In 1991 a blonde-haired Seattle-area misfit named Kurt Cobain changed the landscape of rock music with the opening guitar rift to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," easily the most important rock song of a decade that was only a year old and perhaps among the most essential of all time.
At around the same time, a three-man hip-hop/rock/soul group of aggressively evangelical Christian vocalists had released their sophomore album, Nu Thang. Free at Last, which came one year later, was an extremely popular effort that would eventually be hailed as a classic. But in the wake of the album's success, the crew began to plot a masterpiece that would represent a dramatic shift in their approach to songwriting—away from the poppy mainstream-style rap that made them popular in the first place, and onto the grunge bandwagon that Cobain's band Nirvana had helped build.
The move was transparently a commercial one, but it was also sublime. The anthemic title track from Jesus Freak, the resulting album, became the Christian "Teen Spirit." Enduring gems like "Colored People," "What if I Stumble" and a cover of Charlie Peacock's "In the Light" buttressed what could easily be called the best Christian rock album in history. It was our answer to Nevermind, the Nirvana album that few children of the 90's do not have in their collection, and it changed us along with the industry dc Talk had helped to create.
Last year marked the tenth anniversary of the album, so this feature is a bit late in coming. But what follows here is an ode to Jesus Freak from a generation of writers who count it among the crowning achievements in modern religious songwriting. Some of what you'll read is from staff at this website, some is from friends of ours, and a lengthy piece contains the thoughts of one of the men who made it all happen. All of this, it's safe to say, comes from people who sung along with the lyrics "I don't really care if they label me a Jesus freak/There ain't no disguisin' the truth," and meant every word.
[Note: If you get tired of reading what we have to say, scroll down to our interview with Kevin Max. You don't want to miss it.]
The Dawn of a New CCM
By Josh Shepherd, cMusicWeb Co-Founder
Language is important. Good ideas are only as good as the words used to convey them. That's why they got it right when, in 1995, dc Talk titled their groundbreaking record Jesus Freak.
The group members have said in interviews they meant "freak" in the sense of "ardent enthusiast" — but no matter. People took it to mean "on the edge," "wacko," "radical." Those extremist notions wouldn't have meant much if the title was "church freak," "doctrine freak," "charismatic freak" or even "outreach freak." Only the idea of a Jesus freak could unite divided believers in the church with those scattered Christians who shunned organized religion -- as happened with these songs.
Focusing youth on the person of Jesus, in essence urging them to be freaks for Him, resonated with the mid-90â's generation. We became kamikazes who wanted to be in the light rather than stumble, cry "so help me God" (not drown in despair-o), and walk a day in the shoes of a colorblind man instead of betraying a friend. Toby Mac, Michael Tait, Kevin Max, Mark Heimermann and the other writers were downright inspired as they presented a realistic, poetic, open-hearted picture of Christ-followers striving for righteousness.
Three other reasons why Jesus Freak ushered in a new era for Christian music, discarding the Carman-cheerleading and soft-pop domination on CCM radio:
- Diverse artistic ideas and vocal styles came together. Many Christians have sensibilities for modern music; it'd be a good experiment to put three in a room and see what comes out. I doubt that another Jesus Freak would emerge, simply because it meant these three friends pushing each other's talents to the limits—then getting out of the way so as not to dictate the final product. You can hear it in the songs: how Toby gets his rap in at the end, Kevin has his bits of soaring vocals and Michael keeps the chorus together. More importantly, this same sort of collaboration happened in choosing and writing the songs. Good Christian vocal groups aren't uncommon (Avalon, FFH, Casting Crowns), but music like this? Priceless.
- They leaned on those who went before. I think the inclusion of a tune by Christian music pioneer Charlie Peacock is very telling of Jesus Freak's roots. Not to mention a Stephen Schwartz tune ("Day by Day"), a song introduction by Brennan Manning, even a word from Rev. Billy Graham in the middle of a bridge. dc Talk wasn't out to deny where they came from: they stood on the shoulders of giants.
