It’s been great.
JO: Lotta cities.
CC: Skillet’s always great with people and to draw huge crowds and stuff.
BM: They’ve been really good to us the last few years.
BB: With me transitioning from the kind of bands I listened to before, like Marilyn Manson, Slayer, and all that stuff. I grew up a huge KISS fan and everything, which I still like KISS, you know…
CC: How dare you man! (laughs)
BB: But yea when I got home I got to take my kids to last year’s Alive Fest, which is in southern Ohio here, and witness Skillet for the first time. And it was just like “YES, here’s like my Christian answer to KISS” or something, you know, with their stage show so I’m definitely excited about this.
JO: We’ll be there this year.
BB: Yea! I was reading that. So hopefully maybe I’ll get to hook up with you guys again out there and bring in the family. Anyway, next question is are there any good road stories to share from this tour? I know you have one (at Brandon).
CC: Yea, and that whole process (pointing at Brandon’s ankle) started the downward spiral of getting home for Thanksgiving.
BM: Yea that was a tough week for everyone.
CC: It started with him (at TJ).
BM: Yea his wife totaled two cars…
TJH: Well yea she totaled her car – hit a deer – and then wrecked my car the day after that, so I was dealing with just everything with insurance people and all that kinda stuff.
BM: And then I got ran over by a semi on my foot. And then we flew home the next day and my luggage didn’t show up, Chris’s truck got a flat tire at two in the morning…
CC: And that was after the bus bottomed out at three in the morning and we got stuck for like three and a half hours, and missed all of our flights…and then we almost missed our backup flight. So he’s in a wheelchair and we’re sprinting through the airport…
BM: They’re like “YOU HAVE THREE MINUTES” and called out our names and we’re like aaahhh!
CC: So that was a whole scene that was just ridiculous. Then we get home and his (Brandon’s) luggage didn’t show up. And it was only one bag. Of all the bags. And it got lost.
JO: So it was pretty much a 72 hour period that was just intense.
CC: And then we got home and we just got sick. Like pneumonia sick all week for Thanksgiving. It was just miserable.
BB: So you had to drink your turkey pretty much? (laughs)
CC: Yea things are on the up-and-up I think though, everybody’s healing. And we got a Grammy nomination.
BB: Yea! That’s one of the questions I got here. Actually the next to the next one. What was life like growing up in North Carolina?
CC: It was amazing.
BM: It was great man.
JO: Beaches and mountains man.
BM: Definitely slow-paced.
BB: Ever have to deal with hurricanes?
BM: Oh yea. I live for hurricanes. I love surfing man. (laughs) We pray the hurricanes just come up and kinda graze us. Nothing inland, just keep it offshore.
BB: And hear’s the big question: I just read that you guys received your first Grammy nomination. Tell me about that and how that feels.
JO: We had no idea, we didn’t even know we’d be considered. And the guys from the band Red started texting us telling us congratulations and we’re “like what are you talking about?” I called our manager and our manager looked it up and was like “absolutely!” Everybody was all like “what?”
BM: Yea it was pretty shocking.
CC: We definitely don’t look for that; like ?this year we got nominated!? Cause it’s just so far fetched.
At this point, a security member or someone leaves the bus telling Josh to practice Madden for next time. He replies ?man, I’m bringing 2010; you’re going down Josh.?
JO: That guy talked a mad game about playing Madden…and I destroyed him.
BM: Josh dominated him.
TJH: Which is normally what happens.
BB: What system you guys got?
BB: Man I use some of my ? you know I’m looking for new things to do now that I don’t go out and party and stuff anymore – Kuwait money and rebuilt my mancave at the house and I got a Wii for the kids and then I got an Xbox 360 and a PS3 for me. So now I guess my new addiction is just video games and Blu-ray movies and stuff. With these Cleveland winters I’m gonna be hibernating down there.
JO: ‘Modern Warfare 2’ man. Great game. I enjoy it.
BB: Yea. I gotta wait until the price goes down on that one.
Nathanael Dolesh: I’m getting that over break for sure.
BB: So you guys have been around the music industry for some time now. Are there three pieces of advice you would give to a younger musician and what is one thing that really surprised or still surprises you about the music industry?
BM: I think something that surprises us all is that it just fluctuates. How there’s no really rhyme or reason to how a band will hit or not hit and be successful and not successful and there’s so many great bands that we love that just fall off the map. It’s like ‘why?’ And there’s other bands that just sit still and ya don’t really understand that. So that’s probably something that surprises us. Have some vision behind what you’re doing, cause if you’re just going out there getting money you know and try to be a rockstar, it’s a tough road to go. There’s got to be something driving you besides that, you know?
