Well known in the contemporary Christian music world as the leader and founding member of Dove Award winning band Tenth Avenue North, Mike Donehey ventures into a secular sound with a spiritual message on his new ep, A father and two sons. It takes the story of the Prodigal Son and presents these three songs from the perspective of everyone involved. I asked Mike the concept of presenting the parable this way and how his sister’s band, The Lone Bellow, in part inspired him 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 information – your sister is Kanene Donehey Pipkin of Brooklyn-based, now Nashville-based trio The Lone Bellow. Did you grow up with Kanene in a musical family and began to discover your talents around the same time or completely separate from each other?
Mike: Kanene and I have given this question a lot of thought. We had a fun family. That is to say that our parents liked to receive: friends, relatives, exchange students; our house was always full. Neither of us were really trained in a strict musically-speaking way, but we were often called by our parents to entertain their friends. My earliest memories of performing were making an 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 band so much, I think you can tell that I was inspired to write something a little more roots. Obviously, I admire the Lone Bellow in many ways, mostly in the American swagger that they put out 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 little different from your other solo work and music with Tenth Avenue North. I found it very interesting to hear the songs presented from the perspective of the three main topics of The Prodigal Son story and how the sound of each song matches its character. What made you want to tell the stories from three different angles?
Mike: It didn’t start like that. With pandemic containment, I had a lot of free time, like all of us. This allowed me to remove the sides of the box 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 kind of cell and we were just writing in the mood that inspired us. We kind of fell into that 60s / alternative rock genre when we wrote and the three songs were mostly written. A few days later, I was reading this parable that I grew up with quite familiarly. I was struck that Jesus did not tell the story like âthat of the prodigalâ but rather called it âthe father and his two sonsâ. I quickly went back and tweaked the lyrics of all three songs to fit this theme. It didn’t take a lot of reworking actually because the songs kind of fell into place.
AnaLee: After more than 20 years as a group, Tenth Avenue North decided to quit shortly before the pandemic. Luckily you and your family recovered from Covid last year, have you written since then and the last year helped or hindered your focus on where you want to take your music next?
Mike: Absolutely. I would say I was in a hole of depression for a good month or so when the lockdown started. But it was the songwriting that slowly got me out. I started writing everyday as a way to get into self-therapy for lack of better words. Slowly the songs started to remind me of what I needed to hear. And I ended up writing more songs this year than I’ve ever done in my life. That’s a big part of the reason for releasing this EP, actually. I said, “I have all this music that might not be what my fans expect of me if I put it out there, but hey, why not?
Mike Donehey, “Push Me Back”
Mike Donehey, “I don’t love you like I should”
Mike Donehey, “In the middle”