In the building anticipation for the first full-length newsboys album featuring Michael Tait in the role as lead vocalist, we caught up with the band to discuss the progress of production on Born Again, the band's evolving sound, and some of the new tracks on the record...
This interview took place on: 1/28/10.
Jesus freak Hideout (John DiBiase): Now, I noticed a lot of the new songs are definitely aimed at the church. Was this deliberate? Some of the songs seem like they're a rallying-of-the-troops...
Yeah. I think, as Steve Campbell says, "It is what it is." I look at myself like with a song like "Born Again" - Man, I had some prodigal years there, I make no mistake about that. I'm born again. [That] came about and I found myself looking in the mirror, thinking "What in the world am I doing here? What's going on in my life?" And the newsboys called during that whole time and I was repeating all that in my head trying to figure out where I was going to go with that or this pop thing I was gonna call Loveology. And then I thought, "Y'know what? We got signed as dc Talk with Virgin [Records] because we made great music and great art" -- Pretty evangelical in its roots, for sure - Jesus Freak, the whole record and the name alone -- But then, all of a sudden, I was like, "Y'know what? I AM a believer - and I don't like being called "Christian music," "Oh, this is 'Christian music'" because it pigeonholes you a lot of the times, but it is what it is. But when I hear that song ("Born Again"), that song says to me, "I've been there, I've done this, I've done that - this is my stand now. I'm going to redeem the time and give the best of the rest of my life" - at this point in my life, y'know? I'm a born again believer, right? That's what I do! That kind of came up. So it is a declaration of sorts -- the whole record, in lots of ways. And defends, in lots of ways too, the down-and-outters. And to let people know, there IS a way back. There's never "too far."
JFH (John): I think my favorite track of the new tracks is "Born Again." I like the vibe, I like the whole thing about it. It's cool, because it's like a "Here we are, a new chapter, and the band is born again."
Well, that's right. I think, not only for Michael, but it's also for newsboys. I mean, with us three being together for eighteen years now, so I think with Michael coming on board, it really gives us an opportunity to explore some areas that we haven't done musically before. Of course, Michael comes along with these incredible vocal talents. I think Michael could sing a phone book and people would buy it, so he's got one of those kinds of voices. But for us, it is definitely a rebirthing of who WE are as a band. Of course, y'know, when you're in a band, it's like a marriage of sorts and Michael coming along is a... I mean, I've been a huge dc Talk fan all my life, so...
The other day, you admitted that and I thought that was really sweet.
Yeah, well, I have been and I started listening to dc Talk way back with Nu Thang, back with that record back then.
You never TOLD me this stuff!! That's awesome!!
JFH (John): It'd be awkward if you didn't like dc Talk. *laughs*
No, not really. No, not really. Because I like Michael and like his vocals, and if I didn't like dc Talk, that'd be another thing. But I was always a fan. So, for me, I get a great thrill out of - not only getting to know Michael better, but also exploring musical avenues that we, as a band, really haven't done before.
And also dismantling the band (dc Talk). You've dismantled the band for good because you've got me. So, so much for the ship coming back up to the surface to rule the seas. *hearty laughter*
Yeah, so it's fun for us, because Michael comes and brings an exhuberance and a joy and a life and a passion that maybe we haven't had for a few years. I think, since last time we talked, we've come even such a long way as a band since you saw us play at the festival there. So we're all feeling this great sense of anticipation as well with it. We all feel like there's something greater than the sum of its parts coming up ahead. Personally, I feel that almost the last twenty years are for this point in time. The last twenty years have been spent coming together, building what we do, building our fan base, building who we are for this point in time. I really feel that. And that sounds really odd when you think that you just lost a key guy to your band, but, looking forward here... I don't think we've started yet! I feel like we're just getting going!
I want to add something - I don't think that's odd...
JFH (John): Well, that's just part of the rebirthing process. You had a great twenty years, but now it's starting over.
I'll be honest, it's not odd. Because, to me, and all my dizzying heights of success in my little world of CCM for all those years - I feel like, personally, guys -- I said in the car coming to the show today with Jody, I get so excited - not that that didn't happen with Toby and Kevin, but the dynamic changed SO much that it became a bit albatrossing to do shows near the end. The sad part is, at the end, we were still up here! So we kind of quit still in our heat, in our height! But that said, with newsboys, it's clear to me that, "Where has this been?! I belong here!" And NOT cuz we get along as buds! But it's because it gels! It works! I feel it in the music, I feel it when Jody plays a lick on stage. I look back and I see Duncan and there's this osmosis-like energetic connection! I look over at Jeff and he's singing parts that I kinda dreamed up melodically or harmonized with him and he's doing them convincingly - not like I'm the man or something, but that makes me feel good because that's what I like - I like a great band on stage! Y'know? It's killer!
