"What do you think?" Peter Furler asks the small crowd gathered in the
studio's control room. "Too much? Not enough? Is it 'demo love'?" 'Demo
love' is the term the Newsboys' frontman / songwriter / producer uses
as the gauge for a song's worthiness. Too much 'demo love' means not
being open to innovation, too little means not trusting the your instincts.
On Newsboys' new Star Song/Virgin release, "Step Up To The Microphone,"
it's just enough.
"'Demo love' can be a real enemy, but we've made enough records now
where it isn't, because if you've got enough, everyone else will love
it too," Furler says.
Step Up To The Microphone speaks literally and figuratively to the
band's present reality. Following the gold-selling success of 1996's
Take Me To Your Leader and 1994's Going Public, and their equally successful
world tours, long-time Newsboys front-man John James decided to leave
the band to pursue other interests, forcing Furler out from behind his
drum kit and to the front of the stage as the band's lead singer.
"It's like a cheeky way of saying both 'Let the chips fall where they
may' and at the same time, for the fans and the youth group leaders
and the like, showing them that on this record, we've gone through a
lot of self- examination," Furler says. "We've been thinking about 'Why
did Jesus die on the cross?' and, more importantly, 'Why do we believe
what we believe?' 'Step Up to the Microphone' obviously means 'Make
your statement,' but to me, it also means 'What are you going to say
when you get there?'"
Meanwhile, the rest of the band (guitarist Jody Davis, bassist Phil
Joel, keyboardist Jeff Frankenstein and drummer Duncan Phillips) took
it upon themselves to ratchet up their talents to produce the most complete
and consistent Newsboys album ever.
The result? A rich modern pop record, full of all the sound and fury
of today, combined with the timeless message of the gospel and it's
impact on each of the Newsboys' lives.
"For us, it wasn't a case of wanting to educate people, but more of
wanting to show people what we've found out. I now have a deeper understanding
of why I need the Gospel and the foundations of Christianity," Furler
notes. "You know how two people can say the same thing, but when one
person really believes it, it somehow doesn't matter if it's corny or
crummy or not? When the other person doesn't really believe it, it kinda
becomes a hunk of nothing.
"I hope people get the originality, I hope they like the melodies and
I hope they like the tracks. But I also hope people will see that we
believe." Furler's bandmates hope for that same goal. "So many of these
songs are reflections of what the band's been talking about and going
through for the last two years, both good and bad," says Joel. "I think
we've reached a happy medium in what we're talking about, saying things
without being too obvious or too subtle."
"This album is so much more three-dimensional than things we've done
in the past," Phillips says. "The lyrics have so much depth to them."
"I'm not a father, but these songs are like our kids," notes Frankenstein.
"You nurture them, you watch them grow, you raise them up in the way
they should go, and then when the album comes out, you release them
out into the world."
From the crunchy groove of "Woo Hoo" to the contemplative nature of
"Always," Step Up To The Microphone crackles with the energy of the
Newsboys' renewed commitment to both art and message. Produced by Furler,
the album allows all of the band's components their shot at making music
that matters, from Joel's eclectic bass lines and additional vocals
on tracks like "Woo Hoo" and the first single "Entertaining Angels"
to Davis' fiery guitar work on songs like "Step Up to the Microphone"
and "Deep End", from Frankenstein's attention to sonic detail on tracks
like "Truth Be Known-Everybody Gets A Shot" to Phillip's driving percussion
all over the album.
"When we first went into the studio, we didn't know what we were going
to come out with," says Frankenstein. "But I think we've moved on from
the last record in a way most people won't expect," echoes guitarist
And Furler wouldn't have it any other way. "My role now is to make
sure all of our strengths and weaknesses get pulled and pushed to the
point where we become a really tough unit," he says. "My job is stepping
out of the circle that the five of us are in, getting a good glance
around, then stepping back in and saying, 'OK, this is what I've seen'
as opposed to 'This is what we're doing.'"
Furler says with all of his bandmates' talents, the options in the
studio are virtually unlimited. "Jeff and Phil, both immensely talented
guys. Jody, a fantastic guitar player and a wonderfully talented vocalist.
Duncan, what a great rhythm sense and flair for percussion. They've
all got a great melody sense, and sometimes it comes down to whoever's
got the best one wins."
And even in these electronica-driven days, where logarithmic waveforms
count as much as iambic pentameter, the melody's the thing. "You always
have to protect the melody, and at the same time, really strive to make
it worth protecting," Furler says. "It can't be cheap, and you have
to have those elements around it that don't cheapen it or overrule it
As with Step Up To The Microphone's sonics, Newsboys' vocal approach
has changed as well. Gone (for the most part) is the pop sheen of past
efforts, and in its place is a bit more of a rough texture, as would
befit a band who's members hail from places as diverse as Australia,
New Zealand and Detroit.
"Vocally this time, we've tried to infuse it with a lot more character.
We were less concerned about pitch, more concerned about character,"
Furler says. "It was a little bit of going, 'Sing how you talk,' but
more of letting the character shine through. And most of the time, the
character had an accent." Along with the music of Step Up To The Microphone,
Newsboys hopes to pass along a message to the fans, both new and established.
This time out, it's the life-changing impact of short-term mission work,
something Furler says has struck home with him only very recently.
"There are things in your life that are there, but somehow, they blossom
much later on. So often, people have an experience or a talent that
maybe was always there, but all of a sudden, it becomes their life,"
he says. "That's what happened with me going a on a short-term missions
trip. I was 18 years old, more than a decade ago, and it's only been
in the last two or three years that I sat down and realized that it
really changed my life.
"Then the band went on a trip to Panama with Teen Mania, and what really
blew me away was not so much what was happening to the people there
or to the kids, but what was happening to us. We all had this great
growth spiritually," Furler continues. "We want to encourage every kid
that comes to our concerts to get involved in one of these trips, if
only for the experience of stepping out of their circle and reaching
"Sometimes the best way to account for your faith is to realize that
you can't, and breaking down those barriers of trying to talk to someone
outside that circle about Christ is the only way you can."
Now that the hard part of making a record is over and done with, Newsboys
are ready to get out there and do the really hard part, playing this
material the band has been living with for 18 months in front of a living,
breathing entity known as an audience. And if it were up to Furler,
it wouldn't always be a friendly one.
"I get a kick out of a crowd that, for the first three or four songs,
they don't like us. I get this real buzz because I know we're gonna
get 'em. I know this because of what's going on behind me. It's not
anything I'm doing, it's everything around me," he notes. "To me, it
feels like we're going to get thrown into a washing machine and beaten
around it the rinse cycle, and where we land is where we land. When
it's all said and done, I hope we have integrity and it's something
that doesn't taint or weaken the power of the cross.
"If we can pass along what we've learned over the past two years to
our fans, that would be huge. We wand people to know that we don't want
to be a band that has its own selfish motives in mind all the time.
'Seek ye first the kingdom of God.' That's what's being taught to us
all the time."
Step up to your stereo and drop the disc in. See what you learn.