TobyMac Talks About His New CD and Life

TobyMac’s current album, “Elements,” has given him his biggest hit single in a half-dozen years with the song “I Just Need U,” which spent a dozen weeks atop the Christian music singles chart. He can now look back and feel the struggles he and co-writers experienced in writing the song were well worthwhile.

“It was a wrestling match, that song, honestly. It wasn’t like quick,” Toby Mac said in a recent phone interview. “We probably wrote three completely different verses and wildly different melodies and lyrics. It was just trying to find (its voice). Sometimes you have to wrestle it to the ground.”

Having to grapple with various elements of a song is nothing new to TobyMac, whose real name is Kevin McKeehan. His songs, he said, don’t tend to just fall into place.

“I think there’s a lot to be said for immediacy in lyrics and things like that, and some people are really good at (creating) that,” he said. “I’m definitely a crafter. Sometimes they come quick, but I like to craft songs.” And with the “Elements” album, TobyMac feels he crafted his most personal album. Several factors, he said, have contributed to him digging deeper as a lyricist.

“I just think there are a few things working together,” he said. “Number one, is just life and the things you’re going through. You know, your life changes a little, your kids start growing up a little more, and then you, I guess, put that together with the fact that you, I guess you grow in confidence as a writer (in your ability) to express yourself and be a little more vulnerable. And I’m also learning that when you sort of express what you’re learning and what you’re going through and your heartaches and your strongholds or what have you, it begins to, I don’t know, it seems like more than a fictional song Those songs (resonate with the listener). I really believe we’re not that different. The situations might have different names and faces, but we’re all kind of going through (similar things), whether it’s dealing with insecurity or whether it’s dealing with a relationship gone good or gone bad or wanting to be there for someone or failing, to be there for someone when they need you, we’re all going through these things. So to express those personally just resonates with people.”

Overall, TobyMac says “Elements” deals with obstacles in life that work against someone being the person he or she wants to be. In his case, TobyMac said he seeks to be selfless and be there for people in his life, a way of living that can be even more difficult in music, where the artists are in the spotlight and the subject of attention and adulation and encouraged to be concerned first and foremost with themselves.

The album-opening title song introduces the concept. Blending hip-hop and a hard rock-ish chorus, “Elements” finds TobyMac defiantly ready to fight a variety of emotional and physical elements that dot his life path. From there, he gets more specific, using the silky electronic-tinged hit ballad, “I Just Need U,” to express the value of a special person and God. Another key song on the album, the airy synthy/electronic ballad “Scars,” deals with the struggle of letting one’s kids leave the nest, knowing you can’t protect them forever from life’s pitfalls and dangers – a reality TobyMac, a father of five, is starting to experience. On “Starts With Me,” TobyMac and guest vocalist Aaron Cole address the racial divides of the country, recognizing that healing has to start with each individual.

The shift toward more personal and meaningful lyrics has been happening for some time, TobyMac, 54, said, and it feels appropriate for his stage in life.

“I feel like I’ve been on a road for a lot of years. I’ve been an artist. I’ve been a writer, a songwriter, and I feel like I’m a songwriter first and foremost,” he said. “But I feel like as I looked at this record, and even the last record (2015’s “This Is Not a Test”), I was like wow, with the years and experience, I feel like an old people depth. So novelty kind of, I guess, it’s sliding off of me. And depth and wisdom are what I feel a seasoned artist and a seasoned writer should offer people.”

Seeing songwriting as his strong suit was partly a product of how TobyMac came into his career as one third (along with Michael Tait and Kevin Max) of the trailblazing and hugely popular Christian hip-hop group, DC Talk before starting his solo career with the 2001 album, “Momentum.” He had to overcome some self doubts as he moved along and sought to become a more versatile and accomplished artist.

“I mean, going from a group like DC Talk, where I started, with two really great vocalists on my right and my left, I feel like songwriting has always been my thing, the expression of lyrics,” TobyMac said. “And then moving to a solo career that I never intended to have, just beginning that and feeling like trying to find a place and sort of being a rapper coming up and then moving on to sing, all that junk is filled with thoughts of ‘Can you really do this?’ But that’s the beauty of it, the beauty of the insecurity or even the (realistic) shortcomings, I do believe it has made me have to be creative with the way I write, the way my melodies work, the way the rhythms work on my lyrics. It’s taught me, it’s given me a style that’s unique. So that journey is an amazing journey that someone who has an incredibly perfect voice, they may not have to go on that journey, but I have to.”

The style TobyMac continues to develop – which on “Elements” is a synthetic mix of electronic, pop and hip-hop that’s in step with today’s top 40 trends, has obviously connected with the Christian music audience and enjoyed some crossover success as well. His six previous solo albums have all been certified gold, with combined sales of more than 5 million copies. Along the way, he’s won seven Grammy Awards.

Last fall, TobyMac got the chance to share the songs on “Elements” in settings that suited the more personal nature of the album.

“I just wanted to play theaters versus arenas and kind of get into a lot more of the record, make it a little more intimate, give the people in there that have the record and want to experience the record live,” he said.

But to start 2019, TobyMac is back in arenas, headlining the latest edition of his Hits Deep tour. The goals for this tour, which features opening acts Jeremy Camp, Jordan Feliz, Ryan Stevenson, We Are Messengers and Aaron Cole, are very different from the “Elements” tour last fall.

“One of the requirements is that you have some hit songs out there,” TobyMac said. “It’s a night that we want them (the audience) to sit there and enjoy songs they know and love from the radio. Some artists will play three songs because they have three hits. Some will play six because they have six. Others will play 12 because they have 12. We make the evening work like that for the people, so they know everything all night long, so they’re singing along all night.” To check out other great interviews check out this link.

For More Information and Tour Dates visit his site here.

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.