When Peter Furler suddenly stepped out of the spotlight as longtime front man for the Newsboys, music fans figured it was the last they'd hear from the singer. Now Furler is back with his first-ever solo album, On Fire, and Jesusfreakhideout.com's Roger Gelwicks got a chance to chat with the singer about his current endeavors and what spawned the Aussie's return to music...
This interview took place on: 6/1/11.
JFH (Roger Gelwicks): So how's life going for you right now?
I've gotta be honest, I'm having the best time of my life! I'm really enjoying it; I'm staying busy enough, not too busy. Trying to stay productive, but I'm really enjoying it.
JFH (Roger): I can relate too; I'm a college student, and I'm at the point where I want to stay productive but also take advantage of the free time I have.
Peter: Yeah, you can chase other creative endeavors, and it's like your mother tells you, "Stop and smell the roses."
JFH (Roger): Obviously life is completely different for you than even two years ago; what do you enjoy most about life now?
Peter: I think it's the new adventure of not knowing what's ahead; that's the most exciting thing. Before, everything was so planned out, and it had to be! It was good that it was. Previously, I would know this time next year where we were gonna be. Like, I'd know we we're gonna be in Moscow by this time next year. Where now, I don't have a clue! *laughs* And I love it!
JFH (Roger): Nice! And spontaneity wouldn't hurt anybody, right?
Peter: That's right! And it's really a biblical principle too. It's like saying "Well, I'm going to plan to do this, and I'll be here doing that!" It's not planning too far ahead, but today's enough for today.
JFH (Roger): Moving to On Fire, what inspired the move to go forward with a solo record?
Peter: That's a good question, and a lot of folks don't know this (and I understand that they wouldn't), but I didn't have plans for a solo record. In the time off, I chased a bunch of creative endeavors; I did a bit of painting and also worked on another project with Steve Taylor that's prossibly coming out sometime this year or early next year. We're still working on that. And that got me to relax and just enjoy the process of creating for the sake of creating something [out] of nothing and savoring it, y'know? But it also really got me to come to the realization that this is what I do. I know it sounds funny, but there were a lot of things presented to me in these two years from different folks, whether it be leading worship at a church or going to speak somewhere. But I kept getting a check about certain things that I wasn't going to be doing them. I began to wiggle out those ideas, and it began to be more clear that I'm a singer, and that's what I do. So I began to stir up the gift again, and along with that, songs kept coming, and that's the big one. All these songs kept coming, and I'm like "what do I do with this?" I used a bunch of them for the project with Steve, and all of a sudden there were more songs, so I kept recording them and writing them and jotting them down. And the next minute, I'm doing a solo record.
JFH (Roger): Musicians never really stop writing music, they just keep doing what they're doing and that's what they're supposed to do.
Peter: That's right, and I think I've realized that! Before, it was a mandate and now, it's become a choice. Probably like it was in the beginning. It's great, it's a great... it's like a revelation, really!
JFH (Roger): How did your collaboration with Steve Taylor start?
Peter: That collaboration really started twenty years ago. He and I have written over a hundred songs together, most of them Newsboys songs. We've been a team for years, and good mates too. I finished up with the band and obviously planned change; I made plans with them to help with the transition and stay behind things. But after awhile, when I was behind the scenes, it became clear that I was sort of a "fifth wheel." So it left me wondering what I was doing, and I say that in a positive context; it was positive, very amicable, and we're great mates, I love them guys. But it left to see what the future held (which I loved, I gotta be honest), and there was no anxiety or regret or anything. It was just very peaceful and beautiful. But in that time, Steve came around my house, and we were chatting and having coffee, and he knew of a bunch of songs I had, but not finished. And we were talking about what the next stage is. All I knew is that I didn't want to get right back at it, and I didn't want to sing at that time. We began to look at these songs, and were like, "Wow, we should finish these songs!" and we began to question, "What should we do with these songs?" And I said, "I'll help you finish it as long as you sing it." That's how we began to form more-or-less a band. It was Steve singing, Jimmy Abegg on guitar, John Painter on bass, and myself just on the drums. So I wasn't singing, I was just the drummer in this outfit. We began to finish these songs and write new ones, and that got my creative juices flowing. It was a thrill, like back when I was a teenager again in the garage, bashing the drums. No record deal, no big agenda, no real management, it was just for the pure love of making music. And that was one of the things that got things going. It was just really pure and good. And I still look forward to it now. We didn't get at it like a big machine, we just got together when all of our schedules permitted. Steve's obviously making a movie, Blue Like Jazz, John is a well-known producer in Nashville, and Jimmy's got his own thing with his painting and with the Ragamuffin Band. So everyone had their own schedules except me! *laughs* It was so nice. I was always available! We came around to John's once a week or even ten days.
