By his own definition, TobyMac is a journeyman, a guy whose name has been synonymous in contemporary Christian music since he and DC Talk revitalized the genre in the late ‘80s with an enticing blend of hip-hop and spirituality.
Since the dissolution of that trio in 2001, TobyMac has released eight studio albums, won a pair of Grammy Awards and scored more than two dozen hits on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart. His most recent album is “The Elements,” released in October.
He’s also a co-president of Gotee Records, founded in the mid ‘90s and home to a pack of artists, including current tour mate Ryan Stevenson.
But among his many achievements, the stage is where TobyMac has always thrived, bringing fans tours stocked with varied artists and numerous hits, and all of it delivered with heart and energy.
For his latest round of the “Hits Deep” tour, which plays Infinite Energy Arena on Saturday, TobyMac has enlisted Jeremy Camp, Jordan Feliz, We Are Messengers, Ryan Stevenson and Aaron Cole to share the bill.
Calling from a tour stop in Alabama last week, the always-gregarious singer-songwriter-producer talked about choosing his tour mates, his continued success and why he wants fans to leave his shows sweaty and sore.
Q: You’ve been doing this tour for a few years (and it’s the fourth year “Hits Deep” has played alternating coasts). For people who haven’t been before, what can they expect from you and this lineup?
A: The whole idea is the double entendre with deep hits. Everyone is supposed to go play their hits. If they have one or two hits, play them. It’s supposed to be hits all night long, and hopefully, things that have hit people in a deep way, or a song that inspires them… It’s a big show. There are big LED rolls, and Jeremy has lasers. The second stage has a lighted floor. I always say, if (fans) walk away sore, sweaty, but inspired, we’re good. I’m honored to do it, honestly.
Q: You’ve had a rotating supporting cast for every leg of the tour. How do you decide who you want to spend a few months with on the road?
A: I choose people based on friendships or sometimes people I’ve never toured with and wanted to. Ryan (Stevenson) is on my record label, and these are all guys I’ve walked with and helped. I try to inspire them, and they end up inspiring me. We Are Messengers and Jordan (Feliz) I’ve never toured with, and their passion and focus are amazing. Jeremy (Camp) and I toured maybe a decade ago when I went from DC Talk to (touring as) TobyMac for the first time. It was the beginning of both of our solo careers, and then we did a tour together about 10 years ago, so we’re friends.
Q: You worked with (Atlanta’s) Lecrae a few years ago. Do you still keep in touch?
A: He’ll hit me up once in a while. He’s definitely a friend, someone I truly respect.
Q: You had the highest grossing Christian tour of 2018 with the last round of “Hits Deep,” and “The Elements” is your fifth album to top the Christian charts. To what do you attribute that kind of sustained success?
A: Sometimes I’m going along doing what I do, and once in a while I pick up my head and go, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ What a great team we have. I’ve had the same band mostly since the beginning — 17 years — most of the same crew for 15 years. We’ve become family, and we push each other and strive to become better. If not for that family, there’s no possible way I would still be doing this.
Q: What about the triumph of “The Elements”? Are you surprised when an album debuts so well?
A: You never know about first-week numbers. A lot of it depends on your past. Do people expect something great? Something that will move them based on your history and the singles to date? I’m really thankful. When you offer people not just entertainment but something that might touch their soul, that’s my hope, that it meets them where they are in life and moves them somewhere inside. I pray that it will be more than just music; I sure hope that something beyond the surface happens. If you do that and you’re effective, people are going to stay loyal to that.
Q: Who among the current crop of musicians do you like?
A: Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake. This one artist, Albin Lee Meldau, I’ve been listening to one song over and over. He’s super soulful, just really cool. I like some reggae and dancehall. Of course, I listen to worship music. I think it’s going great places – Hillsong United, Tauren Wells. I’m a little all over the place! Oh, and Mat Kearney; he’s probably my favorite artist.
Q: You usually take about three years in between albums. Is that a comfortable cycle for you?
A: Yeah, it’s about what it takes for me to come up with enough life to write 11-12 songs. I probably write 25 to 30 and whittle it down to what really resonates with me. I have to live some. This is my first real tour since “Elements” came out, so I’m excited to share these songs.
With Jeremy Camp, Jordan Feliz, We Are Messengers, Ryan Stevenson, and Aaron Cole. 7 p.m. Saturday. $22-$93.75. Infinite Energy Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 770-626-2464, infiniteenergycenter.com.
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