In early March, when I talked with Darren Mulligan, of We Are Messengers, he ended with comments about TobyMac, the headliner for a New Orleans concert then set for March 29.
TobyMac’s son Truett Foster McKeehan, 21, died in October of an accidental drug overdose. Truett was an aspiring musician himself.
Mulligan said his band was delighted to be coming to Louisiana, and that everyone should come expecting more than just another show.
“This one matters. It really does. It’s cost us all something to be here, especially Toby. So come expectant, come ready.
“People might be coming ready for a funeral,” he said. “This is no funeral, this is a feast, a party, because we have seen the goodness of God even in tragedy, and we will see Truett again.”
Two weeks later, those words from the Irish musician seem prophetic. Little did anyone know the March show would be called off as the entire country shut down for the coronavirus pandemic.
Mulligan said the show has been rescheduled to Aug. 20, and "we will be ready to party with you all.”
The TobyMac Hits Deep Tour will still be at UNO Lakefront Arena. Already purchased tickets will be valid for the new date, but refunds will be offered to those who can't attend.
When asked to describe We Are Messengers, Mulligan said, “We’re messy, riot-y, joyful. We can be really loud, and we can be really tender. We’ve come from a nonreligious background, rescued by Jesus 11 years ago, from alcoholism and adultery. So we don’t sound like anything you’ve heard before in the church.”
He added, “We haven’t conformed to the ideas of what a good little Christian should be. We try to live our lives in love with Jesus and in love with people, especially the least of these and the outsider. The immigrant, the lost, the lonely, the addicts are our people. We make music for those kinds of people, people who want to live a … genuine life.”
The band recently released its second full-length album, “Power.”
Mulligan didn’t hesitate to answer when asked his favorite piece.
“There a song called ‘Maybe It’s OK,’ a song we wrote for people who struggle with mental health issues. It’s gone all across the world,” he said. “Millions of downloads and streams. And to see people come out of the stigma of mental health and put their hand up and say I’m not OK and get the medical help they need … has been the highlight of our career so far.”
We Are Messengers had already played the East Coast leg of the Hits Deep Tour in the spring and found the experience to be a form of family and a chance to experience life with TobyMac.
“Toby is a man of incredible character. I’ve learned more from him in a year than I’ve learned in the rest of my musical career,” Mulligan said. “He really challenges us to become better men, better husbands, better musicians.”
Mulligan said he was drawn to music around age 7, dreaming of writing songs that affected people.
“When I was 13, my mom and dad bought me my first guitar, and that set me on a course of music and addiction where I could never let music go,” he said.
He said while he grew up Roman Catholic, it was purely in a cultural sense. He said the lack of intimacy with God “led to just incredible dark times in my own life. I did things I was ashamed of.
“But there is no shame in Christ Jesus, no condemnation, so I’m a free man now,” he added.
Mulligan said early in his music career he was playing for the wrong reasons. And in that time, his girlfriend, now wife, became a Christian and eventually led him to faith.
“I couldn’t avoid the goodness of God in my life,” he said. “It changed everything about 11 years ago.”
Mulligan quit music because he associated it with “adultery and drunkenness and violence.”
But it turned out to be just a two-year break. He started traveling to Irish villages, singing songs about Jesus for small community groups. “And out of the blue, Warner Brothers in Nashville, Tennessee, called us and offered us a record deal. We said yes.”
Mulligan and his family moved to Nashville, and “left everything we loved behind.”
“This is funny. It’s quite sad, but it’s funny,” he said, as he launched into a summary of the experience. “We moved thinking everything is going to work out great and within a year we were stone-cold broke, living on food stamps around 2015-16.
“I remember saying to God, ‘What are you doing? I have kids, and you brought me over here away from everything to be here to be this poor? To be this desperate?’
“Within two weeks, we put out our first single, ‘Everything Comes Alive,’ and it was the fastest growing single from a record label in 10 years."
He added that the group’s recent release is its sixth Top 5 song in a row.
“God has proven himself to be no man’s fool. He is good,” Mulligan said. “And he is not good because we have a successful career. He’s good because he is good, no matter the circumstance.
“He was good when we were sleeping on air mattresses in a tiny apartment worrying about where our next meal was coming from," he said. "And he’s good now that we play to arenas full of people every night of the week."
Editor's note: Updated to the correct song title, "Everything Comes Alive."