from: Cross Rhythms Issue 33 (June/July 1996)
author: Tony Cummings (UK)
»» GOD'S SPACE CADETS
With wacky humour, a full tilt gospel message and now a sci-fi edge,
Australian pop rockers the NEWSBOYS recently made the US pop charts.
Tony Cummings reports.
ALL IN A LINE: (l-r) Jeff Frankenstein, Jody Davis, Peter Furler, Duncan
Philips, John James, Philip Urry
Anyone who saw their truly stunning live appearance at Greenbelt ´95
would know that the Newsboys were even more thrilling live than their
infectiously engaging CDs had led us Brits expect. Now with the release
of 'Take Me To Your Leader' the band - John James (lead vocals), Peter
Furler (drums, lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Jody Davis (guitar),
Duncan Phillips (percussion), Jeff Frankenstein (keyboards) and Philip
Urry (bass, lead vocals) - make sure their new CD reflects the band's
on-stage capabilities. Where previously albums had utilised session
musicians, on 'TMTYL' all the parts are played by the band themselves.
It also is far more guitar-based than the band's previously highly successful
'Not Ashamed' (1992) and 'Going Public' (1994).
Again co-produced by band member Peter Furler and artist-in-his-own-right
Steve Taylor, on 'Take Me To Your Leader' the Boys create a sound that
Peter describes as the result of "The Clash and Abba having children".
The album zips with the feel good pop of the first single "Reality",
zaps with the laconic wit of "Breakfast", rocks with the guitar-wailing
"Lost The Plot" and sighs with the acoustic benediction "Breathe".
Recently, some US journalists got the Aussie/US sixsome around the a
mike. The result proved that picking any topic the Newsboys will wax
THE FIRST-EVER NEWSBOYS BAND RECORD
Peter: "In the studio, a band can come off very sterile. We've
fought with it for a long time because we're a very dynamic band live.
But once you get into the studio and see that red light go on, straightway
something jumps up inside and disturbs you."
Jeff: "Most of us have never recorded anything on this scale. We
were a bit freaked out but we set up the gear and started jamming."
Jody: "We started writing in January and pretty much worked on
it all year. We blocked out about three month at the Sanctuary (a Nashville
studio) and left our gear there and worked every day. Basically, the
songs got arranged on the spot but we might go back and change or add
things. That helped keep more of a live feel."
Peter: "When we worked with studio musicians, we had to explain
what we wanted from them. These guys didn't need direction because they
know what the band sound like."
SEQUENCERS AND KEYBOARDS
Peter: "On this album we didn't use any sequencers or loops or
anything. I didn't want to rely on a computer to make it sound good.
I was sick of keyboards. I'd just had enough, and I didn't really find
any inspiration from the keyboard with this record. With the last two
records I really hadn't found any inspiration on guitar. But with this
one I did. I would sit down at the drum kit and record a drum groove
for about three or four minutes, then I'd pick the guitar and come up
with a riff. That's really how it came about; it was just a new love
for the guitar that came back on me. I don't know how long it'll last;
I may do it for another couple records and then go back to keys!"
IN THE STUDIO
Jeff: "A lot of the things on this album didn't come out until
we were three quarters through recording it. Pete would come in and
say, 'I've got this line for a song,' and everything would build on
top of it."
Peter: "It came out better than what I could have got any guys
to play. These guys are great players and everyone came to the party
and took over their section of the band. It really brought out individuality.
You don't just hear one guy's head making a record. You get to hear
Phil playing bass like a fresh instrument. Jody likes to take a track
home and really work on his part. Jeff, the same thing."
Jody: "We used so many different amps, so many different guitars.
Just everything we could get our hands on to try. Did a lot of unusual
things, too, like we ran bass and keyboards through guitar amps. Because
we had more time, we could be more experimental."
DESCRIBING THEIR ALBUM
John: Tempo-wise, this album definitely rocks a lot harder. We wanted
to take a lot of the energy we have on stage and capture it on the record."