- Jesus Freak was a rock album that had strong radio singles. This wasn't the usual Christian-group-comes-out-of-nowhere-thanks-to-Christian-radio story (think FFH). Turns out that Top 40 radio actually had an appetite for "Between You and Me", among other Jesus Freak singles, and if Christian radio didn't spin them they'd be losing a large audience of twenty-somethings. So it worked on both fronts: dc Talk had a hit or two on mainstream radio, and Christian radio accepted "In the Light," "Colored People," maybe some others. And the idea of Christian rock radio finally gained some steam in a lot of markets.
It's interesting to observe how the really good Christian records lately haven't been a huge unifying force. The music of Mae, David Crowder*Band, Derek Webb, Matt Redman and others enjoys only a limited audience. In its day, Jesus Freak was everywhere—sparking devotion in youth and higher production ideals wherever these rock choruses blasted.
The Album That Made Jesus Sound Even Better
By Hollie Stewart -- Co-Editor, inReview.net
I bought the t-shirt. The one that read "freak: an ardent enthusiast." The back boasted of... well, I suppose of a freak—a man with arms stretched to heaven, mouth open wide. I loved the colors, I loved the fonts, and I loved the boldness.
At fifteen, I had to rely on t-shirt evangelism to preach my faith. I'm still not entirely sure how a shirt screaming "freak" across the front would be evangelistic. But I bought it, wanting to wear it at school, wanting people to ask me what it meant.
I hardly wore the t-shirt. Ten years later, it still remains in fairly new condition.
Who wants to be a Jesus freak? Step right up, ladies and gents! Who really wants to be the "man with a tattoo on his big fat belly?" Who would sign away rights to be a modern John the Baptist? Oh sure, in other countries it's assumed that you'll be signing your death certificate when you turn to Jesus. But not here in America; here we ask the congregation to bow their heads so we won't embarrass those going forward to receive Christ.
The album Jesus Freak was a bold creation on the part of Toby, Kevin and Michael. Thousands of teenagers embraced this work like it was a new translation of Scripture. And of course, it helped that the songs were so cool. We didn't use the term "relevant" in 1995. This was an album I was unashamed to play when friends came over because it didn't sound like Jesus music. It sounded like Nirvana. And anything that sounded like Nirvana was, in my mind, downright rad, even though I had little to no concept of Nirvana's style.
Listening to the album this rainy evening, I hear far too much pop and R&B to be even close to Nirvana. I can sense these styles warring against one another on the album, and it's not hard to see how they could have ripped dc Talk apart. But back then I didn't care one bit. This sophomore loved the thought of being able to listen to cool music and be a Christian. I attended their concert at the Universal Amphitheater (now called the Gibson Amphitheater) in the heart of Universal City, CA, thrilled to pieces that Jesus could look and sound so good.
As if He needed assistance.
As much as I imagined Jesus would suddenly become popular because three boys wrote amazing music about Him, I cringed at the thought of someone poking fun at my faith. As much as I sang along to "Jesus Freak," I didn't want to be a freak. Freaks were teased. Freaks were locked away in mental institutions. Freaks were killed.
I believe there were some teenagers who were prompted to action with this album. I'm sure some stood up, wore the t-shirt, and took a stand, refusing to be ashamed of Christ. I instead enjoyed my comfort zone; I strengthened my desire to find acceptance through a good beat and catchy guitars and drums.
Yet my journals from that era are littered with prayers for God to use me—silly me with the gangly legs, round glasses, and thick braces. It was about this time in my life that I began to be really honest with God. I began to admit my fears, my sins, and my wrong attitudes. I began to see how much I despised my non-popular status. And I constantly asked to be changed. Several times I quoted these infamous lyrics: "I want to be in the Light as You are in the Light / I want to shine like the stars in the Heavens / Oh Lord, be my Light and be my Salvation / Because all I want is to be in the Light."
I've learned that "Jesus Freak" status goes way beyond t-shirts, flashy shows, and fashionable music. Trends ebb and flow like the nightly ocean tide. But the Truth found in these lyrics, in the Book from which these lyrics are derived, never grows out of style.
Bring Back dc Talk
By Kim Flanders, inReview.net Staff
Many changes have transpired in my life since I first pondered, "What will people think when they hear that I'm a Jesus Freak?" Now, I listen to Jesus Freak on my twelve CD changer in my car. Back then, I used my portable disc player with the associated cassette adapter. Now Toby knows me by name. Back then I barely made it to any live shows.