JO: There’s got to be a purpose behind it, there has to be a vision behind it, and there needs to be a calling behind it. You know, you can’t force it. You’ll go home a couple years later, and we hear many stories about dudes that are sitting in truck stops at four o’ clock in the morning in North Dakota going, ‘Dang, I’m going home.’
BM: Shouldn’t have quit my job. (laughs)
JO: So just make sure that your heart and your motives are right and always take advice. Never think that you got it all planned out.
BM: Touring is a young man’s game.
CC: Yes it is.
BM: Yea the last six years of being in a band were tough.
BB: Now what are three bands that you think they should require people to listen to in high school before they can graduate?
TJH: Everything from the 70’s.
CC and BM: “Three bands!” (laughing)
JO: Western mountain man down there… (pointing at TJ)
CC: I think Zeppelin definitely.
TJH: About ’86-’90, Metallica. Soundgarden.
BM: Chris Cornell (laughs).
CC: TJ’s a big fan.
TJH: Anything grunge.
BM: Anything with Chris Cornell. (sarcastically)
TJH: No, not anything.
JO: 2Pac. No, maybe not. There’s so many bands to choose from.
CC: John Mayer.
JO: Yea, John Mayer is pretty good education, and smooth music. Bluesy, soulful..
BB: Yea. What bands would you say have inspired you along the way. A lot of the same?
CC: We definitely grew up when the grunge thing ? you know we were all in our teens and that’s when we’re most influenced it seems like ? was prime.
BB: Oh yea, I was a huge Nirvana fan.
BM: Alice in Chains.
BB: Yea and that new Alice in Chains album, it’s like that guy sounds so much like…
BM: We really like that record actually.
JO: We like it a lot.
BB: And I was huge into Kurt Cobain and everything, like when I was actually first in active duty outta high school in the navy, you know, that’s when he committed suicide and I was just like ‘man!’ ya know it sucked.
BB: What books and movies would you say have changed your life?
CC: “Purpose Driven Life” man. Definitely helped me cope and understand a lotta things and why I do certain things, and it’s just a great book for anybody, believer or nonbeliever, to read. For you to stay focused.
JO: There’s a book called “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan and that really impacted my view of what church should be and how you should walk out your faith. Both of those are great books.
TJH: “Armageddon”. (laughs)
BM: “Point Break”. (laughs)
CC: “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. (sarcastically)
BB: I know for me, the one whole slew of movies was Star Wars that really influenced me. I took my daughters Thursday night; they had that Star Wars live in concert come to town and they had the live orchestra play. And they had the guy that played C3PO, Anthony Daniels, was there narrating the story and stuff and on this big screen they had the main course story line and the movie played out while they were playing the music and it was just pretty cool.
JO: I never even heard of that.
BB: Yea it was pretty cool. I spent some money down there; George Lucas always seems to be able to get my money. And ya know now that I’m saved and I look back on the storyline with like the force and the dark side and everything else too, it’s like wow, there’s a lot of similarities and stuff in there. I don’t know if you guys were huge fans or anything…
CC: I’ve never even seen “Star Wars”, believe it or not. The only thing I’ve seen out of all of that was “Return of the Jedi”.
TJH: I saw “Episode I” in the theaters when it came out, but I never had seen ? I guess there were three before that ? I had never seen them all and so when I saw “Episode I” it was like I didn’t know what the heck what going on really. (laughs)
BB: But “Episode I” was supposed to be the beginning; they went back to retell it.
TJH: Yea people can kinda make those connections once they’ve seen the other ones; I wasn’t able to do that.
BB: Yea. Well I highly recommend it. It’s definitely something to kill time on the bus.
TJH: We got plenty of time to watch movies. (laughs)
BB: And what would you say has inspired you guys the most when you’re writing your music?
CC: Real life.
BM: Trials and real life stuff.
JO: Experiences that we’ve dealt with, the person that we want to become. A lot of that has to do with the writing.
CC: It just depends on what you’re going through at that time. I know for me if there’s something that’s on my heart, then writing is kinda a way to get it out, know what I mean? It’s hard to just sit down and say ‘Hey, let’s write a song!’ And I think emotion’s a huge key role in it.
BB: And what are three major mistakes you think that younger bands make?
JO: Chasing after other people’s success. Thinking they have to tour, tour, tour, tour, without anything really to tour with. And just not being genuine to what it needs to be, you know you’re just copying someone else just to have that…I guess it would go under ‘chasing after someone else’s success’. And there’s good things to be influenced by bands, but it’s another reason basically to take what another band’s doing and to just try and be successful, be a rockstar; ya know it’s not about that. It’s kinda going back to what we said earlier: you gotta have a purpose, you gotta have a vision, and you have to have a meaning behind what you’re doing instead of just playing rock music.
BB: And what kind of message do you hope fans get out of your music or take away from your shows?
