by Tracy Darlington
on stage for an hour and a half... for the
rest of the time we deal with who we really are." --Peter Furler
The Newsboys really need no introduction. With over thirteen albums to their credit and hit songs like "Breakfast", "Shine", and "He Reigns" under their belts, chances are if you don't know the band by name you've surely heard one of their songs.
We sat down with the guys and chatted about how they stay on track, plans for their new album, how the internet has changed their ministry, and much more!
Tracy: What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome as artists, musicians, and as people?
Peter Furler: Hmm, let me see . . . (Laughs) I’ll just pull a couple out of my hat! We face the same challenges everyone faces. Sometimes it can be a crisis of faith. I’ve had times in my life where I’ve not relied as heavily on the word’s of Jesus and the Word of God as I should. The Word says that it renews your mind, and for me it’s a challenge sometimes to watch what I’m thinking. You know, whether we believe in God or not, there is an enemy out there. One of the ways that seems to be an efficient way for him to move is through our thought life. Sometimes it’s when you’re about to put your head down on the pillow at night. Other times you’re taking a long drive by yourself, or you’re just deep in your thoughts. Trying to line up those things and make sure they don’t conflict with what the Bible says I am, and who God is and His plan . . . sometimes they do conflict, and I have to decide which one I’m gonna go with. That can be a time of testing for all of us because sometimes if you make the wrong decision you kinda have to live with the consequences of that until you get yourself back on track. That’s just one of the things. We all face that, don’t we? We’re on stage for an hour and fifteen, an hour and a half, and for the rest of the time you have to deal with who you really are.
Paul Colman: What about being away from your wife on your birthday, Jeff?
Jeff Frankenstein: Well, we put an emergency plan in place. We celebrated before the concert.
What message might you have for nonbelievers who come to Christian concerts?
Peter: It’s the same message for all of us. It’s the one I have to rely on. The one I have hope in, the one I believe in. That there’s a Creator of the heavens and the earth. He has a purpose, and in the beginning that plan was sabotaged because of Him giving us a free will and a choice. We get signs of that plan every now and then. We can see it sometimes in the great artwork. You can go through a museum and see what some artist has done, and it inspires you. You can hear it sometimes in a song. And then other times you can sense it. It can be at a football match, when a victory is being won, a well-deserved victory—there’s something even greater behind it. It’s the story that’s behind the fairy tales. These are echoes. And obviously we as Christians . . . our message is that we believe there aren’t many ways to God. In fact, we believe we’re very fortunate there’s any way to God. That way has been made for us by somebody who was capable and faithful to pay the price. Somebody who also had the power to defeat the works of the enemy by rising from the dead. That’s the message no matter what the venue is. I don’t really go with the Gallup polls much, but I read a statistic recently that said many evangelicals in society today believe there are many ways to God. So I think maybe we’re here to evangelize the Christians.
There’s been some internet chatter that John James had done some background vocals on some past cds. Are any past Newsboys set to make cameos on future cds?
Jeff: Wow, I’ve never heard that rumor before! I was in the studio for every recording, and I don’t remember seeing him there! (Laughs.)
Peter: I didn’t either, but there was a funny looking guy sweeping up in the corner (Laughs.) Don’t know where to go with that one!
John James was a great singer, I know that. We’ve had a lot of great musicians play with us over the years, and John was a special character. He was somebody that I learned a lot from. For those that know the history of the band, I never saw his face much because I always watched his back from on the drums, but he was one of the finest, being out there in the front. I learned a lot. Still trying to keep up with what I saw in front of me for many years. But no, he was not singing on the last few records. (Laughs.)
Can you tell us a bit more about “Every Nation”.
Peter: I grew up in the church as a preacher’s kid. Growing up in the 80's it was a time of heavy evangelism. The television was kinda booming. There were a lot of tv evangelists who were getting their own shows. There was a lot to do with winning people to Jesus, a lot of end times stuff, a lot of “Is Christian music of the devil?”, you know all these crazy thoughts. The Newsboys, we were the youth group band. At a certain point we were asked to leave because the leadership didn’t really know if rock music was of the devil or if it was just what it was. It was very confusing to us. I kinda left church. I remained a Christian, but I was really only half a Christian if you understand what I’m saying—somebody who’s not really in fellowship, not living the full Christian life. That was me for many, many years. Maybe ten or fifteen. I moved to Nashville, Tennessee . . . I was not really going to church much. I was preaching the Gospel. I believed it, but something was missing. It’s funny how you can believe Jesus is the Way but you kinda start feeling lost. That was my life for many years. It wasn’t until I met a man, a pastor, a guy named Rice Broocks. He’s my pastor today. He’s somebody who opened my eyes up to what the church is there for, showed me true leadership. Not heavy handedness. I looked at his life, how he treated his wife, how he acted in his private life, and I thought, “That’s what I want to be like.”
