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Episode 63

A Conversation with Newsboys

Saved by grace

Worship Leader and The Walk Podcast had the exclusive opportunity to dive deep into the minds of the legendary Newsboys, featuring the dynamic duo of Michael Tait and Adam Agee. This candid and enlightening conversation took us on a journey through the intricate world of worship, music, and the challenges that fame brings. The Newsboys had more than just music to share; they offered a candid conversation about life’s challenges and the spiritual wisdom they’ve acquired.

The Sonic Puzzle of Worship Music

Our voyage begins with the enigmatic nature of worship music. The Newsboys were unapologetically candid about the complexities in defining and categorizing worship melodies. The question loomed large: Can worship music transcend the boundaries of genre? Michael Tait eloquently emphasized that worship traverses the vertical, honoring God, and the horizontal, our interactions with others. In their view, it’s an extraordinary tool for communication with the Creator himself.

Performance as a Holy Act

As our conductor for this spiritual journey, Joshua Swanson dared to ask the question on everyone’s minds: Can performing rock anthems be a form of worship? Adam Agee, the sage of the Newsboys, revealed that this idea evolved. Initially, they faced resistance to the audacious fusion of rock and worship. But to them, worship is an intimate expression of individual gifts that guide people towards the Creator. The crowds that unite during their performances are a testament to this profound connection.

The Fame Tightrope Walk

The spotlight can be both a blessing and a curse, and the Newsboys know it well. Michael Tait, with wisdom etched on his soul, spoke of the struggle to stay grounded in the face of temptation. To fend off the snares of fame, he advocates daily prayers and adorning spiritual armor against the influence of dark forces. He believes in relying on God’s grace and making God a part of every endeavor. Adam Agee added a poignant note: fame doesn’t grant immunity from self-doubt and trials, but their faith provides the strength to weather the storm.

Wisdom For Generations

To the aspiring souls of the next generation, the Newsboys offered profound guidance. They emphasized the importance of making wise choices and understanding the weight of consequences. Battle-scarred by their own struggles with self-doubt, they stressed the significance of dedicating each morning to God, making Him the priority in the rhythm of life. Their advice was a harmonious blend of practicality and faith.

Prayers for the Journey

As the serenade with the Newsboys drew to a close, Joshua Swanson asked the audience to join in prayers on behalf of these messengers of music and faith. Michael Tait requested prayers for the band’s ongoing impact through their melodies, as well as for the stamina and consistency to carry forth their message. Adam Agee humbly sought prayers for their health and safety during their extensive tour, recognizing the challenges of life on the road.

The Newsboys’ interview gave us more than a glimpse into their faith-driven artistry; it provided a portal into the profound complexities of their spirituality and their unwavering commitment to crafting music with a message. This was not just an interview; it was an exploration of their souls, revealing the intricate harmonies of faith, fame, and the power of music.

Full Video Interview

Key Takeaways

  • Worship Music’s Uncharted Territory: The Newsboys shed light on the complexity of defining worship music, challenging traditional boundaries and genre categorizations. Their view that worship encompasses honoring God and guiding interactions with others opens up new perspectives on the role of music in faith.
  • Performing as a Spiritual Expression: The evolution of their belief that performing can be a form of worship showcases the band’s willingness to push boundaries and embrace rock music as a vehicle for spiritual connection. Their concerts serve as a testament to the power of music to unite and elevate the audience’s spirits.
  • Staying Grounded Amidst Fame’s Temptations: Michael Tait’s emphasis on daily prayers and spiritual armor as protection against the trappings of fame reveals their commitment to staying true to their faith in the face of celebrity. Their experience highlights the struggle to balance spirituality with the demands of stardom.
  • Advice for the Next Generation: The Newsboys’ advice to the next generation underscores the importance of wise choices and an unwavering faith. Their personal experiences with self-doubt and their commitment to starting each day with devotion to God provide practical insights for those navigating their own journeys of faith and music.

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Who are the Newsboys?

Twenty-twenty left us with a choice. In the midst of safer-at-home orders, racial and political unrest, and a virus that wreaked havoc around the world, the question remained: Where do you stand? For Platinum group Newsboys, the answer was easy. Recognizing that their season of collaboration with former bandmates Peter Furler and Phil Joel for their nostalgic run as Newsboys UNITED was coming to a close, current band members Michael Tait, Duncan Phillips, Jeff Frankenstein and Jody Davis, began to assemble an album that gave no doubt as to who they are and what they believe. The result is STAND, one of the most thoughtfully-crafted releases of their career and a project that marks the band’s return to their original label home, Capitol CMG.

Since their early beginnings in Australia, Newsboys have propelled countless hits up the charts. With signature songs, including “We Believe,” “Born Again” and Platinum-certified mega hit “God’s Not Dead,” which birthed a film franchise of the same name, Newsboys have sold more than 10 million albums spanning 23 recordings. In addition, they’ve amassed one Platinum and eight Gold certifications, 33 #1 radio hits, four GRAMMY® nominations, two American Music Award nods and multiple Dove Awards. With the transition to Michael Tait as the band’s lead singer in 2009, Newsboys embarked on an unprecedented second act that continues today.

When the global pandemic shuttered live events indefinitely, the award-winning supergroup was given something they’ve never been afforded—time. For the first time in three decades, Newsboys had an uninterrupted season before them to write, record and experiment.

