For a band like The Newsboys, everything’s been said – and it’s been said a million different ways. I doubt there’s a single person in the Christian music scene that hasn’t heard of them. They’ve seen six records go gold, countless #1 hits, Dove awards and national and global press. After having participated in countless interviews, these guys have gotten smart. So much so, that during our conversation, drummer Duncan Phillips was able to tell me what my next question would be. That is, until I switched gears from talking about their new album, to talking about their new message.
It’s probably printed a hundred times by now, but I’ll give you the low down on the new record first. Born Again, which dropped July 13th, is jam packed a “new” Newsboys sound. It’s classic, but it’s different. Everything is super high energy, with some dance beats thrown in and even a song that you’d find on a “boy band” record. This time around, Michael Tait is the lead singer. Yes, Michael Tait from DcTalk. “Everyone who was a fan of DcTalk back in the day was a fan of Newsboys, and vice versa,” says Duncan.
Ironically, the most anticipated track on Born Again just so happens to be “Jesus Freak.” Yes, the Newsboys have re-recorded the hit DcTalk song. It’s seems fitting, considering Michael Tait is now their singer. His addition has brought out a rockier side. “Jody, Jeff and I have been in this band for over two decades, so the core is the same. But of course bringing in someone new is going to change the dynamic,” Duncan reminds us. “When Peter [Furler] left, we had two options: either quit, or find another singer. It took us all of 30 seconds to decide to call Michael.”
So this summer festival season, Tait can be seen rocking the mic when the Newsboys take the stage. They’re a staple at most major Christian music festivals, and their fans will now be able to hear the new songs from Born Again while battling an unhealthy dose of dust and sunburn. The pain will be worth it though – Newsboys put on an incredible show. Why is it that they put such an effort into their concerts? “Well if someone comes and spends money to see us – we’re going to give them twice what they paid for!” says Duncan. “Back in the day when we had no [original] songs, all we had was our live show so we had to make sure it was good. That same spirit lives on in Newsboys.” He also hinted around to a theme for their upcoming shows. Of course, that’s top secret information that I can not reveal
Along with their live performances, the music has also withstood the test of time. Since their debut release in 1988, the Christian music industry has drastically changed. Genres have shifted, the internet has been “invented” and iTunes rules the world – so what have they done to remain so popular? “The great thing about our music is that it connects to our fans on a spiritual level. Our fans are the most avid, supportive, psycho -whatever you want to call them – fans, ever! They’re the best in the world. Some music fans are very skittish, and move on to another band as soon as they don’t have a #1 hit song. But because our music connects on a spiritual level, they stay with us. We definitely don’t take that for granted.”
Alright, I want to find out what drives this band. What is it that makes the Newsboys tick? What keeps them going day after day? Traveling the world takes a toll on you. So there must be a greater reason than accolades and poster signings that’s got these guys going.
“By now, you’ve had tons of Dove Awards, nominations, national acclaim and press – if this band could achieve something else, what would you all want it to be?” I ask. “What are you currently striving for?”
“Well currently, there’s our new record,” Duncan says. But what we want to do with this record is reach the current culture. I turn on MTV for five minutes and it just saddens my heart to see that this is what the world sees of American music – this debauch, self engrossed, self absorbed, ignorant and arrogant culture. But I know for a fact that these kids are smarter than this,” he strongly states. “Some people buy into the hype. But if there’s one thing I can say to the youth of this nation it’s: ‘Don’t believe the hype, man! Don’t believe the bull crap!’ People are telling them how to live. But that way of life ends in destruction. I know that from the example of my own life.”
He’s quite passionate about this topic, and I’d presume that the rest of the band shares this concern. In order to combat the apathy and self-indulgence of our culture, they have crafted the nine original songs for Born Again. (“Jesus Freak” and Hillsong’s “Mighty to Save” are also featured).
“The theme of this record is all about redemption,” states the album’s press page. Other issues addressed are betrayal (“On Your Knees”), how short this life is (“One Shot”), temptations (“Escape”) and more.
“If we could do anything, I’d love to get some mainstream success so that more people can hear this. I think this is the record to do it. So that people could see that there is a legitimate, viable, exciting, adventurous life to be lived in Christ,” Duncan animatedly shares. At this point, his breath is even becoming quicker as he adamantly shares his heart. “We need to get kids asking questions. They’ve seen hypocrisy, and that’s not true Christianity. I should write a book one day,” he concludes. “My life story has been so exciting and adventurous and the crazy thing is that it’s still being written!”