Newsboys: The Way They Roll

In this exclusive newsboys interview, new front man Michael Tait, along with Jeff Frankenstein and Duncan Phillips, discuss the recent line-up changes and the band’s new direction. (Be sure to check out the newsboys cover story in CCM’s premiere Digital New Release Guide).

CCM:  Why the transition, and how did the line-up change come about?

Jeff Frankenstein (keys, bass):  I don’t want to speak exclusively for Peter [Furler, former lead singer], but I think that he had just gotten to a crossroads where he felt like he just wanted to get off the road, specifically for the fact that he had been on the road for 22 years! [Laughs]

CCM:  Yeah, well that can wear on anybody.

Jeff:  Doing about 16 records in that time, I think, and doing all the records and all the shows and stuff … So for him, I think he wanted to have that time at home and focus in more on the songwriting part of what we do and the studio part of what we do—sort of be more of the brainchild of what we do. At the same time, the touring side of what we do—it’s a pretty tough job. We do a lot of shows a year, and I think when we were thinking about going forward it was like the first person that spouted to mind was Mike [Michael Tait]—obviously somebody that we go back with all the way to the first days of dcTalk and newsboys. We’ve known him forever, and that was the first person that sprung to mind; and Mike was available. So this is like McDonald’s and Burger King coming together! [Laughs] It’s really cool. We’re actually calling you from the rehearsal room today. We’re working on it and hoping to transition everything smoothly over the next few weeks. So it’s been really cool.

Michael Tait (lead vocals): When Jeff just said that, I thought about Pete’s workload. To give you an idea of how tough this is … The newsboys as a professional, still touring band, making records for many years under the direction of the creative helm of Peter Furler … He did what we [dcTalk] did longer and by himself—no toby, no Kevin. So, you think he might get a little tired. So we talked about it, you know, kind of changing lead singer and lead singer. He’s kind of giving me the “keys to the office,” so to speak. Actually, here’s the workload ... I was like, “There’s no toby; there’s no Kevin.” He hits it hard. I’m honored. So far, this is not a honeymoon period. This is the way it is. These guys are jewels. The fans have embraced me. And at the end of the day the fans are very similar to dcTalk fans. I’m not Peter Furler. I don’t have a bald head; I’m not white, and I don’t speak with an Australian accent. [Laughs]

Duncan Phillips (drums): We’re working on it though. We might take him to a speech coach.

Michael: It’s been a blast so far just learning the songs and the way God speaks to me and gives me new vision and thoughts on these things that Peter birthed and [the guys] birthed years before I came on board.

Duncan: I think Pete felt like he couldn’t give both sides 100 percent. When you’re working as many years as we have, the weight or responsibility that you feel … He was really responsible for the records, really being the taskmaster behind them and also for the live show … There’s only so many days in a year, so many hours in a day … And it was just after 22 years, if you can imagine, so he couldn’t give 110 percent to both, which he had all those years. So now, I kind of feel that this is an even better situation where Mike is on here; he’s an awesome singer. We can give the touring side 110 percent, and Pete now has the time to give the artistic side, or the recording side of what we do, 110 percent, too. So it’s really like there are these two arrows flying through the air hopefully making a way bigger impact.

Michael: We feel like it’s the perfect little situation. I love to sing. I love people; they’re my oxygen. My dad was a pastor, and it’s in my heart … Then Pete did the stage thing because he wrote these wonderful songs and the band was working. So he made it really clear that he’d rather not do that. He’s back home now, [and we’ll still be] working together, writing together, producing together—being creative. It works well, because we’re both doing what we enjoy.

Duncan:  It’ll actually be a way more effective and efficient newsboys if that makes sense.

CCM:  What does this mean for the long-term future of newsboys as far as future recordings? I know that the new record is already done. But on the next studio record, for instance, Michael, how involved will you be in that process?

