As music buyers increasingly turn to music of faith, encouragement, relevance, conviction and hope Newsboys have once again moved to the head of the class. The multi-million selling group has spent the last fourteen years developing a massive and devoted following, honing their skills as pop craftsmen and working hard at becoming one of the best bands going. Resisting trends and avoiding comparisons, the band developed it’s own slick yet imaginative sound and charted their own course to the top. Between a breakthrough ‘hits’ compilation, their most successful tour to date and adding another three number one singles to their impressive list, 2001 was a good year for Phil Joel, Jeff Frankenstein, Duncan Phillips, Jody Davis and their own enigmatic front man, principal songwriter, lead vocalist and occasional upside-down drummer, Peter Furler. Yet somehow in the midst of all that, Newsboys have managed to create their most powerful album to date. With thought-provoking and challenging lyrics set to driving and compelling music, the world will now hear Newsboys’ Thrive
Expectations for the band’s ninth studio album are understandably high. No one, however, is holding the band to a higher standard than Furler. His ruthless pursuit of indelible pop hooks and devastatingly clever lyrics has resulted in not only the best release of his own considerable career, but one of the strongest releases the Christian market has seen in years. Influences as diverse as U2, INXS, and Moby intermingle with Furler’s fascination with new sounds, beats and samples to form a unique, but consistent palette for this batch of songs to dance upon. Never satisfied to re-tread ground they or others have covered time and again, the musicality on Thrive is more aggressive, confident and modern sounding than anything the band has released thus far. The guitars are bigger, the programming more inventive and the vocals more human and soulful. To top it off the band has re-enlisted their most successful production partner and lyricist to help bring this batch of songs to life.
The genesis of Thrive
is really to be found in the creation of Shine; The Hits
. “I wanted to do something different than most bands do,” Furler says of the album, “and that was to put a couple of new hits on it.” To craft these new “hits” Furler sought out the assistance and input of his long-time friend and partner, Steve Taylor. “When Steve and I got back together to write, things just picked up right where they had left off.”
“Peter called me and wanted some help with three news songs they were doing for the record,” Taylor recalls. “I spent a few weekends and evenings helping out mostly just on the writing. After all this time, I still got really excited hearing their music and was still very passionate about the strengths of the band.” Both Furler and Taylor felt that the chemistry was as strong as ever and the idea for a new ‘old’ approach to the upcoming studio album was born.
At that point, Taylor’s involvement grew from that of interested on-looker and lyricist to producer as Furler found the task of headlining a touring festival and recording a new album simultaneously a bit daunting. “I was really tired,” Furler remembers. “We were doing shows and then coming back to work on the record, and I needed his help to just carry the load.” Taylor’s job description escalated from lyricist to co-producer as the two began the process of taking song ideas Furler had begun in his home studio and finishing them. “I had myself a little concert every night when I was writing. I would sit down and just play music, and that’s what came out. It just started coming and coming.” Furler and the band took their demos to their studio and, along with Taylor in the co-producer’s chair, Thrive
took shape. “We made another record just the way we had always made records. When we’re in the studio it’s really a collaboration.”
offers everything fans have come to expect of Newsboys, and a little extra. While several tracks sport ragged guitar tracks and hooks reminiscent of the great guitar rock of the seventies, others take Furler’s innate melodic sensibilities to new heights. “Million Pieces” is destined to be another hit on radio, while “Cornelius” in Furler’s estimation, “will probably be huge with the punters (fans.) I have a feeling we’ll be haunted by that one, kind of like “Breakfast,” for years to come.” With mixing by Tom Lord-Alge (Blink 182, Collective Soul, INXS, Dave Matthews Band) and mastering by Bob Ludwig (Bowie, Creed, Foo Fighters,) the production brings those melodies and tones through with amazing clarity.
Taylor sees enormous talent in Furler. “I honestly think Peter is one of the best melody writers in music. He’s got the ability to write melodies that sound familiar but unique. It’s the same thing we all like about Abba, the same reason Elvis Costello’s first three records are so great. There aren’t many people that can pull that off with consistency. He just writes great melodies. He’s also a drummer so he’s got a really good sense for the feel that goes on underneath the melody.
“There were no rules this time,” Furler emphasizes. “I didn’t approach this project with a certain radio format in mind or anything involving sales. I stopped really consciously thinking about sales several years ago and it’s very freeing. I just took various sounds that inspired me and then searched for the melody. I ended up with around forty demo clips, some fifteen seconds long and some five or six minutes. Then the band got together and added their parts, which is extremely important. The demos sound pretty sterile when they come from my home studio, but when Phil adds his bass parts and Jody lays down his amazing guitar ideas, they come alive. If this record sells two copies, I’m still proud of it. It’s by far our best work. It’s got great pop moments as well as some crazy stuff like ‘John Woo’ that represents that side of my influences. We’re really excited for people to hear it.”
