Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The Newsboys - Pursuing the Art of Disco

  • 1999 9 Dec
The Newsboys - Pursuing the Art of Disco
By Bruce Adolph, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}}

What happens when you take one of the most popular bands in Christian music and infuse them with a fresh musical vision that's full of rhythmic celebration, hip tones and a three-vocalist attack? Need one more clue? Throw in a lot of '70s synth strings. The answer is ==Love Liberty Disco==, the new project by the {{Newsboys}}. The boys from down-under not only seem to be defying the aging process (they look as young as ever on the very-well-done album cover), but listening to the new album you can picture how well the material will go over live. The {{Newsboys}} are already one of the best live bands in contemporary Christian music and the public has yet to be exposed to the Love Liberty Disco tour. It should be quite the event.

Add to this the launching of InPop, a new record label that is designed to give other international acts a shot in the music biz, as well as to showcase some of the {{Newsboys}}' solo efforts as well. The label is orchestrated in a way that does not put any pressure on the band, but rather gives the boys a vehicle to chase a few musical "rabbit trails" individually, knowing that the corporate {{Newsboys}} gig is safe and sound. We recently caught up with the follically-polarized two of the group, Peter Furler (no hair) and Phil Joel (tons of hair) to shed some light on the Love Liberty Disco revolution.

CM: It seems that with Love Liberty Disco you've reinvented yourselves musically. How did this project come about?

Peter: First off, you have to get tired of yourself. I get tired of myself really quickly. I'm probably my least biggest fan. Obviously there's production elements. There were certain drum sounds that I wanted. We spent about four days just on the drums and bass. There were two things I remember going in there thinking. Number one, the drums and the bass are really important to us. We are a disco-type band. You look up disco and it means repetitive rhythms and thumping bass. That's kind of what we are. We spent the first four or five days just trying to discover a drum sound that would fit most of the record. And then we had to find the bass to compliment the drums. The other thing I remember thinking was that I wanted to keep it sparse. Make everything count.

The vocals were also a focus. There are three singers in the band, and the two other guys are far superior to me, so it felt weird not using them as much. Obviously you can't win with three lead singers, so I started thinking of other bands whose vocals I've always liked, and the one that we were closest to was Fleetwood Mac. They also had three lead singers, all very different and doing their own thing. We don't tread on each other's territory. Jody's an unbelievable singer. Most people would not know that, but he's just incredible. He's not a very flamboyant kind of guy. Phil, as most people know, is a great singer, but for opposite reasons. He's very outgoing and makes his presence known. And myself, I can't do all the things that those two do, but I have more of a swagger. That's probably more my gig. Those guys are like the classic Marshall and the classic Vox, and I'm the Sears Roebuck, you know what I mean? Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. That's where I fit in. But the three of us together do some things that sound really good. I'm really proud of that. There's a lot more vocal treatments in the last four or five tunes. We were just starting to get into something when the record was finished. There are elements of that we'll move into in the near future.

Phil:We started writing pretty early. And we went in with a whole lot of tunes. Peter and I took a vacation - we went down to Florida for awhile. We took our wives and rented places down there, but we also rented a little chapel. It was a wedding chapel type of thing, it wasn't a church per se. So we'd go swimming in the morning and then eat lunch, and then go down to the chapel around three o'clock and write songs. It was really nice. It was after we'd finished the tour. We also recorded quite a lot of stuff in January. We got a head start, going down to the studio every day and cut several songs. We motorized it, just churning through. Like you said, it does feel like we've reinvented ourselves, and I think that was the process. We wanted to record as much stuff as we could to decide what it was we didn't want to do.

CM: What have been the recent influences that helped to inspire this new musical direction?

Phil: I don't know if there were any musical influences in particular. We enjoyed certain elements of ==Step Up to the Microphone== and recording that so much that we applied a lot of the things we had learned from that recording to this one, such as the strings.

Peter: I've liked a lot of music lately, but the record doesn't sound like any of it. It has moments of Fleetwood Mac and Australian eighties pop and a bit of seventies, it's got a definite seventies overtone. I've been getting into singers lately, looking for great voices. In the last six or eight months, though, I've been pretty involved in this record. The last thing I want to do when I leave the studio is listen to music. Although Sarah McLaughlin, the live record, is the one thing I've been listening to. She's a very big influence on me vocally. I can't do anything that she does, but I wish I could. I also enjoy stuff like The Doors, mainly from a production standpoint. I'm not a big listener of music, I love writing music. Jeff has a great LP collection, he really enjoys vinyls. My idea of music is coming home and putting some headphones on with my guitar and having my own little concert. That's how I enjoy music. I've learned this year that my passion is writing songs. I love it more than recording or producing or singing. There were times on this record where I really hated singing. I thought, "This isn't what I was meant to be doing with my life." It got really frustrating, because I felt that a couple of the songs deserved a better singer. Sometimes you do six or seven takes of a song, listen to it and know it's not any good. Then you come back with a totally different approach and do it in one take. There are waves of regret and waves of joy. When it's your vocals it can be so humiliating.

CM: I can't even stand the sound of my voice on tape, I can't imagine what it must be like to put down vocal tracks all the time.

