It hasn't taken the world at large long to hear all about the Newsboys.
Since coming to the U.S. from tiny Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia,
the band has been nominated for Grammy and Dove awards, appeared on
national and international television, performed at Pope John Paul II's
World Youth Day, opened for some of the biggest names in contemporary
Christian music, galvanized the concept of a stage show in CCM, become
top draws at a host of Christian music festivals, and -oh yeah- sold
a heckuva lot of records along the way.
What's at the root of the Newsboys' success? You'd have to go back
to childhood mates and band mainstays Peter Furler and John James. Furler
and James' unerring ear for a hook, flair for stage presentation and
performance, and rock-solid belief that the Christian life is a joy
that needs to be shared have set the 'Boys apart from a dozen copy-cat
bands in the past five years alone. All of this from a band that's still
unknown to the record-buying public at large… but not to the religious
music marketplace - or to other musicians. Steven Curtis Chapman, for
instance, has asked them to open his ground-breaking Heaven in the Real
World tour, and nationwide youth speaker Josh McDowell has asked Newsboys
to join him on his 1995/96 tour. While contemporary music legend Steven
Taylor asked to produce both their latest release (Not Ashamed) and
their upcoming release (Going Public), for Star Song Records. Furler
(who is again sharing production chores on Going Public with Taylor)
says the Newsboys had a couple of things in mind with this release.
"We have definitely really tried not to make Not
Ashamed II !" he says. "We tried to make
a stretch for the fans who enjoyed Not Ashamed - but not too much of
a stretch. U2 is a good example. I wasn't crazy about the leap they
made on Achtung Baby when it furst came out, but I grew into it and
now its my favorite album of theirs." "Going
Public seems to achieve that same end. The cornerstone foundations are
the same. We have taken the best of Not Ashamed and left the worst behind."
Not that there was all that much "worst" on what turned out to be one
of the best-selling albums of 1993-4. But even a cursory listen to the
tracks on Going Public reveal - even to the casual fan - that there
is something different here. The band is tighter, stronger, more cohesive,
the sound is more muscular, sinewy. Furler agreees: "The
Newsboys have really always been John James and myself," he says,
"the other players have come and gone. But for
Going Public, the band musicians are the best players we've ever had."
"The other thing is, for the first time, we really
are a band. We never wanted to be just two guys, we always wanted to
be a band." It has only been recently that Furler finally got
his wish. Bassist Kevin Mills joined the 'Boys' in October 1992, during
the final stages of Not Ashamed - but too late for the jacket photo.
Keyboardist Duncan Phillips, a long-time friend and fellow Aussie of
both Furler and James, joined when Corey Pryor left the band in early
1993. While the most recent addition is lead guitarist Jody Davis. It
was Davis' brilliant studio work - and upfront band mentality - that
force Furler and James to finally think in terms of a full-time group.
"Jody is the best player we've ever had and he
fit in with the vibe," Furler says happily. "The
amazing thing is that he can get on the stage and play the Dave Perkins
stuff from the album, as well as his own thing. He's really come around
on this album, writing songs, adding his own guitar stylings."
As a result, Furler says that the Newsboys have grown significantly
during the recording of Going Public with Taylor. "It's
still a young sound - we haven't lost any of the innocence in our sound,"
he says. "And everything is still hook-oriented:
every instrumental, every chorus, even some of the lyrics."
"But I think this album we've gone back to something
like the attack of our very first release, Read All About It, when we
first came over from Australia. In a lot of ways, it is linked back
to those days. There are, for instance, less backing vocals, more single
vocals when that's all that's called for and I've been digging that."
"I [also] think there's more originality on Going
Public that any of our previous releases and if I have to attribute
that to something, I guess it has been to the fact we're finally a band.
A band finding its sound." Going Public even sounds more like
the 'Boys live, particularly in the sharp, provocative percussion and
the deeper, more booming bass lines. "This is
also the first time we've had the money and time to experiment a lot,
to really mess around in the studio - searching for just the right sound,"
Furler says. "That, coupled with the input of
the new members, gives Going Public that band-feel. And oi! I like it!"
If there's growth in music, there is even more change in lyrics on
Going Public. Taylor wrote two-thirds of the lyrics, which are challenging,
intriguing, sometimes funny, and always insightful. "And
he hasn't just written Steve Taylor lyrics or songs," Furler
says. "He has stepped in and kept the anthemic
thing we do as well. That is one of the things I really dig about Steve:
he stepped in as a band member. He didn't say, 'Here, let me fix you.'
He runs each lyric by each band member, asking 'Are you comfortable
with this?' And if one of us says, 'Well, we might not say something
quite that way,' he'll come back with something even better!"
Consequently, from a lyric standpoint, Going Public is more in-your-face
and upfront than even Not Ashamed. "Last One Turns the Lights Out" for
instance features a particularly aggressive attack. It's still the basic
Newsboys message, just said another way: "Don't go shuttin' down/'til
the trumpet sounds/and the battle is won/don't go punchin' out/'til
the final shout/and the Father says, 'Well done.'" "As
song like 'Last One turns the Lights Out' is like therapy for us,"
Furler says. "Some of these songs are directly
about things that are in our hearts. We'll go for days thinking, 'Man,
this is bugging me.' Then we'll sit around and talk about it on the
bus for days. At some point I'll write down the idea and eventually
give those ideas, those subjects, to Steve. He goes away and makes it
sound good." Other songs are equally compelling. "Let It Rain"
is the story of Peter in the days following the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
"A Guy comes along, you follow him, and He's the
Savior!" Furler says. "Then He is taken
away from you. Peter must have looked back and thought 'What an idiot
I was to have missed even a single second!' It is written along that
context and turned out to be a very emotional song for us.." Other
songs make equally pointed statements. Both "Going Pubilc" and "Shine"
harken back to the words of "Not Ashamed" and "(I cannot Get You)
Out of My System." "They are both the 'going public'
theme - what we're trying to do, what we're trying to say," Furler
says. "Going Public is about making disciples
of Christ." But through Going Public, another lyric thread emerges.
The Newsboys have always been a heavily evangelical band, and songs
like "Real Good Thing" speak out not just to the church but to another
audience as well: "Mercy is when you don't get
what you deserve and grace is when you get what you don't deserve. I
don't think we realize how important this grace thing is. This album
is something that'll always remind me of God's grace." What's
ahead for the Newsboys? Furler is refreshingly frank. He simply doesn't
know. Not a clue. "We don't really plan anything.
When we think we have enough to say that has a strong message, then
we know it is time to put out another album. [But] What is being said
on Not Ashamed or any of our earlier releases, is not out of date. Those
were songs, those were messages we felt at the time. We just felt it
was time to say more." And what makes it all worthwhile for the
Newsboys? "Looking at the audience singing along
on songs like 'Shine' or 'Going Public' or 'Not Ashamed' and knowing
that the words are like a release for many of them," Furler says.
"Sometimes in church you don't feel like singing,
but just being there frees you. You can't help but feel that when you
enter into church knowing that you can have something change in your
life. That's the feel of this release, that's what we're hoping - that's
what we're praying - at least some of these songs do for people. Make
a change for them and for us."