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TobyMac

TobyMac (aka Toby McKeehan) is a name every good Christian music fan is familiar with. From his starting days in dc Talk to starting successful label Gotee Records to his recent success as a solo artist, Toby has proven his career has lasting momentum. We recently caught up with Toby at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA where his tour with Third Day made a stop. Despite it being a special birthday for TobyMac, he graciously took an extended amount of time out of his evening to discuss his new album, family, work, hobbies, and yes, even a little dc Talk...
This interview took place on: October 22, 2004



**Before the official start of the interview, we sat down with Toby and started chatting about the record, John Reuben, and the night's show. Interesting bits about his latest record were discussed...**
TobyMac: ...John [Reuben]'s the kinda of guy who always wants opinions on his music. He's like a processor. He's like me in that regard. I want everyone's opinion. I'll literally put songs on my website and poll them and if they don't poll good, they're gone! Unless they're really personal. JfH's John: Did you axe any songs that way? Oh yeah! Did you see when I put four songs on my site... John: Yeah. There was a song - actually Kevin [Max] sang on it - I called it "She Moves," and it was actually a pretty heavy song. Probably this record could have used it, y'know what I mean? Cause it probably could have used a couple more doses of heaviness, like in "Irene." This song is about desire and trying to grab hold of your desires. It's based on Paul's verses - the things I don't want to do I do, the things I want to do I can't seem to do. But everybody thought it was about my wife! Because I took desire and put it in a female personification. And it's talking about this girl who moves all about town and I can't keep up with her and it's about my own desire. And people are thinking it's directly talking about lust or something and I'm like "No, it's about desire for anything" - fame, the desire to be loved, desire to want everybody's acceptance, a million things that it could mean. So that was kind of cool and there was this song called "Hope Road" that had a little reggae sound. It sounded a little bit like "Irene." So there were like three songs that didn't make it. John: Are you gonna have a b-sides record? I should! If I could get any of them finished. Actually "She Moves" is finished. And Kevin sang on the bridge, it's pretty cool.

  • JFH: You have been involved in the Christian music industry for almost two decades now. How do you feel about its progression and where do you see it going?
    Toby: I feel like, in the rock arena, we're obviously doing incredibly well. I think to see Jars Of Clay go out there and move in the mainstream, and to see dc Talk do that, was great, but I think there was sort of a backlash to our faith. But to see a band like Switchfoot do it - and do it well. They're such great songwriters and their lyrics are challenging to a believer, yet challenging to the world. And I think the world is embracing it. I think it's incredible. And within the bubble of Christian music, I think we've made some headway, but we have a lot more to make when it comes to embracing urban music. I think, generally speaking, when you go to a Christian concert, they're all white. In a room of three thousand, there will be fifty African Americans - maybe twenty five or fifty Latino brothers and sisters - a hundred Asian people, whatever. Y'know? Unless you're playing states that are more Latin oriented. But my desire is to invite everyone. I've been saying that for ten years now. It's a step at a time and I want to be a guy who builds bridges, not walls. So I'm gonna keep on inviting and I'm gonna keep on urging. But I'm not going to be rude about it. I'm just going to contine to extend the invitation to welcome all into diverse city, baby. *grin*