Peter: It's exactly like hearing your voice on an answering machine, except there's forty-eight tracks.

CM: ==Love Liberty Disco== is a great title. How'd you come up with that?

Peter:Shane Wilson, the engineer we worked with, is a brilliant guy, an up-and-coming guy. He became an extra member of the band during the project. That's how we work, the people closest to us basically become part of the band, and he really did. Anyway, in the control room, he had all this different paraphernalia. I can't even describe all the knickknacks and photos and things, but it was how this guy made the control room his home. One of the photos was a building, it looks like it's in South America, and on it was the phrase "Love, Liberty, Disco." That photo is on the back of the album. And I thought about how that phrase sort of summed up this record. Disco is the one form of music that we all like. It's the glue that holds us together musically. It's the one form of music that we can all sit down and have a jam session to. I looked up disco in the dictionary, and it sort of described what we are. This record was so much about love and liberty - every song is about that. It was also time for us to break away from ==Not Ashamed==, ==Going Public==, ==Take Me to Your Leader==, which all say pretty much the same thing. We felt this record moved on to something else lyrically. It has my favorite lyrics so far. It's the first time we've captured the closest part of our thoughts in lyrical form. We've always tried, and we've always been honest, but this time it felt like it got really honest. It felt like it got closer to our hearts this time.

Phil: The first five songs on the record are a sort of bridge between the old style and the new. Musically the second five are very mature. Vocally they're very mature. Pete's singing like a real man, I really like it. He's singing with serious authority. The lyrical content is a lot deeper too. It's grown up. The content is more honest. We've put ourselves on the line even more than we have in the past by exposing our fears and things that have gone on in our lives. But it feels good. It's good to be able to do that. With the exception of a couple of songs, this record is like a series of poems. I don't know what other bands are like, but the Newsboys spend so much time together, and we're so much a part of each other's lives, that the things we go through on our spiritual journey individually we go through corporately as well. We're like the church body, I guess. It doesn't matter who pens our songs, they seem to express what we're all going through.

CM: In the upcoming tour you're traveling with an air dome?

Peter: We're going ahead with it. We'll keep going with the idea until we feel like we're not supposed to. This record will be better suited in the round. The dome only holds three thousand people, so in about ten cities we'll do three or four shows. It will definitely feel more intimate.

CM: Tell us about the new international label InPop.

Peter: That's something we felt the need for. My father always told me to find a void and fill it. We felt there was a void. Obviously it's not just exclusively international acts, but that's our start and that's where we'll be at for awhile. Every time we toured in Europe we came into contact with a lot of great bands, but no label would pick them up and bring them over here. About twelve years ago, before we were signed here, there were three or four different labels interested in us. The A&R guy from the label we were most interested in took us to the president of the company, who didn't want to sign us because he didn't think we could tour here in America. That was a big mistake. So we ended up going with Starsong instead. That attitude is still around today. Record companies are leery of using international acts. They're thinking, "How are they going to get here?" and "How are they going to get their working visas?" and it is a hassle. But the band that has done it for the last twelve years and worked a lot of bugs out of the system is the Newsboys, so we felt like we had something to offer to bands like that. And on the other side of it, I come home with a suitcase full of demo tapes every day. Now I can actually do something with them.

CM: How do you like the roll of executive?

Peter: The business side of it is really run by Wes Campbell. The Newsboys is my priority, so I'm more of a consultant. Listening to new acts, deciding who they should hook up with, whether it be songwriters, guitarists, producers, the production end is more my gig. I honestly don't spend a lot of my time on it. A lot of people thought that we started this because the band's been touring for ten years and we want to get off the road. It's actually just the opposite. This is to keep the band together. We've got a lot of guys with a lot of talent, and this gives them a chance to blow off some creative steam. Jodi's already recorded about nine songs, and they're great. They're nothing like {{Newsboys}}, but I really like them.

CM: Do you think that eventually the Newsboys might sign with InPop?

Peter:I don't know. We're really happy where we're at right now. We're sort of getting to know a new family right now since Starsong dissipated and we got moved to Sparrow. This is our first record with them and we've got two or three more left. They're a really good team and we're really happy, but who knows what will happen in the future? I'm always going to be a songwriter and a performer, Lord willing. But the great thing about InPop is that it's a terrific outlet for all the guys.

CM: The Newsboys have outlived the normal life expectancy of most rock bands. What do you think is the reason for this?

Peter: We are really close as a band. It's never been better. It would never be the same if one of the guys went their own way. It's definitely been a special time this last four or five years.

CM: You're one of the best live bands out there, with a great heart for ministry. What is your approach to ministry in your concerts?

Peter: I pray that the Holy Spirit moves, that's all. I try to be sincere. I can only speak about what I've lived and experienced. Sometimes there are probably things I say that offend people, and other things that lift people up, but I know that nothing I say or do will change people unless it's by the Spirit. There are nights when I felt like I was a bumbling mess. I didn't make sense, I contradicted myself, and the band was ready to hang me, but those are usually the nights when something happens. Other nights I felt really good about what I say and nothing happens. What I've learned is that I go out and pray for the Spirit to move and hope it doesn't leave me too embarrassed.