Let's go back to the early 1990's. I'll admit. I did not join the CD bandwagon right away. CD's seemed too expensive to me. And my dual cassette player was just fine to make the "car" copies so I would not ruin the original. Plus, I had just obtained this great car stereo that had a special button. If I desired to skip or play a song again on a cassette, I would simply press this special button and the stereo would find the beginning or end of a song. I paid extra money for that ability. So, I had no reason to buy one of those CD players.
Until 1995. That year I finally caved in to purchase a portable CD player that not only played in my car with an adapter, but also fit into the auxiliary slot on my dual cassette home stereo. And I quickly found the increased value in the repeat or back button!
I was finally set to listen the first two CD's I ever purchased. The first: a not so well known band named Jars of Clay. The second: a new release from the evolving music trio known as Dc Talk.
I would drive home from work, listening to Jesus Freak's title track in amazement that music called "Christian" could have such a unique sound. Perhaps the novelty of finally owning a CD kept me listening to Jesus Freak over and over. But as I look back, I believe in reality it was the thrill of having something alternative to listen to. Not only was the music a bit radical, but the lyrics stretched beyond what was the norm at the time.
Most of my music experiences back then came in the form of listening to recorded music. I honestly did not have the money to attend a myriad of live shows. Now, I have evolved into a concert junkie, often found volunteering as security at many a local concert so I can save up my money to make long drives and even plane flights to see my favorite bands live once again.
However, since the release of Jesus Freak, I can note a few memorable live experiences. For instance, I recall singing "Colored People" hand-in-hand with a friend of a slightly darker melanin as if it was yesterday. But unfortunately, most of my Dc Talk live experience is of the solo type. Recently, I placed Jesus Freak in my car's twelve CD changer and, upon listening, once again came to a conclusion I have pondered since the trio went separate. Jesus Freak embodies everything that makes me wish Toby, Mike and Kevin would bring their talents together once again.
Not many artists successfully mix Toby's rap/hip-hop influences, with Tait's R&B/rock influences, and, well, Kevin's vocal influences that combined create music and lyrics that transcend time. The music of Jesus Freak is just spectacular. Even my youth group students who were forced to listen to the music in my car just yesterday are familiar with the CD. And they were just toddlers when the disc was released.
So, Toby, if you are reading this, can you please grant my wish and bring us back the trio?
A Defining Moment
By John DiBiase -- President, Editor and Writer, jesusfreakhideout.com.
I still remember picking up dc Talk's Jesus Freak the day it hit store shelves. I was just 15 at the time. It was just an amazing record... something really different for dc Talk and CCM in general. The unashamed declaration of their faith displayed on the record was really infectious and inspiring... so inspiring that it led me to start up Jesusfreakhideout.com less than a year later. The record itself went on to open up a lot of doors not only for rock music in the Christian market, but for Christian music in the mainstream. I doubt dc Talk really knew what they had on their hands with the album at the time. I don't know if anyone did. But the way it fired up so many believers to wear their faith proudly... it was quite simply a beautiful thing. It's truly a defining record in Christian music and even modern Christian faith. We're still seeing the effects of it....
The Best Album of the '90s
By Matthew C. Durlin -- News Writer, inReview.net
During my high school years, Jesus Freak wasn't an album I mentioned often (if ever) in conversation with my buddies, because doing so would have set me apart in a stage when all I wanted to do was be one of the guys. Jesus freaks weren't any cooler than Jesus was.
But I doubt if there will ever be an album like this again. Not for me, anyway, or for most people who populated a youth group during that era. Jesus Freak was like the first day of Kindergarten, your first girlfriend and your first real, honest-to-goodness date. It was a part of my generation's youth that will remain forever tethered to me, and I doubt if we'll ever escape it.