  • JFH: You just released your sophomore solo album, Welcome To Diverse City. How did you approach the writing process differently this time from your debut, Momentum?
    Toby: It was written on the road, so it was different. For Momentum, I was finished. The Supernatural Tour ended, I was going to go and be a record man at Gotee and sign more bands and stop my world a little bit. And I did it for about six or eight months and I realized I had a record in me. My early influences of hip-hop we're dying to come out in the studio and onto a recording. Diverse City So I couldn't hold it back anymore and I just went ahead and did it. I was kinda just going to let Michael and Kevin do solo records and then do a dc Talk record, but I think just my desire to get back into hip-hop drove me to the studio. So I had plenty of time. There was no rush on Momentum. This record took a long time, but I was touring the entire time. I mean, if you count them since Momentum, I did the dc Talk Solo Tour, a Momentum Tour with John Reuben and Out Of Eden, Festival Con Dios with Audio Adrenaline, Jeremy Camp, and a bunch of other bands, Kirk Franklin and TobyMac and I did this Third Day Tour in the Spring. So during all these tours I was writing, of course including festivals three years straight. I would find pockets of time to go and record a song. I was very determined with this record to not rely on what I would call "rapcore." I just felt like I never really intended to go there in the first place. It's just I had asked to do a soundtrack for Extreme Days and it worked. It felt good to me, but my intention was to make more urban-based music. Now I know there are hip-hop heads out there that don't love what I do because it's pop, whatever. But it's what I do, it's what I love and I'll continue to do it. It's what I grew up loving. It's taking hip-hop and yanking it to the left and to the right and up and down and just stretching hip-hop in every direction I can. And the other thing is - this has really been on my heart the last couple of years - and John Reuben does well with this (*points to Amy's Reuben t-shirt*) - there's so much music out there that's serious and heavy. Once in awhile we need to just put a CD in and drive down the road, drop your top and laugh and have a good time and feel good it. There's nothing wrong with the joy bomb in music. Of course there are going to be songs like "Atmosphere" and "Stories" and songs that are about things I'm struggling with, things my friends are struggling with. Even "Gone," which sounds like a happy song, is about one of my friends who's a girl and the dude was just deceiving and disrespecting her. So that song was written out of frustration. But one of my goals is to just open that end of it up. We're allowed to have fun, we're allowed to enjoy ourselves. And y'know, worship music is great and it's been a great addition to my life. I didn't really know what it was. I grew up in a fundamental independent Baptist church so we sang hymns or nothing. So worship music has added a lot to my life. And my wife -- I go downstairs everyday and it's Rita Springer or she's doing Bible study to Rita Springer or Smitty's worship record. So, I know this is a super long answer, but these are all the things that have been going through my mind. Part of this whole journey for me is -- not to get anyone away from worship, I love worship, but it's also to say open yourselves up to the other side of music. We're allowed to have a good time. And at some point, when we walk away from worship, we have to live worship and we're going to live worship by relating to other people. I write a lot of songs about human relationships and I always have. Even dc Talk did that. Amy: Yeah, "Gotta Go" is all about relationships. Absolutely! I mean I did it in a tongue-in-cheek way. But see, some people can take that song the wrong way. My label didn't want me to put that on the record. They thought it was like I'm saying I'm too busy. But I'm just saying that I'm just trying to fit in God's plan, y'know?

  • JFH: Who has influenced you musically?
    Toby: Arrested Development... Kevin: Y'know, sorry to interrupt, but I was saying to John the other day that one of the songs sounded a lot like... "Gotta Go?" Kevin: Yeah Yeah, "Gotta Go" sounds a lot like "Tennessee." Definitely the sort of counter-chorus, the "Sorry I'm not much for conversation," yeah. *chuckles* And I knew that when I was recording it. That's definitely the influence. Some people would say too 'much' *laughs* and some people say 'nah, it's cool.' But yeah, Arrested Development, U2 - they're just a great example of people that will go out and talk about spiritual things that can touch the entire world, not just the Christian world. You know what I mean? Early stuff like Run DMC. The Police is one of my favorite bands of all time. Even a Philly band that people sort of giggle at but I just think they had a knack for melodies is Hall & Oats. *laughs* As far as the newer stuff, I think the stuff the Black Eyed Peas are doing is pretty sick. Bob Marley is a big influence on me. Lauryn Hill. I mean the whole Bob Marley thing is he writes some of the most spiritual music I've heard. Now, he's talking to a different god, but nobody makes music that makes me think more about my God than Bob Marley does. In other words, what I'm saying is, when I'm singing the songs like "Exodus" and "One Love," I'm thinking about God. To me those are the best two examples of spirituality within music - U2 and Bob Marley. They know how to express it well. John: Yeah, and the mainstream accepts it. And the mainstream accepts it! It's incredibly written and passionate.

  • JFH: What inspired you to cover Soul-Junk's "Ill-M-I?"
    Toby: I'm just a big fan of Glenn. I sampled one of his songs on my last record, "In The Air." It was a sample off an interlude on 19... I can't really remember what year it was... (**Note: All of Soul-Junk's CD's are named after a year in the 1900's**) It's the same one "Ill-M-I" is on. John: That's 1956, it's the only one I have. Yeah, 1956! It was like an interlude on there and I sampled it for the song and I got to know Glenn then. And then He and his son came up for my show in San Diego. He's an inspiring man. I've just always loved that song. That song caught my ear from day one. I just love the way the lyric is all over the place! I just would never write like that, y'know? *laughs* I like it because it's such an eclectic lyric - my mind can't even work that bizarrely! It's like Dr. Seuss for adults or something, y'know what I mean? *laughs* I just love the chant, the hook... I almost put it on my last record!