The heart of Every Nation is not about growing churches or having a mega-church. It’s really a heart of training up leaders and disciples. Not just leading people to Jesus but giving them a love for the Word of God. We see many people who say, “I’m a Christian”. Well, they’re a Christian on Sunday, but they have a totally different standard for the rest of the week. They might as well say, “I’m an Australian” or “I’m an American”.
For me, as a Christian, I really began to feel hopeless when I didn’t see what the church was doing because I know Jesus is the head of the church, his body. Seeing what they do with church planting and helping the poor . . . all the facets that make up the Christian faith. Not just speaking about it but really going about and doing it. They’re not perfect. They’re just people, but they’re leading people to Jesus. They’re seeing them grow in the word, and they’re seeing them become leaders and go off and do their own thing. That really inspires me. You know someone by their fruits, and Rice is someone who’s really had an impact on my life for the better.
Do you have any examples of how the internet has helped you spread your music and message?
Paul: One of the things about the internet is you don’t really have any control over it. People are videotaping Newsboys shows and interviews and sending them all over the world to places the band’s never been, and may never go. That’s the positive side of it. Stuff gets shared.
Peter: Being in this industry for twenty-two years now . . . I was three when we started. (Laughs.) Thinking back to the days making records on reel-to-reel and then going to some digital format. Going to concerts and mum and dad were there with their video camera, maybe, if they had one. Now standing on stage at a certain point in the night, maybe it’s when I’m sharing my testimony or the Gospel, and I look out and there must be like 500 cell phones recording. And I know it’s a powerful thing. This is going all around the world now. It creates a bigger responsibility. But yes, it has a massive effect now. Like Paul said, that’s the good of it. The sad part is probably when you get to see what was in somebody’s heart all along. It’s kinda like God, He knows what’s in our hearts, and now you can go on somebody’s MySpace page and they have “Jesus is Lord” and all this and they’re a big fan of the Newsboys but yet when you dig a little deeper that’s stuff there that's really contrary to what we believe as Christians. It’s not MySpace’s fault. It just exposed that part of a person’s life that was already there. So there’s the good and the bad to it.
It is fantastic. Even thought the music industry is suffering a lot because of people downloading songs for free, that doesn’t effect me in my mind and in my heart. It’s a great time for Christian radio and media. We go and do a missions trip and a week later I see it’s all over YouTube and I wonder, “What did I wear that shirt for?” (Laughs.)
How do you stay spiritually grounded?
Peter: I have to stay in the Word. I have to stay around people who love the Word. I’m not talking about being fanatical. I don’t want to have lingo that gives people the wrong impression. We deal with the same stuff , the family issues, all the stuff everybody deals with. Sometimes we see somebody’s life, and we’ll speculate with our flesh about their life and think, “Well, that guy, I see how he talks to his wife, why can’t my wife and I talk like that?” or “I can play the guitar, why can’t that happen to me, why didn’t I get that break?” These are things that affect us all. I could sit here and ask, “Why didn’t we sell more records, why aren’t we as big as that band?” It’s your thinking. What changes my thinking is the Word. It says it does. It renews your mind. That’s for me. I believe it’s for everybody, because the Word says it is. Staying in it, and praying always. I’m not a big intercessory kind of guy, but I do when I’m driving. I’m thinking in my heart on the Scriptures. They’re just habits. It’s no credit to me because I could be really lazy if I wanted. I just know what happens when I do that. I know the other side, when I don’t keep the Word in my heart and stay positive about the things of the Lord. It’s really terrible on the other side. We encourage each other. Jeff and I spend a lot of time in the studio together. We might meet at eleven in the morning, but we talk for like two or three hours! (Laughs.) We try and write a song, and then we go home.
