TobyMac, one of the long-running stars of Christian pop, is coming to Consol Energy Center on Saturday and he's bringing a posse.
The former DC Talk member will be joined by Brandon Heath, Mandisa, Chris August, Britt Nicole, Jamie Grace and hip-hop group Group 1 Crew. Don't worry, you don't need to pack a midnight snack (they wouldn't let you bring it in anyway). The artists will go on and off like it's a Motown Revue or a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars, with TobyMac's band doing all the heavy lifting.
He was on the phone last week after opening night in Memphis, Tenn., for the Hits Deep Tour and said that despite a little concern going in about how smooth it would be, "I think all the artists are just kind of smiling today" about how it went.
TobyMac comes to the party having scored the No. 1 album on Billboard in August (on a slow release week) when his new album debuted. "Eye On It" puts the Christian singer/rapper and his faith-based focus in the center of a contemporary-sounding record that even incorporates pop, rock, funk, hip-hop and electropop.
How did you arrive at this format for the Hits Deep tour?
We were talking about what people wanted in a show, and they want unique appearances, unique couplings, unique guest artist cameos and beyond that we started talking about old-school touring like the Motown Revue. I remember when I was a kid watching that movie "La Bamba" where [Ritchie Valens] and Big Bopper, they would all share a band, and they would just go out and play their two or three hit songs, and the next artist would come out. So, I talked to my band, we kind of conceived the idea together, and talked about them playing for everyone and making the night flow, artist after artist playing their radio hits. So we came up with the name Hits Deep, hoping that the show is deep in hits, but they're all hits that hit you in a deep way, sort of intersecting with your life or maybe causing you to think differently or love differently.
You have a new album out, and I'm sure you're working that into the show ...
It just so happens that, in a cool way, a bunch of these artists are featured on my record, on the "Eye on It" CD. So there are just a lot of natural couplings. I'm doing my hits off the other CD and six songs off of this CD.
It seems like this one delves a little more into electropop. How did you come to incorporate that?
I just kind of move with music. I don't chase what's happening. Everything's going to sound like me, but I'm affected by what's going on around me. I'm a pop artist, but I'm a pop artist that strangely meets singer-songwriter. I write all my lyrics and I want the lyrics to feel like me, something I would say. My lyric perspective is maybe different than the next guy. The music is important to me, but not nearly as important as what I'm saying. It's sort of the difference maker for me, the perspective of where I'm writing from: the good, the bad, the ugly in my life, my pursuit of faith in God or my failure to be there for a friend or the times I'm there for somebody. I'm writing about all those things.
A song like "Me Without You" could work on different levels. It could be about God, or about a girl, or however people want to take it.
For me, I know what I was writing about, but it could be on a couple different levels. I was definitely writing from a faith-in-God perspective and imagining my life without his love. But at the same time, I could put those shoes on and think of it as about a relationship, and I don't mind somebody putting it on that way. Music is going to stick to people in different ways and I always wanted my music to be not placed in a box, like this Christian music box. I've always wanted it to be for everyone. I've always written it for everyone.
Do you think people outside the Christian genre get to hear it much?
It's kicking off "NFL Thursday Night Football" every week, it's getting in major motion pictures and getting played on ads. They just used my song on a "90210" episode, so it's getting out there. Maybe not like the Top 40 charts, but it's getting out there in unique ways, and I love it. I love hearing my music right in the middle of someplace where you don't think it would be. I love getting in places where people assume Christian music shouldn't be, or Christian perspective shouldn't be. It's been my goal, from DC Talk to today.
What percentage of your audience still thinks of you as the guy in DC Talk? Are there a lot of newcomers in the fold that don't associate it much?
Tough question. I would say that when I do a DC Talk song in concert there is definitely a reaction. But it's starting to be not the biggest reaction by any means. There's a lot of people I'll see tweeting, "What? He was in DC Talk?" I feel really grateful that I can sort of begin climbing a new mountain after nine, 10 years, and it's been amazing to climb a new mountain with my band, Diverse City, that I've had for 10 years and have the music connect with people's lives.
Were you surprised to debut at No. 1, and what does that say about your genre?
I was surprised, completely. You work really hard on a record but you don't know how people are going to receive it. I think it says a lot about the people that have chosen to follow what I do, and hopefully that's because the music is moving them in some way. The thing that makes me happy about selling a lot of records is not selling a lot of records. The thing that makes me happy about it is I know a couple hundred thousand people in the first 10 weeks or so have that CD in their homes and I know there's good stuff for them in that CD. It's positive, it's something that will cause them to love people better, will cause them to love God more passionately. I'm not naive. I don't think my music is going to change the world, but I do think God can, and one of his choices is music.
Do you listen to a variety of music, some of which might not have the best message for people?
I listen to everything. I try to take in everything. I try not to let extremely negative stuff play in my head. I might check it out quickly, move on. I want something that makes me think about the good things, cause me to love my kids, my wife, better. That's what I like, but sometimes there's a song that is amazing and just grabs your attention, as long as it's not vulgar or creating negativity. Some artists that I really love I'll go buy the clean version so I don't have to hear the cursing the entire time -- just 'cause I don't want it in my head. There's some amazingly talented people out there. I mean, Kanye West, what a talent. But I'll go find the clean version if I like one of his songs, and some I won't listen to because I don't like the mindset it puts me in, but I respect him. He just pushes every time to do something outside of the box.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.