Michael:  I want to be as involved as I can creatively. But if Jeff writes 10 songs, and none of us write any more at all, I’m happy with that. What I know for sure is Jeff will be playing all the keyboards while I’ll be doing all the vocals—that kind of thing. It’ll mostly be vocals and sort of lead stuff I’ll be doing. I’ll be working with Pete and these guys on creating the new sound. I’m not changing all along what we’ve had there, but, of course, me being Michael Tait and even African-American will add a flair to it; and that’s part of the beauty of it. And we’ll see which road it takes—with dcTalk and the newsboys, so to speak.

CCM:  For the next recording, will Peter do any lead vocal work at all?

Michael:  Who knows?

Duncan:  We don’t know what it’s going to look like at the moment, but I would think that probably …

Michael:  toby and Kevin could join us… [Laughs] Our first show in Dallas, we were just absolutely encouraged. There was a mistake here and there, but for the most part, the people wrapped me in love and support. And you would have thought I [had been] there the entire time.

CCM:  Are you going to still try to pursue some of your solo stuff, or are you going to put that on hold at this point?

Michael:  For the “ccm” marketplace, newsboys is my home for sure. But if I get called by Sting or Seal … this boy ain’t gonna say “no.” [Laughs]

CCM:  This album also marks the return of Jody Davis who used to play with you guys. So it’s kind of a reunion of sorts.

Duncan:  You know, it really is. Jody left the band about five years ago … And we just called him up out of the blue and said, “Hey Jody. What do you think?” And he was way into it, and he just came on board. You know what the great thing is? It’s kind of the same thing with Mike as well … Jody came back, and instantly we had this feeling of brotherhood. It’s like being away from your wife for five years, and then you’re back with her after that amount of time. You know, being in a band is kind of like a marriage of sorts. You come together, and there are times when you definitely spend more time with these boys than you do with your spouse. And Jody was fantastic. He just came back and took off exactly where we left off. And he’s actually singing better and playing better than he ever has. He’s an incredible asset, and we’re just stoked to have him back in the band.

Jeff:  Well, with Jody, he was in the band for 10 years, and it was sad to see him go when he left. I know for me, the last couple of weeks, there’s been times when I’ve looked to the side of the stage, and I saw Jody over there and I was like, “Whoa!” You know, we have a lot of history together and a lot of great memories together from 10 years ago, even 15 years ago. It’s pretty cool to have him back with us again.

CCM:  You guys have had a lot of people come in and out of your band through the years, but you’ve always managed to be successful no matter what. What do you attribute to that?

Duncan:  When it’s all said and done, it’s a combination of different things. It’s a combination of, first of all, the incredible management, which we’ve had all since day one. It’s also great songs. ‘Cause ultimately, you can be the best band in the world and be the best players and be the best-looking guys, but if you don’t have great songs … see ya. It’s those two things working hand-in-hand that have made us last this amount of time.

I think the biggest temptation when you have a really successful record is to make another one exactly the same. But you actually can’t do that because you actually end up getting stagnant because the fans move on; they’re listening to all different types of music all the time. So all we’ve ever tried to do is just write the best record that we possibly know how to write. I think if you get caught up in a fad, then that fad dies, you’ll die too. So I think we’ve always been aware of that … But one thing I’m really proud of is the newsboys have always had their own sound. They’ve never been the Christian version of someone else. We strive for that, and we’ve always been very proud of that fact. Going forward, that’s obviously going to continue. …

Michael:  See all the pressure they put on me now? [Laughs]

CCM:  Let’s talk a little bit about your new record. Tell me a little bit about In The Hands of God.

Duncan:  Did you like the Go record?

CCM:  Uh-huh.

Duncan:  You’re going to love this one! As I was saying before, it’s a record that’s come together through blood, sweat and tears. We’ve been working on it for a long time. All we ever try to do is better ourselves. You kind of have to reapply for your job every record, and that’s what we’ve done here. I truly believe that it has some of the best songs newsboys has ever recorded. It’s a great record. I’m really, really proud of it. I’m excited to go out here real soon and start touring. So I just can’t say enough about it. It’s probably one of my favorite records so far.

