“I had a lot more names for them,” laughed bassist Tai Anserson, on the phone from his Roswell home in suburban Atlanta. “I liked the Daytrippers. But the fans really identified with [Gomer].”
Thirty-thousand fans, to be more precise, currently count themselves among the Gomer pile, each of them taking the last name “Gomer” and adding a prefix that describes them, such as Happy Gomer or Mama Gomer. The fans see themselves as a family, with a common last name to join them together.
Third Day formed in Marietta, Ga.. in the 90s. Founded by singer Mac Powell and guitarist Mark Lee, David Carr keeps time on drums; Brad Avery brings depth to their sound with a second guitar; and Anderson rounds out the group.
The band had a song called “Gomer’s Theme” from their 1998 second album, “Conspiracy #5,” that referred to the kind of Old Testament story that you don’t tell your kids.
“It’s kind of this metaphor that we all blow it. We sin, god forgives us, and we go right out and sin again,” Anderson said. “It’s funny because there’s a certain self-aware irony. There’s some humility that goes with it.”
Fans like that — who wear a color normally associated with tigers and with fruit on purpose, so that they can identify each other and so that the band can see them from the stage — really push a band like Third Day to up their musicianship. They aren’t quite deadheads, but they aren’t far off.
“We definitely have a growing group of fans that we see at 25 shows a year,” Anderson said. “It makes us shake it up. We have to give them a different show every night.”
He credits the band’s singer, Mac Powell, for his ability to connect with fans on stage and through songwriting.
“He’s honest about what he’s going through at the time,” Anderson said, noting that the way the band sees life and thus makes music has changed since they began in their early 20s. They now have 16 kids between the five members (Anderson takes up most of the slack with five of his own), and have watched some friends go from dating to divorcing. They’ve gained an adult perspective that helped them grow musically over time. Their fans respond to that.
“When we started out it was like, ‘Hey, I got saved and it’s really great;” and then you go on and it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah: Life’s still really hard,’” Anderson chuckled. “For a couple of reasons, people tend to stick with Third Day. Not everyone buys every record or goes to every show, but we’re trying to make fans for life. We want our CDs to be compelling enough that when someone buys our CD it’s good enough that we’ve kind of already pre-sold the next one.”
And that’s what made them think hard about the two volumes of greatest hits releases that they’re currently touring to support.
“We’re all music fans, so when someone puts out a greatest hits album, it’s either the end of a career or the end of a chapter. We’re wanting it to be the end of a chapter — you know, we have all these kids to put through college,” he joked.
So the band strove to make the two-disc compilation as good as it could be; a set that would tell the band’s story while still being a great fan piece. They included lots of DVD content and songs that weren’t necessarily their radio hits.
“We tried to include the most meaningful version of the songs that we chose,” Anderson said. Sometimes they were studio versions; sometimes they were live. “And sometimes it needed to be re-cut because we never really got it right.”
Anderson stated wryly that looking back is always painful because the members of Third Day always want to get better and to make new music.
“I just think in music there can be any coasting. If someone loves something, as soon as you give it to them again, they resent you for it,” he said, using U2’s constant reinvention of themselves and their music as an example. On their album “Achtung Baby,” for example, the Irish super group didn’t lead with the single “One.” They chose to release “The Fly” first, because they wanted listeners to journey with them, Anderson said. “You have to meet your fans where you are, but you have to take them somewhere.”
Third Day will soon take its fans to Gomertopia, a fan site community that takes the original Gomer movement to a new level.
“For a long time it sort of existed with just message boards,” Anderson said. That worked well for a while. Members eventually became friends, hosting events and meetings in real time. They meet before concerts and prayed for the show, the band, each other and the other members of the audience. Anderson and crew have even seen members meet, fall in love and marry.
“We should have joined up with Match.com or something. We could be rolling in it,” he laughed.
But the band’s goal is to give their fans something back; a place for them to congregate and communicate online when they can’t meet offline. And it’s a small gesture, Anderson says, for a group of people who buy all their merchandise and try to take care of the other members of Third Day’s audience.
“A band can’t ask for a lot more than that.”