BM: Hope is definitely a message we like to portray.
JO: Bringing some light into their situation. You know, a lotta people are going through some dark stuff. We’ve all gone through and we still go through it on a regular basis and if you don’t have anybody to turn to then that’s something we really hope to get across in our show is that Christ has a plan for your life and he’s your creator and he’s given you a purpose, and that’s something we wanna translate through our music.
BB: Awesome. And then any message that you guys would like to send out to the troops that are serving overseas?
Everyone: Thank you. Absolutely.
JO: I’ve got a lot of friends in the Marine Corps cause we’re from Camp Lejeune Cherry Point area. Fort Bragg and the Army and a lot of military where we live. And so we’ve got a lot of friends and fans that are from those different branches of service and so we got a lotta love for the military. And they get a bad rap sometimes but we know that they’re doing what they need to do and we couldn’t be any more proud of ’em and they have our full support.
BB: Awesome. You guys ever consider doing like a USO tour?
Everyone: Oh we’d love to.
TJH: That’d be awesome.
BM: Just waiting for the right doors to open.
BB: Definitely. When I was over there – I mean I see a Creed CD here, and this was before Scott Stapp got back with them ? I actually got to do security for Scott Stapp when he played our base and stuff. And he was really cool. I mean ya hear all the rumors and all that stuff…
BM: Aaah yea. (dismissively) I heard he’s a nice guy actually.
BB: Yea he was awesome. When he played our base, after the show, there’s a huge autograph signing; everybody from base was there and it went forever. I was like man is this guy gonna have time for us to get a picture or something afterwards standing there doing security? And he was real accommodating for us and in fact it was a couple days before my oldest daughter’s birthday back home and he sang Happy Birthday to her for her own video and stuff.
CC: Aw wooow. That’s cool. Fan for life!
BB: Yea. So I sent that home and she’s like, ‘Who is that?’ But mommy knew and she was just like, ‘Wow that’s really cool.’
CC: You hear the new record?
BB: No I haven’t yet.
CC and TJH: It ‘s good man.
BB: But yea we (at Nathanael) went and saw them when they came through town and yea it was real cool. But no I haven’t picked it up yet; definitely need to.
BB: Ok, and then I wanted to see if you guys wouldn’t mind sharing like a brief testimony for us of like what your life was like before you received Christ and then the changes he’s made in your life and what your life is like now that you have Christ.
BM: I’ve always known that Christ was real I guess. I grew up in the church and I guess I never really started believing his purpose for my life until I guess ten years ago or more. I guess growing up and kinda running from that, you know, I started smoking pot when I was like 12 years old I guess. And it kinda opened doors to everything out there, you know as far as partying and just doing every drug out there pretty much. Basically it was a life of in and out of jail, in and out of rehabs, always letting my family down and letting people down and ruining relationships. That started when I was 12 and by the time I was 21 I was extremely addicted to cocaine, and pretty much thought I was gonna die and go to hell cause I couldn’t stop doing cocaine and that lifestyle. I remember being in a friend’s house one night just really jacked up and really depressed. I kinda just leveled with the Lord. I was like, ‘If you can hear me right now, I feel like I’m gonna die and go to hell and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. And I would love to stop it.’ And just kinda said a quick little prayer there when a buddy walked outta the room. Two weeks later, I actually got arrested for cocaine and a few other things and I remember being in the back of the police car between the seats handcuffed and actually thanking God, which is totally weird, but I actually thanked the Lord, because I knew for the first time like there’s no way I’m getting a hold of this, of coke, you know there’s no way I’m getting high for at least the next however many hours or days or whatever. My mom – she was a single parent; my dad passed away when I was really young – but she kinda let me sit in jail for a while. She was sick of bailing me out and always coming to my rescue. So that gave me a lot of time to think. Somebody brought me a Bible while I was locked up and I just felt like God was just really telling me to choose which way I was gonna go, you know cause I kinda dabbled with the Lord growing up; like I probably asked the Lord into my heart several times when I was a kid but nothing stuck. I didn’t really pursue it. So in there I made a decision that no matter what happened – cause I was facing like, jail time for what I had done – and I pretty much made the decision that no matter if I went to jail nine months from now, and had to do all the time, that I was gonna live a life for the Lord. So from then until now, it’s been absolutely crazy. It’s like, I have a family, all my relationships of my mom and my stepfather, and all those relationships, God has mended. And there’s trust, and I have a beautiful wife, two kids, I play music for the Lord…and I mean it’s a total flip, like looking back at that person, it’s like it didn’t even seem like he existed almost, you know what I mean? It’s just been an amazing journey to see what God has done for me, and all of us really. To come from that and look back, it’s like wow. It’s like, it really changed my life. You know what I’m saying, it wasn’t something that happened like that. There was definitely struggling when I made that decision. And I would always – like if I would fall, or if I got high or something – I’d beat myself up and be like ‘when am I gonna change?’ And then one day you wake up and it’s like dang, God has really changed my heart, and my life. So that’s my story I guess.
