Singer-songwriter John Mark McMillan explains the “Body + Ghost Tour” that brings him and two other bands to Waco’s Common Grounds on Friday night suggests the interplay between flesh and spirit that’s always intrigued him.
It underlies some of the worship songs he wrote early in his career, numbers like the iconic “How He Loves” and “Heart Won’t Stop,” and it’s there hovering above some of his more recent grapplings about success in life or purpose.
“It’s a fun dynamic, but also there’s a spiritual or existential bent to it,” he explained in a phone interview from his Charlotte, North Carolina home. “Faith and spirituality are not just ideas, but they have to resonate in the physical world.”
Audiences resonating with McMillan’s songs have kept pace with him over the years, even as — or, perhaps, because — he’s grappled with everyday issues such as anxiety, direction, success, doubt and values in language that’s often poetical, but never cliched. Musically, as those attending Friday’s concert will discover, McMillan and his five-piece band journey through a tonal landscape of varied styles, tempos and effects.
Raising doubts about life and faith may challenge those wanting easy answers, but McMillan, 38, has found more listeners, thousands live and millions on Spotify, who agree with the questions. “Most people want you to tell them what they want to hear and that’s OK,” he said. “I think questions are integral to real, robust faith . . . When I ask, ‘Why do I feel this way?’ maybe it’s creating new ideas for faith.”
At the same time, McMillan doesn’t think the occasional darkness doesn’t mask the end. “Hope is so important these days and sometimes the unknown is working for us,” he said.
Joining him in the “Body + Ghost Tour” stop at Common Grounds are Detroit indie rockers Mike Mains and The Branches, and California singer-songwriter Tyson Motsenbocker. Mains and his band come to Waco on the heels of a new album,”When We Were in Love” and will debut singles from it.
McMillan’s wife Sarah often accompanies him, more frequently as their three children grow older, and will perform Friday as well.
What’s on tap, McMillan says, is “a lot of different songs. rock ’n’ roll, some chill songs, some singer-songwriter ones and some worship ones.”
That, too, comes from experience in living with uncertainty. “When I started, I was such a live band person that I was afraid to do anything that didn’t sound like a live band,” he said.
Gradually, he found himself doing some things in the studio that he and his band later had to figure out how to replicate in performance. That sort of confidence in the recording studio has him currently releasing a full remastering of his 2008 album “The Medicine,” with some tracks reworked in alternate full band versions.
“I’m less intimidated, less insecure than I was,” he said.