Step Up to the Tourbus

by Bruce Adolph, courtesy of %%Christian Musician%%

The {{Newsboys}} are one of those bands that just keep fighting no matter what. Their "down-under" Aussie charm is backed up by a tangible work ethic that would make most American car manufacturers' corporate leaders envious. To their credit they have tenaciously kept at it year after year, line upon line, building a solid foothold in the Christian music marketplace. They've done it via good record company marketing, management, radio and retail support, but most of all they've done it by working hard for their fans. {{Newsboys}} concerts have always been an exciting event. They like to go out and give it all that they've got.

This year is no different, in fact, the boys are gearing up for their most aggressive tour ever. They've added {{Third Day}} and {{The Waiting}} along with popular Teen Mania youth speaker Ron Luce to round out the program. The tour hits 120 cities, most often in arenas in the 5,000 seats and up category. It utilizes a powerful "kick-bottom, state of the art" sound and lights presentation and an equally impressive grassroots campaign to reach the youth pastors of America. The {{Newsboys}} and Teen Mania will place 60,000 phone calls to personally invite youth pastors to the concert closest to their community (I hope they have a good long distance provider!). Add to this the drama of bringing Peter Furler out from behind the drums and have him take the front-man position (previously held by co-founder and lead singer John James, who left to pursue a ministry as an evangelist in Australia) and then pile on the release of a sparkling new album, ==Step Up to the Microphone==. You can see that the young Aussies have a lot on their plate.

After hanging out with them, you kind of get the feeling that they like it this way: the grueling work of touring, the demands of the day-in, day-out ministry to youth, even the new opportunities of showcasing their music to the general market through Virgin records doesn't shake their confidence. After all, they have a strong work ethic, they believe if they go out there and do it right, it will get done. This year may prove more pivotal to the potential of the {{Newsboys}} than any of us can imagine. We talked with Peter Furler and Phil Joel about the new lineup, the tour and their approach to writing and making music.

CM: Tell me about the new lineup.

Peter: It's sort of a weird situation. It's not really a new lineup. It's not like we added anybody. The guys that are with us have been with us for four or five years. That's longer than some bands even survive. Before that we didn't have a guitarist or bass player, just two guys in the studio. Four or five years ago is when the band really got started, so to speak. I've sung a lot of the lead vocals on the last few albums; Phil sang on this record. The band is a lot more vocal than we ever were, because everyone is developing as musicians and singers.

CM: And now you're the front man.

Peter: Yes, that wasn't something totally new to me because I came down in front on four or five songs on the last tour anyway; the newness to me was communicating with the crowd. When I was on the drums, Phil and I had each other's vocals in the monitor mix, and it's still the same way. There has been a change, but normally, when you hear your lead singer's gone, you think, "Okay, there goes the sound of the band," but it didn't really feel like that to us.

CM: I was telling Phil that at the recent Teen Mania event in Seattle I didn't think half the crowd even noticed the change.

Peter: The funny thing is that although people think that we've been around a long while and have had success in record sales, it's the youth group that is the biggest part of our crowd, and the youth group changes every couple of years, so it's like we're a new band in some cases. A lot of the shows we've done lately haven't really been our usual crowd. There's a lot of people at the Teen Mania events that have never seen the Newsboys - they might of heard us on the radio or bought our record - but they've never seen the band live. So they don't know what to expect. It's still the Newsboys, but it's going to be better. The new record is better. We're the sort of band that gets tired of ourselves quickly, so it makes it really easy for us to reinvent ourselves. Musicians are always changing. Some look back at a record they made and just love it and don't know how they made it, but we haven't had that experience yet.

CM: We've seen Phil step in and sing more.

Peter: Jody sings as well. He's a great singer. It's not really known about the Newsboys, but these guys are all great players. It's not really known because we're not "lick heads". We're not out there playing big money. We're out there as a band, a team. The focus hopefully isn't on one person, it's on the team. That's where the genius lies; this record wouldn't be as good if any one of these guys weren't there. One of the biggest blessings of being in a band is the unity and respect. It's a team. When things get tough we come out swinging. Look out, that's the way we are as a band. When we're in the studio we're going to wrestle that song until it's the best we can make it. The live show is going to be better than the last time; we won't go out if it's not. It'll be time to call it quits.

