WHAT LOVE FEELS LIKE // TobyMac shares the challenges and deep rewards of loving-his family, his fans, his art, people in need-and his focused approach to togetherness and human connection (by Lena Ziegler)
Excerpt from the August 15, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine | There are many barometers of success for a recording artist—albums sold, awards won, headlines made… By these and all other measures, TobyMac is the consummate winner, having soared to heights few artists ever reach, cementing his position as one of the most influential figures in Christian music today. Over the course of an unstoppable 25-year career, he has become an industry veteran, an innovator whose faith and artistry have led to 11 million units sold, 6 GRAMMY Awards, numerous Dove Awards, crossover success on the Billboard Charts, and the co-founding creator of Gotee Records, where he has been discovering and inspiring up-and-coming Christian artists for more than twenty years. But behind the glitter of fame, industry respect, and chart-topping achievement is a humble man who embodies the kind of resounding success that can only come from pure faith, love of family, and an unshakable belief in the power of everyday, human connection.
With the August 7th release of his sixth studio album, ***THIS IS NOT A TEST***, TobyMac epitomizes this and, ultimately, what it means to be a collaborative artist. As seven of the album’s 13 studio tracks feature outside performers, including NF, Mr. Talkbox, and his former band-mates from dcTalk, as well as newcomers Hollyn, Capital Kings, and Ryan Stevenson, Toby recognizes the value of this approach.
“I’ve always been about bringing people together,” he says. “I think we’re more beautiful together, I think life gets richer when we’re together. That theme plays into my record, my writing process, and my recording process.”
But Toby’s focus on togetherness extends far beyond the music he himself produces and well into the Christian music industry as a whole. “I love, love to introduce the people that listen to my music to new faces, new voices, new names—people that I really respect in what they’re doing and what they offer to our industry. I want to promote those things because I care about our industry and I care about believers making great music.”
As with many of his canny career moves, he is reluctant to take credit for the collaborative nature of his latest project, and instead credits God for leading him in the right direction.
“A long, but fairly interesting story—well, hopefully interesting to you,” he adds with a laugh. “I was praying about what percentage of my professional time goes where. And it’s been on my heart lately to put a little more effort and time into walking closely with artists and developing artists, and sort of shepherding artists—younger artists—and caring about our industry at large. And when I say our industry, I just mean artists that are Christians. I kind of felt like, man, I need to give a greater amount of time to that. It was just in the last couple of months. And strangely enough, I didn’t realize what I was doing, honestly—I was just working away at my record over the last year and a half — and when I got the first track listing of all the songs when we finally put them all together—and they [had all been] just a bunch of loose ends—and I looked at it and I saw the guests…I just looked at that list and it was kind of like this backdoor answer to a prayer—like God snuck it in on me. [laughs] I was like ‘Oh I see, You already answered this, You already had me doing that.’ And I thought it was just so interesting that I was praying about giving more of my time there, and I already was giving more of my time there. I didn’t realize it wasn’t a bunch of A-list artists—it was a bunch of young, up-and-coming artists that I collaborated with. It wasn’t intentional on my behalf; it was just God doing what He does.
But when it comes to fostering new talent, Toby’s efforts are nothing short of intentional. With a gift for finding and developing the kind of distinctive artistry necessary to stand out and make a real impression in the music industry (a gift he humbly dismisses as simply a matter of ‘batting averages,’ or rather a forgiving percentage of hits versus misses), his focus on growing the pool of impactful artists in Christian music through Gotee Records stems from his unique view of the true purpose of art and music.
“When I’m looking for artists, I’m looking for artists that are making art to serve people. That’s what moves me about art. Ultimately, I look at it as loving people when you make great art. I’m looking for artists and art that serve people well and love humanity.”
Toby adds that he holds himself to the same high standards, never viewing his work as an act of self-indulgent personal expression, but much more than that. ”I look at my art as serving people. Causing people to think. Causing people to smile. Causing people to laugh. Causing people to dance. Causing people to have conversations. That’s how I view art. A service to the people. I know it might not be the coolest thing to say in the art world, because I know it’s supposed to be all about what you’re feeling, but I look at it as loving people well when you make great art.”
When discussing the songs and lyrics featured on ***THIS IS NOT A TEST***, it is clear that TobyMac infuses his whole self, his passion, pain, and innate humanity into the art he creates, serving not only the people who consume it, but his own need for creative catharsis.