Duncan: "On this album, there's some danceable stuff but there
are heavier songs like 'Lost The Plot' that are not danceable at all."
John: "I think spiritually and message-wise it's a lot more mature."
Jody: "Lyrically, I think it's super-strong. It's touching on some
solid issues. I'd say it's the most serious and strongest album that
Peter: "We just try to be who we are on a record. We don't want
to be someone we're not because then you have to live with that."
IN PRAISE OF STILLWATER, OK; OTTUMA, IA AND MILWAUKEE, WI
(where concert-goers participated in impromptu recording sessions)
Jody: "We already had the gear out on the road and Steve Taylor
was opening for us and Russ Long was his sound guy (and chief recording
engineer for the album). Since we were doing the tongue-in-cheek 'Breakfast'
and it already had whistling, we decided to a big sing-along. At the
end of the show, we announced that everyone who wanted to sing on our
album should stay afterward. Everybody pretty much stayed. They set
up a couple of mikes, taught the audience, and played the tracks. We
did that at three different shows and took the best one. They all sang
Peter: "We're really a band who've let our mistakes come out in
the recording. Some bands come out with a smash first record but we've
left all our dirty laundry out in the yard. We've made some bad records
- it's kind of embarrassing - but at the same time, people have gotten
to see the growth of a band."
Peter: "When grunge was popular, our lead singer was in a silver
suit - the total opposite. A lot of alternative bands come off as sort
of dark and we're not that at all. We're pretty happy people. Because
of Christ, there's always a glimmer of hope even though life is not
always a bed of roses."
Peter: "I really like to talk to fans and read their letters because
they really don't live the same life that we do."
Jeff: "Fans go, 'I wish that I could be like them' and here we
are on the bus wishing we could live a normal life like everyone else."
Peter: "Staying in touch with people who listen our music is pretty
important because I like to see what makes them tick in the same way
that they like to read our interviews. For us, being with the crowd
is very important because they're the ones you're wanting to serve."
Jeff: "When a band gets bigger, it's harder to keep in connection
with the fans. We really appreciate our fans because they're some of
the most psycho (an Aussie compliment), greatest fans a band could ever
MIX AND MINGLE
Peter: "Mingling with fans keeps us within the bounds of reality.
The other night John and Phil were walking through a crowd of about
1,500 handing out Vegemite (a famed Australian food-stuff). People don't
expect the lead singer and bass player to be out there with them. Doing
show after show, I can lose reality of what it's like to see a band
you're excited about. We like to whack on a baseball cap and go out
and listen to what people are saying as they're walking in. It's something
we really need to do. And people need to realise that we can be a turkey
just like they can be. We have to be normal to stay normal."
THE MILLI VANILLI RUMOUR
John: "We played with tracks for a while and got the rest in that.
And if anything, it held us back as a band."
Jeff: "We started playing everything live on the Steven Curtis
Chapman tour and we bonded musically and started growing leaps and bounds."
Duncan: "We've always been mates but playing live has caused us
to become a lot closer. You come off stage and know you did it."
Jeff: "And laugh at each other and at the mistakes we made."
John: "We're one of those bands that people like to slam. They
accuse us of lip-syncing. Just the other day, someone was slamming Jody.
saying that he wasn't playing guitar, that he was just miming. What
can you do? We just laugh and take it as a compliment."
THE LYRIC ABOUT 'SHOVELLING ELEPHANT DUNG'?
Phil: "It's a lot better than some words we could've put on there."
John (with false sincerity): "I think it's definitely a breakthrough.
(Sincere sincerity) I think it was appropriate. It summed up what we
were saying about the guy in the song ("Reality")."
Jeff: "And it rhymed too."
John: "We spent a lot of time really trying to lock in on what
we wanted to say. On some songs, there were three sets of lyrics written.
Since the last album, we've all grown as people and we there was more
we wanted to say."
Jeff: "We've always been really straightforward with our message
but I think on this album we've gone for a more personal approach -
more than just stories."
