Six years ago, Minnesota native Brady Toops made the unconventional switch from professional athlete to guitar-slinging, Nashville-based musician. His first, self-titled album came out on Aug. 27, and ranked No. 8 on iTunes’ Christian/Gospel chart. Last week on his way to Texas as part of his new tour, he talked with me about worship, sports, and talking to women.
How did you decide to pursue music? Music was always something I had loved. I’ve sung ever since I can remember. Even though I was mostly dedicated to sports, music had been my escape. I played with the St. Louis Cardinals [minor league team] from 2004 to 2006. After a game one night in May, they sat me down, said thanks for everything, and then cut me. I asked God, what do you want me to do? I felt like He asked me: What do you want to do? I had no idea. So I took a road trip to try to answer that question. I came back, sat down, and told my parents I wanted to do music.
What was it like being a Christian in the sports world? It was a really lonely place. The hardest part was a lack of friends on the team who loved God. Most of the time, the conversations were about what some guy did with some girl the night before. Music became an escape for me. I would grab my guitar and disappear in my room for a few hours. It would center me. Worship has a way of … taking you out of the temporary and [bringing] you into the eternal.
Before you were cut, did you feel like your love for both music and sports existed in tension? I always felt with baseball that I was gifted to do it and I would play as long as I could play. I never felt conflicted about it. But there was a time during a tough season when I felt more alive doing music than I did playing baseball. … It was a welcome transition. Maybe that was because I was tired of waking up early and taking more Ibuprofen than I should have. [But] there were a lot of great lessons and qualities and character development from baseball that translate well into music. As a catcher, you control a lot of the game. You have to be aware of a lot of things: coaches’ signals, hitters’ strengths and weaknesses. As a worship leader, there’s a lot of similar dynamics, directing the way that [worship] would go.
What has it been like breaking into the music world? I had no idea how to do music. There’s no music industry in my hometown, so in 2010, I moved to Nashville, the place where they say dreams die. (laughs) It’s refreshing to be in a city that [understands] the arts and had a value for that as a profession. [But] I think [my] small town [roots] helped keep me more authentic in what I do. If you grow up in and around the industry, it’s easy to get jaded and lose your soul … lose the why behind what you do.
How do you handle rejection as you pursue this new career path? Many people hide behind a false self because we don’t want to be rejected. We’ll say things we don’t really mean because we want to be a peacemaker. You can get trapped by the fear, but I’ve tried to operate in an opposite spirit. I’ve decided to not be a people-pleaser, to not be afraid of writing a song because people might not like it. Okay, here’s a funny story: (laughs) The other day, an attractive woman walked into a burger shop. Normally, I would be gripped by fear, afraid of rejection, and would never even say hello. But this time, I decided I didn’t care if anything ever comes out of this, and I confronted it. I bought her meal and asked if she’d like to get coffee.
How do you approach art as a Christian? In the Kingdom, there’s beauty and life and death (beauty and its opposite). I’ve just wanted to write songs that help people find life and beauty, whether that’s the context of a hymn or a Negro spiritual. I think Christian artists should create the most beautiful, life-giving art that the world has ever known.
Why did you choose the hymnal song style? Are you concerned about being put on the “sacred” side of the so-called secular/sacred divide? I grew up in a church that sang hymns, so I have a fondness in my heart for the language and imagery that the hymns capture. I’m fully aware that this record is a spiritual record. But this was the most natural overflow of my heart, stories, and prayers. It’s a look into my soul. I’m not worried about being classified, I’m not worried about being called a Christian musician. I don’t box myself into that.
My favorite song on your new album is “Come on Home.” Is there a story behind that? I was out one day and ran into a guy I knew in Kansas City. I saw him in a store and I asked how he was doing. He said he wasn’t well, you know? I said to him, “God’s not afraid of your weakness, is not intimidated by your failures. He loves you. You have to run to him, not away from him.” I prayed for him right there in the store. Later, at home, I grabbed my guitar and wrote those words to the song as though he was my brother and I was writing him a letter, telling him about his Father, who’s always sitting on the front porch, scanning the horizon, waiting for him. The second verse says, “Mercy’s reach is in your grasp/you’ll find it where you found it last.” I think it’s a song for [many] of us.
You’re currently on tour. What’s been the most rewarding moment so far? Last night, we were playing in a small church in Oklahoma that reminded me of my small church. It didn’t have great musicians or sounds systems. But [seeing] people tear up and grab tissues. … I could see that God was doing something beautiful in their hearts. Maybe they were reminded of some things in their lives. When you give people the gift of that moment, [of] a tender heart, it’s always worth it. We get to do something that adds value and beauty to the world. I’m thankful for that opportunity.