Apr 13, 2010

The Mac is Back: TobyMac Reminisces about his time at Liberty

by Amanda Sullivan

In what ways do you work to keep your music and your ministry current with changing trends?

I really try to write from my life and hopefully my life is staying current and relevant. I try to write the things I am feeling, whether I am struggling with social things or my own insecurities or my friends are going through things. I have friends who are going through a divorce — I wrote “You Get Back Up” for him. So, I figure if I write about things that are happening in my life, then they are current. As far as sounds, I’m kind of a listener. I love listening to music. I love listening to current music. I’m not a fanatic about 70s or 80s music. I like a lot of it, but I sort of listen to current pop music.

What are some of your favorite current artists?

I like … Black Eyed Peas … Maroon5. I’m big fan of people like Matt Kearny. He’s a good friend of mine and a great artist. I kind of mix it up a bit, some mainstream and some guys I know are believers. Some songs speak to your heart and some songs make you want to throw your hands up and sometimes you get both.

How did you know you were called to do what you do?

When I first did this, I didn’t know for sure. I knew that it was something that I liked doing. I knew that I liked writing songs, and I saw my songs resonating with people. But I wasn’t sure. When we packed up a U-haul, I told my dad when I left LU that I would probably be back soon to do real estate with him in D.C., but I’ve never turned back. I think God has opened up a bunch of doors. I think the most important thing to do is to ask God to light your path, and when he opens the doors be willing to step through. Most people are always trying to kick doors down and force things. I’ve never found that I need to do that. Stay open-minded and watch and wait for God to open doors. Boom! Go through doors right when he opens it. That’s what I’ve done my whole life.

What would your encouragement be for students who are looking to pursue a career in music?

First of all, be patient and practice and know that you’re good. I think one of the things people don’t realize is that you might be called to a whole different situation than I am. You might be called to stay right here at Liberty and lead worship at the student union building everyday. Or maybe you’re called to lead worship at a church locally in Lynchburg. Or maybe back where you grew up. Or maybe you’re supposed to be playing clubs in downtown Detroit. Or maybe you’re meant to tour the nation like I do and make music mostly for Christians because they believe like I do so when I’m writing from that perspective, it makes sense to them. Know where you are called. If you take the first job that comes to you and it’s not right, you’re going to get bitter. Whereas, if you know that “this is where I’m supposed to be,” then, I think, you will never have to work a day in your life because you’re passionate about what you do.

How do you feel that Liberty prepared you for your ministry?

Obviously, Michael (Tait) and Kevin (Max) played a crucial role in my life along with a lot of other friends. Most of my deeper friendships came from going to school here. Beyond that, just a foundational Bible knowledge — Old Testament Survey and New Testament Survey. I mean, I’ve drawn out of that well my whole life, not that I’m not still having an on-going Bible study and opening up God’s word. Those were things that I had to memorize and learn, and I think that knowledge has gone well with me.

At the time, this school wasn’t known for being very contemporary. People thought it was old school and stuffy, but DC Talk did come out of this school. We crafted our sound out of here. I think this school played an encouraging role to me wanting to share my music.

DC Talk used to get asked all the time to perform, whether it was a guy running for student government that wanted us to do his party or playing at half-time at a basketball game or playing in chapel. I’ve done all that stuff. I remember I went up on the South side of campus and saw the four brick dorms just outside the circle — they were new dorms at the time.

I remember at Christmas, Michael, Kevin and I would be beat boxing or rapping or singing Christmas carols and people would have to give us a dollar. We were learning to be entrepreneurs.

One of the things I did here was I had a dorm representative, and I gave each of them a box with 30 cassettes. They got to keep one, and they had to sell the other 29. I sold a ton of tapes here, and we took that money and put back into recording more music. There are so many things that I learned here about how to advance my music and ultimately advance God using my music.

What is it like to come back to Liberty and see all the changes?

I’m running the Nashville half-marathon to raise money next month, and today I happened to fall on my 13-mile run. So I had to run 13 miles, and I saw every bit of campus and Thomas Road today. It’s crazy. I almost ran up to Snowflex, but thought that was too big of a hill to run up. I think the (campus) looks great. It’s come a long way. It’s very spread out. I think it’s cool. I think that Jerry Jr. and Jonathan, I’m really impressed with how they are leading and moving this thing forward. I sent Jonathan a text today and told him that, and he said, “Hey, give it up for God.” I thought that was cool.

What is your fondest memory of Dr. Falwell?

I remember once that Jonathan had a party at the Falwell’s home, and we went over. We brought a sound system, so DC Talk actually performed in Dr. Jerry Falwell’s backyard. I just remember him coming over to us, and he would hit you pretty hard — it wasn’t like a light tap. He kind of slapped us on the head and said, “You boys are pretty good, doing your thing.” It was funny. I tell people often that when we first graduated and went on the road, people were like “You came from Liberty? Did people know what you were doing?” I said, “We played in Jerry Falwell’s backyard, man.”

What is the most stereotypical college student thing that has happened to you?

Sneaking off to Hardees was a pretty regular occurrence. They used to have this amazing sweat tea and then they used have these cinnamon raison biscuits with frosting on top. I don’t know if they still have them. They used to start serving them at midnight, and we used to sneak off-campus a lot. I remember getting in a truck or a car and sneaking back on-campus after midnight. I probably could have gotten kicked out of school all for a Hardee’s Cinnamon Raisin Biscuit. I have a lot of fond memories — playing intramural basketball. It was great time in my life. I lived in Dorm 4 for a while. A lot of my memories came from the outdoor basketball court that used to be on the circle. We used to play some nasty games. I mean it was hardcore.

In what ways is it difficult to balance family and touring?

It is difficult, but I make every effort. When you write a lyric like “I wanna be daddy who’s in the mix,” you put yourself out there for accountability. I would hate to look up 10 years from now and be that dad that was never there. That’s a nightmare for me, so I really work hard to be there. I actually changed the way I record. Most people record from 1 in the afternoon to 3 in the morning because that’s when you’re most creative, but I started recording from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. a long time ago. So I’m home at the dinner table with my wife and kids every night.

How do you prepare mentally and spiritually for a show?

A lot of different ways, sometimes we have worship. Other times, we will have a Bible study and open up God’s word and share. We’re doing a book right now, “The Man God Uses,” and other times we will just pray. My band is my family. We’re very close. There’s not a lot of wiggle room for attitudes or people pulling away. We sort of require you to step in and live this family life — sort of like a church.

Contact Amanda Sullivan at

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