JFH (John): And it's cool - it's interesting to listen to the music cuz you have to wrap your head around the fact it's the newsboys now. And the more you listen to it, the more you pull out different things. Like, it sounds like Tait band, but then it sounds like newsboys at different times, but then it sounds like dc Talk at different times!
Michael: I KNOW!!! That's what I want! That's our hope!!
Duncan: That's right!
JFH (John): And then it's like, "Well, this would be a Tait song, except... Jody's singing in the background." - *to Jody* And it's awesome because it's great to hear your voice again!
Michael: It'll mess with your head for sure, man!
JFH (John): It really does!
Duncan: It does! Yeah!
JFH (John): I was discussing it with another one of our staff members and we both are newsboys fans. And we're listening to it and we're like - This is so trippy! Because it's like... "OK... this is the newsboys now!" But it's made up of so many different parts...
Jeff Frankenstein: But I think that sort of transitional phase will last for a little while and then - like right now, the plane is taking off and it's this new thing. People are still kind of like - like you! - that are kind of like, "What the heck is going on?!" but especially in our culture now, people's attention span is so short, they're going to get over it really quick! After another cycle and record...
JFH (John): All of the older fans are older people now. We're not kids anymore. We're like, "This is still really weird!" *laughter*
Jeff: I think there's still enough of the things that endear people to the band previous that they still get that too AND they... yeah, it's a Win-win, I think. It's turning out that way.
JFH (John): Yeah, I noticed all the comments on the newsboys' Facebook were like, "This is awesome!!" And I'm like, "Good! I'm glad they're getting over it..."
Michael: [You're like] "What are you?! Fifteen years old?! You weren't around when I was young!!" *laughter*
JFH (John): "dc Talk was still around when I was seventeen!!" *laughter*
Michael: You said something that made me really excited because that was the feeling I was hoping there'd be. About how -- you know when a band comes out with a record, or something happens whether it's a new lead singer or a band you haven't heard in a long time and you've bought the new record? It feels like, "Oh! This is fresh. This is the new sound!" Cuz it could have very easily been like, when the first song came out, people would've been like, "OK.... Well, that's cool..." But "Born Again" feels - even down to the guitars and the *Michael mimics his intro vocal pattern* "Ah-uh-ah-aah!" It feels like "Whoa! It's a new world! Something different's happening here!" Y'know? And then it still feels like Tait, and TobyMac and Kevin and dc Talk and newsboys... yeah.
JFH (John): It could have fit on pretty much any of those records. *laughs*
Duncan: But that's right!
Michael: But the thing is, though, I have my Dad's nose and lips. He's in Heaven. He died ten years ago. It's called DNA. I'm from Tait! I'm from dc Talk! And now you got some newsboys...
Duncan: There's no way it couldn't have an aspect of that.
JFH (John): Right. And it's not a bad thing. It's cool.
Duncan: No! Right. That's a great observation.
JFH (John): So, the five songs on the Preview EP, are they going to be on the full record, Born Again?
Michael: The next seven songs are pretty stinkin' hot. We won't let you down on the back half. If you throw your best out there first, stack it pretty heavy... but it's not that case at all.
JFH (John): They sound good. It's a good, strong EP.
Michael: But the back half is killer, too.
JFH (John): Is "On Your Knees" inspired by a true story?
Michael: Juan Otero penned the lyric to "On Your Knees" and it is, for the most part, he tells me. But the chorus is more relatable. Like a minister standing behind a pulpit can't walk unless he's on his knees. He walks on his knees. In other words, in a prayerful, praying-without-ceasing kind of way, but when you've gone through so much of this, that, and the other, you realize you're not going to find hope, peace, happiness at all in a person or a thing or money. It's an age-old story. But more importantly, I love that the bridge part -- We didn't have a bridge for a long time and one night I was laying in bed and I thought about how I felt at the end of my little journey - I was in L.A. for awhile, I got caught up in some crazy stuff, I kind of lost myself in the business of the materialistic world and I kind of lost my perspective. So I wrote the bridge to say, when you've given it everything you got and it's hard to believe, I thought, "Wow, I've been a Christian all my life. I've done all the right things... What's going on, God?" And I thought, "Tait, you know it here (*points to his head*), but you know don't know it here (*points to his heart*)."
JFH (John): It's frustrating when you're a believer for a long time and you feel like you always have to refocus.
JFH (John): And then you're kinda like, "OK, I think I've hit that complacent point where you've kind of lost that fire, but you don't know how to get back to it."
Michael: And it's scary, too, when you come from a band - and now you're in a band - so it's almost like you think you're not allowed to go there. You're supposed to be, "I'm famous! I'm in dc Talk! I can't have any more spiritual problems! I'm good to go!" Oh, au contraire!
JFH (John): We'll probably have them until we die. *laughs*
Michael: Yep! I know. Yeah.
JFH (John): What challenges have there been song writing for this record, if any?