JFH (Roger): I feel like that's how some of the best music has come out, through jam sessions.... nothing serious, just musicians being musicians with each other.
Peter: That's totally right. That's what is was, it was just four guys in a room, and that's what a band is. They are all agreeing upon the chords they are playing, and the melodies they're playing, and lyrics they're singing, and quite a few of the tracks are purely that. Not much technology involved - it was one guitar, one amp, one drum kit, one bass guitar and a singer. And a lot of the songs were live takes. So yeah, very pure, and very organic.
JFH (Roger): How was writing On Fire different than writing a Newsboys record?
Peter: It's no different. Well, I shouldn't say that, Seth [Mosley from Me In Motion] was obviously involved this time. He and I wrote a few songs together. And that usually happens in the process of making a record. Seth is obviously a songwriter and producer, and the two of us played all the instruments on my record. So there were a lot of times where we were able to take a break, "well let's cut the drums and bass and finish this and do that." We actually worked really fast and we were overachievers. *laughs* Sometimes the recording process can become a process of checking checks and finishing things and every now and then we would break from that and enjoy and savor the process, so out of that way, we wrote a few songs too.
JFH (Roger): When did you start working with Seth?
Peter I met Seth while I was still in the Newsboys and I actually played drums for a couple of tracks he was producing. So he came around my house, we met and I loved what he was doing. I thought he was really sharp and definitely someone to keep in the black book. So then when it came to make the switch-out with Mike [Tait], Juan [Otero] and Seth were sort of a songwriting team in Nashville, they had a bunch of songs I thought would really fit, like "Born Again," on the new Newsboys record, because obviously I wrote and produced all the songs from the Newsboys and I was stepping out of that. And I had just finished In the Hands of God and the Newsboys needed a record now. And I wasn't in the place to jump in and do that. So I worked with that process of pulling Juan and Seth together with the band, so that relationship started before the Born Again record, and then after that record was done, I actually hadn't thought about Seth until I started making my record. And when I did start making my record, something didn't feel right about me doing it by myself. I don't know why, I just kept getting checks and wasn't happy with what I was doing by myself. So I gave Seth a call.
JFH (Roger): And he was there to bounce ideas back and forth with!
Peter: Yeah! And he was someone from a different generation, and I wasn't trying to be different; I wasn't trying to be who I was in the past and I wasn't trying to change who I was in the past, I wasn't trying to sound like the Newsboys and I wasn't trying not to sound like the Newsboys, I was just being Peter Furler. And that's probably why I never made a solo record in the twenty years I was with the band. I was always getting my fulfillment from making Newsboys records. Sometimes a singer will do a side project just to do his own thing, but for me, I never had that yearning because it was always fulfilled with the Newsboys. So I did what I've always done!
JFH (Roger): What was your involvement in the instrumentation of On Fire?
Peter: I played all the drums, some of the bass, some of the guitars, some the keyboards and programming, I was kinda all over it, y'know? And I sung it, and sang the BGV's. It was really just Seth and I. I would say he probably played more guitars than me. He's a better guitarist than me, he's better than me at probably all of it! *laughs* Except drums, I could probably take him on the drums. *laughter* But we both played everything.
JFH (Roger): I feel as though On Fire's sound falls somewhere between Go and In the Hands of God. Would you agree with that?
Peter: Yeah, probably closer to Go. It's a very joyful, encouraging record. It's a lot about freedom. For me, I write better when my head is clear and really not thinking about it. And I think there's probably more of that on this record than really anything I've done. I've been very fortunate over the years to have a lot of control over what I was doing with the Newsboys. I had my hands on the wheel. I think with this record, the difference was I had a little more time, which can be good and bad, but it was good in this case. I didn't have any expectations; they had already been met now. But I feel like these are some of the best songs I've ever written. And I think as a singer, I had really stepped it up a notch. And those were the two things I really cared about most. I was competing with myself really more than anything. I wasn't trying to compare myself to anything except the standard as a songwriter and a singer.