“It really allowed us to immerse ourselves in the studio side of life,” Phillips attests. “There’s kind of this psyche that goes along with being in the studio, which is totally different than the live situation. It’s a whole different head space. So for the first time in our career, we had the opportunity to really immerse ourselves in that. It’s crazy because I never thought it would happen.”

Ironically, although they were restricted in the sense that they couldn’t tour, they had never been more free to create. The uninhibited space allowed Tait to dive deeper into the creative process than ever before with the charismatic frontman co-writing all 10 tracks on the album and co-producing the project alongside Tedd T., Micah Kuiper, Bryan Fowler, Ben Glover and Jeff Sojka.

“It’s fun when you have time to unpack your thoughts and really think about what you want to say on a record. You get real reflective. God showed up and just started putting songs on my heart,” shares Tait, who wrote upwards of 50 songs over the past year. “You’re literally creating something out of nothing, but every song isn’t necessarily a home run. It’s trial and error.”

The unconstrained environment also gave the band free rein to put every song through the wringer, constantly rewriting, reworking and rearranging until every single lyric and sonic embellishment met their high standards of excellence.

“We wanted to get the best out of every song,” Tait shares. “It’s like picking up seashells and putting them in a bag, and you get home and you’re looking at them all going, ‘I got some killer stuff.’ Instead of just grabbing a handful, it’s looking at each piece and going, ‘What do I want to put in that bag?’ It’s going to get heavy, so we have to make sure it’s worth the weight, literally.”

Phillips agrees Tait’s integral investment and intentionality in every part of the process made STAND that much more indicative of who they are as a band. “I think there’s more of Michael in this record than any record he’s been involved in in a really, really great way, because Michael’s a great songwriter, and it allowed him as a lead singer to really own that side of what we do,” the long-time drummer offers. “I think there’s a magic that happens when a lead singer gets involved in the songwriting. I’ve seen him just shine and explore his creativity and take ownership in this version of Newsboys.”

This iteration of Newsboys—which the band members affectionately refer to as “Newsboys 2.0”—follows more than 200 shows and a full-length worship-centric LP with Newsboys UNITED. STAND pushes the band into the next chapter while building on the vibrant, synth-filled pop of 2016’s Love Riot.

Coming out of a season of collective loss and disappointment, Newsboys sought to craft a record that was the antithesis of 2020. While STAND is their response to the questions raised over the past year, melodically, it’s filled with bright sonic textures and arena-ready anthems—poised for their “Step Into The Light Tour” as they return to the road in the fall of 2021.

Lead single “Magnetic” serves as a fitting introduction to the upbeat collection. “The song is about the relentless chase God has for His creation,” Tait shares of the groove-laden track. “He loves you so much that He lets you assert your free will. He puts it all out there and says, ‘What are you going to choose?’ But at the same time, He will pull you back into Himself. You can’t escape at the end of the day.” 

The effervescent “Magnetic” opens the project before heading into subtle reggae-inspired territory with “Ain’t It Like Jesus,” a selection that reflects Tait’s appreciation for Bob Marley’s musical style and boasts of all the unexpected ways God shifts the paradigm of our lives. 

“It’s like Him to take every situation that Satan meant for bad and flip it, and that’s the beauty of the God we serve,” Tait contends, noting, “I felt like, musically, ‘Magnetic’ and ‘Ain’t It Like Jesus’ were crafted with the idea of, ‘How will this come off live?’ because every song ultimately ends up on stage.”

Pop gem “Blessing On Blessings” follows suit, challenging listeners to focus on all of the gifts—big and small—that God bestows on His children daily with a sunny piano-led melody. Meanwhile, the powerful “I Still Believe You’re Good” declares the goodness of God in the midst of unimaginable circumstances. Tait soon realized it was an unintentional nod to the recent turn of events. “When we started writing this song, it became so clear that this is really the whole COVID-19 story wrapped up in melody,” he says. “As Paul said, ‘I’m still going to be content in every situation.’ It’s easier said than done. But at the end of the day, we asked ourselves, can we find the rainbow in the COVID cloud? And we did.”

A follow-up of sorts to their signature ballad “We Believe,” the album’s title-cut solidifies where the group stands in a politically-charged culture. “We tried to write a song that speaks to the very purpose and mission of every human. We finished the song and were like, ‘This feels like an album theme.’ And especially nowadays in the face of so much hate. I mean, let’s face it, I’m a man of color, and people are trying to tell me black and white can’t get along; we don’t like each other,” Tait remarks. “When people ask you, ‘Where do you stand? Tell me the hope that lies within you,’ believers in Christ should stand. The Bible says God would rather you be cold or hot, not lukewarm. You’re not standing if you’re standing in the middle. You have to choose a side. If you’re going to be a bad boy, be a bad boy. If you’re going to be a God follower, then be a Jesus freak, do it.”

It’s evident what side Newsboys are on. In the midst of racial division, fans only need to turn their attention to the stage to catch a glimpse of true diversity on display. A black frontman, an Australian drummer and two additional American bandmates round out the Newsboys’ brotherhood. Their obvious camaraderie speaks louder than any soapbox could. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t realize the responsibility they have to speak truth. This album especially lives up to its name, letting listeners know exactly where it is they STAND. 

“You can say so much in a three-minute song. You can change the world,” Tait offers. “That’s a very blessed and privileged position to have. We take it seriously, and we love it, because we know that we’re conduits of something special

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