Fans know that meeting someone from your favorite band can be a life-defining experience. But those interactions can be life-defining for the musicians, too. While on tour playing guitar as a hired gun for Thousand Foot Krutch (TFK), Josh MacIntosh had a conversation with a fan that changed everything.
“After a show one night, this kid walks up to me and tells me that a year before, he was going to commit suicide,” MacIntosh said. The fan told MacIntosh he had walked into his room one night and turned on the radio to listen to what would be the last songs he’d ever hear. A TFK song came on and it stopped him cold in his tracks.
“At this point, the kid is bawling telling me all this. He said, ‘If it wasn’t for you, I’d be dead right now. This song gave me hope. It made me want to see the sun again,’” MacIntosh said. “I was broadsided. I didn’t know what to say to him. Everything that came to mind was ‘Christianese.’ You know, ‘That’s amazing how God has blessed you’ and all that. But that doesn’t mean anything to this guy! We’re literally standing in a bar and he’s pouring his heart out. I think I said something stupid like, ‘Well, I’m glad you’re alive.’ What else do you say? I was so in shock.”
The son of a pastor, MacIntosh grew up in church and has played in countless worship bands over the years. Most recently, he was part of the worship team at Bethel Church in Redding, CA, one of the big influencers in the Contemporary Christian Music industry. His passion for worship has always been powerful, but a big question has been weighing on his mind for a long time: “How do I bring this message of Christ’s love to people outside the church who are hurting and broken, but in a way that’s not religious or judgmental?”
He felt called to create something that would go beyond the four walls of the church. For years, he’d been wrestling with the idea of combining worship-driven lyrics with mainstream rock music, but then he met that fan at the TFK show and had a “eureka” moment. MacIntosh wanted to write songs that would convey hope but without the Christian lingo. “How am I going to reach people that are about to slit their wrists?” he asked. “If I’m using a language they don’t understand, it’ll never reach them.”
Thus, Avenir Sky was born. The band started as a solo project, with MacIntosh on vocals and lead guitar, before he eventually brought in bassist Matt Groening and drummer Gian Peck to round things out. Their sound is straight-up rock ‘n’ roll yet with a message of hope and light for anyone, regardless of belief system. Even the band’s name evokes a feeling of optimism. “Avenir” is French for “future” or “a time to come,” and for MacIntosh “sky” represents that with “no ceiling. No end. Only possibilities.”
Their self-titled debut EP was released on May 5 and has already been met with a strong response. “It’s been overwhelming. I literally sat at my computer for four days talking to people and responding to feedback,” MacIntosh said. “It was such a long process. I actually recorded the drum tracks to ‘Glorious One’ myself almost seven years ago before I even knew what this project would be. To see it all come together—so much time and effort has gone into it. It’s got a lot of me in it, and I’m stinking proud of it.”
The songs are mostly based on events and experiences from MacIntosh’s own life. “Revival Fire” was his response to accidentally stumbling upon graphic videos on Facebook of people being beheaded. “It completely messed me up,” MacIntosh recalled. “I didn’t know what I was watching until it was happening, and then I couldn’t shut it off. I was sitting there at two in the morning, bawling my eyes out. I couldn’t even process what I saw, and all I could think to do was worship.”
The song may have been inspired by violence and atrocities, but its core message is about eventual peace on earth. The theme holds true throughout the entire record. Each song has a thread of hope woven in, even when tackling dark subjects. “Desert Lighthouse” is about wandering aimlessly and endlessly through life, but then spotting a beacon of guiding light in an unexpected place. “See the Sun,” inspired by that fan MacIntosh met at the TFK show, is full of encouraging words he wishes anyone contemplating suicide would hear.
In “Worth the Fall,” MacIntosh holds a mirror up to his own process of finding the courage to embark on the Avenir Sky journey in the first place. “How many times have we been standing on the edge of something incredible and then let fear or whatever excuses stop us? For me, a big thing was thinking no one would want to hear my voice because I think my voice sucks. I’m a guitar player, not a lead vocalist. I thought I shouldn’t sing,” MacIntosh said.
“But when I was on tour with Chris [Greenwood of Manafest] back in the day, he would say every night that even though fear is the loudest voice in your head, it should never stop you from doing the things you want to do,” MacIntosh said. “When I told him about [Avenir Sky], he told me to go after it. Trev and Joel from TFK were jumping in and encouraging me, too. I had all of these guys championing me when I didn’t feel qualified to be doing it at all.”
Photo © Kassi Sherman
Fear was been a big theme for MacIntosh as he got closer to transitioning from playing at Bethel to pouring his time and energy into recording with Avenir Sky. “I found myself starting to have incredible amounts of fear playing on a worship stage, which made no sense because I’ve been doing worship since I was a kid,” he said. “But I realized I had become so afraid of what people thought of me and so scared of hitting wrong notes. I was scared of not fitting in, that I’d stopped being myself. I’d stopped actually worshipping because of fear.”
“I loved playing at Bethel. The musicianship was through the roof. But I’d gotten it in my head that I needed to be exactly like any of the amazing guitar players on the team,” he continued. “But the world doesn’t need clones of the same people. It needs people chasing after who they are, and what I realized is that what I carry, I carry for a reason. I carry a heart of worship, but it’s more. It’s much broader than just a Sunday morning corporate worship experience. It’s in how you live your life and in the way you treat people.”
MacIntosh credits his family with nudging him in the right direction through all the ups and downs as the band and the EP were coming together. “I honestly had no intention of starting a band again. I missed a lot of my first two kids’ lives when they were small because I was going straight from my full-time job to band rehearsals or to shows,” he admitted. “In the process of trying to provide for my family, while chasing my dreams at the same time, I was actually neglecting my family.”
He ended up taking several years off from touring in order to spend time with his wife and children, which helped them be encouraging as Avenir Sky became more of a time commitment. “We reset the focus of our family, so now when I tour or when I go off and do something, my kids know what’s going on. There’s not that fear that they’ll never see me again. They know they’re my first priority,” he said.
As far as the future is concerned, MacIntosh wants to keep riding the wave of the EP’s success and get the band out on the road. It’s challenging, because while he and Groening both live in British Columbia, Peck lives in Australia. Getting the three of them together for a tour will be a logistical puzzle, but they’re ready to make it happen. They did one show in Redding to officially launch the band and are hungry for more.
However, it means more to MacIntosh than simply another tour with another rock band. It’s about bringing hope to those who need it most. “If these songs can reach them or connect with them in a way they need, then I’m going to keep writing songs and playing shows,” he explained. “If we only go to church on Sunday morning and don’t actually leave the four walls of the church, if we don’t go into the world and reach those people that are hurting and broken, then I think we miss the entire point of being Christians.”