By now you've no doubt read five, ten or more tributes to the Jesus Freak album. I'm sure you are ready to read another exciting personal tale of how this tape or CD touched somebody's spiritual walk, or how it led them to a relationship with Jesus Christ, or gave a teenager strength to face another day in the hallways of a public school. I'll be able to share all those things with you in the next few minutes.Jesus Freak was the second dc Talk album I purchased (actually, it was a gift for Christmas from Santa). The album has a few of my favorite songs of all time on it. "Mind's Eye" is probably the one that helped me the most on a spiritual level, but "So Help Me God" and "Like It Love It Need It" helped give me strength and courage in my high school years. Of course nobody can forget the corny "Jesus Freak (reprise)" or the classic rewrite of "In the Light". "Day by Day" was a great song as well. In fact, this was one of the first albums that was easy listening the whole way through. There aren't many that I'll say that for in my collection. As far as comparing Jesus Freak to the rest of the CCM world in the 90s, it was one of the best sellers and has one of the top 100 songs of all-time. The album stands on its own merits, and rocked the world in a big way. Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline were probably the other two major acts in Christian alternative rock in the 90s. Of these three, dc Talk had the biggest impact. They all had big hits ("Jesus Freak", "Shine" by Newsboys, and "Big House" by Audio Adrenaline), but "Jesus Freak" was the most important song of the 90s for Christian music. It put CCM on the secular map.
I'm not sure if another album like Jesus Freak will ever come along. There will be those that try and come close, but still fail to reach that pinnacle. Newsboys have since converted to the latest fad of being a worship band, and Audio Adrenaline is disbanding. While the future of dc Talk is uncertain, it seems as though they have all launched mildly successful solo careers. Jesus Freak was the height of success for the 3 members of dc Talk (Kevin Max, Toby McKeehan, and Michael Tait) and will probably not be attained again. Jesus Freak was the greatest album to be released in the 1990s, hands down.
By Mike Postma -- Hard Rock Writer, inReview.net
Judging by most of the music I'd previously been exposed to - Steven Curtis Chapman, 4HIM, Carman and the like - you'd think I was destined for a life of adult-contemporary blandness, but at fifteen I'd already discovered the likes of Green Day and The Offspring, and the seeds of my rock and roll rebellion were sewn. In another eighteen months I'd discover an absolutely unknown San Diego band called P.O.D. who would cement my love for "Christian" music - but something else was to come first.
I'd already heard dc Talk's Free At Last; a school friend of mine let me borrow it over the weekend. I took it to a friend's house and made him listen to it while we played basketball, and it pumped me up - the rock guitar, smooth rapping and production all appealing to my fifteen-year-old ears. I was, of course, untrained to pick up on nuances - I just wanted to get down with my bad self. I'd read in a magazine about dc Talk's first album, Nu Thang, and I asked my grandmother, God bless her, to stick that hot ticket on my Christmas list. Come Christmas Eve '95, during the gift-opening ceremonies I was a little miffed to see a dc Talk album from Grandma, all right - something called Jesus Freak. I hadn't even heard of this record, let alone asked for it. But, Grandma being Grandma, I knew I'd listen, write her a thank-you note...who knows, maybe even like it.
Cut to later that night, me under headphones in my basement bedroom, hearing the raw power and attitude of the title track for the first time and realizing that this record was something new. It wasn't the abrasive punk of MxPx, so unbearable to parents and teachers, but not the smarmy false-utopia ideals of a lot of the Christian music I'd heard to that point. dc Talk had come up with a record that had it all: bits of urgent rapping, joyfully-abandoned vocals and huge, pounding guitar that no doubt served as a precursor to my eventually picking up the instrument myself a few years down the road. 'Like It, Love It, Need It,' 'Between You And Me,' 'Colored People' and of course the sprawling, almost out-of-control 'Jesus Freak' arguably set quality Christian rock music on its current path: innovative, intelligent, loud, and with an index finger flashing up to heaven, leaving no doubt what these songs were both inspired by and going out to. Jesus Freak undoubtedly launched a thousand high-school mixtapes, while simultaneously launching dc Talk's career into the stratosphere, with sold-out world tours and a live concert video called Welcome To The Freak Show that was nothing short of exhilarating in its depiction of the band's all-out live show, circa 1996.
