by Tracy Darlington
"I've always been a believer in diversity, and I try to live my life that way." --Tobymac
BIO: TobyMac is more than just your run-of-the-mill triple threat. On one hand he ranks among the most successful artists in Christian music history in terms of radio success, sales power and critical acclaim. On the other he is universally recognized as a creative force, an artistic maverick and a prophetic voice for racial reconciliation, social justice and a fierce devotion to faith and family. On the third hand, he’s the most humble and approachable merchant of cool on the scene today. Yeah; that’s three hands. Some things defy common logic.
Tracy: Why is it important for you to have diversity at Gotee records?
Toby: I’ve always been a believer in diversity, and I try to live my life that way. My family is diverse, the school my kids go to is diverse, my church is diverse, my band is diverse, my label is diverse. Christian music is a beautiful thing, but if you study the roots of it, it came from the Jesus Movement in the 70's and grew from there. It pretty much is predominantly white music, but I think if we’re really going to shine like a city on a hill we have to embrace people from denominations that may not be yours, people from races that might not be yours, people who maybe don’t have as much income as you.
I think it’s important because the Body is made up of many parts. We’re not really shining, we’re not really flexing all that we are until we come together and work as a body. That’s why I’ve always been into it. Plus, I had a privileged upbringing in that my upbringing was diverse. I was telling the guys on the bus today about my elementary school and my 5th grade teacher. She was a hard core African American woman, my favorite teacher in elementary school, but she drove a hard bargain every day in class. I had people who I looked up to who were African American, and people I looked up to who were Latino. Some rich, some poor. You go some places and people don’t have that privilege. So I want to share with them how amazing a diverse world is.
What plans do you have to take Jesus global?
We were recently in London. I know we’re looking at offers from South African, Australia and New Zealand. The truth is there are a lot of bands that go overseas more than I do. I’m hoping by growing the label that there will be more bands that feel called overseas. I believe it’s important. I don’t know that it’s necessarily my calling, for a lot of reasons. You have to do the best with the field that God’s calling you to harvest. I’ve sown a lot into the states, and I think now that I’m a married man with children, it’s definitely difficult for me to go overseas. But to support people who do, absolutely. I think all of us are charged with that, whether you’re supporting missionaries at your church, giving money to organizations that are reaching out to Africa and other places that are struggling, or whether it’s signing acts that are going forward to share music about God’s love. All of that’s important.
I get over there every couple years, different places. But I don’t have anything up my sleeve. I’ve always been one of those guys who just kind of sits back and waits to see what door God’s opening. My goal for my life is not to tell Him which door to open, but to say ‘Alright God, whichever door You open, if opportunity knocks, I want to be that willing vessel. I want to be there for You and to walk through it, charge through it, run through it, with the people You’ve put in my life.” I wait on God. There’s never a big plan with Toby. Never has been, from DC Talk to today, it’s never been like “I got my plan, God. Here’s the vision.” It’s not really that. I know some people who have referred to me as a visionary. No, man, you don’t understand, it’s not. I’m a person who sits back and waits for God to open the door. When I see which door opens, I’m willing to go.
What’s your favorite part of working with your record label?
My favorite part is what I’m fortunate enough to do, and that is find the acts. From Family Force 5 to Reliant K, Jenn Knapp and Grits - these are bands I’ve had the privilege of signing. Hearing their music, hearing their sound, seeing them live, and bringing them in to a label that is fully capable of doing all the rest. I’m not fully capable of doing all the rest, ‘cause I’m with Toby Mac. (Laughs.) I’m with Toby Mac, the band.
The art is what I’m attracted to, the lives of the artists, and that’s what I relate to. Beyond that, it’s really the function of Joey, who runs the label with a great staff. He does a fine job of it. He also has quite a heart for artists and their lives. He’s a guy who really loves artists and shepherds them and does everything he can, besides being in church because he’s not an ordained minister. But he really speaks into their lives the love of Christ. He’s done it time and again. Times when I’ve felt a little frozen to approach an artist ‘cause maybe they were going through something really tough. Joey just eases on in there like the warm liquid that he is and begins talking and ministering to them. Dave can testify to that. Dave worked at Gotee for several years before he came out on the road.
If you could say one thing to this generation, what would you say?
