Whether he’s dipping back into his rhyme-spitting days with DC Talk or grooving on more recent pulsing pop numbers, TobyMac always has something to say.
It’s this devotion to sharing something meaningful — through whatever style is necessary — that has made him one of the most relevant and beloved artists in contemporary Christian music.
“At this point I feel like I owe people depth, I owe people wisdom,” the musician said in an interview from his home in Nashville last week.
When TobyMac headlines the first night of Winterfest at his alma mater Liberty University this Sunday, he’ll bring something of a different tone — one he has already introduced avid listeners to on his newest record, “The Elements.”
“Songs that make people smile are more important than we want to value them, and I’ve done a lot of those in my past … but I feel like at this point, at this moment, it's a little more serious,” he said. “It's a little more about life and what's coming at us, what's coming at me in different directions than it ever has before.”
While the Christian music superstar said the new record might be “a little less fun” than his others, both fans and critics alike have praised its honesty.
“‘The Elements’ is a true work of musical art. It is raw, authentic and powerful,” Markos Papadatos wrote in the Digital Journal’s review of the album. “… TobyMac proves that he only gets better with age and wisdom. TobyMac is not afraid to be vulnerable, and in the end, his vulnerability is the listener's reward.”
Before he returns to LU, TobyMac talked about making each song stand out and the journey he wants fans to take when they listen to “The Elements.”
On the musical risks he takes:
“I want to not be boxed in, to say the kinds of things I want to say lyrically with a certain style. There are songs where I want to scream it, so I do music that supports that. There are songs where I want to chant kind of smooth, so I do music that supports that. It’s all kind of based on what I’m saying, what emotion I’m trying to relate to the people based on the lyric.”
On how he approaches his music after 30 years:
“I think the art of crafting songs is sort of not what's going on right now. It’s all about spontaneity of songwriting and improvisation. It’s like about quick writes. Most people write a song in a day in this town, and I’ve always been a song crafter. Sure, sometimes the inspiration is there and I can write a song — I wrote ‘City On Our Knees’ in 20 minutes — but most times I’m crafting it out, crafting it out, crafting it out. Building it and getting the most out of every line of every song.”
On the elements he’s currently facing:
“Something is pushing against what I set out to be, and to me, that’s what the elements are. I can’t name them every day. Maybe it’s a person that says something to me a certain way. Maybe it’s something I saw on social media or something I heard on the radio or television. Or maybe it’s just me wrestling with myself and my own desires. All those things are elements, can be those elements working against who we want to be. I think that the push for me on this record is not letting go of who we feel we were called to be or who we would like to be.”
On collaborations in his records and why “The Elements” has only one:
“Technically, it’s because they asked me to put the record out 50 days before I was ready to put the record out. And I almost always finish my songs and then invite people, and I literally replace my vocals a lot of times. Not always. Sometimes I write it with another artist, but a lot of times, I just replace myself because I want them to feel what I was feeling and then do their thing to it.
“This time, I didn’t have that last 60 days or 50 days to make that happen, but I was so glad [Christian hip-hop artist] Aaron [Cole, who TobyMac signed to his record label Gotee last year] came over and wrote that song [‘Starts With Me’] with me. In a way, I’m glad that he’s the only guest this time because I wanted some reason for people to shed light on that song. I wanted that song to be highlighted and it is because of Aaron being a guest.”
On the journey he hopes fans take with “The Elements:”
“I hope they realize that life is complex, and the friends that you have in life are very important. Even more important than that is your faith. Even being a person of faith, the very things you set your heart on being, sometimes you do the opposite. So, it’s not an easy journey. It's a tough journey. So gear up, get ready to face the elements. But don't stop gearing up every morning.”