Mac Powell Embraces Country Leanings On New Project [Interview]

After winding down his 25-year run as lead singer for iconic CCM band Third Day with their 2018 tour, Mac Powell already had his sights set on his next adventure–namely, delving more deeply into his country roots with a new band, Mac Powell and the Family Reunion. 

Powell’s bandmates include Jason Hoard, longtime Third Day member Tim Gibson, and newly-added Matt McDaniel, who recently played with Brent Cobb. 

“I love the name family reunion because that’s what we want it to be–we don’t want a separation between band and audience. We want to bring as many people into the family as we can.” Powell tells MusicRow.

That includes fans of his previous CCM outfit; Powell and the Family Reunion even opened for a few of Third Day’s finals concerts last year.

“That was interesting,” Powell says with a laugh, calling from Estes Park, Colorado.

Working out of a studio in Atlanta, the group spent two days laying down the basic tracks–guitars, drums, bass. Powell says they intended for the project to become an EP, but they had amassed an arsenal of song material to work with so they kept adding songs, which would result in their recently-released project Back Again, out via Thirty Tigers.

Powell sings with the ferocity of a blowtorch, his burly and commanding pipes an instantly recognizable and commanding presence on the contemporary Christian music scene for decades. But he’s also made serious inroads into the country sphere, via two previous solo albums, 2012’s self-titled effort, and 2014’s Southpaw.

He’s collaborated with a few of his country contemporaries, including recording “Over The Next Hill” with Brooks & Dunn as part of the soundtrack for the Billy Graham biopic Billy: The Early Years in 2008. His rendition of the classic “I’ll Fly Away” on the Grand Ole Opry stage alongside Charlie Daniels was captured for How Great Thou Art: Gospel Favorites from the Grand Ole Opry, also released in 2008.

He previously collaborated with Craig Morgan on Morgan’s song “Hearts I Leave Behind”;  Morgan returns the favor on Back Again with the freewheeling (and aptly titled) “Whoo!”. Powell spoke with MusicRow about the new project, which blends songs both new and familiar, all helmed by Powell’s unmistakable vocals and the ace musicianship of his seasoned bandmates.

MusicRow: You include “Mississippi” on this project, which was on your 2012 solo project. 

When we had the record, it was a short album, about 10 songs. I thought what are a couple of tracks that are my favorites and fan favorites that might give people a chance to hear a song if they had not heard it on the first couple of solo records. We added some guitar tracks, remixed it and then there is “Sitting Here Talking With You” from my Southpaw album. Written by Barry Bales and Chris Stapleton, it’s one of the few songs on that album that I didn’t write, but it just shows how much I love the song that I put it out there again. 

One of the first tracks you released from the album,“Mess Of Me,” has this great groove.

That was one of the most recent songs we recorded. Jason produced the record and we love the Everly Brothers. We love to sing those tight harmonies, and we do a bit of “Bye Bye Love” in a song of ours during our shows. I wanted to do a song that is kind of like that, but our version of it. They of course were an early influence on The Beatles so I think people hear a bit of that as well. Of course, us being ourselves, it is going to come out a little country and a little southern rock as well.

Are there any venues that are still on your bucket list?

For me, especially doing country stuff now, classic venues like Gruene Hall in Texas. I love being able to get back into those more intimate venues. There are some challenges in starting over like this, but it’s exciting to go to venues that we’ve been before but it feels fresh.

“What I Came Here For,” which you wrote with Eric Paslay, has so much energy and positivity, yet there is an undertone of longing in this track.

We sat down for about three hours, and we only wrote the song in about 45 minutes because we were busy talking about our influences and our favorite writers. He brought the idea and then I worked on it more later on. I’ve never played it live yet, so I’m excited about working that into the set. Everybody can relate to it, whether you are in that place now or you will be at one time or another–this longing and not knowing the answers to our questions but not giving up and moving one step at a time.

How did you first end up singing with Craig Morgan on his album?

He was working on a song a few years ago and they were looking for the right voice to put on it. His daughter is a fan of mine and he asked her and she was like, “Yes, you have to have him sing it.” I’ve loved his music for a long time and to me, he’s one of the best country voices there is. I got to spend time with him and then got to go out on the road with him. I texted him not long ago and it was an honor to have him on the record. We wrote [“Whoo!”] on the road together and to have him sing on it made the song even better.

How did you decide who would sing which lines?

I sang the whole song, but the whole time I wanted him on it. We sent it to him and said, ‘Why don’t you try the second verse?’ And it was very different than what it is now. We had him sing a verse and chorus and then I said, ‘We don’t have a lot of interweaving between him and I,’ so we used the computers and the tracks to bounce off of each other where he would take a line or I would take a line,. Even though we weren’t in the same room together–he was outside of Nashville and I was in Atlanta–we worked it out.

Why was Thirty Tigers the way you want to go for this album and what has it been like working with them?

I’ve done two indie records and after being signed to a label for 20-something years I loved that I could do those records the way I wanted to so being with Thirty Tigers is the best of both worlds. I can make the music I want to make in the way I want to make it without a bunch of record execs telling you their opinions. With them you just go, “Here is my heart, here is my art–what are you going to do with it?” To have a team that I admire so much for the work they’ve put out the past few years, we’ve done what we can do to this point and it’s great to have a team behind us like this.

Would you want your songs to be pitched to other artists for projects?

Absolutely. Last time I was in Nashville I wrote with Sean McConnell. I’ve known and Logan Wall who wrote “Red On A Rose” on this album with me. 

We have a song that got pitched to an artist that we are excited about. We don’t know what will happen, because you know how that goes, but that hasn’t happened for me a lot in the past. So the other thing about this stage in my career, is being able to think outside of myself as an artist.

Are there other genres of styles of music would want to experiment with?

I love Tedeschi Trucks, and all the elements they bring in. Going to see them live is incredible–it’s a cross between Bonnie Raitt, The Allman Brothers, and Earth, Wind and Fire. Susan has this amazing voice. I would love to one day get into that feel where it’s a lot more collaborations going on onstage. Maybe one day we could get to that point.

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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