After the difficulty of losing his father in early 2015, he took time to reflect and draw inspiration from the kind of man his father was. “My dad’s life and his death deeply affected me. The way he lived, his commitment to God’s Word…his love for the Word and God, the Body and church. He really didn’t go anywhere without his Bible.” He continues that his father served as partial inspiration for the raw and emotional track, “Love Feels Like,” recorded with Kevin Max and Michael Tait of dcTalk.
The song chronicles the challenges, rewards, and exhausting nature of love when you truly give your all in direct service to others. Toby, himself, has long been dedicated to service, including through his Franklin, Tennessee-based projects Camp Electric, a Christian music camp, and Run for Hope, a fundraising organization for New Hope Academy, a Gospel-centered school seeking to educate children from all racial, social, and economic backgrounds.
“It’s easy to give to organizations, easy to represent organizations,” he says. “But to serve through them and be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone you love — that’s a depth and dimension I’ve never really experienced other than with my own children. Changing their diapers, walking with them in a deep way, loving on them, and being completely hands on…you relish that. But serving and loving when it’s hard and it taxes your body and your mind is a level I never experienced until the last few years,” he says.
As a father of five, Toby says the lyrics of “Love Feels Like” serve the dual purpose of commemorating his own father and describing the incomparable fulfillment and calling of fatherhood itself. “I wrote this song a lot about my dad and my son Moses. A lot of it was thoughts of him swelling in my mind. How much I love him and want to serve him, and always be the dad that he needs me to be.”
With reverberating honesty, the lyrics of “Love Feels Like” surge with earnestness pressing on the reality that love can be both draining and deeply fulfilling all at once. Harder than I thought/Takin’ every part of me/Harder than I thought/So much harder than I thought it’d be/But emptiness never felt so full/This is what love feels like/Poured out/used up/still giving/stretching me out to the end of my limits/this is what love feels like. Despite the wearying depiction of love Toby describes in “Love Feels Like,” the song ultimately embraces the fight. And now these three remain/Faith, hope and love/ But the greatest of these is love/It’s worth everything you put in.
“It’s strange,” Toby continues, “that you can feel so drained when you’re loving on that level, yet so full because you know you’ve given everything on behalf of someone else.”
There is an element of raw, unbridled sincerity when Toby discusses his family—the sort of presumed comfort in exposing the intimacy of his home you might not expect from a man of his celebrity… JUMP TO FULL ARTICLE from the August 15, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine
Excerpt from the April 15, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine | Lauren Daigle grew up imitating some of the greatest voices the music industry has ever heard. With her new album, she’s making her case to be included among them.
Daigle makes her full-length debut this month with the inspirational How Can It Be after releasing an EP that showed hints of her tremendous vocal power, a talent that’s earned numerous comparisons to Adele. If that sounds like a stretch, take one listen to songs like “I Am Yours” or the title track to hear the similarity between the two performers.
Daigle grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, singing along to the memorable choruses and unrivaled voices of Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. Her mom called her house “The Music Box” because Lauren was always singing.
“I would walk around at 5 years old singing Whitney and Celine,” says Daigle. “[My parents] would always know I was awake — not from seeing me but hearing me in the mornings.”
Daigle credits her parents for two particular facets of her musical make-up that made a strong impression at an early age. One being a game her father developed simply by guessing songs and artists that would play on the radio, resulting in a strong musical vocabulary for young Daigle.
“My dad used to play this game with us called ‘The Dollar Game,’” she says. “When we were in the car, he’d turn the dial to a classic rock station—he loved Led Zeppelin—and would say things like, ‘If you can guess who sings this song, I’ll give you a dollar. If it’s really hard, I’ll give you five dollars.’ It taught us as at a very young age to listen for different sounds, tones and styles of music, which proved valuable in a lot of ways.”
When it comes to her earliest musical memories, Daigle remembers another particular moment where her mother helped instill in her the value of documenting a particular moment and metaphor.
“This story involves a planter, one that we used for a tree, that was placed at the front of our house. One particular day when it rained, it filled up with mud and looked just like chocolate milk,” she recollects. “After telling my mom about it, she suggested that we make a book about ‘my day with the chocolate-milk-rain.’