John: "We looked at circumstances that turned our lives around
and talked about how, if God can touch our lives, he can touch anyone's
life. We talk on the bus till sometimes three or four o'clock in the
morning about good times, bad times, things the fans told us at the
last show. Since the last album, we were ready to write because so much
LEARNING TO "BREATHE" AGAIN
Jeff: "We've all been through a lot of changes spiritually. It's
really hard being on the road and trying to keep yourself spiritually
fresh. The song 'Breathe' was written about that. It's so easy to get
bitter and go through the motions on stage. Especially in the last few
month, we've been going through a kind of mini-spiritual revival."
John: "Peter's father, who is a missionary, has been on the road
with us really challenging the band to be real and always be mindful
of why we're doing what we do and never take it for granted."
GETTING STEVE TAYLOR IN ON LYRIC WRITING
Peter: "When we got to the lyrics, I knew our weakness. I had written
most of the music for 'Not Ashamed' and recorded a lot of it. I had
titles and choruses for most of the songs, but it was the verses I couldn't
get. No one ever praises you for going out and finding a great lyricist.
Most bands say, 'We can do it ourselves', and then go and put out a
crappy album. No one ever said, 'Hey, that was smart to get Steve Taylor,
because he's what they needed in the lyrical department.'"
OVER 400 SHOWS IN TWO YEARS
John: "It's been really hard to make it through the end of this
tour. You don't want to do a sort of set routine instead of letting
people on the inside. Eventually it becomes a spiel and, although it
was birthed from good intentions, because you're doing it so many times,
you can find yourself getting really stale and really empty."
Jeff: "But people aren't stupid. They know when it's not real."
John: "As a guy who's a frontman and vocal up front, you've got
to be mindful that God has given you an opportunity. I really in my
heart try purposefully to say nothing I've said the night before."
LIVE AT GREENBELT: Newsboys
WORK HARD, PLAY HARD
Phil: "I think that most of us are pretty much visionary-dreamer
kind of people."
Jeff: "When the band thinks up something cool, we'll organise it,
plan it, and get it done as fast as we can - no matter what it takes
or what it costs."
John: "If we're gone for too long, we'll load the bikes (off-road
motorcycles) in the truck so we can have adventures."
Jody: "We tour so much. When we do these adventures, they usually
so intense, you can't think about anything else. It really releases
you and gets you away from everything so you're able to have more endurance
on the road. It's kind of a release for us."
Phil: "The same thing with the album premiere we're doing at NASA.
Before someone could number-crunch it or reason us of it, all plans
were started. Everyone was so excited and enthusiastic about it."
BACK TO THE FUTURE
John: "We're talking about getting back to what we used to do at
the festivals, setting up in the dirt or on one of the side stages."
Jeff: "We did that a couple of times last year in Canada."
John: "On just a little side stage. No big pa, just a couple of
amps, one microphone, a little speaker there. That's us. That's the
Peter: "People get tied up with the image and marketing but I've
seen stuff go out about us that I'm pretty embarrassed about. I always
think, 'What would the Lord Jesus think about this?' The bottom line
is that Jesus came to serve, not sign autographs and act like a big
star. I'm not saying we're Christlike because we're far from it but
that's our aim."
Peter: "I hope that we would be a band that becomes a lot of memories
for people. It may not have been the biggest band in the world or sold
a trillion records but it was the band that gave someone a great summer
and it changed their lives to be somewhere that we played. That would
be where I'd like it to finish because the day we stop doing that is
the day we have to stop."
Tony Cummings is the editor of Cross Rhythms. Much of this material
was gathered by Michael Nolan and appeared in his article in Release
ChrossRhythms Read Rerun:
Cross Rhtyhms 6, June/ July 1991
Cross Rhythms 24, December/January 1995
THE NEWSBOYS ON VIDEO
The Newsboys are on a mission to boldly go where no Christian act has
gone before. The band paired up with director Geoff Moor, NOT the CCM
star but the chap who recently lensed the Goo Goo Dolls' "Name"
for the unconventional sci-fi music video "Take Me To Your Leader".
