Music has been a constant presence in Josh Blakesley’s life. In fact, one of his earliest memories of music came when he was in first grade and he received a Smurfs drum set from his parents for Christmas.
“Before we went to Christmas Mass, it was broken,” he told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview while on tour with his contemporary Christian rock group, The Josh Blakesley Band. The group, from Alexandria, Louisiana, will perform March 5 and 6 at the Wisconsin Catholic Youth Rally at Carroll University in Waukesha.
Blakesley, lead singer, said his love of music and Catholicism has shaped his career and his overall faith life.
He began drumming around age 13 after continuously getting into trouble at school for banging on his desk. From there, he picked up guitar, piano and singing.
“It was a really informal way to learn music, but that’s just the way I did it,” Blakesley said.
He began playing in a secular rock band in Alexandria. Blakesley and his band made regular appearances at the local nightclubs, places they were not supposed to be as young teenagers.
“Something didn’t seem right about it,” Blakesley said.
A turning point in his life, in terms of music and faith, came with tragedy. A girl from his high school was killed in a drunk driving accident which caused what Blakesley termed a paradigm shift in his city, school, and church community.
“There was a realization of just the preciousness of life,” Blakesley said of his classmate’s death. “She was very close to God. There was something in that that sparked in me.”
From that point, he said he realized his life needed to be redirected toward God.
“If I wasn’t living for God and playing music for God, I was falling short of the plan,” he said.
Blakesley got involved in a Catholic youth ministry program called the “Servant Squad” where groups of teens performed skits, played music, and gave talks relating to Catholicism and Christian living.
“It is very important for any young Christian coming into his or her faith to get plugged into a community of believers,” he stressed.
After attending college in Baton Rouge, Blakesley married his wife, Heather, and seriously considered music ministry as a professional career.
“My wife and I prayed and prayed, and we took a real leap of faith,” Blakesley said of his initial start in a Christian music career.
The couple took a second mortgage on their house – something he described as the craziest thing they have ever done in their married life – in order to make a demo CD in Nashville.
“I wanted to make quality, contemporary Christian music for the Catholic Church,” Blakesley said.
He described his music as a mixture of Southern flavor: a touch of Southern rock, some New Orleans blues, and straight rock. On several occasions, Blakesley and his band’s music have been compared to, U2 – a high compliment, according to Blakesley.
He began as a solo artist, but always planned on being in a band. Fellow Catholic and guitar player for The Josh Blakesley Band, Grae McCullough, was the first to join more than 10 years ago, followed by Christian Gaudet on bass and Blake Powell on drums.
“We share a lot of life,” Blakesley said of his band. “It’s like four brothers going out to do ministry. It really is family. We are committed to serving God through this career path he has us on.”
The band members are not all Catholic, but all are Christian. According to Blakesley, the different faiths of the members has led to stimulating discussions about faith and religion among them.
“We have learned to be so accepting of each other’s faith. It’s just been an amazing experience of ecumenism,” Blakesley said. “It strengthens my Catholicism a lot. It causes me to think and really stand on my faith.”
Blakesley described the main mission of his band through Matthew 28: 18-19, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.’”
“There’s a whole world of people that need to know Jesus,” Blakesley said of his band’s mission.
The current tour is built around its latest album, “Even In This.” Blakesley described the title track of the album as being born out of tragedy. The track was written after the death of the 2-year-old daughter of guitarist, McCullough.
“We were all affected by it,” said Blakesley. He describes the title track as “a song that speaks to the fact that God wants to hear us even in our darkest and most terrible times.
“So often our Christianity can be about giving praise to God,” Blakesley said. “But the real authenticity of going to God, even in our anger, that’s something that means a relationship with God, being with God in all things.”
Blakesley has large goals for the band’s future. They are working on an album of Catholic Mass parts, which may be performed at their upcoming Wisconsin performance. He hopes to continue to write inspiring and well-produced Christian music.
“It’s a very challenging time in the music industry,” he said. “We have to really be on our p’s and q’s to make music that people want to listen to.”
Blakesley hopes to write more songs, attend more festivals, and tour with more mainline contemporary Christian artists.
On a personal level, he said he consistently works toward a stronger faith life. With the new year comes new resolutions for him to draw closer to God and be an example of Christian living to his children, Sophie, 10, and Sutton, 8.
“My goal spiritually and individually is to pray more, to be more faithful, to try to point to God in all things, and to try to be an example of God to my family,” he said.