“To thrive is really to sing that ‘cold and broken Hallelujah,’ to borrow a phrase from Leonard Cohen,” Furler explains of the title track and the album’s over-arching theme. “When you’re at that place you realize how hard it is to lose your ‘self,’ your ambitions and your instinct of self preservation. I’m hoping above all that it’s about what God’s doing in my life.”
Will you lift me up with tender care?
Will you wash me clean in the palm of your hand?
Will you hold me close so I can thrive?
When you touch me, that’s when I know I’m alive
Through energized and often humorous romps, (“Giving It Over,” “Live In Stereo,” “Cornelius,” “The Fad Of The Land,”) vulnerable and confessional mid-tempo tunes (“Million Pieces,” “Thrive,” “Rescue,”) or even flat out worship, (“It Is You,” “Lord (I Don’t Know),”) the songs challenge the conventional definition of the word “thrive” and reinterpret it through a Christ-centered lens. “It is our desire to please Him that pleases him, and that desire itself comes from Him.”
“I’ve got say,” Taylor adds, “I’ve been very impressed by Peter as a thinker. I’ve got probably five or six books he’s given me just this year. He’s a voracious reader. He’s always absorbing Chesterton, Merton, Yancey, and many more. One day I was working on some lyrics off in a corner while we were doing some transfers. I hadn’t brought my bible so I borrowed his. His bible was full, from beginning to end with stuff underlined, color-coded highlights, notes off in the margins and everything like that. It’s obvious that he’s a real student of the Word and he takes his faith very seriously. That’s inspiring to me when I write lyrics for him. I know they’re going to be sung by someone who really ‘gets it.’”
From Down Under To The Big Time
From humble beginnings in the church basements and pubs of Australia, to sold out arenas around the world, Newsboys have surprised even themselves. After three successful underground new wave / rock albums in the late Eighties the band reinvented themselves in 1992. Taylor, a much respected producer and artist who had pushed Christian music kicking and screaming into the modern rock era a decade earlier, successfully helped the band find their true voice. Under his guidance the Boys exploded in popularity at radio and retail with Not Ashamed and followed that success with the band’s first Gold album, 1994’s Going Public
(featuring the band’s first number one hit “Shine,”). He continued on as the unofficial “sixth Newsboy” through the band’s 1996 Gold Certified Take Me To Your Leader
Furler self-produced the band’s subsequent Step Up To The Microphone
album, which, after being certified as the band’s third Gold album, assured all that the band’s co-founder, was more than up to the task. The quintet closed out the nineties with a series of successful arena tours (including one with an inflatable air-dome,) an experimental album (Love Liberty Disco
) and an enormously successful ‘best-of’ compilation entitled “Shine: The Hits.” Over the last decade they have scored seventeen “Number One” radio hits and have sold over three million albums.
In addition to their dominating presence, Newsboys have developed one of the most powerful touring machines in the world. The band moved from sold out arenas on their Step Up To The Microphone tour, to their own portable inflatable air-dome on their Love Liberty Disco tour in 2000. Both tours generated unprecedented fan support and solidified Newsboys as one of the best live bands on the road. In 2001 they took the concept even further when they mounted the most successful tour of their career. With Festival Con Dios tour, Newsboys carried dozens of bands with them and garnered major press attention from outlets as diverse as USA Today, Teen People, ESPN2, Guitar Player, Motocross Journal and Entertainment Weekly. Newsweek’s cover feature “Jesus Rocks” (July 16, 2001) brought international attention to the groundbreaking tour and the growing popularity of Christian music in general. Festival Con Dios sold out many of its stops across the country and would eventually be declared the biggest tour of the year in the industry, as well as earning Newsboys and the supporting bands critical acclaim in newspapers and magazines from coast to coast. Yet despite their status as one of the biggest names in Christian music, their ninth studio album shows them just as hungry as they have ever been.
The next chapter in Newsboy’s recorded saga is now unfolding. They have already scored another hit with the album’s first single, “It Is You.” They are preparing to re-launch Festival Con Dios and to possibly add an additional arena tour. 2002 is shaping up to be an even bigger year for the band that just won’t quit. Inspired by the longevity of U2, Furler is excited about his own band’s legacy. “I probably love U2 more for their brotherhood than for their music. I appreciate how much you have to lose yourself to do what they’ve done. When I go in to write a song or to make a record I write it from the perspective of a fan. At some point I was a fan of the music. At some point I am a fan of my music.” With a record as impressive as Thrive
under his belt it’s hard to blame him for being a fan. Considering the band’s constant rise in popularity, and the honor they have earned among other bands and industry insiders, he seems to be in good company.
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