However, to a fifteen-year-old kid wandering the halls of two different Ontario high schools, never really sure of himself or his future and with minimal spiritual activity in his life, Jesus Freak was none of these things. These songs shaped my worldview, brought my hands up in praise(or air guitar), and somehow embodied the triumphant spirit of Christ within me. These songs have been there for me since my teens and on into adulthood, never losing an ounce of meaning, never a word wasted. This is modern Christian rock's undeniable watershed album.
Still Living it Down: Looking Back on the Making of Jesus Freak With dc Talk's Kevin Max
Interview by Ben Forrest.
March 2, 2006.
It was 5:04 p.m. Eastern Time and the phone still hadn't rung yet. Kevin Max, whose tremulous baritone is one of Christian music's more unique instruments, had been scheduled to call at five.
For the next 20 minutes I channel surfed, figuring that being late for things is some kind of perquisite for celebrity, but finally flipped on my computer and checked my e-mail, finding an urgent message from Brian Mayes, Max's publicity contact. It read, "Kevin Max has been trying to reach you for the interview, but no one has answered. PLEASE CALL him ASAP at..."
So I did, immediately, catching him at a Starbucks somewhere on what must have been a cell phone, and fell all over myself trying to apologize. My phone hadn't rung once, I told him. Without a hint of frustration or impatience in his voice, Max explained what had happened on his end: "I tried calling you like, eight times, and the only thing that happened was your phone would ring once, and it go off-line. It wouldn't even ring. No dial tone or anything."
"Weird," I said. "Uh, do you have ten minutes to do the interview?"
"Absolutely," he answered.
Those ten minutes turned to almost twenty, and for each of them Max was gracious, thoughtful and honest, giving us—and you—tremendous insight into a landmark phase in one of Christian music's most influential groups. What we hope you grasp from what's below is that as much as Jesus Freak affected those of us who blasted it countless times from our stereos and Walkmans, it also profoundly affected those who made it. Says Max, "it's one thing to write something down on paper; it's another thing to live it. And we struggled with living that record. I mean, we still struggle with living that record down today."
cMusicWeb: A lot of people would say that both Free at Last and Jesus Freak were classic albums, but Free at Last seemed to come together a lot quicker. Why was that?
Kevin Max: Well, I mean... from my humble opinion, I would say that Jesus Freak took longer because we were going through a larger change—a bigger shift in styles and content. Basically, that record encapsulated all three members as writers for the first time on a project, and so... I know for myself, I was more involved in Jesus Freak than any of the three records before that. Actually, I did the packaging for the record, for the first time co-wrote more than one song on the record [chuckles], and felt like my voice as a singer and as a performer was kind of used more to its fullest extent. And I think Mike kind of felt the same way as well on that project—we kind of felt more like a band, or... a pseudo-band on that project than anything else. Before that point, I would look at us as more like a singing group, you know? A boy band on steroids or something.
KM: We did Jesus Freak and it became more of a band project. And actually, it's interesting because we brought in a lot more musicians on Jesus Freak than Free at Last, and that was one of the reasons it took a little bit longer too, because we were really experimenting with different sounds, and... Free at Last was more of a focused, kind of structured thing with two or three programmers and Toby and Mark Heimermann. But when Jesus Freak happened, I mean, we were bringing in all sorts of different guitar players and keyboard players... people more from the outside."
CMW: You mentioned the sound—that was probably the biggest change, apart from the fact that you guys were all more involved in writing [the record]. What was behind the decision to move in that direction—away from hip-hop and more towards the modern rock end of things?
KM: Well, the main decision to move away from... not necessarily move away from hip-hop, but really just kind of integrate more of what the other two band members were about, you know. I think in Toby's world, hip-hop is king, and as you can see, his progression from dc Talk member to solo member, it's kind of like he has stayed true to his roots in hip-hop, which, you know, I gave him a lot of credit for.
But I think Jesus Freak, for the first time, kind of opened up the doors to the other members in kind of expressing themselves. You know, I grew up listening to British rock and roll. I grew up listening to T-Rex and Roxy Music and The Smiths and David Bowie, so that really wasn't shown a lot on the earlier records.
