In the middle of life’s challenges, there’s nothing more precious than the gift of hope. When that gift is wrapped in infectious melodies and laced with uplifting, substantive lyrics, it becomes a powerful blessing. “A Beautiful Life,” the new album by Curb Records band, MIKESCHAIR is such a gift.
Fusing messages of hope with anthemic pop/rock has become MIKESCHAIR’s calling card and it served the young band well on their self-titled Curb debut album. The project spawned such memorable singles as “Let the Waters Rise” and “Can’t Take Away,” which helped earn the group four Dove Award nominations in 2010, including song of the year for “Let the Waters Rise” and rock contemporary song for “Can’t Take Away.” In 2011, MIKESCHAIR again received four nods, among them group of the year and pop contemporary song for “Keep Changing the World.”
Chart success and industry accolades are nice, but that’s not what brought the young musicians together at Nashville’s Belmont University. It all began one night when Grayson was writing a song with a friend and Jesse Hale, a Tyler, Texas native who lived across the hall, asked if he could bring his violin and join in. The group slowly expanded as Sam Tinnesz heard Hale and Grayson recording a tune they’d written and soon joined in. Tinnesz is an Air Force brat, who had been living in Atlanta before moving to Music City. Grayson, who grew up in Orlando, was the only member who lived on a different floor at Belmont, but he could always be found hanging out, making music in his friend’s room.
“We were focused because we all had a passion for music,” says Grayson, recalling how they submitted a demo for Belmont’s Christian Music Showcase. Freshmen are rarely awarded those coveted performance slots, but MIKESCHAIR became an exception. “Our very first show as a band was that showcase,” Grayson recalls. “There were 1200 students and we were nervous beyond belief, but one of the judges looked at us after that showcase and said, ‘No matter what, don’t break up.’ It’s just funny how sometimes in moments of doubt, those words still come back.”
Grayson, Tinnesz and Hale are founding members of the band and three years ago, they added another Belmont alumni to the brotherhood with the addition of Nate Onstott. Though they love music, each member of MIKESCHAIR admits it’s about so much more. “We all really have this desire to be involved in ministry,” Hale says. “We are obviously all really passionate about music, but we always want it to be about something more. We saw that we all had the same heart for this and then God just kept opening doors.”
The band inked a deal with Curb Records and their debut album was quickly embraced by fans, and industry gatekeepers. MIKESCHAIR soon became one of the most successful new acts in Christian music with their debut album receiving rave reviews and award nominations. Such early success can be a double-edged sword. Some young musicians become creatively paralyzed in recording their second album as they worry about the dreaded “sophomore slump.” “There’s definitely like a lot of things that go through your mind when you are thinking about a second record,” Tinnesz says.
Grayson agrees. “I honestly feel like we put more pressure on ourselves because we knew night after night we are the ones that are going to have to play and sing this music. We knew that we wanted every song to be something we felt we could communicate and be passionate about. That’s a lot of pressure.”
“A Beautiful Life” was the first song written for the new album and then other songs came tumbling forth. “Love Won’t Quit on Us” is a buoyant pop anthem with an uplifting message and sing-along chorus. “Pieces” is an atmospheric rocker with a vulnerable lyric about surrendering the pieces of a broken life to God. “All For You” is a powerful worship song. “We really wanted this record to feel like we’re all in this together and we’re all trying to figure this out together, and that’s everything from the hard times to the declarations of faith,” says Hale. “ ‘All For You’ says ‘Lord, I’m going to set aside this time. This is all for You.”
A Beautiful Life is a vibrant collection of songs that uplift and inspire while truthfully acknowledging the difficulties along life’s journey. “You Loved Me First” reminds us of the love of Jesus. “You gave your life to prove to me what I was worth,” sings Grayson in the compelling tune. The first single, “Someone Worth Dying For,” also serves to affirm each person’s value in the kingdom of God.
Matt Bronleewe, whose writing and/or production credits include Jars of Clay, Plumb, Michael W. Smith and Natalie Imbruglia, produced A Beautiful Life. “Matt is a creative genius,” says Tinnesz. He challenged us in amazing ways. We feel like he helped take us to the next level, we loved working with him.”
Tinnesz wrote one of the album’s most compelling moments with the song “Come Alive.” “When I started writing that song, it wasn’t for MIKESCHAIR. It wasn’t intended for the world. It was just for me.” Tinnesz confesses. “I happened to be flipping through pictures of my dad and mom from when I was a little kid when the song came. My dad passed away when I was eight-years-old and in that moment, I felt the pain and all the weight of my dad passing away come on me all at once and it stuck with me. I reached a point where I needed to write about myself, for myself, and get the pain out. I just needed to let the emotion happen.”
MIKESCHAIR has experienced a great deal since the release of their debut album. Not only have they toured extensively, they’ve also maintained their heart for missions to work and be involved with the international relief agencies such as Food for the Hungry and Buckner International; organizations that help at risk orphans. The band members have traveled abroad to Haiti with Food for the Hungry and to South & Central America with Buckner International “The Lord has opened some really cool doors for us personally to continue to serve further. One particular effort we’ve that we have had the privilege of being part of has been a radio partnered shoe-drive where we helped collect thousands of pairs of shoes,” says Grayson. “We were able to personally take them over to orphanages in Peru, Guatemala and Honduras. We went to wash feet and put brand new shoes on those kids. That is the story of A Beautiful Life. While there, we saw situations that seem hopeless. There are desperate, poor children without families who were abandoned, yet we saw these kids smiling and we heard them sing about Jesus. That’s the picture of A Beautiful Life that we wanted to capture.”
The members of MIKESCHAIR have matured from college-graduates-turned-recording artists to young men with a firm understanding of their calling and renewed passion for changing lives through music. “We feel very strongly that the music we’re writing is important and people need to hear it,” says Grayson. “I can’t tell you how many touching stories we’ve heard over the last few years. One I often remember was a man in Missouri who came up to me after a show and said, ‘I want to thank you. My kids have a father today because your song came on the radio at the right time.’ He was actually contemplating suicide and because of ‘Let The Water Rise’ the Lord just spoke to him so clearly in that moment. That’s why we do what we do.”
“We wanted this record to take a very hopeful approach,” says Grayson. “We’re not denying the tragic and devastating things that are happening in the world around us because there is so much that is hard and difficult, but we decided to call the record A Beautiful Life because our whole objective is to say that even in our brokenness, even in our mess, God is weaving together a beautiful life whether we can see it or not. We might not see the whole picture right now, we might just get to see certain colors, but God is seeing the whole thing. We wanted to encourage people, to acknowledge where they are, and say ‘we know this is hard, but there is more.”
Members: Kyle Schonewill, Mike Grayson, Nate Onstott, Seth Penn, Jesse Hale
Current Record Label: CURB Records
Albums: MIKESCHAIR (2009), Let The Waters Rise EP (2010), A Beautiful Life (2011), It's Christmas EP (2012)