“So I remember putting together this book complete with pictures I painted. My mom stapled it all together, which then gave me a tangible memory of my day. I think that creativity eventually trickled into my songwriting. It was taking a moment to look at a story or a picture that God had shown me and then incorporating that into a song.”
With such a strong musical background, Daigle eventually developed hopes for a professional career, which resulted in auditioning for American Idol three times. She experienced relative success, making it all the way to the cut line below the twenty-four finalists. After she recorded vocals for a worship demo track back at home, Centricity Records invited Daigle on an artists’ retreat; and the rest is history… JUMP TO FULL ARTICLE from the April 15, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine
IN EVERY SEASON // Would You Believe That Lauren Daigle’s Journey Toward 2015 GMA Dove Awards New Artist Of The Year Began As A Prayer For Pop Success? (by Lena Ziegler)
Excerpt from the November 1, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine | Along with powerhouse vocals and unforgettable songwriting, it is Daigle’s unwavering faith that moves so poignantly through her music and into the hearts of her fans that has made her a sensation. But even with that, Daigle says she struggles at times to fight the anxiety that comes with recording, performing, and trusting in God first before all things.
“That’s exactly why ‘First’ was written. There was that pressure, like,‘Hey, with these next four songs you write, can you please give us another hit? Thanks,’” she says, divulging the fears and doubts that plagued her when writing the songs that would transform the How Can It Be EP into a full-length album. “I woke up super-anxious one day, and the Lord showed me this passage; Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:28). So I knew, right there in that moment, God was doing something incredible. I just needed to sit, and rest in His presence.
“The next day, I walked into a scheduled co-write, and the girl looked at me and said, ‘They’ve come up with a song title, but they want to know what God was putting on your heart.’ So I gave her that passage, and she said, ‘Well, that’s amazing, because the title we just came up with is called First. I knew, right then, that God was about to do something massive in this song.”
“First,” currently #1 on Billboard Christian Radio charts is massive in its sound, its scope, and its reach to fans, reminding them to have trust in God always, and to always put Him first.
“He’s just going to do more, He’s just going to do greater things, and remind us not to get anxious and fearful of the pressures, but to stay focused on His Kingdom. I have to battle that one, and still he’ll say, ‘Don’t worry about those kinds of things, just focus on being a clean vessel for Me to pour through.’”
And it is God pouring through Daigle’s voice and the words she sings, that she says forms the spiritual connection between herself and her fans, who through social media and meet-and-greets after her concerts, never forget to remind her of how deeply her music has affected them.
“Night after night, sometimes with tears streaming down their faces, people say, ‘I can’t tell you what God has done through your music’—it’s the total pay off,” she says.
“Because then, it’s less about me and all about the power of God, as He works through the song. He’s the one that’s going in and transforming people’s lives, and the fact that He would choose my songs completely blows me away.
“Just the other day a woman told me that she had been dating a married man for thirteen years, and then she heard “How Can It Be,” and instantly knew she had to end the relationship. She said, ‘I knew in that moment God had the capacity to continue to love me through this. Through my sin, through my shame, and to fix all the pieces afterwards, as well.’ That, right there, is what it’s all about!”
And when it comes down to it, that’s what Daigle is now all about—sharing her faith through music, reaching people, and serving God as a medium for His message. Through an initial struggle to find her way, Daigle has found more than her musical path, but also a profound sense of peace and love, coupled with a worldview that could only be credited to her ever-evolving relationship with God.
“He’s really crafted my eyes to see beyond what I would normally see,” she says. “Like the capacity we have to love—it’s just unbelievable. The ability to love beyond human, beyond flesh, and do crazy things, like loving the people that hurt you. That’s the exact opposite way in which the world functions, but through Christ, we gain those abilities.”
And in the case of Lauren Daigle, He’s given her even more… JUMP TO FULL ARTICLE from the November 1, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine
THE ART OF FOLLOWING // After a watershed spiritual experience, Jeremy Camp, an industry mainstay at the top of his game, considered calling it quits. But one night in Kyrgyzstan provided the much needed jolt of energy and refreshment in Jeremy’s calling. (by Andrew Greer)
Excerpt from the February 1, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine |
A PHONE CALL, A PETITION
It was a couple of years ago when Jeremy, out of a record deal and running low on creative stamina, received a phone call from a missionary friend inviting he and his band to perform a concert in Kyrgyzstan. “KEER-GASTAN” is a predominantly Muslim nation in Central Asia known for volatile civil strife and strict religious censorship. Speaking Louder Ministries, Jeremy’s non-profit organization providing crusade-style events, is designed to “declare the hope of Jesus throughout the world with music, testimony and service.”
