TobyMac is one of the most successful innovators in any genre of music with 7 GRAMMY® Awards, 6 Gold Records from his solo career, an American Music award, twice named Artist of the year at the Dove awards, BMI songwriter of the year and numerous other accolades to his credit.
“If I’m not offering people some wisdom from the journey that I’ve been on, then I might as well hang up the cleats.” – TobyMac
Abby got the chance to chat with TobyMac and other radio station here in Queensland to talk about life after the passing of his eldest song, and the healing journey he has been on, as well as his brand new album “Life after death” that released today, August 19th!
Take a listen to the interview below.
Have you learned to walk through this healing process in writing this album?
I’ve always written songs for my own life, but, um, life’s always been good to be honest with you. It’s been like, uh, it’s been an amazing journey. Uh, I’ve had some pain, I’ve had some struggle, but nothing like this. So I guess I just continue to write songs outta my life and out of the things I was experiencing, but it’s just different now. And it’s cuz I’ve been through something that I never thought I would walk through a valley. I never thought I’d walk through. So yeah, it’s it. I have learned in answer to your question that it is a way to walk through something that, uh, tears you up inside.
How does it change the way you write? I mean, you’ve spoken previously about having new insights into grief and new understanding of what eternity means, what it could possibly look like when you do experience that for the first time, how has it changed the way that you write and even think about things from a faith perspective?
Well, I, when Truitt passed, um, I, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just wrote this song 21 Years, as a tribute to my son. Not, not for my own grief at all, but as a tribute to my son, my beautiful son and I wanted the world to know how amazing he was. So I wrote that song 21 Years because I look at those 21 Years as a gift from God that I got to keep him for 21 years, God trusted me with him. Um, and then I began this journey, uh, writing songs, writing a few sad songs, really sad songs. And I just thought I would, I’ll probably never write another up tempo song. You know, I, I just didn’t think I would. And, and I was, uh, you know, upset with God from time to time walking through this, questioning him, um, trying my best to land on trusting him in his plan, but struggling a little. I just thought, well, you know, at that point I thought I’ll never write an up tempo song. There’s just no way it’s not in me. Because just sad songs were coming out. I wrote a song called everything about you with my daughter. And I wrote a song called Faithfully and I wrote Promise Land and all of ’em were down tempo sort of heartbreaking. Uh, but, but so the thing is what I, what I was beginning to learn is that, although God doesn’t always take our pain away, he doesn’t promise that we won’t experience pain. He promises that he’ll be there with us in it. And he was faithful to me.
So then how did you go from that to arriving at the song, the goodness with blessing offer, which is just one, it’s a standout and it’s a beautiful song. You guys just bring, I think, such a life to the work that you guys have done as a, you know, collaborative team. How did you get there?
Well, thank you. First of all, I would say, uh, I wrote those three songs that were really sad. And then, the first glimpse I got was when I read, I still like reading my Bible every day because I thought, well, I believe this. I believed it my whole life. I will continue to believe this. And I kind of was like, God, you better show me. I kind of, I kind of went out on a limb and said, you better show me something. I need to see something I need to know. And I pushed really hard against him and, and begs him to like show me that he’s there for me. That he’s real. And in those times I was reading the whole Bible and it, it was supposed to take me a year, but it took me two and a half. But in that moment I was in Isaiah and I read the scripture that said, it said, God is rolling up his sleeves. Uh, and I was like, wow, what a promise? What imagery to think of God rolling up his sleeves on my and I, and I, so I wrote this song help is on the way. And it actually was the first thing I wrote. I said, well, this isn’t, this is up tempo. This isn’t joyful, but it’s brewing and a tense, but it is up tempo. it’s not sad, valid. Um, and I thought, whoa, it’s something I literally never thought I would do again. Mm. Um, and then something interesting happened. I actually started believing in my heart that help is on the way . I like my it’s like this scripture through this song I wrote, started ministering to me. And I started believing that. And a few months later along comes the goodness, which not only is up tempo, but it’s full of joy and hope. And, uh, and I wrote on a napkin one day at a restaurant. I like to write lyrics a lot of times in public places where I can see humanity, but they’re not looking at me at a restaurant writing alone. And I wrote, I just wrote the line. You’re still the goodness of my life. And it, it, um, it turned out to be this song, the goodness, I, I, I read a quote too, that that made, that pushed me further. And it said, uh, it said a Saint is not someone who is good, but someone who has experienced the goodness of God. Mm yeah. And though everything’s not perfect. And my life is very different and I’ll never be the same I have before. And after my son passed I experienced the goodness of God and I still do.
One of the questions we’ve seen people asking, I think this time is how do you keep writing. And was there ever a moment where it felt like the songs were, were drying up? Because I feel like at least I know personally when tough, tough stuff happens, expression is not always what we turn to. We can go inward and just wanna close off. Did you ever feel that?
