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Newsboys Talk Reuniting With Former Members for United Tour: 'It's an Emotional Journey'

Newsboys
David Dobson

Newsboys

Newsboys fans are going to be in for a slice of musical heaven on earth this spring as the band’s current members and two well-loved alumni join forces for the Newsboys United Tour. Current frontman Michael Tait and longtime members Duncan Phillips, Jeff Frankenstein and Jody Davis will welcome back former drummer/lead vocalist Peter Furler and bassist Phil Joel for a 40-plus city tour that kicks off Feb. 15 in Stockton, CA, visiting Los Angeles, Houston, Minneapolis and other markets before concluding May 6 in Shawnee, OK.

The groundwork for the upcoming trek was paved last year when Furler reunited with the band to record “The Cross Has the Final Word.” “Peter sang on the song and we did a couple shows together and all of sudden here we are collaborating, testing the waters and people responded immediately, quickly and strongly,” Tait tells Billboard as he sits in a Nashville studio, flanked by Davis, Furler, Frankenstein, Phillips and Joel.  “We thought we have something here that the public could enjoy and be blessed by. Why not do this thing?”

Joel is founder and frontman of Word Worship band Zealand, which will be the opening act on the tour. “It couldn’t be a more friendly crowd. I’m super excited,” says Joel, a New Zealand native, who spent a little over two decades with the band before exiting in 2007. “It’s nice of them to have asked. It’s very nice to be invited to the party.”

As for how the rest of the night will be structured, they are still in the process of figuring it all out. “There will be something for everyone,” says Furler, who founded the band in Australia in 1985 and exited the band in 2009 to embark on a solo career. “We’re going to go through a bunch of songs and see what still holds water and what doesn’t. Mike and the boys will go through their set and figure out what they want to play. By experience we’ve found that over the first four or five shows, you figure out what works. We all just want it to be the best experience for the fans and we want to enjoy it too.”

A native Australian, Furler helped steer the band from Down Under to the U.S. three decades ago with longtime manager Wes Campbell. Initially the band’s drummer, Furler became lead vocalist after frontman John James exited in 1997. Furler led the band through through more than a dozen successful years, notable for such enduring hits as “Shine,” “Breakfast” and “He Reigns.” Tait stepped in as lead vocalist when Furler departed and launched a new chapter in the band’s career.

For Frankenstein, prepping for the tour has been a walk down memory lane. “I’ve been going back through old songs as we’ve been getting ready for rehearsals and there was a lot of stuff I hadn’t listened to in many years,” he says. “It’s funny how certain songs will just take your emotions right back to where you were at that time. Listening to ‘Not Ashamed,’ I could smell the smoke machine. It’s an emotional journey and it brings back a lot of memories for me personally. Moving into this next phase is going to be something new for all of us because for so many years you are always trying to push the next thing and now it’s like we get a chance to celebrate. We’re still very hungry and want to put on an amazing show, but you have to celebrate all the years of hard work you’ve put in. It’s like the reward.”

Reaction to the tour from the band’s fans on social media has been enthusiastic. “People are saying, ‘Yes! I can’t believe it! I’ve wanted to see this,’” Phillips shares. “There’s definitely a nostalgia part of it for that 35-year-old soccer mom that remembers seeing the band when she was a teenager. It’s going to become a very unifying thing with families. It already is. You’ll see two or three generations of families at a Newsboys show, but I think for the soccer mom to be out and bring her kids to come and see her version of Newsboys singing the songs that she grew up with, it’s going to be a real special moment for a lot of people. And for newer fans who don’t know Peter’s [involvement with the band], their eyes are going to get opened to a whole catalog of songs. It’s going to be a win/win for everyone.”

Davis says the reunion has felt very natural. “It’s really funny how when you are sometimes separated in life from good friends and you come back together and things just pick right up like nothing was ever any different,” says the guitarist who joined the band in 1994. “It just feels quite a bit like that. It’s like how we’ve always been. We’ve always cut up and razzed each other and just had a good time. I’m just happy and feel very, very fortunate to get to do it.”

Furler is happy to be reunited with his pals. He developed the band and saw it rise to the top of the charts, earn numerous awards and become a mainstay in the Christian music community. Then in 1999, Furler, Campbell and Dale Bray founded Inpop records, and life became increasingly hectic as he tried to juggle multiple roles. “I was burned out,” he confesses. “I was doing a lot of things at the time. I had everything I wanted, but I found out it wasn’t what I really wanted. It wasn’t me.  I was writing songs and producing records and doing 100 shows a year and I’d done that for a long time. The type of person that I am, I’m a free spirit and that free spirit kind of imploded.”

Furler moved to Florida with his wife, Summer, took some time away from the music business and later returned to launch a solo career. These days he’s happy to back with his longtime friends and thinks fans are going to enjoy seeing this new chapter in the veteran band’s career. “We are living in a really divided time,” he says. “Here you’ve got different nationalities, different skin colors, different thinking, different everything and two bands that have two different singers that are coming together, so it is united and I think that’s a good flag to be waving right now.”

As they laugh and joke around during the interview, it’s easy to see the band values the camaraderie that’s developed over the decades. “When you get to a maturity level in your life, you realize life is too short to not enjoy each other’s company and there’s not too many lifelong friends that you have,” Phillips says. “I’ve known Pete since I was a teenager. I’ve known Jeff for the last 25 years, Jody for the last 25, Michael for 20. Not many people get to do that.  If it’s great, God’s in it and it feels right, who knows where this will end up?”

In addition to the tour, the Newsboys will also be visible this spring in God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. Starring John Corbett, Ted McGinley, Tatum O'Neal, this is the third film in the franchise that takes its name from the Newsboys 2011 hit “God’s Not Dead.” The band appears in the first two films and will also be featured in the latest installment, which hits theaters March 30.

“It means a lot to still be doing this at this level. It’s mind boggling that people still come out and see us,” says Tait, who rose to fame as a member of the pioneering Christian rock/rap trio dc Talk and then fronted his own band, Tait, before joining the Newsboys. “God gives us the songs. He gives us movies. He gives us great friends to share music with on the stage. He gives us the message. God makes us look good.”

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