Forming in the suburbs of Minnesota, Mainstay originally started out as a punk trio in the garages of its members. It wasn't until college in Minneapolis that the group -- vocalist and guitarist Justin Anderson, drummer Ryan DeYounge, and bassist Dan Ostebo -- sharpened its style into its current brand of melodic rock with a Christian message.
Their 2006 debut album, Well Meaning Fiction, came out of the gate fast and hard, making a resounding impact with singles “Take Away” and “These Pages” before landing the band on the short list of “the year’s best new artists,” compiled by Jesusfreakhideout.com.
The debut brought the rockers respect from fans and industry insiders alike for their unflinching willingness to both address the church and make themselves personally vulnerable. Along with more riveting guitar riffs and madly melodic songwriting, the band's next release, Become Who You Are (2007) continues the boldly open trend, and for all the right reasons. “If we’re going to do this,” shares Anderson, “it has to be about God, about the deeply intimate relationship we’re experiencing. Otherwise, it’s not worth it,” he admits laughingly.
The road to the studio this second time was a long one for the hard-working, increasingly in-demand band. Aside from playing the major festivals like Creation East and Spirit West Coast, they also toured with Sanctus Real, The Afters, John Reuben, and Falling Up, as well as adding their searing rock to the See Spot Rock 2006 line-up. In the midst of two years of hard road time, they poured heart and soul into writing the compelling songs of Become Who You Are. “I hate to use clichéd phrases,” relates Anderson, “but it really becomes growth, those hard times of losing things and feeling beaten down. To work through these kinds of issues on the road, where there is so little consistency, was
so difficult. But all that emotion poured into these songs, and became real pathos that people can actually get their hands around. It’s exciting to me to think that my heartache could be used for someone’s encouragement. “ It is that sacrificial spirit that accounts for the warmly inviting “Island,” inspired by Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” a softly encouraging word of hope, a recurring album theme. It is a song that will minister to hurting hearts of many kinds, but especially the often overlooked lonely. Anderson openly confesses his own struggle with feelings of depression and isolation, so he finds great solace in the soul power and healing potential of the album’s new songs.
Grace and hope burn through the album with high beam force, resonating in the bouncy rhythms of the ambient praise track, “Stars Are Singing,” the slammin’ energy and perspective of “Am I Keeping You?”, and the spiritually-charged truths of piano ballad, “Where Your Heart Belongs.” The richly diverse album moves with ease from Delirious?-like epics such as the majestic “Don’t I Look the Same,” to spare, nuanced tracks like “Only One.” But it is the potent closer, “Hang On,” that most reveals the unwavering focus of Mainstay. “Life is hard,” Anderson shares honestly, “and faith is hard sometimes. But I’m realizing on the other side that no matter how ridiculous or convoluted it all seems, Hope never left. Not just glib, stupid-smile hope, but true honest hope. We don’t aim to be the most artful rock band, or to impress our peers, but to let our brokenness shine through to meet the needs of God’s people. We don’t want to preach, but to come alongside.”