DC Talk: Still into Jesus

Tuesday 1st December 1998

Pop rock band DC TALK continue to climb ever-bigger record industry mountains but found time in their frantic schedule to give an exclusive interview with Mike Rimmer.

Continued from page 1

The musical development of dc Talk has been an interesting journey from the early beat box rap styles through a more blended pop rap vibe on 'Free At Last' before they introduced more grungy elements for 'Jesus Freak'. Toby McKeehan recently described the new album to American journalist Jerry Williams as "a very eclectic record." Toby stated, "It's eclectic because we're all three into different things. The purist will never enjoy dc Talk, because we're not pure anything. The only pure thing is, hopefully, that we're making music that points people to God. It still has a lot of energy and a lot of passion about our faith and what Christ means to us and how that plays out in our lives from day to day."

That eclecticism is summed up in the number of different musical styles adopted by the band though this time round they have dropped all the rap and grunge influences of the previous albums. What is left is a solid rock'n'pop album wrapped up in state of the art production. It's interesting that Kevin mentioned Queen as one of his childhood influences because on the album sleeve notes he credited Freddie Mercury for inspiration, which I suggest, is an interesting choice.

"Vocally he was my inspiration to get into rock and roll music," Kevin explains. "My first ever record that was handed to me in the rock and roll world was a John Lennon record. Freddie Mercury, Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra were really the guys that got me motivated into singing rock and roll, and singing out of the mode of choir or classical music. I was trained in classic voice and I was trained in different ways but I've always wanted to be into rock and roll. When I first heard Freddie singing 'You're My Best Friend' I thought, 'Man, that's what I want to do.' And so that's it." I venture that some people might be uncomfortable with Mercury as a role model. "Well I wouldn't necessarily want to lead Freddie's lifestyle to be inspired by him," Kevin replies. "But musically and as a singer I think that it's undeniable. He's probably one of the best. There's a magazine in England called Mojo and they compiled the hundred best singers of all time. Freddie Mercury wasn't even on there. That seemed strange to me because I think he's probably one of the best ever in rock and roll music. It's all subjective."

Although 'Supernatural' has its rock'n'roll moments and given the fact that we've already observed that the album is an eclectic collection of songs and styles, I suggest that it's less upbeat than previous releases. Kevin defends the choice of styles, "The thing is that we didn't want to be pigeonholed as a rock and roll band because we are very diverse. I mean 'Supernatural' is a pretty rocking album. 'Fearless' and 'Killing Me' are pretty standard rock and roll songs to me, though you have a record that is not purist in any art form. I think that that's what we tried to attain. We tried to attain a record that nobody could really pigeonhole us on again. So the next record might be even more rock and roll. We love to play it. We feel most comfortable playing rock and roll now so when you come to our show it's not as mellow as the record. Things are a bit more hard-edged, a bit tipsier. We're into performing live because to me that's when you can truly find out about the song when you can experiment with it."

For the new album, all the songs have been written by the members of dc Talk collaborating together as a team. I ask Kevin to describe the inspiration behind two songs on the album. "'Consume Me' was basically written from an angle of spiritual dependency on God." He elaborates, "It's kind of like without Him in my life I'm an empty shell when He gets in there, when the Spirit moves within me then I'm something, I'm special. I think that people can take this in a relationship with a loved one too. We wrote it more from a spiritual angle. Some people have said that this is really intimate spiritually and that's the way I look to view my relationship with God. I wouldn't be in a relationship if it wasn't something intimate." Mr Max also explains the thinking behind "Dive". Kevin enthuses, "I remember I actually came up with the first line for that, I saw it all from a bubble on the 15th floor.' We were originally going to write this about a suicide pact, and then we decided that was just a little dark. We've met people that have wanted to commit suicide from time to time and we've tried to talk them out of it. But I wanted to write it from a point that a lot of people can relate to. The meaning of the song "Dive" is taking a leap of faith into a situation where sometimes you don't know what's going to happen but you have to give up yourself a bit to do that. You have to believe that somebody's going to catch you. That's the motivation for that song." One song that has already raised a few eyebrows is "My Friend So Long" which is the first single to be released into the mainstream by Virgin. The reason? The lyrics appear to be about a Christian band crossing over, selling out and dissing dc Talk. Speculation has been rife and many candidates have been offered as the target for the song but Kevin is clearly frustrated and disturbed by this guessing game because, as he explains, '"My Friend So Long' is a fictional song, it's a fantasy song." He elaborates, "It could really be about any of the three of us. We have always thought about what it would be like if any of us decided to leave the band and became a bigger pop star than any of the others in the group. It's dealing with the feelings of what that would be like. We wrote the song based on that. It's funny that a lot of people are thinking that it's somebody in particular but it's really about us. I've actually been ticked off that people are thinking that it's friends of ours like Jars Of Clay. It's weird that people get that because I don't think it says that at all. We had a fellow writer on that song, Dominic Miller who plays guitar for Sting based in London. He wrote the music with us on that song. I pushed the Beatles and Queen harmony parameters on it too. That's why I credited Freddie Mercury because on several songs we tried to push our harmonies as far as we could go in the time that we had."

The album closes with what is becoming a traditional finale - a poem from Kevin Max. "There Is A Treason At Sea" follows in the familiar format of poems from his excellent At The Foot Of Heaven book. I wonder whether after the furore of 'Supernatural' Kevin would have any more poetry published. He confesses that he does have some plans, "I'm actually putting out another book in the mainstream book world and it's finished right now. It just has to be completed as far as the actual design of the book is concerned, and then we're going to track down some publishers to see which one we actually want on this book. This book's going to go out to a secular audience as well. I'm really interested in that so we'll see what happens."

He continues, "Jimmy Abegg (his visual collaborator on the first set of poetry) has been taking photography on this book actually. This time I wanted him to do something a bit different. He's been taking a lot of pictures. In fact the majority of the shots are in England and Ireland. It'll be cool for people in America to get a view of England. We need to be educated, man! On this book I'm thinking of it being very played down and it having a cardboard cover, and being very coffee table-esque so you can bring it in your knapsack. I want people to be able to take it with them."

But all that's for the future! For now, the snowball of media activity surrounding 'Supernatural', preparations for the American tour (with perhaps a visit to the UK next year) and the more immediately pressing live interview with a Dutch radio show occupy Kevin's mind so we have to say our goodbyes. I'm left knowing that in the midst of all high profile opportunities, dc Talk remain a band with their feet on the ground and hearts that are profoundly "Into Jesus".

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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