In 1992, dc Talk released Free at Last, a tightly crafted hip-hop album with a melting pot of side features; silky vocals, crunchy guitar solos, Gospel jams, and crazy interludes. The set sold a million copies and landed the act on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. It also sparked a sold-out tour that competed with superstar Seattle rockers of the day--unprecedented stuff for alternative Christian performers back then.
With a camera crew in tow, plans were made to film the dynamic life-on-the-road interplay between group members Toby McKeehan (the leader), Michael Tait (the nice guy), and Kevin Max (the rebel) for a documentary-style motion picture. Compiling the footage with concert and TV clips, the Free at Last movie was produced and pre-promoted as a groundbreaking moment in music history. Then, the project hit snags and never arrived. Copyright fees and legal details regarding some of the key footage had proven too expensive and time-consuming, and dc Talk was soon consumed with its next platinum project, Jesus Freak.
Ten years later, record executives have pulled Free at Last from the archives, retooled it for easy clearance, and are releasing it to the public on DVD, packaged together with a re-issue of the CD that includes a new remix of dc Talk's artistically pivotal song, "The Hardway." Here's what Toby, Michael, and Kevin had to say about their return to the early 1990s….
Q: Why release Free at Last now, almost 10 years after the fact?
Toby: It’s going to be a really cool look back; a retro piece all of a sudden… It makes sense for a label to focus on a moment in history, if it was a significant moment. I guess they feel this is. I can’t say it is, I have to remain the humble one in this.
Kevin: I think what’s cool is that you get to see the progression in work, actually displayed in front of you, at a very interesting point of our career. A pinnacle, actually, of being three very different personalities, on tour, making music, being in a very interracial scenario, constantly having to perfect what we did on stage and work it out as brothers.
Q: What are your favorite memories as you look back on the footage from the Free at Last tour?
Toby: My favorite memory is the sense of community that we felt. Free at Last was the first tour where a bunch of young musicians, and Michael, Kevin and myself, suddenly find ourselves together on a bus. And we’re out on the road. Everything was new. Everything mattered. It was a moment of firsts, and I think that’s some of the most exciting times of your life.
Michael: A big memory for me is just the way the cameras followed us around. That was back when The Real World on MTV was just getting started. And it was cool knowing your life was being documented for later viewing by yourself or by other people.
Q: If you had known then what you know now, what would be different about the movie?
Toby: I don’t think I would change much about the film. Reality based TV is the biggest thing in the world right now. We were living reality based TV then. There's some footage that might be embarrassing for each of us. Sometimes we may look very selfish…self-righteous. But that’s the guts of what America and believers want to see. We want to be transparent, and this is the ultimate transparency. Bring people in your life for a year and let them shoot.
Q: Has anything been added to the movie for its release that was not filmed on the Free at Last tour?
Michael: We went in and added some vocal commentary on certain parts of the film about what we were feeling at the time and how it effects us now.
Q: Who are you hoping to connect with by releasing the movie?
Toby: …People who have gotten into dc Talk since Free at Last; people who got in on Supernatural or late in the Jesus Freak era. I think it would be interesting for them to look back and see how we evolved.
Kevin: There are things about this that could connect with anybody really. It’s about three guys swept up into a whirlwind of entertainment, trying to stay true to their spiritual beliefs. It’s an interesting story.
Q: Free at Last was a musical turning point for the band. When you listen to the project now, does it stand the test of time?
Toby: I’m proud to say yes. I’m embarrassed to say that if you go before Free at Last, you’ll find three little guys gasping for air in the pool of art, but not finding too much of it…
We just played the Billy Graham crusade and did a medley of "Luv Is a Verb" and "Jesus Is Still Alright." It’s really weird; we only did five songs that night, and three were from Free at Last. That’s a pretty big statement.
Q: What is your favorite song on Free At Last and why?
Michael: "Say the Words" because the Bible speaks so much about love.
Kevin: Definitely "The Hardway," for obvious reasons.