On a spot during the Spring "Awake Tonight Tour" with Skillet, Jesusfreakhideout.com sat down with TobyMac to discuss his fourth and latest album release, Tonight, as well as touring, and that previous band of his...
This interview took place on: 3/18/10.
JFH (John DiBiase): How did the Awake Tonight Tour come about? It's a pretty good mix.
Yeah! I think it was after I had John [Cooper of Skillet] sing on my record. I asked him if he'd come sing on it and he was really gracious. He made time even though his record had just released (Awake). Actually, something went wrong with their bus and he had to be in Nashville for a day. It was perfect. Literally perfect! God works like that, y'know what I'm sayin'? From the time I wrote that song - and that was the last song I wrote for the record - I heard his voice on it. I mean, I could have done it - I have a version without him - but he definitely made it better. Without a doubt.
JFH (John): Yeah, the remix on the Deluxe Edition of Tonight doesn't have John on it.
TobyMac: Oh yeah, that's true. That was done before he did it. So he definitely upped the ante for me. And I heard his voice from the second I wrote that melody. I think I called him a little while after? But obviously, I had been "flirting" with him for awhile. Like, I asked him [to tour together] on Winter Wonder Slam, it didn't work. I asked him a few times and then it actually worked. I think it's an interesting lineup. Completely different styles of music but at the same time, both energetic, intense, and [we] even definitely have songs about our faith and living it out in a hard world.
JFH (John): Did you think you guys might team up on tour when you did the song "Tonight" together?
TobyMac: No, I didn't. I knew I wanted to do it for awhile, and when I did, it was great. It's been one of my more successful tours. It's been packed. A lot more sellouts than I'm used to.
JFH (John): And then you're joining up with Chris Tomlin for the "Hello Tonight" Tour after this one?
TobyMac: Yeah, that's just a short seven or eight shows.
JFH (John): How much planning and rehearsing goes into a tour [like this one]?
TobyMac: We rehearsed this tour for two weeks and put the show together. That's at my studio. So that includes the band learning the songs, cuz y'know, my band doesn't play on every song on the record. And even if they did, Brian would play drums on one, Todd would play bass on another, so we have to learn them live. And my band - I can't speak highly enough how we work all creatively together to adapt my songs for performing live. Cuz obviously, there's a lot of programming, a lot of vocals. I mean, I love the studio. That's my playground, so there's a lot of things in the studio that go on that don't adapt well live. So my band is very versatile. We figure out how to make things work live. It takes some work, and then after four or five days with my band in the studio one week, and then another couple days, we go into production rehearsals which, usually, like with this tour, was one day. We had one day to put it on stage. Maybe a day and a half. So you already know the songs at that point, the real key is to make sure they work on a big stage with the lights and sound.
JFH (John): Now you've said the song "Tonight" is kind of autobiographical in your pursuing of Christ - that's a pretty deep theme. What made you want to make that the title representation of the record?
TobyMac: Well it wasn't planned to be the title track. *laughs* I went through a lot of titles like I usually do. I didn't poll on the Internet like I've been known to do in the past! *laughs*
JFH (John): What were some of them?
TobyMac: Well, one I'd toyed with for a long time was Captured. Just cuz I think it's sort of multi-dimensional. Like being caught up in something. I always use concert settings when I think about titles, like me having these people captured tonight is our night together. We're here together, captured. And obviously it's one of the songs on the record. I like one-word titles a lot. Things that make you think a little bit. And I feel like I've always come up with something decent, y'know, from Momentum to Welcome To Diverse City, to Portable Sounds, and I was struggling man. I was really struggling with wanting something sort of monumental that really said something. And I had the chorus, "Tonight's the night for the sinners and the saints." So I thought "That's really cool, but I don't think that one chorus or phrase justifies this title." And literally, thinking about a title, I came up with the song "Tonight." Which is odd! It's sort of backwards. I thought, "Tonight would be a hot title but I need to justify it." So then I came up with, "Cuz it start's tonight! We wanna rise..." That whole melody, that whole lyric, and got John on it and that sorta sealed the deal for me. When I work on records, I'm definitely thinking of the live show. Like, when we're back stage where you are right now and we all get together and pray in a minute - we're looking forward to what's going to happen tonight, what God's going to do, how insane it's going to be on stage and off stage in the audience, how it's going to be a party and at the same time everybody will hopefully leave changed - maybe a little, maybe a lot. But even the guys on stage, we leave a little bit different. So our focus as musicians on tour is on THAT night and what will happen and we're all looking forward to that moment, that night. So "Tonight," to me, was the right title. It says something's gonna happen. We're ready!