The video is certainly an attention grabber. It opens with the band
members appearing as spacesuit-clad astronauts who descend from a spaceship
onto a barren, beautiful planet. Images of gigantic flowers and curious
aliens flash to an undercurrent of clipped vocals and catchy harmonies.
Shot near Kiama Beach in the band's homeland of Australia, the video
showcases the Newsboys' energetic style as they explore the foreign
With its colourful look and warped camera images, the clip is easily
comparable to funky, high-energetic clips from the Red Hot Chili Peppers
and the Presidents Of The United States Of America. However, the Newsboys'
leader, Peter Furler, admits that the band's video image has not always
been so close to the cutting edge.
"We've been a band that hasn't had a great video career,"
Furler says. Many Christian artists have been plagued with low production
budgets and less-than-inspiring videos. The Newsboys, impressed with
Moore's promo reels, which they received from underground production
company Palomar Pictures, hooked up with the director in an attempt
to make a better video.
Moore says that he took on the project "strictly because it was
a good song and a good opportunity to go to Australia and work with
Australian crews." The Newsboys' Christian faith and following
did not dissuade the director, who is best known for his mainstream
"It's irrelevant to me. They are just a bunch of surfers to me,"
says Moore. "I was reading this article about Whitney Houston and
Mary J Blige started out in church. U2 with 'The Joshua Tree' is another
good example. It's kind of ridiculous to classify them because of their
beliefs. I'm a film-maker, and I went to do a video. I wouldn't have
done it if I had thought they were extreme or preachy."
Moore says that working with the Newsboys wasn't much different than
working with modern rock acts. "They wanted a normal, cool video.
I told them what I wanted to do and they were really into it... They
actually showed a trust in their director."
Furler says that the band and director had no real disagreements about
the creative concept. "There are plenty of videos that don't rely
on a nude girl walking around," says Furler. "Putting aside
my beliefs, I still wouldn't have had something like that in it. There
are plenty of creative people who don't share our beliefs who don't
need that kind of thing in their video. Creatively, I kept looking at
bands like REM that relied on brain power more than putting some woman
Besides, he explains, the band prefers a light-hearted, humourous approach.
One of the video's images shows the band hoisting a flag over the alien
landscape a la the famous photograph of US soldiers on Iwo Jima. "Geoff
Moore came up with that," says Furler. "I prefer to make a
video where you can laugh. Geoff had this great concept and added a
story without making a documentary. I think we're more into humourous
videos because we don't take ourselves too seriously."
The Newsboys are being taken seriously by Virgin Records in the US,
which recently signed a deal to bring the veteran Christian act's album
'Take Me To Your Leader' to a more mainstream audience. Star Song will
continue to distribute the disc to Christian music and bookstore retailers.
Although the Newsboys are likely to be known to a wider audience soon,
the band did not intentionally create its video to appeal to mainstream
viewers, according to Furler.
"This isn't the first time we've used a mainstream director for
a video," says Furler. "It's really about trying to make a
good video. If it went mainstream, it would scare me. That's not our
goal. Our goal is to make great music."
The video has already grabbed attention at Z Music, which in the States
programmes 24-hour Christian music to 17 million cable households and
broadcasts part time to 13 million homes. The channel is airing the
clip in heavy rotation. "The video leaps out at you as being very
different," says Graham Barnard, Z Music network programming manager.
"It would grab attention on Z and anywhere else it played. It's
really imaginative and in touch with the ´90s vibe. I love when
a video is fun and kind of quirky. It breaks down the stereotypes of
what people think about Christian music and videos."
Barnard says that the Newsboys' latest video style doesn't necessarily
mean that the band is trying to cross to a mainstream audience. "What
we are seeing now is the result of the (Christian music) industry just
getting bigger. With the bigger budget and quality directors, you can
turn out a better video. As the music grows, the delivery system gets
better. They've got their eye on getting a wider audience - who wouldn't?
But on another level, they are just artists who want to be heard."