CM: We thought you played guitar. Do you play rhythm?

Peter: I played quite a bit of guitar on the new record and I'm probably more proud of that than anything else.

CM: Is there more of a guitar-driven attack on the new record?

Peter: Well there are actually three guitar players in the band; Phil and Jody are really good guitarists, they're just really different. During concerts we'd like to do a couple of tunes using acoustics and all three get out there and play. That would be really cool. Everyone in the band plays a little bit of something. It's good and bad, but mostly good. I'm not what you call a guitarist, but I've got the passion for it. I love guitar.

Phil: It's like the old saying "a little knowledge is dangerous"; that applies in most areas, but not in music. As long as it sounds good, go for it.

Peter: If it sounds good and remotely in tune you're all right (laughing).

Phil: On the new record Pete would be playing a riff and would try to pass the guitar to one of us and we'd be like "there's no way we can play it like that, because you're a freak." Pete's the only one who can do that.

Peter: But at the same time, I could be playing a riff and Phil could grab another guitar or bass and he could be playing something that's totally opposite of it. It's like rubbing points all over the place. Then all of a sudden we've got a tune. Then there's Jody, who is totally left of center. You give him an A-DAT tape and four days later he'll come back with tracks and tracks of stuff. Some of it was beyond us. Some of it was beyond his thinking.

Phil: The stuff he hates we love. Not "hates," but is not sure about. We hear it and think it's genius. We all have moments of genius, but if I wasn't there I wouldn't have picked it up from him, and he couldn't have fed off of me.

Peter: Exactly, that's what happens live. You can't beat that.

CM: So in your writing you all have freedom?

Peter: Yeah, a lot of the stuff was written in the studio by just running a beat and then going off of of that, adding a melody. Then you've got a tune. A new thing with this record is that we wrote a lot of the songs, and that will continue.

Phil: We're ready to start again even though we love this record.

Peter: I really like the record. I'm proud of it. I could go in the studio again already and we probably will. They all [the band] write great songs.

Phil: All of us love to write and create. We've got all this stuff floating around but you can only put ten songs on the record, unless you put out a double record (laughing).

CM: That doesn't sell as well (laughing).

Peter: It doesn't, you lose continuity. One of our goals was continuity.

CM: How about changes in style?

Peter: Continuity is the biggest change. I love the ballads of U2 and I love the rock of Soundgarden, but they don't necessarily belong on the same album. You write a song and you like it so you put it on your record, but it doesn't always mean it should be done that way. We did some great songs but they just didn't fit. Duncan would come up with this crazy music. We call it Squiz music.

CM: Squiz?

Phil: That's his nickname.

Peter: We would like him to do a record. It's not Newsboys but it's got a flavor of Newsboys. It's the wildest music I've ever heard in my life. Every emotion at once.

CM: You guys have been road warriors: 192 dates in 18 months. Are you guys from a nomadic tribe?

Peter: We've been accused of that (laughing).

CM: What about this new tour?

Peter: It will be a pretty big one. The most fun is meeting people. I'm realizing it more now. I love the crowd; I love our fans.

CM: What about your families? Do you take your wives with you?

Peter: Sometimes, on the good shopping trips (laughing). They realize that only an hour and a half [of each touring day] is fun. The rest is work.

CM: What's your approach to reaching youth?

Peter: Honesty with as much integrity as possible. Representing Christ honorably. Our biggest fear is to not represent Him the way that He is. With everyone we come into contact with, whether it be the Christian at a concert or an atheist on the plane, we want to break down as many stereotypes as possible. It's about us being ambassadors of Christ as best as we can. As a band, with our music and our walk, if we pull that off we will be a tremendous success.

Editor's note: If you get a chance to, catch the tour. Oh and one more thing: they've brought back the revolving/spinning drum set ala' Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but like everything else the {{Newsboys}} do, they've put a new spin on it, modernizing it for the '90s.