  • JFH: Did you really pay Truett with a Happy Meal for recording "TruDog: The Return" on your new record?
    Toby: *laugh* You know, I did not and he calls me out on it! *resounding laughter* I said it to him like joking around with him and he dug it. We were late for dinner that night - Amanda had made it - and I live right next to my studio so we went right home and I thought 'Oh, I'll get him a Happy Meal later!' and I never have. So people ask him that and he's like "Noooo..." *does an impression of Truett* And he just looks at me like I owe him! I'll hook him up eventually. Although after watching Super Size Me I don't know! *laughs*

  • JFH: You're always working with such talented artists. Is there anyone you haven't worked with who you really want to?
    Toby: There are some people that I really wanted to work on this record with. One of these days, I really want to make a real sort of avant-garde record and I want to work with people that I really respect but probably wouldn't fit on my type of record right now. I would love to have Leigh Nash sing on a song, but just doing something really unique, y'know what I mean? Between hip-hop and what she does. Maybe just like a cello and a small kit, something like that. Something real left. I want to make a record like that one day. And I will, it's just hard because I want to make a record every three years and I'm doing bigger tours like this. I want to get back to doing a small thing, do small shows. Have like a beat box, cello, acoustic and a rhyme and a singer. It think it'd be cool. John: Anybody else? I got to work with Paul Meany - Earthsuit is one of my favorite groups. We did "Phenomenon" together. [Jon] Foreman and I were working on a song together but didn't get it done. I just sent him a track that I was working on that I had a verse for, and he was going to help me with some stuff but we just didn't have time. On Momentum I did a track with Relient K, but it just didn't make the record. It was hot. It sounded really cool. I think Ben Folds is incredible. I like his songs, the way it sounds, I just really respect the way he writes. But I'd say my number one would really be Lauryn Hill. I love her voice. I got about as close as I could find to her with Joanna [Valencia] on my records. *laughs* Cause she sounds a lot like her.

  • JFH: What led you to include dc Talk as a collaboration on your latest record, Welcome To Diverse City? Are you concerned at all about blurring the lines between dc Talk and TobyMac?
    Toby: I would have been concerned on Momentum because I think we really needed to carve our own paths. But at this point, I'm not concerned about it. And life's too short... "don't waste it." *we all break into laughter as Toby sings the words from John Reuben's song* Nah, I think, at this point, I'm like 'these are my boys!', y'know? I'm not gonna not do this. I mean who knows how many records we're gonna make, y'know? Or when we're going to make another record together again? So all that stuff...

  • JFH: Do you honestly think you will?
    Toby: I think we will. We actually had a long talk about it today. Tait came to the show last night. We hung out all day yesterday and last night. But, y'know, I was sitting in the studio with my song "Atmosphere" -- the version without the guys on it -- and I would just sit at the console and hear Michael and Kevin's voice. It's literally like they were haunting me. I could hear their voices on the song. And the song already kind of had that "Consume Me," "Just Between You and Me," "What Have We Become" type feel. So I was like 'man, why not do it?' It's interesting because it was the first song I had done on the record and the bonus track (version with dc Talk) was the last song I had done on the record. Because I had my version of "Atmosphere" done two years ago. And then I added Kevin and Michael and got Tedd involved and just finished like three months ago. John: It sounds good. It's great to hear your voices back together It's interesting to watch people react to it on the internet. They're like 'it sounds like a TobyMac track with Michael and Kevin.' And I'm like, well that's exactly what it is! It really sounds more like older dc Talk where I would sorta rhyme the verses and Michael and Kevin would come in on the prechorus and chorus.

  • JFH: What's your favorite song off of Welcome To Diverse City?
    Toby: I love "Diverse City" because it really captured an era. I really wanted to go after that cameo, gap band, that "Word up!" *offers an impression* I wanted to go for that era and I really feel like I captured it. People that I know that love that era are like 'I can't believe you nailed that feel!' And a guy that I work with, Chris Stevens, that's his era. He loves that era. But he's a super talented guy. He did Paul Wright, Shawn McDonald, and about four or five tracks on my record. And I'd say definitely "Atmosphere" means a lot to me, "Stories" with Superchick turned out really cool... Yeah, there are a lot of songs I like. I actually listened to the record today because I had to. I'm changing some levels for the the second manufacturing run. Because I felt that some things needed to be changed. Like if you're driving down the road and listening to the CD, some of the things feel kind of bad. I'm just tweaking levels. Like where track three, when track four hits, it didn't hit quite as loud. So I'll bump it up like half a DB or something. It's not a big deal, though. No one will notice, it's just me being a freak!

  • JFH: How do you manage to keep your sanity and head on straight while juggling a solo career, record label, and life as a soon-to-be father of four?
    Toby: The last one is the hardest one, I can tell you that. It's the hardest job I have, brother! No doubt! The most joyful, the most rewarding, but the hardest. The answer's not that "sexy" I guess. It's just great people. Incredible people that don't get enough credit. I mean I'm the one up there holding the Grammy or the Dove and they're doing half the work, y'know? I work with great producers. I work with a great staff at Gotee - a great partner in Joey Elwood. An incredible partner in life in my wife Amanda, who truly works harder than me, without a doubt. She just totally supports what I do, y'know? And my sister is great with art and takes pictures - makes me look decent every once in awhile. *smirks* And on the road I have an incredible band, a great management team, and a great label. I think EMI is doing an incredible job. God's just been really faithful to send me really, really incredible people. I've told people this before, but my biggest prayer when I moved to Nashville was not 'let me win the masses' or 'let my music fall on the ears of the whole world!' It was 'I have a lot of dreams here, surround me with incredible people.' And I've really stayed true to that prayer and God has really answered it.

