Newsboys’ Duncan Phillips talks changes to band and God’s Not Dead
by Reggie Edwards
The Winter Jam Tour Spectacular is slated to kick off January 6 in Charleston, West Virginia, featuring Skillet, Newsong, Sanctus Real, Peter Furler, Kari Jobe, Building 429, Group 1 Crew, Dara Maclean, For King and Country and We As Human.
Just coming off the Winter Jam West Coast tour, which wrapped up in late November, Newsboys were featured on both Winter Jam West as well as the 2011 Spring edition of the tour.
Longtime Newsboys drummer Duncan Phillips sat down with us to talk about Winter Jam, their latest record, God’s Not Dead, which released in November, as well as the switch from Peter Furler to Michael Tait as the face of the veteran Aussie rockers.
“It’s such a great experience, I think what it is for the fans is 10 bands for 10 bucks, are you kidding me?,” Phillips says about Winter Jam. “I think a lot of people are kinda hurting right now and money’s tight, especially for families and what we do is we cater to families; I think this makes it all affordable, instead of paying 25 bucks a ticket they can come to Winter Jam and see 10 bands for 10 bucks and if you don’t like one band, just wait around and there’s gonna be one that you do. I think that for the value, as far as the fans go, it’s an incredible night out. For mom and dad and two kids, for 40 bucks you can go out instead of 100 bucks or 120 or 150.
“It’s a great family. We got to be on Winter Jam earlier this year, I guess I’ll call it Winter Jam East,” Phillips says. “We got to play in front of 530,000 people, so as far as any band, it really is exciting to get to play in front of that many people and for the fans, it’s great, because they get so much value for their dollar so I think that’s what brings us back to Winter Jam, we’ve played Winter Jam the last two years.”
Phillips says Winter Jam 2010 and 2011 were important tours for the band because of the addition of DC Talk singer Michael Tait to replace longtime face of the band, Peter Furler.
“With us I think it was important too, with the transition to Michael Tait, it was really important to get in front of a lot of people and for people to see what this new version of Newsboys looked like so, on some new levels it just made sense for us to do Winter Jam.”
Born Again, which was released in 2010 and was Tait’s first record with the band was immensely successful but was also a scary project for the band, Phillips said, and was one they knew they had to go into with caution.
“In a lot of ways that was a very scary project because for the last 20 years you’re kinda convincing people that a certain band is the bomb and then you get to a point where you’ve gotta tell people, “Sorry, we were wrong, the new version’s better.
“Then you do a new record. We knew it had to be great, you know. If it wasn’t as good or was just as good as our last record, we felt people would be like “okay, they’re done, they’re over.”
“Before in the past we had all written songs in-house for the most part and we’d had a lot of success with that and are very proud of that, I think we’ve had over 25 number one hits in the industry,” Phillips says.
“But with the Born Again record, we kinda threw all that out and said “look guys, this record has got to be about the fans, it’s got to be about something different than it has been before. Let’s go find the best the best songs that we can possibly find for the fans;” and that’s what we did. We knew we had the talent of Michael Tait to sing the songs, we knew the songs had to be great, and that’s what we did.
“We worked with a dear friend Seth Mosely. When you’re working with a producer, you’ve gotta work with someone who gets who you are and Seth definitely gets who Newsboys are, which we’re very lucky with and he wrote some great songs for us, he was part of a team that wrote some incredible songs.
“So we kinda had that line in the sand. A lot of people said Newsboys would never be the same and I was like “you’re dead right, it’s not gonna be the same. Hopefully it will be better.”
“I think we had something to prove, we felt it had to be better than it had been before. And then with all of that, you don’t want to push people too far to the point that they’re like “hey what just happened to my band, they’re such a different band.” So it’s this juggling match between making it better and then not going too far that most of your fans can’t resonate with it.”
Their goal was met in Born Again. It was one of their most successful releases to date and they didn’t waste any time, going right back into the studio to record the follow-up, a worship album titled God’s Not Dead, which was released in early November.
“I think [Born Again] came out as a great record for the fans, I’m very proud of it, showcasing Michael, of course,” Phillips
says. “Now the second record, God’s Not Dead, with Michael, it’s really worshipful, worship-orientated songs done Newsboys-style. At our core, we’re really a pop band, we’re kind of a pop-rock band. I’ve always been a sucker for three-and-a-half-minute pop songs.
“It’s got a lot of the same kind of power that Born Again had but obviously done with worship songs. I’ve never been a guy personally who buys a worship record in the past and plays it in my car, I’m not that kind of guy. But I’ve played this record, and of course I’m biased, but I’ve listened to this record at least 10 times over and I think that because it’s worship songs but done in a powerful way.”
Phillips said God’s Not Dead brings power to the worship songs, something a lot of worship albums nowadays lack.
”I think a lot of artists have done worship songs in the past where they kind of lack, I think, power. We had some favorites of ours that we definitely wanted to change up and mix up and do Newsboys style, the way we felt they should be done. And that’s not saying anyone else’s version isn’t any better, it’s just worship done in a very powerful, pop-rock way.”
God’s Not Dead is also the band’s first worship album since 2004’s Devotion, a record he feels the band could have done more on.
“I think we learned a lot in [the years since we made those records]. I think we know who we are now, we’re a lot happier in our skin, I think on Adoration and Devotion we felt the pressure, maybe, of the industry at the time. We had some incredible songs on those two records, I think we fell a bit short production-wise on those records. Looking back on it now, I think we tried to kind of fit into a mold that we didn’t really fit into but with God’s Not Dead it was like “forget that, we’ve been here for a long time now.” And that’s not to say we were arrogant, but it’s like “let’s just be who we are, let’s be who God created us as a band to be.”
“And I think we went into this project with that frame of mind and it’s like “let’s not pull any punches, let’s make production big, let’s make the drums powerful, let’s do it the way Newsboys would do it;” And I think that with this record we really did that and we came out with a better project, I believe.”
This Spring Newsboys will be on the God’s Not Dead World Tour. Head over to www.newsboys.com to find out if they’re coming to a city near you.