NASHVILLE (Billboard) - It's a breezy Tennessee afternoon. Third Day's Mac Powell, David Carr, Tai Anderson and Mark Lee are enjoying a tasty Southern lunch at Stoveworks in the Factory, a historic Franklin, Tennessee, complex that was once a thriving industrial workplace and is now a trendy locale housing restaurants, shops and performance venues.
As the sweet tea and conversation flow, the band is confident and relaxed. It's about to share its new project, "Revelation," with Provident Music Group staffers who will promote the July 29 release.
A short while later, seated on the stage of a nearby venue, the foursome introduce tracks from the record and field questions. It's a show-and-tell that can make even the most seasoned artists squirm, as the band members gauge reaction to the new music. For Third Day, there are no nervous jitters.
You could chalk it up to the fact that this is its 10th studio album, and that Third Day has earned three Grammy Awards, 23 Dove Awards, one platinum album, a platinum DVD and six gold albums while populating Christian radio with such hits as "Cry Out to Jesus," "Consuming Fire," "Come Together" and "Tunnel." But in reality, it's a quiet confidence that comes from being happy with the record the group made and the path it took to get there.
It's a little bit of a different path these days, though.
The Georgia-based rockers could easily rest on their laurels, but in the past year, Third Day decided to shake things up.
After a decade with Nashville's Creative Trust Management, it signed with Red Light, whose roster includes Dave Matthews Band, Alanis Morissette, Good Charlotte, Switchfoot and such country artists as Rodney Atkins and Phil Vassar. Earlier this year, after completing the new album, longtime guitarist Brad Avery exited the group. Third Day has opted not to replace him.
And instead of working with one of the Christian industry's reliable stable of producers on the new project, it teamed with Howard Benson, well known for his work with Hoobastank, Daughtry, P.O.D. and Flyleaf, among others. That choice led to the band recording for the first time in Los Angeles instead of Atlanta.
"Contentment is something for your personal life," drummer David Carr says. "But for our professional life together, I don't know if that's an appropriate feeling, ever."
"Revelation" is the band's first studio album since 2005's "Wherever You Are." In 2007, it released a two-part career retrospective -- "Chronology, Vol. 1" and "Vol. 2" -- and it views "Revelation" as the beginning of a new chapter.
"It did get us out of our comfort zone," lead vocalist/principal songwriter Mac Powell says of recording in Los Angeles. "We really wanted to shake things up. We chose to work with Howard because of the past music that he had done. We loved those records and the vision he had for those albums. At the time, they weren't easy decisions -- to go somewhere else and to record with somebody different -- but in hindsight, I'm so glad that we did."
Benson says he wanted to work with Third Day because of the quality of Powell's voice. "(The person) who really turned me on to Mac was Chris Daughtry," Benson says. "I think Chris has one of the best voices in rock 'n' roll right now, and he kept telling me how great Mac was. He was right."
Benson, who is Jewish, says he enjoys working with Christian bands. "I personally like Christian artists because they believe in something," he says. "As a producer, a lot of times what you're trying to do is find something that the artists believe in or something to be confident in. With a Christian artist, you know what that thing is. To me, it takes that part of it away and I don't have to worry about that."
He notes that their different religious beliefs made for interesting conversation. "We talked about things that are beyond just making a record," he says. "We discussed a lot of religious things in a creative way, and that comes out in the record because of the way I challenge them and they challenge me."
Bassist Tai Anderson admits to being uncomfortable in the beginning. "It's the most I've ever been intimidated working with a producer. In our world," Anderson says, referring to the Christian market, "we've been around for a while. We have our Grammys. We're held in high esteem, but in his world, he couldn't care less. But he wanted to work with us because he thought Mac was a great singer and he liked the material."
The members of Third Day admit that Benson drove them hard and challenged them, particularly when it came to crafting songs for the new project. In the end, they appreciated the experience. "I feel like we started more insecure than ever and we left more confident than ever," Anderson says.
Guitarist Mark Lee adds, "He came in and made us work hard and think really hard about how we're doing this and what matters in the end."
Benson also credits the band with creating moments in the studio that left him feeling inadequate. Flyleaf's Lacey Mosley sings on the tracks "Born Again" and "Run to You." Benson says her collaboration with the band transcended an ordinary recording session.
"It was absolutely emotional," he says. "I just had to leave the room, and I said to Mac, 'You have to go out there, and you and her do this because you're coming to God right now in front of my eyes. You guys handle it.' It was one of those moments where as a producer, I just stepped back and watched it happen. She broke down and cried, and I was crying. It was really amazing, and you don't get that in the studio very often. That's why I wanted to work with these guys."
"Revelation" also features Daughtry contributing vocals to "Slow Down" and pedal steel guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph adding his unique touch to the foot-stomping anthem "Otherside." The album is a musically adventurous collection, yet lyrically the band has never sounded more vulnerable, especially on tender ballads like "Born Again" and "Let Me Love You."
"I wanted to remind people once again that there's a reason that they are here on the planet," Powell says. "That's not necessarily the theme for the whole record, but I think there are quite a few songs that kind of lead to that idea. That's really my heart and a big part of Third Day. We want to share with people that God gives them life for a reason and purpose. Enjoy life and live it to the fullest."
ENGAGING THE GOMERS
The loyalty of the Christian music fan is nothing new, and awaiting the band's new release are an especially enthusiastic bunch that call themselves "Gomers." It's a moniker Third Day fans have adopted, a nod to the song "Gomer's Theme" on the band's 1997 album, "Conspiracy No. 5," which tells the biblical story of Hosea and his wife, Gomer.
To support the album, Third Day will embark on a tour that will hit 23 markets. Participants are happy that the outing will benefit a good cause: A portion of proceeds will benefit Habitat for Humanity, and plans call for the bands to lend a hand at construction sites.
"Our two favorite festivals are Parachute Music festival in New Zealand and Soulfest in New England," Anderson says. "Both of these festivals place the cultural emphasis of the festival on great music and mobilizing the audience toward tangibly putting their faith in action. We wanted to put together a tour that felt like the headliners of a four-day festival all in one night. We want our audience to leave encouraged and inspired to find tangible ways to make a difference in their communities."
"We love where Third Day has been," Powell says. "We've had a great amount of success and a great time doing it, but we're even more excited about the future. We've gone through some big decisions in the past year and a half, and we really feel like we've taken everything that we learned and now we're ready to put that into action."