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newsboys: Born Again

By Chris Carpenter Program Director

CBN.comWhen newsboys founding member Peter Furler decided to retire 16 months ago many critics believed the Australian band that had dominated contemporary Christian music for the last two decades was through too.  The rationale was really quite simple – Furler was newsboys.  He was the heartbeat that breathed life into songs like “He Reigns”, “Shine”, and “You are My King”.

Rather than retreating, remaining band members Jeff Frankenstein and Duncan Phillips decided to forge ahead by re-introducing former guitarist Jody Davis into the mix and adding former dcTalk member Michael Tait as its new lead singer.

The results have been nothing short of remarkable.  With their new album, Born Again, set to release this week, the Tait-fronted quartet has had the number one contemporary Christian radio single (“Born Again”) for the last seven weeks.

newsboys took a break recently from their nationwide tour to sit down with Program Director Chris Carpenter and discuss the subtraction of Furler, the addition of Tait, and the supernatural power of Jesus Christ in our lives.
The last year or two has really been a time of great transition for newsboys.  Paul Colman moved on, Jody Davis rejoins the band.  After 20 plus years with the group Peter Furler leaves.  Michael Tait replaces him.  To clear up any confusion, what is Peter’s current role with newsboys?

Jeff Frankenstein (keyboards): (laughs) We fired Peter. We were sick of him.

But he’s still involved, right?

Frankenstein: No, no, no. Originally we thought that he would be a little more involved in like songwriting and that sort of thing behind the scenes. But it really hasn’t turned out that way, and I think he just kind of wanted to do his own thing. Pretty much do nothing, really. He just retired for a little while.  Who could blame him after 22 years of full-on touring? That makes total sense.

For you, Michael, you’ve gone from DC Talk to your own band Tait, now into newsboys. What’s that transition been like for you, especially coming from your own band into a well established situation?

Michael Tait (lead vocals): They both were major, major conduits in me doing the newsboys thing. Number one, DC Talk was kind of a traveling soufflé with Toby (Mac) and Kevin (Max) flanking me. So it was definitely a group effort. I’d sing a chorus, and Toby would hop in with a verse and a rap. The rap person came up and hop in on a bridge sing or something. So that was the training ground, I think, for just the bigger picture that newsboys is now. The Tait band was my solo band without Toby and Kevin by my side. It made me realize how much work it takes to actually continue in a full-on show mode, and to include a little talk and a little footage between songs. It’s definitely more than meets the eye. And I love it!

We’ve talked about Michael’s transition into newsboys. For the established guys in the band, what has your transition been like to Michael? Has it been challenging? Has it been easy?  Somewhere in between?

Frankenstein: On the same day Jody rejoined the band, Peter decides to retire and we make the decision to bring Michael Tait in as the new lead singer.  So we hit the woodshed pretty hard. And looking back on it now, there was a lot of days that were really hard last year. And all credit to Michael to step into a band, a whole team that’s been together for a long time, a lead singer who was established and had been there a long time, and to just jump in with like tons of lyrics, tons of stuff. But we just jumped off the cliff and went for it. And yes, it was difficult. Last year was a lot about survival.

This is obviously a big year for you. You’ve got your own headlining tour. You’ve been on the Winter Jam tour. You had a preview EP that came out in the winter, and now the new record is coming out. That’s a lot of new things for you.

Tait: You had to almost kind of throw away the painting, or the canvas—or erase, rather, erase the canvas—and start again, literally speaking. But we went back to the basics, because it’s important to have brand new material out with your new lead singer singing the stuff. It was important to have a tour like Winter Jam to showcase this new newsboys singer. It’s important to have momentum going forward with freshness. Boom, this is a brand new stroke. We’ve turned the page, turned the corner. We had to.  Last year, I think, when we were in the thick of it all, when we couldn’t see the forest through the trees, God was working a master plan, which we can just start . . .

Duncan Phillips (drummer): Just starting to see now.