JFH (John): Did you approach the writing and production any different than with previous records?
TobyMac: There was a group of songs I'd been sitting on - choruses and stuff. I've told you how I write before. Like, I'll write a chorus and typically write a first verse to make sure, "OK, that song's justified!" Then I'll write another chorus - this is throughout the couple years between records. And then I'll say, "OK, I got another one" and check it off. And I'll usually end up with 30 or 40. I feel like this time I had those and I got it down to about eight that I loved, and then all of a sudden three kind of came in those last minute writing sessions with my buddies that I always write with. It is a little different [this time] because Tim, my guitarist, wrote on two songs - "Hey Devil" and "Captured." And then Cary Barlowe (from Luna Halo), who I've always written with and I wrote "Made To Love" with - I wrote quite a bit with him on this record, along with some other guys of course. I think more songs were written with me and someone and an acoustic, whereas usually I'd be writing along a drum machine and a baseline. Y'know what I mean?
JFH (John): So you're going to do an acoustic EP then? *smirks*
TobyMac: *laughs* Nah. Well, they did ask me to do one of those things that iTunes does, "iTunes Originals." That's coming up.
JFH (John): When are you going to be doing that?
TobyMac: I think they want it out before festival season, which is a little tighter than I'm comfortable with.
JFH (John): And that'll be selections from different records then?
TobyMac: Six or seven tracks, I think? So I just have to figure out which ones will sound cool with a grand piano and maybe a cello, something that's kind of different.
JFH (John): Can you tell us about the video for "Showstopper?" Now is it true they're making videos for -
TobyMac: Every song.
JFH (John): Wow. Even "TruDog?"
TobyMac: I haven't thought of that one! Yeah, "Showstopper" was directed by DJ Dust of Mars Ill. He's gotten quite good at video. But I have nothing to do with those videos. It's literally a director's video.
JFH (John): So you don't have any creative say?
TobyMac: No. I can say if I like it or if I will put on something or if I don't. But I think the whole key to that is letting them sort of do my song visually the way they feel it is. The way they're feeling it as an artist, as a director. I love the "Showstopper" one. I got a little bit of complaints because kids were using squirt guns [in it], but I was like, "C'mon man. Who didn't use a squirt gun?" I think the cinematography of that video is amazing!
JFH (John): Yeah. I mean, I'll be honest - I was kind of disappointed with the video, but that was before I knew that different directors were handling each song with complete artistic freedom. But I like the cinematography, it's cool.
TobyMac: Yeah, it's shot beautifully. And y'know, it's not often that I get to do something extremely arty, and let people take my stuff to a new place. And with this sort of YouTube generation... Did you see the video that Darren from MuteMath did that's something he did with paper or something? I just love it. Anyway, it's stuff like that that just inspires me. The one for "City On Our Knees" is AMAZING. Now, my wife is like "that's just weird!" But I think it's cool. I might use it tonight to play behind me. No one's ever seen it. It's animated and it's cool. That one's done. We probably have about four done. JT Daly from Paper Route is doing a couple of them. So I'm trying to get guys that would push the left envelope a little bit more than TobyMac would.
JFH (John): Can you tell us about the song "Wonderin'?"
TobyMac: I thought everyone would immediately know what it's about.
JFH (John): Mmmmm... no. *laughs*
TobyMac: Like, you of all people...
JFH (John): Cuz it could have been about anything else! We can't just assume you're going to be writing about dc Talk!
TobyMac: Really? It talks about we're touring around, making bank on a tour bus, blah blah blah? But anyway, I think that it was a deep track on the record. Like if it was the opening track, you might have thought about it a little more. Y'know?
JFH (John): Well you know what might kind of throw it off a little bit, too, is having Matt Thiessen on it?
TobyMac: That's true. And I almost didn't have Matt Thiessen on it for that reason.
JFH (John): Really?
