A contemporary Christian recording artist who likes mixing things up a bit is headed to Oklahoma City as part a popular concert tour that features a variety of music styles and musicians.
Toby McKeehan, better known as TobyMac, is the headliner for the 2013 Winter Jam concert set for Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The concert also features Red, Matthew West, NewSong, Royal Tailor, Sidewalk Prophets and Jamie Grace. A Youth Music Vault Pre-Jam Party will feature Jason Castro, the Capital Kings and OBB (Oswald Brothers Band).
Winter Jam brings TobyMac to town fresh from the Grammy Awards, where the singer-songwriter won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for his recent compilation “Eye on It.” The recording artist, known just as much for his days with the group DC Talk as he is as a solo artist, brings his own blend of hip-hop, soul and rock to songs inspired by his faith.
In a telephone interview from his home in Franklin, Tenn., TobyMac talked about Winter Jam, his Grammy-winning CD and his philosophy about faith-inspired songs jetting their way to the top of mainstream music charts.
Q: You are the headliner for Winter Jam. What can fans expect from you during the show?
A: My band Diverse City and I go out and try to put it on 'em. I think we want to be very entertaining and at the same time leave people in the audience with some food for thought, some things to stir their soul up a little bit. But we want to communicate, and we want them to have a good time. I always say we want people to leave sweaty, hoarse but refreshed.
Q: So, will you be singing some new songs as well as some songs from back in the day?
A: No DC Talk songs, but I do songs from each of my CDs. I've put out four now.
Q: Why did you decide to be part of Winter Jam once again?
A: I think the atmosphere is right for my music. It's festive — like a big party. There's a line wrapped around the building. It sells out, I can almost say every night. There are usually people that don't get in, it's so full. So it's like this atmosphere of energy, and that works real well with my music. I love the fact that we play the biggest arena in town. So that's something. Also, as artists — there are 10 acts on the tour — we get to hang out together. There's something about speaking into each other's lives — laughing together, praying together, worshipping together backstage — that even fuels the stage. And I think there's something really cool about that fellowship.
Q: Let's talk about your most recent album “Eye on It,” which was released in August 2012. What was the inspiration for this collection of songs?
A: This collection of songs is really about my life, my experiences, the things I'm going through with my friends, things I'm going through with my family. Whether it's the things I'm going through with my faith walk, whether it's good, bad or ugly — I want to write about it. Strangely enough, the more personal I write, the more it resonates with people that listen. Stylistically, it's what I call a big ol' pot of musical gumbo. I call it hip-rock-funk-soul — hip-hop, rock, funk, soul all mixed together. It's about life.
Q: One thing I've noticed about you is that you are never going to be pigeonholed. What are your thoughts about that?
A: Yeah, either people love that or they hate it. The musical purists, someone that's looking for a body of work that is cohesive, they may not be feelin' it, but I look at it as there's a time to throw your hands up and dance and there's a time to think about a friend you should have been there for who is going through something and you regret that you weren't there for them and that makes you cry. I think all those things are in life. I like to wrap all of that in my record.
Q: How have people responded to this album? I know it recently won a Grammy Award.
A: Yeah, and the week it came out it was No 1 on iTunes and the Billboard charts. People were buying the record. To me, that's a great response. It means that you've said something in your music that they want more of. I'm just super honored by that and thankful. It doesn't make me put my head in the air; it makes me grateful. I don't look at music as self-indulgent, the songs I write. I'm always hoping that they meet people where they are.
Q: Can you talk about the title cut “Eye on It”? The album is popular, but so is the song.
A: It's sort of an electronic rock dance thing. It's one of those songs that I try to create a little bit of chaos musically — scream on it, rap on it, sing on it. I try to create a little bit of chaos in a good way. The lyrics are about focusing on what matters to you. So many times this world can take us and we look up and we're focusing on something we were never intended to focus on. This song is about remaining focused on what matters to you.
Q: I read that you believe more and more faith-inspired songs are going to be embraced by mainstream audiences. Why do you make this prediction?
A: I think people are less and less scared of mixing their faith with their music. I think it's part of our lives. I think that hip-hop has never been scared of anything. Kanye West has always talked about his spirituality and even Bob Marley always used to talk about his spirituality in his music. I think the rest of the world is kind of waking up to this, you know, that these are the deeper things that are driving the outside things. And iTunes, so many times, I will look at the main iTunes charts, and my friends will be at the top. I mean the rock group Red, who we are touring with, last week they were at the top of the iTunes chart. Not the gospel or Christian charts, the main chart. I just think that the walls between what is considered faith music or gospel music are coming down. People are just saying “that's music.”
Q: You obviously see that as a good thing?
A: I do. I think allow people to make their choice. If you put a heavy label on it, it might fall on deaf ears. I want my music to fall on open ears, to allow people to make their choice: I want this music because it does something on my inside, or I want this music because it rocks hard — whatever it is.