Tait: God gave us a little peek a little while ago, and we necessarily go, “Wow.” Things go as they should. And who knows, God’s in control. But it’s looking pretty nice.

Frankenstein: This has been the biggest challenge, giving up control like on what we have, letting God work. And through the band, it was being pulled out from under us. We all had to kind of just say, “Well, God, I know you have a plan for this thing.”

Phillips: I think the nature of man is not to like change. We’re creatures of habit. We like to get stuck in our ways. And I think it was. I mean, there was an element of what we were doing, we were in full survival mode. Everything changed. So as scary as that was, there was an element of it that was incredibly exciting. Because number one, we had the opportunity to explore avenues musically that we never had done before. And number two, it made me feel like when we first moved over from Australia. There was this feeling of having our back against the wall.

The new album, Born Again is releasing very soon.  You have had tremendous success with the title track which has been out on radio for a few months.  Tell me about what led you to write and record that?

Tait: Well, it’s very personal for me. Because I lived in LA for a while, and I had to ask myself the question, “What are doing here, Tait?” I kind of lost a little bit of my focus, and I kind of thought—my Dad used to always say, “What does it profit man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” I used to always hear that when I was a kid. I said like, “Man, it’s so dark. It’s so like a whoa.” And there were times like when I’d look in the mirror and I’d be like, “Who am I?” And my eyes would be heavy, emotionally sort of speaking. It’s like, “I know what I’m doing. I’m not necessarily wrong making a pop record, but I’m not sure if I’ve not lost the Magna Carta.” The Magna Carta to chart out my life I’d somehow dropped along the way, or kind of ignored some of the main vision directing my rules. And, of course, it’s great. Because it’s one of he strongest statements on the record, “This is what it is. This is who I am.” This is where I finally take my stand. You say, “You know what? I’m done with this, man.” It’s not black, white and gray. It’s black or white.” You’re either running towards God or you’re running from God.

Another track that should make an impact is called “I’ll Be”.  What can you tell me about it?

Tait: (“I’ll Be”) has the classic message of the basis of our faith, which is redemption and man can—the wrongs can be righted through the supernatural power of Jesus Christ.  It’s like when you walk that path of disobedience to Christ, the old prodigal path, he walked down that road, and you come to realize that not only can you not help yourself; man can’t help you. Money can’t, status, position. And you find yourself off at this really scary, desolate, depraved place of like, “Where in the world am I? How did I get here? What’s going to happen?” I’ve been there in my life where you go, “Wow.” You can see the past. You can consider what the future could be or could have been, and whether you want to go. And you’re in the present. But finally you are at the point of your breaking. You’re at your lowest. That’s also when you appreciate Christ the most, in grace, when you give that up. Because when you’re, “Oh, thanks, Dad, for grace. Thank you.” Okay, back to sin. You know?

Final question, what’s God teaching you lately? What’s He showing you in your lives?

Tait: Oh, that’s easy for me. A lot of times being a man you think you have the answers. I know when I was a kid my dad would—well, he was a cab driver, too, so in defense of him. But a lot of my guy friends would not ask for directions. They would not stop to ask for directions. They’d keep on driving. I’ve got five sisters, so I’m in touch with my female side. I can stop and go, “Hey, Mr. 7-11 Guy, dah-dah-dah-dah-dah,” and I’ll find out where I’m going. But all this to say, in a joking way, a lot of times I just want to take control. I just want to go, “I know. I know, God, but.” There’s no “but” in it. He’s in control, not me. So I’m learning to let that go, for sure. And number two, I definitely try my hardest to pursue Him on a level beyond Christian-ese, and really get down to the depths and stuff I want to see Him in a deeper part of my life, in deeper ways. I think you can go as deep as you want to.

Frankenstein: I think one thing we’ve talked about in the band is just like, when God calls us, like He wants everything.

Phillips: That’s the daily battle.  I think we all as men, as band members, as just people, the daily battle is like we’ve explained before. We can give it 99.9 percent, but we want to hang on to that .1 percent. But it’s really simple … we need to give Him everything.  Nothing less.

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