It's been a long, uncertain wait for fans of arguably the biggest and most transcendent band in Christian music history--dcTalk. Fifteen years of a self-described "intermission" saw Kevin Max, Michael Tait and Toby "TobyMac" McKeehan embarking on new creative pursuits, all the while leaving fans uncertain whether they'd ever see the trio take the stage together again.
Slowly, the band started to show signs of new life. They appeared together at the Dove Awards. Then came the first new music together since 2002--"Love Feels Like," a feature on Toby's 2015 album. Then came the news: A reunion was happening.
And while it wasn't the nationwide tour, summer festival circuit or new music for which many fans clamored, the Jesus Freak Cruise was just right as the band admittedly dipped their collective toe in the water to see just what kind of interest still exists for their group. A sold-out cruise ship--coupled with top-notch performances--resoundingly answered the question. (Check out our retrospective.)
Now, many additional questions remain. And in the moments before the guys took the stage for the third and final show of the cruise, I asked some of those questions--questions about the future, the past, and the things that have held them together all along.
Marcus Hathcock, NRT Editor: Two shows in, one to go--what feels the same? What feels different about being together again?
Kevin Max: Michael Tait smells better. (laughs)
TobyMac: Oh c'mon, Michael Tait has always smelled good!
Kevin: He smells even better now. He's upgraded his cologne to another level.
Michael Tait: Last night I was elated and overwhelmed because the people were really enjoying it. I feel like they were really getting what they came for, which makes us feel amazing. Number two, you can't hide joy. Happiness happens in the moments, but joy you can't hide. Last night on stage, I saw the joy in Kevin Max's eyes, I saw the joy in TobyMac's eyes, in my eyes. We were like kids at Christmas on that stage and that hasn't changed, and it's a blessing.
Kevin: I never cry, but I literally almost cried. There were tears in my eyes.
Michael: Me too!
NRT: Us too!
Toby: I've had a lot of people tell me that they were just bawling and I'm like "what?!" I had a great time. I was surprised by how nostalgic it felt for me. I was surprised by how much personal pleasure and joy I got from watching these two. The only thing I thought was weird was--and these guys probably feel the same way--after fronting for so long, it wasn't that I had a problem taking a backseat, I just didn't know what to do with myself. It was like "oh hey guys!"
Kevin: It's like being in a real band again, and it's killer.
NRT: You're deferring to each other.
Toby: What's beautiful is I found us deferring to each other in a really loving way, but it was just a little odd to be like, "OK, what do I do right now?"
Michael: My manager was like, "Michael, why are you hanging by the drum kit all night?" I was just back there drinking water.
Toby: I keep my waters to the right of the drummer, so I kept bumping into Michael because we kept our water in the same place and I was like, "Wait a minute! You're in my spot." (laughs)
Kevin: It must mean I'm not taking any breaks because I got no water. (laughs)
NRT: Did you guys say anything to each other before you went on stage the first time? It's a big deal; what were some of those moments you had?
Michael: Have a great show, just enjoy. Toby said, "Let's have fun and give God the glory and thank God for all the blessings and the opportunity." Also to enjoy the moment. Let's just have fun and enjoy it.
Kevin: I don't think we were too into our own heads about it. We were like, let's just go out and relive these things. The thing for all of us was just muscle memory, trying to remember these songs because it's been so long since we've done them. By the second show, I think I would probably say we remembered things a lot better.
Michael: Third time should be a charm!
Toby: One of the things that we prayed before we went on stage... the Jesus Freak thing, the dcTalk thing is so big and those words are thrown around so much on this cruise. The prayer when we gathered around with the band was that people would leave with the name of Jesus on their lips. Not dcTalk.
NRT: You and I talked after Hits Deep and you were like, "It seems like you media types are more concerned with the dcTalk thing, I don't know that people care as much anymore." Now you have a sold-out cruise and people screaming for more. Are you all surprised?
Toby: Are you throwing my words up in my face? (laughs)
NRT: Yes I am, TobyMac! (laughs) Are you surprised?
Toby: I think when you have the Jesus Freak Boat and it has 4,000 people, obviously there's passion. It's not hitting the stage at Creation and seeing what that's like, but no... I think clearly there was impact made, maybe even deeper than I thought, maybe deeper than I wanted to acknowledge at the time. I just think of it as "back then." But now, it's right now.
Michael: Social media's a good barometer. We put it out there that we were doing a cruise and we got a few boos, like, "Cruise? We want to see a show at the Palace!"
Toby: We turned the Palace down. (laughs)
Michael: But it's amazing because the truth is, people are stoked about it. They're yelling, they're crying, they can't believe it. People from Guatemala, Africa, London, Germany. It's cray-cray.
