Ageless TobyMac talks about DC Talk reunion (it could happen)

By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau

The world of popular music, it seems, serves up an endless supply of things to stop you in your tracks and make you wonder where the time went.

Two summers ago, the Beach Boys’ reunion tour came to Grand Canyon University Arena — with “boys” onstage as old as 71. This year, as 64-year-old Bruce Springsteen mounts another U.S. tour, Beatles fans are observing the 50th anniversary of the British Invasion. And TobyMac soon will be observing his own 50th anniversary.

Think about that last one: Toby McKeehan, arguably the most influential artist of the past 20 years in Christian music, the creative genius behind the seminal group DC Talk, is turning the Big Five-Oh in October.

Out of respect for the “elderly” Mr. McKeehan, please keep that a secret. Don’t go telling your friends.

“We don’t want to announce that quite yet,” TobyMac says with a laugh, calling recently from the Sioux Falls, S.D., stop on his Hits Deep Tour that will visit the Arena for a sold-out show on Friday night.

Age 50 is “a little gross-sounding to me,” he jokes.

While acknowledging that such a milestone “sort of sneaks up on you,” TobyMac seems to have retained his sense of youthful style. He’s still a self-professed “sneaker freak,” decked out in Air Jordan retros along with trendy flat-brimmed ballcaps and horn-rimmed glasses.

His solo career, too, has shown no signs of going the shuffleboard route since DC Talk went on hiatus in 2000: six albums, two Grammy nominations, his own recording label (Gotee Records) and collaborations with nearly everyone who’s anyone in Christian music. His “Eye on It” album, which dabbled in dubstep, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in mid-2012.

The man is prolific, he defies categorization and he’s as relevant as ever.

“I recognize the blessing of being able to do what I love to do,” he says.

TobyMac’s enduring popularity is a source of wonderment to Kevin McNeese, a longtime observer of Christian music whose website, New Release Tuesday, keeps close tabs on the industry.

“He’s still out there rocking the young audiences,” McNeese says. “My son is 5, and his favorite artist is TobyMac. That speaks to his artistry. He’s a good songwriter, and he’s good at reinventing himself. And he has never wavered in his faith. So hats off to him.”

Hats off, indeed. The genre-bending, revolutionary DC Talk, which TobyMac formed in 1987 with college classmates Michael Tait and Kevin Max, blazed new trails with its breakthrough albums “Jesus Freak” (1995) and “Supernatural” (1998), blending rap, rock, R&B and pop and reaching an urban audience ready for something new.

More than that, DC Talk — the DC stands for Decent Christian — pulled no punches with its message. While established Christian performers such as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith were writing squishy songs clearly designed for crossover appeal, DC Talk boldly proclaimed Christ and made no apologies for it. Today, that’s expected of Christian acts.

When DC Talk signed a huge distribution deal with Virgin Records for “Supernatural,” the impact was seismic.

“Here was a band going mainstream without substituting their faith,” McNeese says. “This band didn’t soften (its message). As the years go on, DC Talk will be one of few bands from that time (in Christian music) that will be remembered.”

Fans aren’t letting TobyMac forget, asking him “close to every day” about a reunion, he says. Although “nothing concrete is in the works,” he says he is honored by the question and won’t rule out the possibility. Tait has been with the Newsboys since 2009, Max with Audio Adrenaline since 2012. They, too, went from DC Talk into solo careers.

“Michael and Kevin and I have bands and families, and the people in our bands have families,” TobyMac says, adding that a reunion is “a fun thought, an option that has never left my mind.”

The three remain close, he says, and they fully appreciate DC Talk’s 13-year run.

“It was an amazing time,” he says. “God was gracious to take some guys who were stumbling along and do something that was beyond them…. I don’t look back as much as some people do. I’m not that dude. I look forward. I’m driven and excited by that.”

Saying that he would “rather climb than camp” in life, he’s also frank about the challenges presented by a performing career. He and his wife, Amanda, live with their five children outside Nashville.

Life on the road can be hard on family relationships — and in other ways, as well.

“My nightmare is that one of my kids would someday say, ‘My dad was never around,’ and I work so hard to make sure that won’t happen,” TobyMac says. “We sit around the table and talk and share the best part of our day and what we saw God doing. We put music on. When I’m home, I try to be home that way.

“The second-hardest thing is to remain unjaded,” he says, and one of his newer songs, the smooth “Steal My Show,” touches on the subject.

“That takes work when you’re playing a place for the 10th time. I ask God every morning to make my heart hopeful, to keep looking for Him and wondering what He will do today.”

The Hits Deep Tour, with TobyMac backed by his DiverseCity Band, also includes Mandisa, Brandon Heath, Matt Maher and Matthew West. The GCU show will be the final Arena concert before the facility undergoes a construction project to expand its capacity by about 2,000 seats for the 2014-15 year.

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].


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