It’s really important to have somebody you can chat with, and stir
one another up. You can’t tell everybody everything, but you can tell
Paul: The positive thing about being in a group is that the countenance you have day to day is noticed. It’s a good thing because there’s this part of you that wants to stay independent, like the Bible says, “be an island” and be on your own. But the thing about being in a group that includes your crew and your manager and the people who are traveling with you . . . I find that helpful because you can’t really go that long and have a bad spirit or start to get really aggressive or super angry because eventually people will be like, “Hey, dude, what’s up? What’s going on?” And while there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to be like that, and you don’t really want people to know you, there’s a stronger part that does want to be known as well. It helps me when I know I’ve got a bad attitude or a bad spirit or I’m becoming aggressive and arrogant and proud . . . whatever. I know I need to get my heart right, not just before the Lord because the thing that helps me, rebukes me is that I know eventually it’s going to start affecting everybody else. The Lord uses that to bring me back to Him. It always lines up with His Word. That’s the helpful thing about having people around who know who you are.
Peter: Having somebody that’s in your life that you look up to, that you want to be like. You know they’re not perfect, but there’s something in their character you see. And everybody’s different. Someone I relate to, you might not related to, but you might relate to me. Just encouraging one another with the truth, stirring one another up. I need other men in my life. It’s not that I crawl to their house every day because I’m broken, but walking with other believers makes a massive difference. The enemy wants to keep you alone. He wants to route you and keep you by yourself. He wants to keep you lonely in your thoughts, in your marriage, your daily dealings, your career, your life. But when you’ve got somebody else that has words of wisdom and love, that’s above all of that, someone sees the potential in your life even when you don’t see it. It’s a blessing. I didn’t really go looking for it, but the Lord obviously knew I needed it before I could even pray for it.
Many years ago you were talking about trying to artistically make the “perfect Newboys record”. Have you made it yet or are you still striving for it?
think if we’d made it we’d all know! (Laughs.) I still
feel that way. Not being content with what you’ve done or resting with
what you’ve done in the past is a good thing. Striving to do better,
being more disciplined. Looking at things you’ve done in the past musically
and creatively and not asking yourself whether it worked or not, but is it
something you can still sing. You have to be careful. You might have to sing
it! There are songs we’re working on now . . . they’re songs
we would’ve been really excited about five years ago, but we won’t
do it this time because it’s just an area we’re not going to
go. It has to excite us. We have to make music we like. The secret to making
a great record, not that we’ve made a great record, but the secret
to making one is writing songs that touch your heart, that have touched you.
And if you’re fortunate other people will be touched, too. People ask
me all the time, “Do you ever get tired playing that Breakfast song
or that Shine song?” Well, you know, the chords are the same. The lyrics
are the same. And we’ve played ‘em a thousand times. But every
time we play them it’s new to us because the people are what’s
different. When I look out, that’s what makes it different and special.
Now, after twenty years, we live in a time where rock ‘n roll’s growing old. There are guys rockin’ who are twenty years older than me. If a rock ‘n roller was my age in the 80's people would be like, “Who is this old geezer?” Now you have three to ninety-three at concerts. You’ll see grandmothers and their grand kids. That’s an awesome time. If I can write a song, and sing a song, if we can sing those songs a thousand times I’m thankful. I know how hard it is to get them. We see bands come and go. I’ve watched rap come and go, heavy metal come and go, everything come and go. It blesses me, and it’s an honor to still be here and sing those songs. It’s not my haircut they come for! It’s not my cheeky Aussiness. I’m thankful to have songs like “He Reigns” and “Shine” and “Something Beautiful”.
Paul: You have to remember I wantched the Newsboys from the back of the crowd. But that was never enough for me (Chuckles). So now I watch it from stage right. I’m the fan in the group. I’m the fan, and I joined the band.
Tell us about your next album...
Peter: We’re working pretty hard on our new record. You know when something happens and you get fresh inspiration, fresh revelation, whatever you want to coin it, that’s good. It’s a rock record. I mean, it’s the Newsboys. It’s got rock and the good news of Jesus in it. Hopefully it’s not cheesy. A lot of people think you head down to the Bahamas with a nice guitar and you sit under a palm tree and you just write songs. Nah. You want to swim in the water if you’re in the Bahamas! (Laughs.) What we do is we usually lock ourselves in and cover up the windows, and the music has to take you somewhere. Does that make sense? It’s part of that process of writing songs you want to sing, writing songs you want to hear. For me, we love the beach and we love to see beautiful scenery, but when you’re writing a record ... the windows in my house are covered up! (Laughs.) You can’t see outside. People wouldn’t be that impressed if they were a fly on the wall. All for a three minute song ...
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.