I don’t think I did. I mean, I think because just a few days after to have passed, I wanted to express in 21 years, I wanted to express how amazing he was. So I immediately turned to pouring out lyrics and pouring out what was in my heart and pouring out, um, adoration for my son. Like, so I think it just, maybe if I wouldn’t have written that song right away as a tribute, um, maybe I would’ve been stuck a little, but I wasn’t, because I think I immediately turned to what I do write lyrics, but in a way that, that just lifts somebody up that I love dearly.Right. And in the process of, of this last couple of years, you do bring some songs that I think are so hopeful in the midst of all of this. I wanted to ask you about one, uh, called space, which of course excites people because it reunites you and your DC talk alumni. So excited to see that on, on the album. Tell us a little bit, a little bit about that. The story of that song. Yeah. That came a little later. Uh, I have this whole journey of, of these sad songs to this scripture of help is on the way to The Goodness. And it’s like this journey that I just kind of explained to you that was like the beginning of it all. And then, and then when I wrote the goodness, just some other thoughts began pouring through a little more, even though I, I will continue to say, I’ll never be the same man, a, a few more like normal kind of the way Toby writes songs started coming. And I, I thought about this thing, you know, space that gets between us in our relationships. And, and I know, you know, there’s people out there that still wonder, like, does DC talk, talk to each other? Are they, are they friends? Do they hate each other? Uh, well we text all the time, like often, uh, I don’t get to see that much cuz they’re running, I’m running, but, but we text often. We text probably three times, at least twice this week. Uh, and I think, I think people just imagine that we don’t like each other as something, but we do, but, but space has come between us family time and touring. And we climbed a mountain together out of college at a university. And now we’re climbing three different mountains. So the luxury of just being together isn’t there anymore. So this space comes between you and sometimes it’s for a good reason. And other times your life takes you to different places. So I wanted to write this song about space coming between us and I started down the, down the line and I looked up and I didn’t even know it. Honestly, I, I looked up and I go, am I writing about DC talk? like, am I writing about Michael and Kevin and our relationships and this, this distance that has just come between us and you know, and then as you know, when I looked at the first lines, you know, I’ve replayed it like a thousand times I reminded in my head, uh, you could tell me that I lost my mind. I didn’t set out for it to be autobiographical, but it ended up moving in that direction. And then I asked them if they would sing on it. And, at first they were like, does it make sense for us to do something together again, without us doing a full thing. And I’m like, it’s up to you. And I sent ’em the song. And when they both heard the song, they both got back and said, this makes perfect sense. Um, some of my favourite lines in this song are, and some of these lines are my favourite on the record, but, um, would you step across a party line? Would you meet me in my cold cell? Uh, oh. Would you step across a party line? Would you meet me in a cold cell? Um, oh, what’s the next line? Um, The line me, uh, would you walk into my cold cell? Oh, I can’t remember it. This is terrible. Um, but the last line is, um, would you, would you meet me at the well, um, and I just think, wow, that’s what we, as believers are supposed to be doing. We’re supposed to be stepping across lines and loving people. Well, we’re not supposed to be drawing lines, you know? I mean, we’re stepping across them, uh, and loving people. And then the whole outro of the song, just the most convincing line. I think one of the, one of the more convincing lines in the word of God, in my opinion is love. Keeps no record. Love keeps no record of wrong. Love keeps no record. Love keeps no record of wrong. And I just repeat that line over and over the three of us. And it’s like, no matter what comes between us, uh, there’s always room for reconciliation when, when love is present.
I’m gonna ask you a couple of questions and we’ll take some that have come through on the chat as well. First of all, you mentioned these three different mountains that each of you are climbing. Your mountain has seen you become one of the most influential, successful voices within the Christian music industry. What do you think the role is of art that is inspired by faith? What should it be doing within culture?
I think it should be turning eyes to the king. You know, when I walk in to write a song or a record or an interview, I just say, God breathes something through me that would turn eyes to you. I don’t want people leaving an arena with the name, TobyMac on their lips that will get them nowhere. I want them to leave that arena with the name Jesus on their lips. And that is my heart’s cry. And that’s why I make music. Honestly.
Who are the artists that have inspired you along your journey?
Uh, many, um, Larry Norman, um, Steven Curtis Chapman, um, bono two, I guess. Um, I think of Bob Marley in an interesting way. I know he doesn’t, I know he doesn’t believe the way we believed, but he spoke out, uh, and he was the voice of the people to a government that was hard on him. And, and he spoke of his faith and, and what his life was about. He put music right in the, in the arena with, uh, it was his voice, you know, to the people. And I just think there’s something special about that. He was talking about spiritual things and political things in the midst of a song that was melodically, uh, enticing and inviting. And I think, man, that that’s kind of our job. Isn’t it. Now ours would be for the king of Kings, the king of glory. Um, this was for his God, whatever job. Uh, but I’m just saying like, he inspired me the way he did that, the way his feet were on the ground, but his voice was loud and he used melody in a, in a Supreme way. Uh, but yeah, I’ve, you know, Michael W. Smith took three little punks, me, Mike and Kevin on tour so long ago when he didn’t need to, he didn’t have to, but he, we weren’t helping him pull people into the arena, but he just kind of liked us. So he took us out and one thing led to another. Um, and then, you know, even people like, uh, Oswald chambers is a great author. Um, you know, who always encouraged me to give up the right to myself. Hmm. Um, give up the right, that’s that when I think about my utmost spirit ties, all I hear is give up your right to yourself, give up your right to yourself, give up your right to yourself. Um, and then, you know, Michael and Kevin, who really taught me how to use my voice, I’ll never deny that. I always, I always include them in people that inspired me because, you know, I was just the, I was just the, the rapper of the DC talk band. I was the guy that was, I saw a man with the, on this big fat belly in big with brown, like mama late, like, and then, uh, Michael and Kevin and I, the way they use their voices, the way they sang different tones and different, um, I don’t different passionate in different ways, screaming or, or soft or warm and gentle. Um, I, it made me think I could use my voice to do anything I want. I’m not limited. Uh, you know, I did, I sang growing up, I sang a little in DC talk, but I’ve learned to, to use my voice. And it’s, it’s almost like I’m still in this beautiful land of discovery. I’m still discovering how to use my voice in different ways. So it’s still so exciting to make songs.