Toby: It's quite an honor.
NRT: You've got people on this boat screaming for a tour, and a lot of people off this boat screaming for a tour and new music...
Toby: We don't know.
MIchael: We don't know yet, don't ask that question! (laughs)
NRT: Well we have to, now that you're all standing here, y'know? (laughs)
Michael: You know what? We'll wait and see. We're not against it, but also we're not planning it right now.
NRT: As the three of you, or even as individuals, what is it that you still dream about in terms of ministry and music?
Michael: Impacting people, I want to impact the Church. People say that Christian bands sing for the Church all the time, and we do, but the Church needs to be ministered to, too. As a group of living integration, a black guy and two white guys, dcTalk has affected lots of people when we were younger. Now they're in government, now they're lawyers, now they're accountants, now they're moms and dads, now they're affecting society--I want to keep impacting those people and people outside the Church obviously, too. I want to impact people and be part of changing the world.
Kevin: For me, it's just wanting the Spirit to show up. Because if the Spirit shows up and we've asked and prayed about that and we're that moment, I'm excited about that.
Toby: For me, everything I've ever done in my life professionally has had this big Christian label on it. I'm trying to do some things in Franklin, Tennessee... with fashion, that I want to feel a little less announced and more just loving people well in the community and being hands and feet more than the announcement of "here comes a Christian singer." I've always wanted that and I'm trying to make it happen.
NRT: There had to be temptation over the years to just say the dc Talk chapter is over. What was it that kept you guys keeping the door open?
Kevin: Friendship. I mean, friendship is what brought us together in the first place and, you know, friendship is difficult sometimes.
Michael: Wouldn't you say the fans impacted it too though? Friendship is there of course...
Kevin: I would say the fans are another spectrum of that. (laughs)
Toby: I'm with Kevin. When you climb a mountain with two guys, you lock arms and fight, bleed, cuss, laugh, cry, laugh some more, and you start at ground zero, literally. With the solo thing, it's a different story. We'll never do that again. We'll never leave college and climb a mountain, rely on each other, lean on each other, learn about God together and how to relate to other humans in tight quarters. We'll never do that again and that's kind of the thing that would bring us back together, the friendship, the foundation that we have.
NRT: Not to pin you down to anything, if you could re-do any song or any album with today's technology, what would it be?
Kevin: "She's That Kind Of Girl." (laughs) I want an EDM version of "She's That Kind Of Girl." Something old like that turned into EDM would be super cool.
Michael: I think I'd say "Heavenbound."
Michael: It's antiquated, it's old. It's the first song we ever did.
[Insert chatter between the three about whether or not Kevin was actually a part of dcTalk when that song/album released. He wasn't.]
Toby: "The Hard Way." I think it'd be a cool song done with current technology.
NRT: You guys have always been about unity from the beginning, especially racial unity. The way the world is right now, do you think there's still something for you guys to speak into that conversation?
Michael: I've thought about this for a while. If there were any reason for us to reunite on a touring stage--you know, like a 15, 20 city tour--that would be one of my number one things, as an African-American in a group with two of my besties on the planet--Toby and Kevin--because we can speak so much louder with our lifestyles, and the way we talk about it, how we live it out. People know we're besties; they know we started from kids and now we're... approaching AARP age.
Toby: There's nothing richer than races coming together and I always say the same thing: if you don't have that, you should seek it.
Kevin: We're a living embodiment of it every time we take the stage.
NRT: You guys are kind of like a supergroup in reverse in a sense. You've gone off and grown so much. Are you finding that performing together is easier because of the things you've been able to do growing apart?
Michael: It's easier because there's a confidence--not a cocky confidence--but a confidence because we all have our own things... There is that confidence of like, we've done this thing before. So coming together, it's not like three young guys going, "It's my turn to sing!" or whatever.
Toby: Yeah, that's behind us. As you age, you get wiser, but you also learn to not be so selfish and to root for each other more. I found myself in the first set I was like, "What do I do right now?" The second set--and this is transparent, I'm not just saying it--I just began to enjoy my friends doing what they do best.
Marcus Hathcock is the Executive Editor of NewReleaseToday.com, a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader living in Boise. He has released an EP, Songs For Tomorrow, and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.
NEW! AN NRTEAM FEATURE The Evolution of Matthew West's Music What's changed about the storyteller since he started?
NEW! NRT LISTS
8 Indie Worship Projects You Need to Hear In the 'Year of Worship,' check out our list.
NEW! BEHIND THE SONG DEVOTIONALS
Jeremy Camp & Vertical Worship 'Word of Life' and 'Set My Heart' interviews tell us ...