  • JFH: What are your favorite things to do to unwind when you're not working?
    Toby: I've been getting into wake boarding a little bit. It's really cool. It's like waterskiing where you're being pulled by a boat, but it's like you're almost on a snowboard. And you're coming across the wake and you're getting air. If you get good you can do flips and all that crazy stuff. That's incredible, I've been getting into that. And I've been really into those little Razor scooters lately. Not the motorized ones. Truett and I go and sort of terrorize downtown Franklin. It's just funny cause downtown Franklin is like all these antique shops and shops where ladies get their yarn to make blankets and stuff and Truett and I will buzz through the ladies. We're like "'Scuse us!" *briefly acts out the scene* And I play golf. I've always loved golf, played it in college for four years. I don't know man, I just kick it... wrestle with my kids on the floor. *laughs* John: That's awesome. I hope you win *laughter* Three on one!!

  • JFH: What has God been teaching you lately?
    Toby: To be a man made for others - I've been reading this book that's really been affecting me. That's hard for me, I admit it. Especially when you're an artist and you have a lot of people around you sort of taking care of you. Helping you to get from point A to point B. So it makes it sort of difficult. You almost have to make a big deal out of trying to help others versus having them help you. Or serving others instead of them serving you. John: It doesn't come natural. It didn't come natural, but that's God's opening my mind to forcing the issue a little bit.

  • JFH: What kind of experience has adoption been for you? Any life lessons?
    Toby: Yeah, definitely. Number one: twins are HARD! It is hard. Twins are a beautiful thing. It's amazing to see how they to relate to each other. And for anybody adopting out there, it's a blessing to have the privilege of adopting. It does a lot of things to you. One of them is that you begin to understand a little bit more about God's love for you. And the first thought that goes through your mind is 'God adopted me!' You know what I mean? It's probably one of the most unselfish things I've ever done, y'know? It's like one of those kinds of things. And the love that comes from me for my kids is beyond any amount of love I thought I could feel. It's an intense experience. It's just an amazing kind of love. And it's different than a husband/wife love - that's a beautiful kind of love. This is like that sort of shepherding thing happening. I mean you have that with your wife but it's not the same because she can do a lot of things on her own. Mine is an independent woman - not in a negative way - but you know what I mean? She has to be. She makes things happen when I'm not here. She's amazing!

  • JFH: Favorite book?
    Toby: I don't even know the name of the book I'm reading right now... Y'know what, man? Even though it's really a devotional book, I'm a massive fan of My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers. It's my favorite. It's affected my life more than any book other than the Bible for sure.

  • JFH: How about favorite movie?
    Toby: I like an old school movie I just rebought it the other day called All The President's Men. It's pretty cool. It's about Watergate and Nixon. I was a political science major so I'm kinda into that a little bit. Not as much nowadays. I definitely think we should all vote but I don't really get as intensely involved other than voting and doing my thing to get who I think is the right man into the White House.

  • JFH: What do you hope to be doing in ten years?
    Toby: That tour I told you about, man, with the cello! *laughs* I don't know. I will be developing artistry somewhere. I mean that's what I love doing. Whether it's my own - it probably won't be at that point - but I'll be developing other artists, finding other artists, working with them, making songs, making records. It's what I love to do. It's been a fun journey with everybody from Relient K to Jennifer Knapp to Sonicflood to even really Audio Adrenaline, one of your favorite bands! Really, the history's there. I heard them way before they were signed - gave the disc to Forefront. It's been great to be a part of so many groups. And not because I was doing something special but hearing great songs and being in a position where I can get them some attention or whatever. The talent is in them, not the stuff that I'm doing. I mean you get a band like Relient K or a person like Jennifer Knapp or Sarah Kelly, you don't have to do anything. God put that talent in them, that passion. And it's just being wise enough to hear it and see it. (*We then launched into a discussion on Sarah Kelly*)

  • JFH: What's next for you in the next year?
    Toby: I'm gonna finish this tour December 10th, have a baby, and then next year Tait and I will do Winter Jam with a couple other acts. Which I've never done that which is on weekends. I know Newboys have done it, AA, Relient K. That's like January and February. And then we're about 99% sure Audio A and I are going to co-headline with Kutless and Hawk Nelson. So that'll be March, April, May.

  • JFH: Any last comments?
    Toby: No, man. Thanks for what you do. I appreciate JFH, I go there sometimes and snoop around. *laughs*

    TobyMac

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