And I think time period as well. I mean, during the early 90's and the mid-90's when grunge was just starting to happen, you had kind of a return to rock and roll—and rock and roll in some basic formula. I think that was exciting—it was an exciting time period, too, to like, get into more of the basic ideas of rock and roll and integrating what we did as a hip-hop/R&B band into that was definitely interesting in my opinion.
CMW: You mentioned the grunge scene that was going on, and I think a lot of people look to Jesus Freak as the Christian Nevermind....
KM: They shouldn't do that. I think that might be a bit of a stretch—just personally. But, you know, if people want to say that, then absolutely. I count it a privilege that that record... that I'm a part of a record that goes down in history as being one of the classic records of that genre. But I think the reason it was classic wasn't that it mimicked anything specifically, but that it was a put together piece of great songs. What made that record, in my mind, classic or great or authentic was the fact that there were several really, really strong songs and lots of strong melodies on one project. And we owe a lot of that to people that were surrounding us at the time, really pushing us. Again, Toby allowing Mike and I to have more of a presence... and when I say Toby allowing that, I really truly mean that, because he basically steered the ship pretty much up until that point, and at that point I started to really kick against the walls [so] to speak... and just say, "Hey look, I need to be heard." I'm not a huge hip-hop fan, I'm a rock and roll fan, although I absolutely respect hip-hop, it's not my favourite art form. So it was cool that Toby kind of allowed my voice to be heard on that record.
CMW: It's interesting you mention that, because back in the Nu Thang days, dc Talk was really marketed as a fusion of rap, rock and soul—and you were the main rock guy. Can we say that—if that was true—that you were the main architect of the Jesus Freak sound, or was it more of a collective thing?
KM: Oh, no, Jesus Freak was a collective thing by far. But what I am saying is that, you know, the influences from the other members of the group really came up to the top—of the stew, if you will—for the first time, since the beginning of dc Talk. You know, people would argue that Michael Tait [and] his R&B stylings really kind of were a part of those earlier records, and my vocal, absolutely, was a part of those earlier records, and some of the ideas. I mean, I had writer's [credits] on Free at Last and some definite basic ideas that went to tape on the record before that, Nu Thang but it wasn't until Jesus Freak I felt like all three of us were writing together. And Mark Heimermann still [was] a very integral part of that. But it became more of a group effort, and that's why in my mind it was a great record—because it was a collective record. It wasn't just two guys kind of doing the whole thing.
CMW: You mentioned Toby going back to his hip-hop roots, and when I was thinking about this interview, I was just thinking about one of the first things that he said when you guys decided to go solo. He really wanted to get back to the Free at Last days. I'm just wondering, because Jesus Freak was moving so far away from hip-hop, and Toby was taking sort of like a secondary role, almost... even though it was maybe your most successful album, was it also sort of the beginning of the end of dc Talk? Or is that going too far, saying too much?
KM: Yeah, I wouldn't say that. I mean.... You know, I think any great band or group progresses with each record, and changes with each record. And I think if you don't change with each record, you're going to end up in a very limited and trendy kind of niche, which breaks up tons of bands.
For lack of a better example, a band like Petra, which we all love because they opened up a lot of doors in the Christian rock genre—they opened up a lot of doors for people—but in my mind, the progression from record to record wasn't as great as it could be, and it trapped them, I think, into kind of becoming a stereotype.
I think dc Talk patterned ourselves more after groups like R.E.M. or U2 or Radiohead, or bands that constantly change with each record, and I think we prided ourselves on going for something different every time. And I think Supernatural [dc Talk's most recent original album, released in 1998] was another progressive step from Jesus Freak, and to be totally honest with you, when we went into Supernatural, I think we were just as excited as a band as we were going from Free at Last to Jesus Freak. I think, again, there was a lot of excitement to create something that was beyond us.
And I think that is the true spirit of dc Talk, is just really wanting to create something beyond our expectations. If I can say this so boldly, but at the same time humbly, I think that's why we became one of those great bands within Christian music—because we were constantly pushing the confines of what we thought was realistic.
CMW: So would you say that Supernatural was your best album? Was Jesus Freak your second best?
