Tony Cummings reports on the successful switch of frontman for the NEWSBOYS
The latest series of sold out US concerts and the startling fact that the latest Newsboys album 'Born Again is the fastest selling album in the pop rockers' 25 year history are both evidence that the decision to bring Michel Tait into the group has been a big success. There were plenty of doubters who suggested that (a) frontman Peter Furler had brought such a distinctive stamp to the band since he switched from drums to the Newsboys lead mic in 1997 that he was all but irreplaceable, or that (b) Michael Tait's star was on the wane and that having once been a third of CCM superstars dc Talk his attempts to front a rock band of his own, Tait, had been ultimately unsuccessful. As it is turning out Michael and his fellow Newsboys - Jody Davis (lead guitar), Duncan Phillips (drums) and Jeff Frankenstein (keyboards) - have done what the band have always done since their formation in Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia in 1985 and are coping with changing personnel (at the last count there have been 16 musicians who have, at one time, been Newsboys). So the Newsboys continue to be one of the most popular brands in the history of Christian music.
When in March 2009 a news release went out announcing that Tait was replacing Furler in the Newsboys fans and industry people were equally stunned. The press release assured fans that Furler would "continue with the band and his trademark songwriting and production will remain as he focuses his professional career toward future Newsboys recordings." But in the year-plus since, it hasn't quite turned out that way. Furler has really stepped away from the band and Tait has moved in not just as concert frontman, but as the band's new leader in many ways, including taking a major role in songwriting for their new album, the aptly named 'Born Again'. Tait says that Furler is still on board as a "creative consultant" but is mostly enjoying long overdue time with his family.
The remaining Newsboys members have welcomed Tait with open arms: "I can't believe Michael was available," said Duncan Phillips. "His vocal range and style allow us to musically explore avenues we haven't in the past." Added Jody Davis, "Tait is great for us because he's a real team player and brings a lot of enthusiasm to the mix of personalities," while Jeff Frankenstein added, "We're getting a new lease on life from this. It's providential. I couldn't see things happening any other way."
Michael Tait told Christianity Today how the offer to join the group came about. "Wes Campbell [Newsboys manager] called me and said that Peter Furler has been on the road for too long, that he needs to come off the road and spend some time with his family. He's been making records for 20 years, he's been touring for 20 years, and he's tired. He asked, 'Can you do this thing?' I misconstrued it at first, thinking they wanted me for just a couple of months. But they wanted a total overhaul, brand new everything, Newsboys 2.0. They wanted the whole kit and caboodle. At first, I thought, My gosh, there's no way I can do this. I prayed about it and thought about it for a while. Then I said, you know what, I've got to do this thing. I felt it in my heart. So I learned all the words to their songs."
Going on stage with the Newsboys before sold out throngs of loyal Newsboys fans was, as Michael was willing to admit, a nerve wracking experience even for a singer as experienced as the one-time dc Talk star. He told JesusFreakHideout, "In my mind, there's been fear, because of course you want to be accepted. Newsboys fans are very particular, you get a lyric wrong to a song, they'll scream it back to you. I'm like, 'OK cool.' The two comments I hear the most at the shows is, 'We were a little nervous until we heard the first song' and after they heard the whole show, they say, 'Oh man, you fit perfect' and to me, Peter, Duncan and the guys, we knew in our heads I would fit perfect, because we've been best friends forever - A. And B, Peter's voice is not so far away from mine, as far as our abilities and our ranges and stuff."
Michael was asked whether he had a contract with the Newsboys. "All verbal. Peter's out of the picture now, though I stay in touch with him for advice and insight. But as far as the business stuff is concerned, it's a Wes Campbell/Michael Tait thing now."
The release this year of 'Born Again' met with enthusiastic reviews. Certainly it covered a lot of bases. There was worship, like a powerful cover of Hillsong's "Mighty To Save", the Muse-influenced "Miracles" and the hit single title track which with its telling lyrics ("I've met the one with two scarred hands/Giving him the best of everything that's left of the life inside this man/I've been born again") is already being praised in some quarters as the Newsboys' "best for years". Michael describes the unique musical mix since he joined the newsboys, "It's the DNA of Michael Tait solo, Newsboys past and dc Talk past are coming together. As Mac Powell said, we created something like Burger King and McDonalds coming together. We created a super burger. It's definitely a mixture of things now. There's a new flair now and decidedly so."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.