As a gospel-centric artist known for penning faith-empowering songs like “Walk by Faith” and “Reckless,” and considering Speaking Louder’s mission, Jeremy began making efforts to pull off the endeavor. “My friend in Kyrgyzstan expressed that people were fearful,” Jeremy remembers, citing the intensity of his friend’s request. “Churches were going underground. People were being persecuted and killed for their faith. Tension was building and he said they needed something desperately.”
“So here I am proclaiming this song ‘Reckless’ [the title track from his 2012 record], and now a friend is suggesting I be part of something potentially ‘dangerous,’” Jeremy explains the responsibility he felt to translate his written words into action.
As Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Religion and the KGB scoured Jeremy’s online platforms for possible offenses to hosting a local concert — the highly applauded artist’s list of accolades coupled with his “cool, American vibe” ultimately sold them on hosting the show. Of course, it would only be allowable under the strict guidelines that Jeremy would simply play music and not share his beliefs.
But as plans progressed and warnings increased, the husband and father of three (Jeremy is married to Adrienne, former front-woman for Christian rock band The Benjamin Gate) began assessing the realities of sharing the gospel in a country intolerant of — and even violent towards — the Christian message. And Camp, the family man, pushed pause.
“There were too many red flags. It had to be the Lord calling me to do this. I’m not going to flippantly go somewhere that could wind up being crazy,” he says, feeling the cost of this decision to his family with something that could possibly go awry. “We ended up telling them we didn’t think it was going to be the right timing.”
Upon hearing the news, his friend abroad replied with one last appeal. “He said, ‘This is probably going to be the last year you would be able to come to Kyrgyzstan. It’s getting more and more unsafe. The persecutions are starting to rise. The people are fearful. We need help.’”
Rather than a manipulative guilt trip, Jeremy admits his friend’s persistence was an honest plea for spiritual aid. A petition Jeremy and his cohorts were willing to reconsider. So they prayed hard.
“The next Sunday, we were praying at church and God gave us verses and songs that simply said, ‘Go.’ We fell on our faces, crying out to God to prepare the land and the venue in Kyrgyzstan, praying, ‘God I know you are preparing the way. We just want to be a part of it.’”
In the face of the nation’s tense reality, Jeremy and his musical entourage packed their instruments and carried the gospel to Kyrgyzstan.
ONE NIGHT IN KYRGYZSTAN
Once on foreign soil, Camp hit the ground running and fulfilled a full day of press requests and media interviews. But as a mostly Muslim nation with profound religious restrictions, Jeremy was forewarned to choose his words wisely in order to ensure the concert’s confirmation as well as their safety while inside the country. “I would share the details of my testimony in generalities, but then say things like, ‘God brings hope— and I want to share that hope with this generation.’ But I had to be careful when talking about Jesus,” he explains.
As he continued to carefully share his heart’s hope, the spiritually sensitive musician began feeling a heaviness, “an unexplainable tension,” as he describes, in the room. “People began asking, ‘What is the real reason you are here?’ All of the sudden, I’m feeling oppression and fear, a warfare, like I’ve never felt before in my life.”
“I remember the night before the main event very well. As we were preparing to go on stage for a youth event I overheard our host, in a worry-some tone, say to the local pastor ‘We’ll have to deal with that when we get to it’”—not something that Camp or his team wanted to hear in those moments!
“When I asked what was going on, he said ‘Because of the interviews, the government has realized that this event may be more in-your-face than they were expecting. In turn, the media is expressing to the people of Kyrgyzstan that tomorrow’s concert is provocative in nature, and that it’s going to agitate our people. They’re telling everyone not to come.’”
The weight of the situation was coming into focus. With Jeremy’s likeness appearing on every billboard and open space across the nation’s largest city centers, any even unintentional over communication could bear consequences. “If I said the wrong thing from the stage, they would send the local church’s pastor to prison for a year,” Jeremy soberly relates. “Reality was hitting us.”
