Newsboys-Their Best of Release...
- Monday, November 20, 2000
It's the ultimate irony. They're called the Newsboys yet they've never been captured by any headline or label. After all, how do you bottle the essence of a band that's had everything from a lead singer in gold and red suits to a drummer strapped in a contraption that takes him upside down while he continues to pump out a beat on his drum kit? How do you tell the story of spirited young men from Down Under who returned to the land of opportunity despite warnings from their own record company not to bother after the flop of their first album?
The reality is that the Newsboys have never fit neatly within any package. In fact sometimes they didn't fit in at all. They certainly didn't in the once quiet seaside town of Mooloolaba in Queensland, Australia, in 1986.
The band jammed in a claustrophobic garage lined with egg cartons and pieces of foam. Neighbors made it clear they would rather they not jam at all -- not in the garage, not in the street, just not at all. This not-so-sweet message was made crystal clear via the sugar that was dumped in the gas tank of the family car of lead singer Peter Furler. It was the first of many car troubles to come.
The Newsboys have never been interested in doing things to please people. They'd rather serve God. And if that means trying to reach the lost in a smoke-filled pub, which is more accustomed to hearing the world's music from Midnight Oil and INXS, then so be it. Playing good music was the key to surviving.
Band members supported their fledgling musical beginnings with everything from selling lamingtons, Australian snack cakes, to doing plastering work for local construction companies. Anything to rustle up some money -- whether it be to buy new equipment, or just fuel to get to the next gig.
Their determination to share their faith with a world desperately lacking hope is underscored by the story of how they came to the United States. Arriving in New York on New Year's Eve, 1987, only to find the recording studio closed for the holiday, they were fingerprinted by suspicious cops before being allowed to stay in the studio over the weekend, because they had nowhere else to go.
Manager Wes Campbell and brother Steve, the Newsboys' road manager, had discovered the Newsboys while Wes was a youth pastor in Surfer's Paradise on Queensland's Gold Coast. The Campbells ran an outreach club called Genesis, a local hangout for people hungry for new musical talent. A Sunshine Coast band called Judah was scheduled to play one weekend but could not make it. They suggested Steve give these kids down the road a try, but cautioned they could not guarantee they were any good. The band, which lived for gigs, quickly took up the offer. In those days, Genesis offered bands $200 to play or the use of a decent sound system followed by dinner at Hungry Jacks (Burger King) afterwards. The Newsboys were the only band who ever opted for the sound system rather than the money.
"That was their spirit," Campbell says, explaining how the guys have always been more interested in investing in a good show for fans than building big bank balances. It's a pity they didn't invest in better vehicles though. On their way to the gig, their van broke down and had to be towed in. But they still managed to make a dramatic entrance, jumping through the windows of the church to launch a show like no other. Campbell soon saw the potential in the Newsboys, their passion not just for the music but also the message. "They just stole our hearts," he says.
Its been a passion which has produced some of the most memorable songs of Christian music: from the Christian anthem of Not Ashamed, to the Newsboys signature song Shine. The band's songs have been birthed in their own struggles. The lessons that life dishes up day after day. The human triumphs, the failures, and the funny times.
One of those times was at one of the band's early shows. Touring in an old fruit truck in Australia, the guys were sleeping on the top of the speakers in the back when a kangaroo jumped out in front of the truck. As the driver slammed on the brakes, the equipment was hurled forward, nearly crushing the young musicians.
After arriving in Los Angeles, Campbell, accompanied by wife, Sharon, and child, put the Newsboys on rations of $1 a day as eight of them rented one room in the now condemned Space Age Lodge in Anaheim, Calif. With no money and few contacts in the music industry, it proved to be a constant test of their faith. They pushed two beds together and slept eight across in their humble room while surviving on burgers from a local fast food outlet. With no income source, and having sold their music equipment to fund their airfares, the band had to rely on the generosity -- and credit cards -- of crew members with "real jobs" to purchase their gear in the United States.
Hearing of a gig called "Atlantafest," Campbell called up the organizers and wanted to know the chance of getting the Newsboys into the lineup. No chance, they said, the bands had already been booked about a year in advance. But the Newsboys were told they could play for the road crew setting up the stage. Car troubles again. After finally getting there, the Newsboys impressed the crew, who said they just had to play the next night. Little did they know, but the newfound fans started a petition urging the organizers to let the band play on the main stage. "The rest is history," Campbell says.
Its been that dogged determination -- not to mention many absolute miracles from God -- which has seen the band overcome incredible odds to make it to where they are today. It could have been easier. They could have simply succumbed to the formula, copied the latest manufactured pop, been a copycat band. But they have determined never to be a rip-off. And since their very first shows they always wanted to give the fans that little bit extra.
The Newsboys have produced the industry's most compelling stage shows. Who but the Newsboys would be crazy enough to take their own venue with them as they did in this year's Love, Liberty, Disco Airdome Tour, leap-frogging across some 75 cities in a relentless tour which endured everything from snow to wind storms. Who but Newsboys would strap their drummer into a drum-riser dubbed "Voltrox" each night to be lifted up off the stage and then upside down as he continued his drum solo? And who can forget how at a show in San Francisco, when one of the hydraulic hoses burst, Furler was left still drumming upside down as he, band, and the front row were sprayed with hydraulic fluid. The band, still trying to keep the show going, explained to the crowd "Voltrox is bleeding."
From the humblest of beginnings, touring the United States in a white motor home dubbed "The Fridge" because it looked like a Kenmore refrigerator on wheels, the Newsboys' entourage now includes seven semi-trailers and trucks, some 560,000 pounds of equipment, 55 paid staff and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
But Furler, fellow bass player and singer Phil Joel, guitarist Jody Davis, keyboardist Jeff Frankenstein, and fellow Australian drummer Duncan Phillips shun the idea of being megastars.
"In some ways it is just as crazy but only on a larger scale," Campbell observes. Its gone from the band having to bail out "The Fridge" because it was unable to get up the hill to quickly learning the art of using a welding machine to repair an ailing airdome. "It's just an incredible spirit. That's the reason they are successful ... the determination, the never-say-die attitude," says Campbell.
And still the band enjoys truckloads of fun. Who could forget the images of band members shooting each other with paintball guns amid relentless journeys on tour buses, or the visions of them tearing across the deserts of America on motocross bikes?
This is a band that doesn't take its media image too seriously. One thing they have taken seriously, though, is the message. And while they could have gained more acceptance in the mainstream industry if they took the message out of the music, mentioned less of Jesus and the gospel, the message has always been the point of the music.
So many people looking for hope, for purpose, for a sense of belonging, to be loved. Too often they don't see it in organized religion, or in their so-called Christian homes. The Newsboys, as they struggle through their own human failings, know there is only one thing that will make the difference -- the unconditional love of God.
Nine albums and thousands of shows later, the Newsboys still reach deeper for a closer relationship with the Author of that love. They have not lost the call that first motivated them to leave their family and homeland, the call to make a difference in their world, to be bearers of good news in a world so often marred by the bad.
And while more than a decade on the road is a long time in anyone's books, the Newsboys believe their musical journey is still in its beginnings with the best yet to come. "It's been a long-term plan for us," Campbell says of the journey. While a lot of hard work and determination have paved the way for the Newsboys, they are first to tell you that none of it would have happened were it not for the grace of God.
"Still a work in progress ..."
Learn more about the Newsboys here.
Their latest album is Love Liberty Disco. Listen to tracks and read member reviews here.
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