KM: I think they're two very different projects. I mean, if I had to grade them [laughs] sounds like a music professor or something, which is really a gross, gross thought, but.. if I had to grade them, I would say.... Jesus Freak felt like more of a cohesive project, where Supernatural was a little bit more all over the map, as far as styles went. But you know, I think that, again, was a kind of example of dc Talk. It's like, you have three very different people, three very different performers, three very different songwriters in the same group, and with that you're going to hit all of the points in a studio session.
I don't think one's better than the other, but I think Jesus Freak was more of a cohesive, kind of a more put together project.
CMW: One of the things we've kind of been throwing around at our website while we've been working on this is just that "Jesus Freak," the song, was really sort of an anthem for our generation. Anybody that was in youth group at the time [it came out] would know the lyrics to that song. When you guys were writing and recording that, were you trying to write an anthem that would have that kind of impact, or did it just kind of happen afterwards?
KM: To be totally honest with you, I have to take a back seat to that question, because I didn't write the song. I absolutely performed the song, and though it was this very pivotal song, as a part of the whole project Jesus Freak. I think when the actual terminology was being thrown around for the lyric to the chorus, you know, "Jesus freak" was a phrase that we were all very familiar with. Being a friend of Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill, and people that really kind of pioneered the marketplace during that time, we had a pretty good understanding of what that term, "Jesus freak," meant. It's a hippie word, but it's also like, there's a couple different levels you can take that. But I think that, to be honest, I would decline to answer, because I wasn't the principal songwriter on that tune, although I had a lot of input into it and I helped craft it as a singer, and a person in the studio at the time. I mean we knew it was a big song when we were putting it down on tape in the studio, [but] I don't think in any way did we feel like it was going to become some huge anthem. You might get a totally different answer from Toby and Mark Heimermann [the two songwriters]....
CMW: Do you have a favourite song from the album?
KM: Oh, man. That record's full of so many great songs. One of the ones that I wrote on that I felt like really made a statement was "What Have We Become?" I really dug that song stylistically. I think it had the rock and roll quotient, it had the European quotient that I love so much, and also had kind of that storytelling lyric happening. Some of the lyrics in the second verse in my mind are a little weak, but [laughs] overall, I think it's a really great song, and I think it's an underrated song on the record. Of course, the one I end up playing every time that I do a dc Talk song in a solo setting is "In the Light," which... Charlie Peacock wrote a masterpiece of a little tune right there, and it still stands up today when I'm performing it. I rarely perform dc Talk songs solo anymore, but when I do, "In the Light" just seems to be such a crowd favourite. It kind of gets everybody in a good mood immediately.
CMW: Cool. As Jesus Freak was becoming a hit, that was really the pinnacle of [dc Talk's] success. How did that affect you personally, and the band in general?
KM: [Long pause]. How did it affect me? Oh, man. Huge question. How dare you ask me that [laughing] in a ten-minute interview? Man. How did it affect me? It affected me in lots of different ways. I mean, we were on the road for like a year. We saw success monetarily, we saw success in the marketplace.... I think we really came together as friends on that tour. It was a very intense tour. Michael Guido, a spiritual leader... I would like to call him my "road priest"... "Father Guido"... he brought us together a lot on that tour, and helped us understand what we actually created, and got us to be a lot more introspective, and taught us to really dig deep into the scriptures and find out, okay, do we really stand for all of this? Because it's one thing to write something down on paper; it's another thing to live it. And we struggled with living that record. I mean, we still struggle with living that record down today. You know, I'm in a smoky club last night, Sunset Strip, Viper Room, performing with one of the ex-members of Duran Duran and Missing Persons and like, everybody in the room knows me as that "Jesus Freak" guy. So I continue to live that down.
CMW: Just one last question: Gotee [Records, co-founded by Toby McKeehan] is planning a Jesus Freak tribute album, and bunch of their artists are involved in that. Are you involved in it at all?
KM: No, but they'd better pay me.
KM: Nah, nah, I'm kidding. I really am kidding about that. I'm not a part of it. I don't think any of us really are a part of the tribute record. It'd be kind of strange to be part of your own tribute record. I've never seen that happen before. It'd be interesting, though.
[Note: cMusicWeb.com/inReview.net would like to express its sincere thanks to KMax and Brian Mayes of Nashville Publicity for making this interview happen.]