We have different parts of the music body of Christ. We have bands that are out there in the trenches of the mainstream playing clubs every night. I’ve had moments in the mainstream and I’ve had moments where I was just in the gates of Christendom, not that there should be walls up, but . . . if I was talking to the Church the message I would have for them, people who have culture throwing everything at you . . . it’s very difficult to remain unjaded, to remain soft clay in God’s hands.
For an artist like me who’s just put out my 8th cd (not counting remixes and greatest hits and all that stuff) my number one goal in my life is to remain unjaded. And I think that’s a problem in artistry. I think our artists backstage get jaded. The next song becomes the next song they gotta write because it’s their job. The next cd becomes the next cd they gotta go make in the studio because it’s their job. They fell like they’ve gotta do this for radio and do this for this department. It breaks my heart. Because if you can put yourself in that place every record, ever song, every studio session, every show where you’re just like, “I wanna walk on water today with this song I’m gonna write. I’m gonna step out in faith and believe with all my heart that God can breathe something through me that changes someone’s life. I’m gonna believe that God’s can breathe something through me that wakes someone up who’s turned away from His love and opens their mind to His love again.
If you can do that, man, and remain soft clay life can be amazing. It really can. That was my goal with Portable Sounds. I was like, I will not walk into that studio hardened. That goes to everyone. Be soft every day. Walk on water. Have the faith to say, “Alright, God, I’m believing you’re gonna do something cool here.” And start steppin’.
What is the most exciting thing to you about being in the music industry?
The most exciting thing is the wonder of walking into the studio wondering what God’s going to do next. You walk into the studio and begin a song. You start with a melody in your head maybe, or you have a hot little beat that you’re working on. But it’s knowing that God might just take your daily journal and use it. I thought about the prayers I’ve been praying consistently for the last few years, and I wrote this verse, “To lose my soul . . . Father God, I’m clay in Your hands. I wanna stay that way through all life’s demands. ‘Cause they chip and they nag and they pull at me. And every little thing I make up my mind to be, like I’ma be a daddy who’s in the midst, and I’ma be a husband who stays legit. I pray that I’m an artist who rises above the road that is wide and filled with self love.”
That’s just my life over that past five years. All the sudden God takes that life, that prayer, and introduces me to a song called “Lose my Soul”. It takes a simple Scripture of, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” It’s exciting when things like that happen. And then Kirk Franklin comes on and Mandisa. It’s just mind blowing if you stay in awe of what God can do, and you don’t get hardened. He always shows up and does something just wickedly cool.
How did you discover Gotee artist Ayiesha Woods?
I was in Jamaica, and there’s a radio station there called Love FM; it’s a Christian station. I’ve gotten to know the people a little bit through the years, because my wife is Jamaican and we go there twice a year and spend about a month there a year. So I was down there and some people say I heard a song on the radio. I didn’t hear a song on the radio. I drove over there one day to say hello to a couple people that I know, and as I was walking through the radio station I looked down on the guy’s desk. I saw this album cover, and I said, “Who is that?” He said, “Her name’s Ayiesha Woods; would you like to hear her?” He played it for me at the radio station. He then gave me the cd, and I didn’t know where she was from.
I started trying to track her down. I heard Orlando, I heard Jamaica, I heard Bermuda. I finally found out she lived in Dallas. She’d made the cd in Orlando and moved to Dallas. I tracked her down and proceeded to call her a few times. I finally went to her home in Dallas with her mother, father, and brother. They walked me up to the bonus room above their garage, and I sat down to do what I think is going to be to hear a few songs, and I ended up being their for two hours worshiping God as she was just sitting at her piano going from worship song to worship song, originals that she had written. It was one of those moments, like I’ll never forget first hearing Jennifer Knapp. I happened to be in my bathtub at that time, but I usually don’t share that information! (Laughs.) Jen wasn’t playing live. This was her cd I was listening to! (Laughs.)
Then Gotee began courting Ayiesha as an artist. She vacillated back and forth many times from CCM to a more Gospel based label. It was a hard road, because at one point she had said, “We’re not going to do it. We’re going with these people who are more connected to black Gospel music.” I went, “Good. That’s fine; that’s great.” A year later she called and said she’d like to go with Gotee. We were all jumping up and down. I think she’s amazing. I think she’s very underdiscovered still, and I think her day’s coming. She’s a rare gem of talent. (Editor's note: Read our review of Ayiesha's debut CD here!)
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.