The road to Christian rock
Farmington resident Mark Lavey still remembers his first stop on the road to Christian rock. He was five, and his mother had painted his body black and entered him in a talent contest in which he portrayed Michael Jackson, singing "Rockin' Robin."
Winning the talent contest that day was the first of many successes Lavey would reap in the music industry. Having a song place 17th out of 50,000 entries in a national song writing contest, appearing on TV in Nashville, Tenn. and hearing a handful of his songs on the radio are only a few of the singer-song writer's accomplishments. However, Lavey, who released his second Christian rock album last April, is not looking for stardom in his musical career. He just wants his lyrics to tell his tale, and his listeners to find comfort and worship in his music.
Lavey's newest CD, titled "I Pray," is a testimony of faith through word, rhythm and beat. Lavey writes songs with a strum of country and a hard rock beat. The songs begin with an eerie instrumental sense of comfort and continue with a beat that makes the music feel present and alive. Lavey said his songs are written about God, but they are also written to his family and friends.
When Lavey discusses the road that led him from rock and roll to Christian rock, his demeanor wants to say the journey was simple, but his soul says truthfully...it was hard. If his facial expressions could talk, they would whisper; the journey began with smooth stretches of fresh cement, took turns to paths of potholes and lose pebbles, and ended with Christianity, rock and roll, and a little bit of road maintenance.
The smooth stretch
Shortly after winning the talent contest in his hometown of Granton, Wis., Lavey realized his passion for music. He began to sing around home and pretend he was playing plastic guitars. When Lavey turned 10, his father, who had no instrumental experience, taught him guitar by looking at a book and figuring out the frets. The young musician took to guitar quicker than he did to singing. At age 12 he began touring with his 16-year-old brother.
"We were raised on great morals and a good family tie," Lavey said. "So my mom and dad would let us go out and play the bars. We'd play a gig and get home at 4, than be back up at 7 to get to the Catholic service at 8. I never felt like we were living two lives; we were gigin' till 4 then alter boys a few hours later."
In 1984, after graduating high school, Lavey traveled the road to Minnesota. He played in a rock band and recorded in studios with various artists seeking a guitarist. Lavey spent time giging at night and visiting radio stations during the day, all the while holding down what he called his "real job."
"At the time, I had a lot of energy but not a lot of contacts, so my only outlet was radio." Lavey said. "There were times when I would work a 12 hour shift and come home and get three hours of sleep."
After working in the Minnesota music industry for a few years, Lavey was married to his wife Cheryl. Lavey continued to play and write music, but due to the negative outcome of a recording session, he soon decided to take leave from the world of music.
Potholes and loose pebbles
The recording session which left Lavey questioning the morals of the music industry involved the creation of a demo and the loss of $10,000 at the hands of a studio that did not promote the music.
"I decided, if this is the way the music business is, if I have to go against my morals, then I'm not going to do it," Lavey said.
Instead of focusing his life on promoting songs and playing late night gigs, Lavey decided to "do the family thing" with his wife and newborn, Justin. Family had always been important to Lavey, and the birth of his son left Lavey and Cheryl wanting another child. However, after attempting to have a second child for nearly 10 years Lavey and his wife began to lose hope. On New Year's Eve, 2000, that changed, as Cheryl told Lavey she was pregnant. The family's excitement and appreciation was cut short, however, when on July 26, 2001, complications led to the death of the infant son, Brett, before he was born.
The loss was difficult on the entire family. To make things worse, in August Lavey was laid off, and in September, 9/11 left the family in even more mourning.
"Our world stopped," Lavey said. "Sheryl kept blaming herself. I just reassured her that we had no reason to believe anything was wrong. That instant, that moment, changed our life. We began walking around like zombies, so I decided that I was going to put my feelings aside for the family. Everybody has crises, everybody has issues, so I decided to deal with it through something positive and I started writing again."
When Lavey was writing the lyrics to his song "Walk In The Ways Of Our Lord," he had difficulty understanding the contradictions between the voice in his head, and the words on his paper. Lavey was attempting to write a song to his infant son, yet every time he used a word that hinted the song was for Brett, a voice in his head told his hand to scratch the word and replace it with something vague. Lavey was writing Christian music, and the title of the solo album which would be released in July 2003 was "Positive Thinking."
Lavey said when he began writing Christian music, he did not understand why the words flowed onto the page the way they did. He was a rock musician who had played a little country, but Christian was a foreign frontier. Yet, for some reason, during the release of "Positive Thinking," Lavey began to feel more spiritual, saying when he was close to God he felt closer to the son he had lost, and his CD became a testimony to the reconstruction of his life.
"I've learned that life is a gift and life is a gift we shouldn't take for granted," Lavey said.
Understanding the gift of life came to Lavey again when a family living 200 miles from his home town asked if they could put the words of his song "Walk In The Ways Of Our Lord," on their 6-year-old daughter's tombstone.
Each time Lavey hears about the death of a child, he feels for the friends and family. Last year, he sought to help others with their grief by holding a memorial service in remembrance of Farmington teenagers who have died unexpectedly.
"It's a very humbling feeling to think that one song has helped so many people, and it was only through God," Lavey said. "God wrote this song and I was his instrument."
Two years following the death of Brett, Cheryl became pregnant again. When Lavey was told of the conception he wanted to demand God let them have the child. However, he knew the choice was not his. Instead, Lavey prayed for the pregnancy of their third child through music by writing.
"I think for the most part people want to be in control of their lives," Lavey said. "I say the opposite; we need to let go, and let God in. I've never been so sure of that in the 30 years I've written songs, in the 30 years I've played guitar, and this CD [I Pray] is a testimony to that."
On November 3, two years after Brett passed away, Breann was born and two years after Breann's birth, Cheryl gave birth one more time, to a son named Preston.
Now a father of four, Lavey finds himself wanting to spend more and more time with his children. That is why he has chosen not to promote his new CD by knocking down the doors of radio stations. Lavey said he is a serious musician. He pauses to reminisce about the irony that his first experience in a recording studio was playing guitar on a Christian CD, a coincidence he did not notice until now. Lavey, however, is also serious about family. That is why he has chosen to let his friends and family promote the CD for him.
"God has surrounded me with great people, great friends," Lavey said. "I'm letting the people God surrounds me with help me let go. I really feel that through all of this, I found the Holy Spirit. I truly believe that what gets us to the Holy Spirit gets us there, and that's part of the mystery. You have to open up or it's not real, the Holy Spirit is our gateway, our phone line, to God."
Lavey can be heard playing live on Sunday mornings at a music worship service at Shepherd Of The Valley Church in Apple Valley. His music can also be found online at www.marklavey.com and www.myspace.com/marklavey.