CCM:  In recent years, you’ve developed a techno/dance sound … Does this record have more of those elements integrated into it?

Duncan:  Would you call “Breakfast” a techno song?

CCM:  Yeah. And that was a long time ago …

Jeff:  I think what you’re alluding to is that our songs have a bit more of a European, dance/pop flair to them. I think this record has a lot of that, and production-wise it’s probably pushed past Go … bigger, more orchestrated strings, pretty fully blown out—over the top style. It’s definitely more of a rock record than we’ve done in a long time. From a songwriting perspective, it’s probably one of the strongest records I would think we’ve ever done.

Michael:  It’s really cool hearing Jeff and Duncan say that. It makes me laugh and smile inside and feel good because people were asking me, “If you’re part of the next project, what would you do differently?” One thing that I would not do differently, even though I could, with these guys guarding their beautiful history is … I love the element that the  newsboys have in Christian music, my marketplace … When the newsboys are on stage, number one, in the past with Pete in leadership, it was always a solid show … There was ministry. The concert was an experience. Then you go home and put the record in, and you feel the same excitement [from] all the records. And that’s hard to do, speaking from the recording and producing side of things.  But all that to say … When people come to a newsboys concert, they’re going to get rocked by the gospel and by the music!

CCM:  What do you hope fans take away from this record?

Jeff:  It’s hard to say. There are so many different things that people take away from it. Just being on the road for the last couple months, what I’ve noticed on the road is that people are really coming to the shows hungry to be encouraged. A lot of people are dealing with circumstances in their lives, whether it’s financial or … especially when we were in the Northeast a few weeks ago … The economy’s not very good; and jobs aren’t very good; and financials … where the situations are having a toll on families and stuff. I think I’ve seen all these people come together to a show really hungry to be encouraged and to worship and to spend quality time with their families and enjoy the music. So for us, it’s really cool. You work on a record like this for a couple years, and it just goes out and you start to hear the stories back. But I think you never know exactly what that’s going to be. We just hope that it encourages people. Music has such an amazing power to touch people, but most of the time, we don’t get to see that so much first-hand. It’s that person driving down the road at 1 a.m. driving back from work who listens to some song on your record. And you get some story back like that where a lyric touched them or something happened. So those are the cool things …

CCM:  What about touring?

Jeff:  There’s a tour in the works for the fall. We don’t have all the specifics yet, but there will be something for sure.

Michael:  The dates that you have now on the newsboys website—none of that’s changing. Let’s put it this way, make no mistake about it, it’s different, and I could never replace Peter; I’m not trying to, but just know we’re brothers, and you bring a little piece of that with you automatically.

Duncan:  I’d really like to thank all of the promoters who have stuck with us over the last 20 years, who have supported us all this time. There are so many promoters all over the country who have really embraced this thing. And we weren’t sure, but they’ve pretty much all come on board, and they are just so excited about the future of this thing … Most of them just say, “It’s a no brainer. Michael Tait and the newsboys?! Yeah! Give us more! Give us more!”

Michael:  dcTalk and newsboys … We’ve kind of shared a lot of the same people along the way—[media], managers, publicists, festival promoters. That said, I’ve had friends of mine who [called and said], “Is this true? Is a Peter Furler/newsboys show going to be a Michael Tait/newsboys show?” I’m a newsboy now! And they go, “Well that’s awesome!” We’re all a part of this thing. Make no mistake about it, the music you guys make, Peter and I, we’re conduits … We all are in this band. It’s about the music—the songs … We’ll throw in a couple dcTalk songs for sure.

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Check out the newsboys on the cover of CCM’s premier Digital New Release Guide.


© 2009  All rights reserved.  Used with permission. 

**This interview first published on June 3, 2009