Well known in the contemporary Christian music world as the front man and founding member of Dove Award-winning group Tenth Avenue North, Mike Donehey ventures into a secular sound with a spiritual message on his new ep, A Father and Two Sons. He takes the tale of The Prodigal Son and presents these three songs from the perspective of each of the people involved. I asked Mike about the concept of presenting the parable this way and how his sister’s group, The Lone Bellow inspired him in part to release this music.
AnaLee: Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time to chat a bit about A Father and Two Sons today. Let’s start with a little background info – your sister is Kanene Donehey Pipkin of the Brooklyn formed, now Nashville based trio, The Lone Bellow. Did you and Kanene grow up in a musical family and did you start discovering your talents around the same time or completely separate of each other?
Mike: Kanene and I have mused about this question quite a lot. We had a fun family. Meaning, our parents loved to entertain: friends, relatives, exchange students; our house was always filled. Neither of us were really trained in any strict way musically speaking, but we were often called upon by our parents to entertain their friends. My first memories performing were doing impression of Steve Urkel and Kermit the Frog on our back porch.
AnaLee: How did The Lone Bellow inspire you to record and release these three songs?
Mike: Listening to my sister’s group so much, I think you could say I was inspired to write something a bit more rootsy. Obviously, I look up to the Lone Bellow in so many ways, mostly in the Americana swagger they issue in their writing and in their live show.
AnaLee: The sound and feel of the three songs on A Father and Two Sons is a bit of a departure from your other solo work and your music with Tenth Avenue North. I found it really interesting to hear the songs presented from the perspective of the three main subjects in the story of The Prodigal Son and how each songs’ sound fits its character. What led you to want to tell the stories from three different angles?
Mike: It didn’t start that way. With the pandemic lock-down, I had a lot of time on my hands, as we all did. It allowed me to take the sides of the box off so to speak; no rules. So, I was writing in all kinds of styles all the time. My friend Thomas and I had created a cell group of sorts and we were just writing in whatever vibe inspired us. We kind of fell into this 60’s/alt rock genre as we wrote and had all three songs mostly written. A few days later I was reading this parable that I grew up quite familiar with. I was struck that Jesus doesn’t tell the story as “the one about the prodigal” but instead entitled it, “the father and two sons.” I quickly went back and tweaked the lyrics of the three songs to fit that theme. It didn’t take much re-work actually because the songs sort of fell into place.
AnaLee: After 20 plus years as a band, Tenth Avenue North called it quits not long before the pandemic. Thankfully, you and your family recovered from Covid last year, have you been writing since then and did this last year help or hurt your focus on where you want to take your music next?
Mike: Absolutely. I’d say I was in a hole of depression for a good month or so when the lock-down first started. But it was songwriting that slowly got me out. I started writing every day as a way to enter into self-therapy for lack of better words. Slowly, the songs started reminding me what I needed to hear. And I ended up writing more songs this last year than I ever have in my life. It’s a big part of the reason to put out this EP, actually. I said, “I’ve got all this music that may not fit what my fans are expecting from me if I put it out, but hey, why not?”
Mike Donehey, “Pushing Me Away”
Mike Donehey, “I Don’t Love You Like I Should”
Mike Donehey, “In The Middle”