BB: Thanks man. I mean, I can connect, and I’m still new, like drinking the milk you know, I was raised Catholic and stuff, so I knew of Christ and the stories and everything, but I didn’t have a relationship until now.
BM: Yea. That’s kinda how it was for me.
BB: And there’s a lotta times that I have that self talk where I’m like ‘man, I’m still not where I want to be.’ You know, I don’t claim my victories as much as I look at my defeats, you know?
BM: Yea…I went through that man.
BB: And it’s definitely the enemy.
BM: One day you’ll look back and be like wow. You know, you keep pursuing the Lord.
BB: Like this morning I was at my PCL group, which was Practical Christian Living, and then men’s fraternity afterwards. And for the men’s fraternity group today we got to watch the video testimony of Brian ‘Head’ Welch from Korn and it was just powerful stuff.
BM: I actually got to meet him. About a month ago we got to hang out with Brian.
JO: He came out to one of our shows; it was pretty sweet.
BM: Yea he’s a really nice guy.
JO: He’s genuine.
BB: If someone has strong opinions against the church or organized religion for whatever reason, what would you say to them to encourage them to seek a relationship with Christ?
JO: I’ve walked down that road few times. I’m a preacher’s kid and I got burned out on church and religion and got on the whole bandwagon of society as a church right now is useless and it’s not effective and blah blah blah. And I kinda formed my own denomination of anti-religion and anti-church people. It’s funny because I had somebody call me out on it and was like ‘how dare you say that it’s not effective and it’s not being used! It might not be what God had intended for it, but it’s still being used in a capacity that you’ll never be able to reach.’ And so, I was like wow. I need to get off that and just realize that God’s got, like Chris was saying before, different soldiers for different battles. And some of us are out in the “world,” you know, ministering to people that have been burned by church or religion, or that haven’t experienced a relationship with Christ, and other people are called to be a blessing to believers and be an encouragement and a training for believers. So we all have our different roles and as long as we find a body that we can connect with, and a group of people that are like-minded and are striving for what God’s got planned for you, then that is your church and that is your community. And so whether they’re Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal, whatever…let’s not worry about that until we get to heaven.
CC: Yea, as long as all believers can understand different methods can still be effective, and not cast judgment on them, I think that’s pretty important. It’s like, we might not be into what the southern Baptists, the way they do it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not effective, you know what I mean? They might not be into what we do, but as long as they don’t look at us and say, ‘aaah you know, you look like the world,’ or as long as they’re thinking, ‘you guys are reaching people that would never set foot in this church.’ So I mean, we’re all working together, if we could just understand that. You know, everybody’s so stinkin just nit-picky about ‘well you don’t worship our way? Well then that must not be right!’ And this and that…and it’s like, if we could get over ourselves and just understand it’s all the same…that’s kinda the way we think about it.
BB: What Bible verse would you say is Decyfer Down’s most inspirational?
JO: I would say Jeremiah 29:11 has been my life verse for a while and is something that this band has gone through and has really grasped a hold of. It’s saying that God has a plan and a future and he’s given you that hope. A lot of times people say ‘what does God got planned for me?’ or ‘what am I gonna do with my life?’ or ‘I can’t forgive myself for things I’ve made mistakes for’ and all these different things. And basically in that Scripture it says God loves you and he’s got a plan for you, and it’s to give you a future and a hope. So we live by that.
BM: A good one for me too for you man is 2 Corinthians 5:17. And it just talks about how the old has become old and the new has become new. I used to hold on to that verse a lot when I was really trying to do God’s will, cause it just kinda confirms it you know. Like he is changing you man and all that’s behind you you know so check it out if you get a chance.
Nathanael: What do you kinda keep in the back of your mind when you’re thinking about how your style of music is gonna come across people that are unbelievers?
JO: I don’t think we really think about it.
CC: Yea we just write music that tries to connect with everybody and you know when you’re talking about real-life situations, believers and unbelievers are gonna grab a hold of it, you know what I mean? So it’s not like there’s this constant weight or something like “what are unbelievers gonna think?” you know what I mean?
JO: We’re all going through the same thing.
CC: Yea, whether you believe it or not, you go through the same stuff. I mean obviously there’s gonna be some unbelievers that when they hear that you’re a Christian band, they just won’t give it the time of day. That’s just the way some people are. But some can look past that and not see that stamp of Christianity and actually listen to it and say ‘hey man, I’ve actually been through that; lemme see what these guys are talking about.’