Exclusive Interview: Newsboys United

By Ashley Mott

The sound of crowds roaring is one that many concertgoers are aware of. However, for the annual Winter Jam tour, those roars become a massive shout of worship as Christian artists from around the world take to the stage at venues across the nation.

While Australia is most known for killer waves and must-see tourist attractions, one of its rare finds happens to be a band that is coming right here to Cleveland State University with the 2019 Winter Jam tour. Newsboys United is coming to the Wolstein Center on March 31 and is excited to share some of their classic songs along with their new combined sound.

What many don’t know is that Newsboys current members Michael Tait, Duncan Phillips, Jody Davis and Jeff Frankenstein aren’t the only people who have played a part in the journey that is “Newsboys”. The longtime members are  also being joined by past members, Peter Furler and Phil Joel, to form the supergroup Newsboys United, which will bring an all new blended sound to the people showing up for the 2019 Winter Jam tour.

According to Phillips, drummer for Newsboys, the band started off in a garage on the coast of Australia when they were all around the age of 18 or 19. He remembers the hot days that they would spend writing songs and playing their music, before really deciding to take it to the states and “make a go of it.”

While the songs that were written by Newsboys were not always planned to be about their faith, it’s not something they would ever take back. However, their sound has evolved since working with other writers to create better lyrical content.

“[It was like] you write and sing about your faith? Okay, you’re a Christian band,” Phillips said.

Being in the United States and writing songs that revolved around their beliefs and views created what Phillips referred to as a “pigeon hole,” however, that isn’t something they are too worried about.

“It’s about being genuine,” Phillips explained, when asked about whether or not the band would have decided to be a Christian band on their own.

According to Phillips, they never intended to find themselves in this genre on purpose. When they first started, they wrote about what they knew and loved, and for them, it was their faith. The genre came naturally, and Newsboys’ influence is definitely felt through their music and through the Christian movies they have taken part in.

Their song “God’s Not Dead” inspired the movie based on a true story of a student who challenged a professor. A professor, who on day one wanted his entire class to say that God is dead prior to starting his course. The tale of one student who said no, and fought on a weekly basis to prove the living breathing life of God, is shown through the entire film, with a Newsboys soundtrack backing the cinematic creation.

The band is very grateful to have been a part of the movie and glad that their song has become somewhat of an anthem for it. In the past, according to Phillips, Christian movies haven’t always been the best in quality, and playing a part in the creation of a film that overwhelmed social media almost immediately upon its release was an incredible feeling for them.

Phillips makes it known how much the band wants to make an impact, but do it in a way that is held to the same quality of music as everyone else in the industry.

“In the past [in society] it’s been okay [for music] to be mediocre, but I don’t think it’s ever been okay to be mediocre,” Phillips said. “If we can be increasingly wanting to get better, whether that’s in music or movies, in just the arts, I think that’s something good.”

Newsboys has been with the Winter Jam tour for some time now. Each year they come back, they add new songs to leave people wanting to know about the message they speak so fondly of. That being said, the message of their music isn’t the only thing they are known for.

Each year, Phillips is suspended in the air on a platform that rises, turns on its side and rotates as he is playing some of their most iconic songs. While Phillips thinks that everyone has at least seen or heard about the drummer being on a spinning platform, it is simply not the case, as every year the crowd goes wild and freaks out wondering how it’s done and if he is safe.

Rest assured, he makes it known that he is indeed safe and secure, but won’t give all the secrets away as to just how this suspension act is done.

“I can’t give away all my secrets, now can I?” Phillips said with a joking tone.

Nevertheless, the tour has always brought people to their knees in awe of the show that is put on, and the message that is being shared. That being said, tours are tough when you are away from family, and Phillips acknowledges the challenges that come with being a touring musician no matter the genre.

“We aren’t perfect. We definitely have our moments,” Phillips said. “We are artists, and we work with music. We are very emotional.”

Emotional or not, the band makes it a point to settle their accounts before going onstage, or even before the sun goes down that night.

“The Bible says ‘Never let the sun go down on your wrath’ [Ephesians 4:26-27 New King James translation],” Phillips explained. “Whether it’s your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband. It really helps to protect your communication. You can agree to disagree, but you get to a point in your relationship where you can go on from there.”

That being said, the band members always try and air everything as soon as possible. Everyone is human, and it’s okay to be upset, but it’s something the band agrees you have to be able to move past in order to work cohesively together. It’s something they believe the audience can sense, if there is a rift between band members.

“Life’s too short to be, there just ain’t enough life to be angry at someone,” Phillips said. “People are like ‘something’s wrong with the band. It was a good show, but something’s off.’ There’s a message that you send out [when you’re on stage], and the people can feel that.”

Anger isn’t a message that Newsboys United wants to send to the people who come to their show. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. They want to send love to everyone in the audience.

“[At the] end of the day I just want to love people. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what you’ve done. I don’t care what your pretensities are. I don’t care if you’re straight, gay, whatever. At the end of the day, I don’t care. That’s between you and your maker. Now, I may disagree with your life style, but I still don’t care. My job is to love you,” Phillips shared passionately.

He makes it known that the church can’t preach from a soap box and think that they are more righteous than anyone, because they aren’t. That their sins are the same as everyone else’s and that it all is dirty, but it’s not their job to judge but instead it is to love.

The idea of loving everyone can be heard in Newsboys songs like “Love Riot” and “God’s Not Dead (Like a Lion)”. The very first line in “God’s Not Dead” is “Let love explode and bring the dead to life, a love so bold to see a revolution somehow.” It touches on the message of love that Phillips talked about wanting to send to everyone.

This message is also seen in lyrics like “We’ll take to the streets, exploding with love” from their song “Love Riot” that talks about wanting to bring a love riot from New York to Tokyo and everywhere in between.

Phillips knows there is this misconception about Christians, their music and their preachings, but he doesn’t let that keep him or the band from singing about their faith and the God that they love.

It is evident in their song “Jesus Freak” where they sing proudly “What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus freak? What will people do when they find out it’s true? I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak. There ain’t no disguising the truth. No, I ain’t into hiding the truth.”

Newsboys shouts from the stage their love for their divine creator and want the Winter Jam tour to be a chance for them to show the world what love is and what Christianity really is.

“There are so many preconceived notions out there today about what true Christianity is… we [Christians] are really good at stuffing things up,” Phillips said. “I just want to change people’s perception of who we are and [show them] that Christianity is not about standing on a soap box and preaching down our noses.”

Newsboys United is on tour with Winter Jam 2019 and is set out to give a good show as well as share their love for all the people they meet. Phillips has made it clear that their message is about love and sharing it with everyone.

Originally Published on The Cauldron.

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