It's gotten to be old news over the past few years; the Newsboys release
a new project, it wins awards, sells tons of records, they tour before
a couple million people, they appear on the covers of magazines and
on national TV. Ho hum. Of course, if it's a formula, most of the bands
in America want the recipe.
So with the release of their latest Star Song album "Take Me To Your
Leader", the boys are doing just what you'd expect from the country's
most popular CCM rock band. They're changing everything up.
Oh the irresistible, I-Can't-Quit-Humming-these songs are still there
--"Reality," the title track, and others -- along with the industry's
most compelling stage show. And the manic Aussie personalities and up-front
faith messages are still there. But "Take Me To Your Leader" is different.
For one thing, it's the most musical album the boys have ever released.
The songs are longer, more mature, more aggressive. They're still insanely
What's the difference? Go to the source: ask the original Newsboys
founder / leader / drummer / principal songwriter / occasional lead
singer Peter Furler.
"Well, part of the difference is the presence of Tom Lord-Alge," Peter
says, his Aussie twang undimmed by years in the U.S. "This is my sixth
record, but I'm not sure I realized before how important a great mixer
is. I've used some pretty good mixers in the past. The sounds were there--
it was just up to Tom to put them in place."
Lord-Alge, of course, is the mixing mastermind behind "Live Goo Goo
Dolls", the "Dave Matthews Band", "Steve Winwood" and a host of others.
The result is an album deep in radio-friendly grooves, fat beats, and
the boys increasingly sophisticated musicianship. The hip critic word
that keeps coming to mind is "organic."
"That word probably makes sense to other musicians, but to other people,
they probably don't know what we mean," Peter says. "It's like we have
a herb garden on the album or something!"
But for us, that keeps coming up because it is all live. We didn't
use a sequencer. It's a total live performance. What you hear is what
you get. Sometimes is sounds really loose, and sometimes it sounds like
a machine--which is a credit to the band. The band played wonderfully
on this project."
"Three or four of the songs were the most fun to record in our lives.
A couple of the songs, I wrote a home, took them into the studio, laid
down tracks, taught the guys the song, and recorded it. That was really
fresh, it wasn't like they were over-- rehearse. It was more like, "Man,
this is really fresh--let's go for it!" I think that really gives some
of the songs that organic feel. They're a little more slap-happy--like
we really went for it. "Take Me To Your Leader" was a real growth spurt
for us. It was incredible."
The "growth spurt" Peter talks about seems to have come, in part, from
the fresh infusion of talent in the band. Relative newcomers Phil Urry
(bass, vocals, killer hair) and Jeff Frankenstein (key boards) have
already made their mark in the song writing and recording sessions.
Seasoned by the Newsboys' non-stop touring, the pair joined Peter, co-founder/singer,
John James, percussionist Duncan Phillips, and guitarist Jody Davis
in the studio from the album's inception. The result is a richer, more
diverse-and yet more subtle changes with the contemporary Christian
music's top-selling band. Most of the band members took a hand in helping
Peter and co-producer Steve Taylor in writing the band's trademark off-the
wall yet on-the-mark lyrics. If anything, the lyrics are more in-your-face
evangelical. What was the catalyst?
"God," Peter says simply. "God put things in our heart. It was a bunch
of things, really. We are always accountable to each other. But the
band as a whole felt that because we're out on tour a lot, we hadn't
been taking Sabbaths, we hadn't taken Communion for a while -- areas
we really felt needed strengthening in."
"We also brought out a band pastor - my dad! Also, our bus driver's
dad had been a pastor for years. So we started using them a bit more,
using them for what they are and bringing them in to sort of boot us
into shape. They didn't do it in a bad way. It was just like being on
the bus, sharing with us and bringing a bit more Word back into our
lives. We came to a time we were a little bit dry."
"It has changed the way we are as a band."
The happy result of those changes, "Take Me To Your Leader", may change
the way you listen to contemporary Christian music.
ABOUT THE SONGS FROM "TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER"
"Take Me To Your Leader":
It's another song that talks about us being out there, about us being
a light to the world. The lyric idea came from Steve Taylor. Musically,
it was movement for the band. Instead of using sequencer and loops,
I had to make a beat I could play that would work for the band. It was
a big leap for us musically for such a simple song.
It isn't a common beat. I think it is a particularly Newsboys beat no
modern bands doing right now. That sort of groove isn't used much today
- and that excites me.
Often, right at the end of a recording session, we get one last song.
So far, they've all been the hits! "Shine" was that way, right at the
end. We came to the end of recording time and I had to come up with
another song. And "Reality" is the result this time.
It is the only song I've ever written on a computer for an album- almost
everything else has been written live on drum kit. I wrote it late night
after being in the studio. And since my wife was already in bed, I couldn't
make much noise. So I plugged it up and starting messing around.
I pinched the statement from my pastor: "Reality will always welcome
us back." But the real true reality, God's reality, will welcome us
back. You can go wherever you want, do whatever you want to do, go off
and join the circus even, but reality will always welcome you back.
God will always welcome you back.
All I had was most of the chorus, so I went in and talked with Steve
Taylor and told him my idea about like joining the circus, sort of like
the story of the Prodigal Son, doing everything he wanted to do-- then
ending up shoveling elephant dung. Steve came back and polished up my
effort and turned it into the song.
"Lost the Plot":
--moves in every in every way. It's what I've always wanted to say in
a song-for at least 10 years. Lost the Plot," musically, is the best
track we've ever performed as a band. Not that we're all that great,
but there's nothing in that track that I don't love. (Well, maybe there's
one line I wished I sung a bit different--but that's just me being paranoid!)
As for the lyric, it was something I'd wanted to say for a long time.
It is something I believe, but it relates to Christians and non-Christians
alike. It's hard to describe--that's probably why I couldn't say it
for 10 years! - but it's something where I've seen people do what they
thinks right in their own eyes. Basically, It's about trying to change
God into our image, trying to make God fit into our lifestyles.
"Let it Go":
--was a rock song originally. The track was really cool, really heavy,
with distorted guitar, and quite opposite, dead opposite, of what it
ended up. But one night I was in the studio alone with Russ Long, the
engineer. I loved the melody, but something was wrong with the original
track. I knew if we released it like it was, it just wasn't going to
have the potential of what it could have been. That night we set up
a little drum kit and started from scratch. The same key, same chords,
but started the total production over from scratch. I played a whole
new beat, played down different keyboard, called Jeff and he added some
even different keyboards, and that's how "Let it Go" evolved. There
was a big difference. I'd like to release the rock version as a B-side
or something someday.
I played Steve Taylor the new track and he freaked. He loved it. We
were going to make a DAT of it to send to Gary Chapman to help with
some lyrics, but Steve heard me in the studio singing the scratch vocal,
he was nearly in tears (Probably because I was singing flat!) He said,
"You've got to let me finish." About all I had lyrically was the "let
it go" and the idea of forgiveness.
Steve disappeared and returned with a personal story and ended up with
some wonderful lyrics.