“After the youth event concluded I asked ‘Should I be watching my back?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ So at that point my bodyguard began to follow me everywhere. I then eventually fell on my knees and cried out, ‘God, I can’t do this. It’s too much pressure!’ It was in that moment God responded, ‘Perfect. Now you can do it. You are letting go of what you can accomplish, because you can’t accomplish anything without me.’ That blew my mind.”
Amid the bomb threats and warnings of sniper attacks, the main event remained on-schedule. Due to the negative press and local grumblings, Camp’s ministry team began preparing themselves for a meager attendance. However, by the time Jeremy took the stage that night over 8,000 people flooded the stadium. “At the time I finally walked onto the stage, the peace of God began to guard my heart. I had no fear. I shared about Jesus. Altar calls are against the law in Kyrgyzstan, but I took full advantage of the liberty to talk about my faith — people all around the stadium came forward for prayer.”
As a result of Jeremy’s surrender, his crew, and the team’s concerted exercise of faith in the face of fear, thousands were able to hear about Jesus — some even for the very first time.
Jeremy recalls one tangible sign of God’s protection from that evening that was literally marked across the sky. “As we were praying before the concert, clouds were darkening all around the city. Above the stadium, however, the sky was completely clear and blue and there was — no joke — one particular cloud in the shape of a dove! I honestly tried to not over-spiritualize it, but in that moment and after all that happened leading up to it, you just have to let go and say, ‘Alright, Holy Spirit. You do your work!’”
Not long after Jeremy and his Speaking Louder team left Kyrgyzstan for home, his missionary friends were kicked out of the country as a direct result of the concert’s impact. Thankfully, they were also able to report that the Kyrgyzstan Christian Church has been emboldened like never before.
Simply stated, Jeremy says, “This experience has changed my everything…” JUMP TO FULL ARTICLE from the February 1, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine
Excerpt from the July 15, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine | January 11th, 2015. The Ryman Auditorium was packed to the rafters and rightfully so. The Sam’s Place concert series — a Sunday night showcase for “music of the spirit” hosted by CCM mainstay Steven Curtis Chapman—had re-launched in the fall of 2014 to great excitement, especially among Christian music fans. And this particular show, the first of the New Year, held great promise.
On the bill, in addition to Chapman, were country music artists Craig Morgan and Deana Carter, Christian pop icon Michael W. Smith, CCM rockers Third Day and another guy only a smattering of people at the ‘Mother Church of Country Music’ knew anything about. A slight, shaggy-haired man in a pirate-pride coat and a feather-pricked fedora took the stage, with a guitar and a lone keyboard sideman. He’d stood on the Ryman stage many times, but this was totally different.
He knew he was standing in a room full of the faithful, but he wasn’t standing before his own.
Flashback to April 2007, when Mike Farris debuted his critically acclaimed Salvation In Lights before music business insiders and music buyers at Gospel Music Week. There, at B.B. King’s Blues Bar in Nashville, people who thought they’d heard and seen it all stood with mouths agape, eyes like saucers, aghast at how that sound, that soul, could come from such an unlikely source. Artists, set to perform after the “new kid” Farris, stood off stage, in the wings, shaking their heads in disbelief. “You want me to go on after that?”
That Mike Farris had recorded a gospel album was a wonder. The fact that he was alive to record anything was a miracle.
Dependent on drugs and alcohol since the age of fifteen, Farris’ addictions had long held him hostage. At age nineteen, answering a newspaper ad for a soul singer, he became the front man for Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, signed a deal with Atlantic Records, recorded three albums and toured around the world. Primed for A-list success, the southern rock outfit gained a rabid, faithful following, but Farris’ demons denied him the focus success required. His gift was undeniably rare and new opportunities continued to knock — including a stint in Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Double Trouble—but a fog wrapped him like a gauzy winter coat, taking a seemingly irreversible toll. Homeless, living in his car in Knoxville, TN, his reality had all the trimmings of a made-for-television movie.
But God had a better plan for his broken boy.
In 2005, Farris got his first taste of sobriety. He stood at the grave site of his nephew, as his own estranged father drove away, and he knew it was past time to get his life in order. Not the best approach by any means… JUMP TO FULL ARTICLE from the July 15, 2015 edition of CCM Magazine