JFH (Roger): What song on On Fire means the most to you?
Peter: Gosh, they all mean different things to me at different times, but I think right now one of my favorites is "Glory to the King" for many reasons. One is because it's a happy funeral song, which I had only done one of them before, and that was "Breakfast." *laughter* But it's nice to have another one, y'know? And I think the melody is one of my most inspired in many years.
JFH (Roger): It reminded me a lot of Newsboys songs like "It Is You" or "Million Pieces."
Peter: Yeah, I think there's a little bit of all that in there because that's me. *laughs* A lot of people were saying, "Yeah, it sounds more like Newsboys than the Newsboys." But the Newsboys are different now, and they have to be. But I am who I am and I do what I do. I hear elements of Thrive, and I kinda shake it! Not that I want to or try to, not that I try to be like it either. And as a songwriter, I really don't listen to my past work that much. Rarely, I would say. And I don't even know a lot of the chords to some of them. It's funny, like I put them out of my mind, but I'm always looking for something new. It's a new day, and a new morning. I'm going on a CD release radio tour, and they want me to sit down and play a few songs with my guitar, but I have to practice and try to remember songs that I wrote, but that's how the songwriting process is for me.
JFH (Roger): Being in the industry for twenty years, that's almost to be expected for you to operate that way. You can't remember all of it, and you've got to move to the next thing.
Peter: It's kinda like painting a painting; if you kept painting paintings the same way, the first one would lose its luster. The difference is that it happened at that moment, the chords came quick sometimes. It was a moment and you captured it. And like a photograph, it can never be duplicated again. You can go back and learn it again, but I usually try to rock it out with a camera and try to take a new picture.
JFH (Roger): What do you miss most about being a Newsboy?
Peter: Um, I have to be honest and say, nothing! And I don't mean that in a bad way, I don't think like that, and I don't have any regrets. Like I said, I'm at the best place in my life. I don't sit around and think like that, like "Oh, I had such a great time in the band." It was a brilliant chapter of my life. And so there's highlights: playing in Morocco in front of 15,000 Muslims, big highlight. Playing Israel's New Age Festival, highlight. Playing my hometown of Adelaide, Australia, one of the last shows I did with the band, that was a huge highlight. So there's highlights, but I don't think about them and miss them. But I don't make it sound like there's nothing I would miss about that; I say it in the purest form.
JFH (Roger): Oh sure! And that leads to my next question, and this is purely hypothetical: if you could start your career over, what would you do differently?
Peter: I don't think I'd do anything differently. Not that I did everything right. Again, I just don't live that way; that's a door I don't open. There's always things I could have done different, but I don't think on those things. I heard Billy Graham say he would have trained eleven or twelve other men to do what he was doing. Or, he would have read the Bible more. I think if I could go back and tell a young Peter Furler anything, he wouldn't listen anyway. *laughter*
JFH (Roger): Another retrospective question: what have been the biggest differences, positive or not, that you've seen in the Christian music industry during your career?
Peter: The thing that always comes to my mind with that question would be technology. When we first started out, our first three records were made on the budget a mainstream band would have for their catering during studio time. And that's no joke, it's just what it would have been. And it cost a lot of money to make records back then. I'll give you an example: now if you own an Apple computer with GarageBand on it, it's got more bells and whistles than what he had to make Step Up to the Microphone. And it comes free. And the gear we had for Step Up to the Microphone was worth, at the time, probably over a couple hundred thousand dollars at least! And we did that in my own studio. That's why when you listen to Christian radio, it's sonically better. You don't hear it anymore, but back then, you'd hear "Why don't Christian records sound as good as mainstream records?" It was the money and the studios, and now you've got guys like Seth Mosley that can cut your vocal track in a closet! And it sounds as good as it ever did in a $1,500-a-day studio. So I think that's the biggest thing for me, personally. The bad part about it is that you can make an average song sound better, and people can get fooled by that a bit. But the good news is that a good song's a good song. Technology doesn't save a song. But newer bands can come through and they don't need that massive budget to make their record. And also the social media aspect of things, where people can get the word out, like Jesus Freak Hideout is here now today. But that's good and I like it.
JFH (Roger): That's all my questions! Any last comments before we end this?
Peter: Nah, but just thanks to the fans that check out Jesus Freak Hideout. I appreciate all that they do and what you do, and it's a great organization.
Peter Furler's debut solo album On Fire is available now!