Jeff: It's kind of been a new chapter in how we've opened the floodgates to allow other people to come in, where it was kind of closed before? Like really closed as far as getting help from outside producers and writers. Now, it's like if anybody, within reason, has an idea, we're all ears.
Michael: We're chasing the art, though! It's important to us.
Jeff: It's been cool because we've had people like Mark Heimmerman come in...
Michael: Even Steve Taylor!
Jeff: Yeah, that was one thing I always thought - I found we always made it really difficult on ourselves making records, like "We're just going to DO it ourselves! We're going to do it in our bedroom! We're going to do it in our house! We're going to record it!"
JFH (John): You've got this down pat by now.
Michael: Oh yeah!
Jeff: When really, that was not the best way to go about it. A lot of the great bands bring in massive teams to help. Why we never did that, I never really understood. Now it's really cool. Wes, our manager, he's in there. I think we've created an atmosphere where everyone's free to speak honestly and give an opinion. There's no politics. Throw it out there and whatever sticks works. It's something new for us.
Michael: And we almost HAD to. Because it's like, what does NEW newsboys sound like?! - also known as "Newsboys 2.0" - What does that sound like? We don't know what it sounds like. But we open it up and see what happens, y'know? The other day we came together and had to agree this keyboard pattern or section works or doesn't. Or this line or phrase here. Lyrically, it could be less... pointed. It could be more, whatever, y'know?
Duncan: I think we all just want it to be great. We really don't give a rat's butt who writes it? I'm being serious. We just want it to be great. We realize and understand it's gotta be great. It can't be "just as good." I think with Michael coming on board, it's gotta be SO good, SO far better, because if it's just as good or not quite as good, people will go, "Ah, yeah, they're done. They're over. They're done with." But if it's SO far better... we want to create a situation where it's gotta be. Cuz really, every time we do a record, we're really reapplying for our job.
Every time you do it.
JFH (John): laughing It's true! That's a good point.
Duncan: It is true, because the fans --
JFH (John): You've got to re-win over the fans every time.
Duncan: You've GOT to! They're moving all the time. They're like this big wave. And what they're listening to all the time is different, it's comin', it's goin'. So if you keep making the same record, you actually go backwards! You're goin' backwards if you do.
Michael: What we've seen, all along, is everything starts and ends with a song. Without the song, you don't have arenas full of people, you don't have a tour bus to ride in. You don't have cool glasses like Jeff has on.
Duncan: And really, what we've come to appreciate is you might be the best looking band on the bill, you want to be the best players, the best singers, have the best vibe. But if you ain't got the song, no one's going to come see you play.
JFH (John): Can you tell us about the video for "Born Again" that you filmed in Baja? Did you go to Baja thinking you'd film a music video there?
Jeff: Actually, no. Not really.
JFH (John): It just kinda happened?
Jeff: The video shoot originally was for this tour to help promote bringing people from this tour with us. And when we got there, the team was there to shoot -- Actually, "Born Again" wasn't called "Born Again" at the time. It was called "Who I Am." And Wes and I were like, "Well we're here, why don't we get Mike singing it a little bit and walking." So we filmed that and there were all these kids running around and a lot of the footage we were getting that day was cool, so we just started filming like it was a music video and it just came together. We weren't even planning on using that song at all. We were going to use "I'll Be" or another song. Then when we saw some of the promo footage, Wes and I had the idea, "Well let's just finish it and make a proper video clip" so we had a film crew come in in Nashville and film for a day there and put it together...
Jody Davis: In the FREEZING cold!
Duncan: Yeah, it was freezing!
Jeff: And what was originally nothing, we ended up with a great video. We didn't even know it!
JFH (John): Cuz I saw the promo clip on the Creation Fall Tour and I didn't know the song at the time, but I knew it was something new. So when I saw the music video, I was like "Waaaait a minute..."
Jeff: Well the song that was in there was just a demo! It wasn't even really mixed or anything! And then it ended up turning into this whole thing. And then even all the themes tied into what we were doing. We were like, "Oh! Cool!"
Michael: Back to "Born Again" really quick. I knew we had something really special in the "Born Again" song when kids would comment on the video from the Fall on the Way We Roll Tour. Because it was so catchy, they were like "What is that song where you go 'Ah-uh-ah-aaah! This is who I am?!'" And I was like, "Yeeeeah, we got something!"
JFH (John): Any upcoming tour plans?
Michael: We're hitting most of the festivals, if not all of the festivals.
Duncan: We're playing Creation this year.
Jody: We're going to try to do some more Reach events.
Jeff: Probably not an official tour for this record until the Spring.
Duncan: Spring, 2011. Yep.
JFH (John): Really?! Not this Fall?
Michael: Well, in the Fall, we're committed to our Reach event, yeah.
Jeff: But anything can happen. It's still early yet. Maybe full-on tour by the Fall.
Duncan: If this thing blows up, and people want this, y'know, we'll see.
Newsboys' latest project, Born Again, releases July 13th, 2010.