TobyMac: Yeah, because I thought, well, this is really my heart, so to sing it out about these two guys who I climbed a mountain with and who I adore and I really love the affect that they had on my life. The things that we learned together. We essentially became adults together. Y'know what I'm sayin'? And even going into my career, there's so much that I learned from them that I'm applying now. And I'm sure vice versa. I'm sure they've learned things that we learned together that they're applying to their solo efforts. I mean, when I listen to "City On Our Knees," I can hear... Cuz sometimes when I write songs, I can hear Michael's influence on it or Kevin's influence - even the way I sing! When I try to sing.
JFH (John): And you can hear it in certain songs - like 'this' could have been a dc Talk song.
TobyMac: Yeah! And I admire them and you always wonder... Someone wrote me a note the other day and said, "How can you say you wonder? Don't you believe you're in God's perfect will? And why would you wonder about something you didn't do? You didn't stay with dc Talk." I'm like, "Well, cuz I'm human? And sometimes I wonder!" Like, what if I didn't take a right when we took a right turn? What if I didn't decide to climb this new mountain with the Diverse City band? What would we still be doing? Did I do the right thing? I mean, those thoughts come into your mind. I really care about those guys and we did a great thing together, but yeah, I wrote the song to honor them and what we did together in a very humble way, show them some love, and thank them.
JFH (John): Did a specific story inspire "Start Somewhere?"
TobyMac: I think just having a wife? *laughs* Being in a family relationship, a husband/wife relationship. I think any of us have gone through that where you stick your foot in your mouth. Like sometimes I lie in my bed sweating - even though the bed's as cold as ice - even trying to think of how CAN I apologize for this. *laughs* Like, not even doing the apology, but strategizing how I can get to do the apology. And then my wife, she's amazing, she's taught me so much about how my own little ways that, being a bit of a wordsmith, "Baby... baby... If I offended you, I'm so sorry." She's like, "IF?! Get out of here and go form a proper apology!" *laughs* Just saying "if," I'm dead from the jump! It definitely comes out of those things in my own relationship. I mean, it's not like ONE particular story. I don't typically write about one particular thing. It's always sort of this hodge podge of feelings and this range of stories that sort of gives me this conclusion. Learn from getting beat down!
JFH (John): Favorite song on the record?
TobyMac: Tough call, man. What are the songs on the record? I mean, I really like "Tonight." I think it's new territory for me.
JFH (John): I think my favorite is "Hey Devil." It's completely different for you.
TobyMac: Yeah. And so is "Tonight!" And I think they're in the same [vibe].
JFH (John): Actually, I had a question about those two songs and if it's where you're going musically or where you're just kind of at right now...
TobyMac: I don't think it's where I'm going, but I think it captures where music is right now? I mean tempos are not really sitting... Even hip hop songs, tempos are way up on hip hop. Like, tempo used to sit around 98 beats per minute, and now they're all bustin' out at around 110 or 120. So it's like tempos have changed in hip hop. And especially in dance, like Black Eyed Peas. But I think tempos have just changed and there's a dance feel that's coming back. And y'know, we used to do it - like "Jesus Is Just Alright," stuff like that in dc Talk - but for me, putting that with guitars and gettin' a little nasty with that seemed right up my alley. So I think "Tonight" is definitely one of my favorites.
And I feel like "City On Our Knees" was a special thing for me - a special write. It has a special feel. It was just unique. I think both of those songs were a little bit of new territory for me and I get a little defensive sometimes when people are like, "Oh, another predictable TobyMac record!" I'm like, "Really?? 'City On Our Knees' is predictable?!" Nobody saw that coming! I mean, I didn't!! A matter of fact, in the writing session - I could play it for you on my phone right now on my recorder - seven times in that thirty minute write, which that song was written super quick, I was like "This is an amazing song!" - I was writing it, so I was excited - "I love this song! But - it's not a TobyMac song, but man, somebody's gonna have a big song on their hands!" Like that's what I was saying while I was writing it. I just didn't think it was me because the feel was too different. But when we put the big 808 drums to it and stuff, it started to feel more like believably me.
***For TobyMac's advice for new parents, visit our spin-off site for parents, LittleJesusFreaks.com!***
TobyMac's new album Tonight is available now!